One of the major challenges of getting a startup up and running is doing a lot of things you don't know how to do. How are you going to learn to do them? Enter Robert Vera, founding director of Canyon Ventures Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Grand Canyon University, and today’s guest on Market Dominance Guys. Mentoring a portfolio of 32 startup companies that are beyond the ideation stage, the Center's goal is to accelerate the growth of each company by coaching them, at no cost, in selling their product and generating cash flow. The program’s one caveat? Each company must hire Grand Canyon University students and give them professional sales experience prior to graduation. Our own Market Dominance Guy, Corey Frank, helps to provide that successful selling experience with his company, Branch 49, a sales acceleration software and service that uses AI to score leads, dramatically increasing conversations-to-meeting rates. Intrigued? Find out more about how to grow your startup on today's Market Dominance Guys' episode, "Taking a Leaf Out of Branch 49' book."
About Our Guest Robert Vera is a bestselling author and the founding director of Canyon Ventures Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona.
The full transcript for this episode is here:
Susan Finch (01:31):
Well, that brings us to our topic today, and I know we're waiting for a very special guest to join us. But, flipping the format of the Market Dominance Guys, Corey, usually you're the one who's prodding, and commenting, drawing it out of our guests. Usually it's Chris bantering with the guests, and you're bringing it out of them. To make sure that we get to all their goodness. Well, it's your turn today. And you have struck me, since you started talking about Youngblood Works at Grand Canyon University, I have been intrigued, impressed, and touched by the work that's happening there. And when Chris and I were having lunch the other day, we said, we have to do this. Corey has to be in the seat. It's Corey's turn. And we want to hear all about what got you started, how difficult it was. And at the end of this episode, I would like a call to action, to challenge other businesses, to step up in the mentoring, step up in, take a little bit of a risk. To have an effect, such a positive effect on so many, as you guys have.
Corey Frank (02:45):
Yeah, I think that has its roots. Certainly, Chris, I think you can add color to this. And I think we did an episode early on, where we talked about if digital is your only strategy, that's not necessarily a sound strategy. And, Chris, if you recall right, we went into the science of just simply delivering information, right? So that was really the brainchild of this, right Chris? As much as I've been poking my stubby figure in Chris's chest for years, trying to get as many nuggets of information to steal from his brain as possible, he's certainly been challenging me, and all the businesses that I've done and the successful exits that I've had, to go back to [inaudible 00:03:29] at its core. It's that we, both of us, I think all three of us, so you included Susan, right? We like to mentor. And we like to guide our profession, and leave a mark on our profession, that maybe folks don't understand the craft as well as they should.
Corey Frank (03:44):
The craft of selling, the craft of cold calling. And especially as a startup, we're here on campus at GCU and the incubator and the innovation center. And we have 29 different organizations, that are at various stages of funding here. And all of them have one thing in common. They all want to talk with more prospects at the top of their funnel. And all of them struggle with, how do I do that? I just received seed funding. I just received A-round funding. I just received friends and family funding, and now I've got to put it to work. I think that was episode one, chapter one, verse one, I think Chris, we talked about, right? Getting that funding.
Corey Frank (04:25):
And so all the things that we've talked about, on Market Dominance, it's funny, because it's paralleled a lot of the experiences that we see. So this isn't in a vacuum, this advice and this guidance that Chris provides. We actually see it every day in the companies that we guide, as the entrepreneur in residence here, to help take these companies at least on the right path to think about market dominance. Which unfortunately not a lot of them really think about their foray into a business world as a Zero-sum game, which it should be. So Chris, you certainly see a lot of these startups and they ask you for unsolicited advice. Many of our folks that end up being guests on our show, seek you out still as an in-demand sage, Muhammad at the top of the mountain, for all business advice of all kinds. So I know of what I speak. You see that traditionally, even outside of here in Phoenix, in the companies we deal with, correct?
Chris Beall (05:20):
Yeah. I mean, a lot of people want to know what to do when they get started, because getting started is the hardest part of doing anything. And it's pretty easy to fool yourself into thinking that you're doing good stuff. When what you're really doing is familiar stuff. And the unfamiliar stuff is what is tough. And then I was just talking with Helen about this yesterday, or the day before when we were driving back from Oregon, and pointing out in that conversation to her that there's only one good state to be stuck in from which you can make great progress, and it's not flow. It's stuck. People seek flow, but flow means you're repeating what you already know how to do. So when you're in flow, oddly enough, you're never making progress. You may be advancing. You may be doing more, but you're doing what you already know how to do.
Chris Beall (06:09):
And the nature of startups is you have to do a lot of things you don't know how to do. And so how are you going to learn to do them, or even what they are? It's through conversations with folks. And in particular, the big one is, but what should we be doing? What problems should we be solving? I had a conversation today with a young entrepreneur, who has actually been on the show. I won't mention who it is, because it's a kind of a quiet relationship right now with regard to his entrepreneurship. But we were talking about the industry that he's interested in working together with, with some folks on. And it was clear that one of the deep psychological dynamics that's likely to be in play in that industry, which is a B2C industry, is actually a B2B dynamic. And there's a reason that it's a B2B dynamic.
Chris Beall (06:58):
And so we talked about that. And that conversation is going to perhaps lead him to have conversations with folks in that market, in this case, consumers, to investigate this B2B psychology that may be in play there. But without those conversations, what is he going to do? Take a guess? Build a product? Hope for the best? That's a pretty bad way to go, to build things, and then get money, and run around and try to sell them, and deploy them, in order to find out whether you're basically on a track that could lead somewhere.
Chris Beall (07:33):
And something we've talked about a little bit, but haven't really, I think extolled the virtues of enough, which is the wonders of being stuck. Corey says that he's playing an entrepreneur in residence role, and advising companies. Well, when somebody seeks your advice, if they do it correctly, it's because they're stuck. Not because they're in flow, and not because they're waiting. And so the job of the unsticker is often to say, here's a way to get unstuck. We've just had this conversation. We framed up kind of the question around which you're stuck. Now you need information, guess where you're going to get it? Well, you can get it at 20,000 bits a second talking to somebody, or you can get it at 5,000 bits an email, and wonder whether you're getting the truth.
Corey Frank (08:19):
Susan Finch (08:20):
No. I'm wondering Corey with the businesses that you are witnessing at GCU, are they primarily B2B? Or is it a mix? And how are you seeing their paths? Are they similar paths that they're taking to achieve what you guys are talking about?
Corey Frank (08:37):
Yeah, they're all B2B. And Robert Vera, who runs the Center of Innovation Excellence here at Grand Canyon University, he's responsible for curating, recruiting, and helping these organizations on their glide path to success. And so they're all predominantly cybersecurity, SAS. There's some med-tech, ed-tech, but all high growth potential, all deep, juicy markets that we have on here. And all of them collectively, we know that most businesses that are with the stats are at 80 plus percent of businesses fail because of low revenue, and their inability to build a sustainable sales team, or sustainable systems. And these type of businesses, certainly Chris you've seen it all the time. We've talked about it on the show. Is that two thirds of these businesses waste their marketing and sales budget targeting the wrong folks, in the wrong channels, in hiring the wrong people.
Corey Frank (09:39):
And what's oftentimes the remedy for that, is to raise more money. And good is the enemy of great, as we saw this. Is that these organizations, they kind of venture out so quickly, without real product-market fit. And they want to hire at scale, salespeople at scale. They want to hire their software engineers at scale. They want to max out their SEO and SEM budget. And oftentimes that just leads to the inevitable, and enviable position as well, of pivot, correct Chris? And we have our future title for our next book that is correlated with that, but the dreaded pivot.
Chris Beall (10:26):
Yes, yes, yes. I still actually, perhaps my favorite phrase that's come out of Market Dominance Guys is when we considered, what if Jesus had been venture financed? And then we'd be going pivot, Jesus, pivot. Your message is not being taken up by the market fast enough.
Corey Frank (10:46):
That's right. So unless you're the son of man himself, so God himself, pivoting is not necessarily something that you can play with.
Susan Finch (11:37):
Corey Frank (11:40):
Susan Finch (11:41):
Thank you for joining us on such short notice.
Robert Vera (11:44):
My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Susan Finch (11:45):
Terrific. Corey, I'm going to let you go ahead and introduce our special guest today on Market Dominance Guys.
Corey Frank (11:51):
Absolutely. My pleasure. So Robert Vera, please meet the indomitable Chris Beal and Susan Finch. Chris, of course, is my sensei, and sage, and mentor, and all-around good buddy, CEO of ConnectAndSell. And Susan Finch, I can say the same, but instead of ConnectAndSell replace Funnel Media Group as well. She's CEO of Funnel Media Group, which is one of the fastest-growing podcast production organizations in the U.S. And Susan has the unenviable job of making folks like Chris and me sound intelligible. And it's an editing malaise and [inaudible 00:12:31], for sure. So Robert is the Director of the Grand Canyon University Center for Excellence in business excellence here, in entrepreneurship. And he's responsible for curating, we were just talking about you, Robert behind your back, about the 29, is that how many companies you have here on campus right now that you help curate, and foster, and growth, and elbow at certain points?
Robert Vera (12:54):
We've got 32 right now.
Corey Frank (12:56):
32 right now. And before that, Robert worked in Senator Ted Kennedy's office. Back in the day, he's been a senior executive at Merrill Lynch. He's been an entrepreneur, a New York Times bestselling author, multiple times. He does the Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim, you'll appreciate this, Chris, in the Grand Canyon. I don't know how many times, 3, 4, 5 dozen times namely with Navy seals, and a lot of veterans, and he does that. So though servant leadership is near and dear to his heart, and this University certainly is one of the fastest-growing in the United States. Now Robert is at the lone star here for helping curate the right type of conscious capitalism, competent capitalism, that graduating folks to what Chris, Robert, I stole the phrase from him, and we talked to him about a finishing school for future CEOs. And Robert has really appreciated that term ever since. So Robert, please meet the good friends, Chris and Susan, and welcome to the Market Dominance Guys.
Robert Vera (13:53):
Great to be here, guys. Nice to meet you both.
Corey Frank (13:56):
Chris Beall (13:58):
Well, we're getting to turn the tables today.
Susan Finch (14:00):
Yes. We're here to hear some stories and hear some success stories. What it used to be like, what happened, and what it's like today stories, for what you have started at Grand Canyon University, what you are all a part of. And I know that stories are, certain companies will stick, out certain individuals. I would love to hear how this has impacted you. And if you had anybody that comes to mind that you would like to tell us about.
Robert Vera (14:29):
Yeah. So I'd like to talk a little bit about why we're different. And I think Corey Frank and his group, their Branch 49 makes us different. So here's why. Entrepreneurs, and we have 32 of them now, and we are Canyon Ventures Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. We bring companies in here, they're beyond the ideation stage. So they're going to grow. And we're an accelerator. I think there's a distinction between facilities like ours that are incubators, and they get their help from Techstars and Y Combinator and the like, and then these are accelerators. You're beyond the ideation stage. You've defined what your product-market fit is about. And you're looking to grow your organization. We are that organization. We call it an accelerator. The main requirement that we have here is we give you no cost rent, utilities. Everything is, you're on a scholarship here. With the proviso that you hire our GCU students and give them professional experience and professional network, prior to graduation.
Robert Vera (15:26):
So we'd like to say that we don't want our GCU students to fight fair. We want to give them an unfair advantage in the marketplace. So they go out there. They have years of professional experience, right? From some of these companies. And they're either get a job with one of the companies that hired them here, or they use that to leverage, to get a more than entry-level job in the real world. So one of the things that makes us different, and I appreciate I was an entrepreneur, so I appreciate entrepreneurs. But one of the things that makes us different is entrepreneurs, they want to build things. And I love that. You're building something, but you can't build it in the vacuum. At some point no one's getting out of here until you sell something. So we need entrepreneurs to sell something. So the first day I came in here and we set up. And I had a notion that, hey, we need to figure out.
Robert Vera (16:15):
People are like, well, is there going to be legal, help, accounting help, marketing help? No, no. You're going to sell something. You're going to figure out what your product-market fit is. And you're going to sell something. All that other stuff is not top-line stuff. What every startup needs to understand, every startup, is that we're going to focus on cash flow. We can focus on net profit and return on investment later. Those two will come when you focus on cash flow. In order to do that, we're going to have to sell something, right? Because you can't hire our students unless you have one of two things. Equity, which is going to run out pretty quick, and/or revenues, which we're going to figure that out. So Branch 49 is what makes us unique and different. Here's what they do. They're a revenue generation consulting firm. And what that means, and I'll tell you a quick story. Branch 49 started here May of 2020. And I knew we needed it.
Corey Frank (17:17):
Youngblood Works is the parent organization of Branch 49, is the DBA, what we go to market as. So just to kind of clarify, we've spoken about Youngblood Works. That's really Branch 49.
Robert Vera (17:29):
Thanks for clearing up. So, I knew we needed it. And I didn't know how it was going to work out. But they morphed into a revenue generation consulting firm. It was July of 2020. COVID is still in full swing. We brought people back. We brought a few companies back here. One of them was the Branch 49 team. Now at that point, there's only three of them, correct me if I'm wrong. But I think there may be 20 of them now. And they had an opportunity. They said we have an opportunity to get a $100,000 a month contract with a company called the Zucker. And one of the guys that works there, young kid just graduated. Literally all three of the kids that work there just graduated from GCU. His name is Micah [inaudible 00:18:07]. And Micah, great kid, his mom is Air Force. She flew as flight surgeon on Air Force One.
Robert Vera (18:12):
Micah comes to me, it's July 15th, 2020. We're in Arizona. He says, can I park? He lives in his RV, by the way. Can I park my RV out in front of the building? We got an early morning start. We're going to East Coast time. So we got to be up and rolling. So I asked Micah, he says he has to park out at 05:00 in front of the building. I don't ask him why, until later. Finally, he tells me we have an opportunity to compete against an inside sales organization, Zucker's own sales organization, an outside sales organization from Pakistan, and our GCU recent college graduates, and a newly started up company to drive revenues, to help companies drive revenues. So he says, if we win, we get a $100,000 a month contract to continue the effort. So I thought, that's probably a good reason to park out front.
Robert Vera (19:02):
So they came in the next day. I drive up, it's 04:30 in the morning. And now it's July in Arizona. We compete with hell for the hottest temperatures on the globe, right? So it's probably 115 degrees out. It's in a black parking lot. It's well over 110, I'm sure. And they're all outside the RV. And I pull up, I mean, everything's outside the RV. I pull up and ask what's going on. The AC broke. So they didn't sleep all night. Now it's five o'clock well, hey, we might as well just get after it. I let them in. They come in the building, they coffee up and start calling. I go to work, which is across the hall from them. And I poked my head out about 11:30 ish, closer to 12 o'clock on that day. Which is now, you're looking at end of day, East Coast time.
Robert Vera (19:49):
And I said, how's it going? Mike says, well, the other two teams combined have already set up seven meetings. I say, okay. And how are you guys doing? "33". That's when I knew we had something special, that's when I knew there was something different about what we were doing, and how we were doing it. And that's when I knew that every company in this place needs to consider setting up just like Branch 49 is set up, or hiring Branch 49.
Robert Vera (20:23):
Here's why. Every startup, in order to justify your revenues, you're going to need to have proof that you can sell. In fact, it's easier to justify your valuation when you're in revenues. So you'll need to do that. In order to define, if you have a product-market fit, you have to get to customers. You have to do that. As far as I know, and there's these innovation centers and universities across the world now. As far as I know, we are the only organization of its kind, either an incubator and accelerator innovation center, that has an in-house revenue generation consulting firm that can do this for you.
Robert Vera (21:03):
When I ask companies great, we'd love to help. Can I see your three selling documents? They look at me like, what do you mean? Do you have a copywritten screenplay to connect with your target market fit? Do you know the persona you're calling, so they can call them? Do you have a consistent pitch deck? There's less than 10 minutes. Let me tell you what. If it's more than 10 minutes, you don't know what your company does. If you can't communicate that value to your target audience in 10 minutes or less, you don't know what your company does.
Robert Vera (21:34):
And then do you have a consistent follow-up? Email, call? Do you have a consistent, follow-up? Do you have a message? How do you measure if somebody is successful? If you don't have three consistent documents to do that, you can't. You don't know if it's performance, you don't. And then do you know how to perform that? Do you know how to deliver that? You don't know how to do that. You need to talk to Branch 49. You need to talk to the team over there. You need to create your three selling documents. You need to have the tools to do it. I brought someone by the other day. Kavin, one of the team members over there, a young kid, GCU graduate. I said to Kavin, he's been working for about three hours. Kavin, how many phone calls have you done already? He had done over 200, in three hours. Most people don't get that done in a week. It's the system that Branch 49 uses to actually deliver those.
Robert Vera (22:23):
Now, here's the difference. The data makes the difference. A lot of people use Zoom to get their data. What Branch 49 has been able to create, is relevant and actionable data. What that means is conversion rates are so much higher from their calls than anybody else. It's not because of experience. We have a person, Ashley, she has no experience whatsoever. She was a nursing major, comes from GCU. Comes here, looking for work. She gets on the phone, her conversion rate, because of the screenplay we give her, because of the data she's using to call, is 10%. She has a conversion rate, almost 11%. Anthony, he's one of the seasoned reps over there. His conversion rate is 20% or close to it, 19.9%. The reason why their conversion rates are higher is because of the data. It's not just Zoom data, it's filtered. And then it's called before to see, is this person going to pick up? The persona is right.
Robert Vera (23:31):
So I like to think that we have got something, one of a kind here. We're able to consult with startup companies, and other growing companies. Most of Corey's companies that he has, are not startup companies, they're billion-dollar companies or billion-dollar-plus companies in the SAS industry and cybersecurity. So, we're able to consult with them, to deliver to them their three selling documents. Give them the tools, the resources, and most importantly, the data that they need to be relevant and actual data. Let me speak to that just a little bit more. Relevant means that the persona who's picking up that phone, we know that person will pick up. How do we know that? The Branch 49 team has a methodology they use to screen the data. They know this person is one that will pick up the phone call.
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