By Heather K. Margolis
Heather is a self-proclaimed "recovering channel professional." She is passionate about enabling manufacturers and their Channel Partners to drive business through their Channel Partners. Having led Channel Programs for companies like EMC, EqualLogic and Dell, Heather helps Channel organizations of all sizes drive channel enablement, build relationships to find added value, drive demand and engage their audiences through social and traditional media. She also speaks to a variety of audiences about entrepreneurship, building a service business, and B2B strategy.
Spark Your Channel is an innovative demand generation automation platform that helps companies, their channel partners, and their sales teams drive more revenue. By providing partners and sales people with customizable content, artificial intelligence, and modern demand generation best practices, Spark creates more engagement and higher conversion rates for our customers.
Like the founders of Basecamp and authors of 'Rework' would suggest, I had a problem and figured outa way to solve it. I have owned an agency for almost 12 years called Channel Maven which is very focused on the IT Channel, a very specific niche in IT sales and marketing. Over the years, we've helped IT companies of all sizes drive demand through their channel partners and have found that the resources they are given today are challenging to use. So, I built a better mouse trap! Spark Your Channel allows partners and salespeople to customize video, podcast, webinar, and static content in about 3 seconds then renders it in a trackable link they can use anywhere.
I now have co-founders and my team at Channel Maven has always been there for support on the marketing and customer success side, but yes. Initially, I was a solopreneur. But, are we ever totally alone in a venture? I could argue both sides. Being a starter is one of the loneliest things one can ever experience, and yet, I tapped into an amazing network of friends, founders, coaches, and investors for help.
We are definitely still in those early stages, so I'm answering this very real-time, and there are so many things that go through a founder's mind when there is uncertainty. Sometimes, I get more feedback, work harder, or reach out to one of the aforementioned support systems. Other times, I need to totally detach and clear my brain. I live in beautiful Boulder, CO so that could mean going for an amazing hike (though it was hard this year with the fires) or go to a spa (challenging with COVID) or throw myself into playing with my 2 and 4-year-old girls. It's kind of hard to be stressed out when you are covered in finger paint and surrounded by the orchestra of toddler giggles. We did pivot to some extent and yes kept a very lean MVP. It means strategic partnerships with companies that I originally saw as my competitors, but since I already had a reputation in the channel marketing space, a couple of them have very quickly come together.
My suggestion is to focus on what you know and are passionate about. I woke up one morning at 5 a.m., looked at my bleary-eyed husband and said, "I'm going to revolutionize the way Partners drive demand!". I've heard "entrepreneurs" say, "I was trying to figure out what to do next with my life, so I decided to start a company." Inevitably, they're not going to be successful at that venture. It needs to hit you like a lightening bolt and be the only thing you can think about. Another piece of advice came from an amazing connection I made through this process. I had just told her that some days, I feel amazing and know I'm onto something, and other days I think "What the fuck am I doing????" Her response was perfect.
"Don't listen to the "what the fuck do I think I'm doing" voice. It's the voice that holds people back from greatness. Everyone has that voice. It comes from our reptilian brain that helps us sense danger (I'm out in the open and could get eaten by a tiger!). There are no tigers here and nothing you are doing will kill you.“
“If it doesn't work, it might hurt emotionally, but it won't hurt or kill you physically, and so that voice isn't serving you. Most people let that voice hold them back from success - don't be that person.”
This is a tough one. Since starting my career, I can't point to one specific thing that I have failed at in a catastrophic manner, BUT I had a very challenging childhood in some respects and never felt supported. I remember as a teenager making a promise to myself that I would do whatever it took to make sure I never had to depend upon anyone else, ever again. There have been little failures when starting Channel Maven and Spark, like hiring the wrong people, spending money on a rogue marketing effort, or partnering with someone I shouldn't have put the energy into. I am however married to an entrepreneur who is on his fourth company and finally finding success, so I've lived it with him!
My days get pretty packed, as anyone reading this can imagine. I start my day around 5 a.m. with some "me" time where I work out at home (thank you Peloton!), go through emails, LI, twitter, and Facebook (the life of a marketer!), and get ready for my day. I'm usually doing demos, meeting with strategic partners/team members, or speaking on a virtual event from 8-5 but my family book ends my day 100%. 7 a.m. when my girls wake up until 8, I'm Ms. Mom doing breakfast and getting them ready. How many of you have done a French braid while on a conference call at your stand-up desk where your kid hides under the desk? One of my claims to fame :-). Then again 5-7:30 I'm doing dinner, bath, bedtime. At 8:00 PM, both of our laptops are open, or we are discussing one of the challenges we're having and work it out together. One of the benefits of meeting your significant other in business school!
Yes, 100%! I didn't think so back when I started Channel Maven and worked all day and night and through the weekends. With Spark Your Channel, I realize that I am better when I have time to think, when I'm not worried about being a good mom, and when I can have open and honest conversations with investors and clients about what is really important.
The pandemic and quarantine actually increased the need for our platform. We were making a bet that everyone was moving toward more video communications and here we are! We were in the midst of a seed raise which we shut down after an initial investment from York.IE due to all of the uncertainty. It was also probably a good thing, because it showed us that we could be scrappy and bootstrap the heck out of this thing! Now we're raising the seed with more data and a better sense of who we are and how we'll use the funds.
My first business 100%. I make my own schedule; I have people doing the things I am not good at and we've got a great reputation in our small niche. The second business has definitely added a mountain of challenges that I have never experienced. Raising money is probably the biggest difference. I really enjoy running the business and making a huge impact on a problem that has existed for decades but raising has been a challenge, especially as a woman.
Don't get me wrong, I like money. Or I should say, I look forward to the freedom that money could one day afford me. But I really have always been a problem solver, and I love to work. I love the sense of accomplishment and recognition. When I was 13, I got a job working at a hardware store in the small town in Massachusetts where I grew up. I knew everything about everything in that store. Sometimes a customer would come in and ask if there was a man around who could help them...usually an octogenarian man but it came from all kinds! I love the satisfaction of answering their questions, finding exactly what they're looking for and teaching them how to use it.
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