Squad Goals: Adam Liebman on How Technology is Changing the Way We Go Out
Originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico, Adam Liebman always wanted to be a sports broadcaster. But when he realized that he really wanted a career that would make every day fun and exciting, he decided to pursue sales instead. From his first job out of the University of Missouri at Yext where he scaled the sales organization, to leading SinglePlatform to its acquisition as an Executive Team member and now building Squad — an app designed to help you connect with other groups of people to make going out more fun — Adam has experienced the ins and outs of selling to small businesses, building successful teams and having fun on every level.
Despite how seriously he takes his work and success, this entrepreneur is incredibly light-hearted — the guy who turned his love for celebrating life and his friends into his latest venture. We spoke with him on the impact of technology on small businesses, building successful teams and what scares him about being an entrepreneur.
How did SinglePlatform change the way restaurants connected with diners?
At SinglePlatform, [Wiley Cerilli, Kenny Herman, Pete Chen and myself] built a business that lets restaurants and other small businesses distribute their pertinent information to the places that people searched on the web.
Initially, the company started as a restaurant menu distribution platform. Back in the day, you’d say, “I want pizza in New York,” and you’d get all these results on Yelp or Foursquare or Google. But you wouldn't get the number one thing you wanted to see when searching for a new restaurant — the menu — because it only existed on the restaurant’s website. So SinglePlatform partnered with those destination sites and the restaurants and got them to give us their menus. We allowed them to update it whenever they wanted and then actually syndicated it out to all the different platforms. Restaurants could actually update their most important information — their menu, their food — in real time. After that, we expanded into other types of businesses. But originally we were designed to connect diners with great restaurants that they might not have visited before.
What was the biggest challenge in selling to small and medium sized businesses (SMB) like restaurants?
The level of skepticism. Many of the small businesses just didn’t know what kind of technology was out there that they could take advantage of. Or if they did hear about it, a lot thought maybe this was too good to be true or that someone was trying to pull one over on them, because a lot of these businesses had been burned before. So the most difficult thing for us was convincing them that no, we’re not a scam, and no, this is not too good to be true.
How’d you change the minds of the skeptics? What was your secret?
For me, it boils down to three things: hard work, mental investment and a positive mental attitude. First and foremost, if you’re not going to put in the effort, it doesn't matter how talented you are; it’s just not going to work.
Mental investment means you could bang your head against the wall, calling businesses all day long and you'll definitely hear “No,” more often than not. But those 10 times when you are able to get the right person on the phone, boy, oh, boy you better be laser focused because that's where you make your money. I’m a big believer that you need to be mentally invested trying to make every single phone call the best phone call you've ever made in your life.
And the last piece, positive mental attitude. I’m just a big believer that no one's ever made fewer sales by being happy and positive. A lot of people feel like they don't have control, but as a salesperson if you can create an illusion that you’re actually in control, you can be successful.
You obviously believe technology can be hugely helpful to businesses. What place do you think it plays in the lives of SMB?
I think new technology helps SMB get discovered. At the end of the day, it’s really hard to learn about or see a new restaurant if someone doesn't tell you about it, and that’s one of the beautiful things about tech. It opens up our world to all these different possibilities. To use an analogy: back in the day, you could really only discover people in your neighborhood. But today, if you look at the Internet and what it’s enabled you to do with Tinder, Bumble, Squad and all that sort of stuff, it really opens up people’s eyes to all the things that are out there. I look at technology for business in the same way, particularly for SMB because their biggest problems — and they will tell you this — is getting new customers in the door.
You’ve run successful teams at both Yext and SinglePlatform. What are your tips for building a great team?
One of my new favorite things is from this article called “Give it 5 Minutes.” Especially if you’re hearing ideas or in a position of power and you’re the one that the decision needs to be made by, give it five minutes. Don’t be the guy that shoots down ideas. To foster a culture of innovation and creativity where people feel like they’re growing, you may need to start with a bad idea. It’s often from those bad ideas that you’re able to pull really, really good ones. Another thing to building great teams is hiring great people. That probably sounds obvious but a lot of companies settle and as soon as the bar drops a little bit, it starts to drop a lot. Lastly, have fun. At the end of the day, you spend more time at work than anywhere else, and it should be something that your team is inspired by and that they care about.
Speaking of having fun, you just launched Squad on October 20th. What have you learned along the way that really surprised you?
In just 6 months at Squad, I’ve already learned that I’m wrong all the time now. I used to hate the phrase “fail fast.” I was like, “F*** failure.” I wanted to succeed quickly and not fail. But I’ve learned to have an appreciation for failure because at the end of the day, your first cut will typically never be right. The trick is not to get it right the first time, but to understand what you're trying to get right and then when you don't, try something else quickly.
Another thing I’ll say is that being a leader is all about editing and never about writing. There’s a talk from Keith Rabois and he speaks about how [as a CEO] you’re kind of the editor of a newspaper and you’re hiring a bunch of really talented writers, and you want to make sure that you’re always editing and not writing. If you find yourself writing, that means a couple of things. Either you hired the wrong person who’s not capable — you may have given the wrong expectation and they’re not sure what to do and you didn’t communicate clearly enough — or what’s most likely is that you’re probably just micromanaging and you need to let them do their jobs. I learned that from [Cerelli] at SinglePlatform; hire great people and let them do their job.
What’s coming next and what’s top of mind for you these days?
It's all about Squad, all the time. This is really just the beginning and every day you have to wonder, “Oh my gosh, are people going to use my product? Will people use my app? How can I make this a better experience so every single person downloads Squad and uses it to meet new people?” That’s kind of what’s next for me. Figuring out the answers to those questions.