Watch out, the “end” of the beginning of the year is upon us! Hopefully your 2017 business development efforts are already off to a great start.
In planning for my 2017, I found myself taking note of my growing reliance on specialty software that I find myself using on a daily basis. As a modern deal professional, here are a few other software applications that you should consider adding to your routine.
This little known software is hands down the most important tool in my repertoire. I use it as often as I use Outlook (which is a lot!), and, by the end of 2017, I will probably use it more than any other software in my daily life. It, quite plainly, is the most simple and flexible relational database I have ever used. Yes, you do need to invest some time to figure out how to use it, but if you’ve programmed at any level in the past or like thinking through processes, you will fall in love with this software’s simple beauty.
It’s a mystery to me why Podio is unknown to so many. The Dutch company was founded in 2009 and acquired by major software provider Citrix in 2012 who has been spending development dollars to make it even better. I started using the software in 2011, and now find myself a ranking member of its cult-like following. If you follow productivity masters like Tim Ferriss (@tferriss) or David Allen (@gtdguy), you will fall in love with this tool.
We use Podio at our investment firm to manage our entire investment process. When an investment opportunity comes in the door, we use the software to efficiently manage the work it takes to make an investment decision. I’ve built 20 applications through Podio — they do everything from CRM, pipeline management, workflow management, marketing trip organizer, newsletter production, and more. I even built an app to track my workouts (I wish I used that one more often!). And Podio is able to export all the data to Excel, which can be used to build reports through simple pivot tables and charts.
If Podio is the best database I use for “structured data”, then Evernote is the best database for “unstructured data”. I was so excited when I learned about Evernote, the brainchild of Phil Libin (@plibin). I remember downloading it, opening the program for the first time, and then staring blankly at the screen. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do, so I didn’t use it much for the first year. Then, after reading David Allen’s book Getting Things Done, I realized I wasn’t thinking about how to use the tool properly. This was to be my dumping ground of any information important (as Allen says, “your brain needs its RAM”) that I want to have a very high chance of finding at any point in the future. Think of being able to create a “google-able” universe of any information you encounter throughout your daily life. Evernotes search algorithm is very impressive and continues to get better.
So how do we use Evernote at our firm? In many ways. Want to try and recall when and where you last met with someone? I’ve been uploading my notes from events like Axial’s Summit for the past few years. My notes are directly on the list of attendees. It takes 2 minutes to find what would have taken you 60 minutes if you structured every last piece of data from the event. Want to keep an eye out for opportunities that may fit your firm or your referral sources? Structuring all of that data would take weeks of time. Given Evernote’s amazing optical character recognition (OCR) system it can read anything – both physical and digital text. If you used Evernote you could actually do something with all of those 2-pagers you’ve been picking up at industry conferences. Finally Evernote works well in a team environment because data is easily shared amongst co-workers, but also remains institutionalized with some good access controls built into the system.
The winner for highest ROI % for any software has to be Copy2Contact. And, despite the software’s development cost was probably less than 0.1% of what it took to bring Podio and Evernote to market, it remains a vital tool that I use on a daily basis. It’s about as simple as it gets. Want to add a contact to Outlook? Highlight it and tap ctrl-c-c. The magic of Copy2Contact takes over and new Outlook contact appears with information in the correct fields (98.5% of the time). I have thousands of contacts in my Outlook. Do your own math and multiply those contacts by how much time it take you to input a new contact. And when you link your contact management (from software like Microsoft Outlook) to your customer relationship management (CRM) software great things will happen. Your relationships will stay better informed about what opportunities your firm is looking for because more contact information is captured, kept updated, and added to your firm’s mailing list. Deal professionals shouldn’t waste time on administrative tasks that are better delegated to technology.
Our firm was an early adopter of Axial’s technology, and the company has made big strides over the years. I’m often asked how we use the platform in our investment operations. In many ways that answer continues to evolve as they enhance their service offering. As a specialty finance company, my firm is seeking to connect with private equity sponsors and business owners in hopes of providing them with financing solutions. Axial has allowed me to leverage my time by providing me a consistent source of deal leads (which has increased with the recent addition of the “Seeking Financing” functionality).
As all investment professionals know, behind every deal is a person representing that opportunity. Even if the deal isn’t right for my investment mandate, a connection over something tangible has been made and time will tell what sort of relationship will develop. I also have the ability to identify opportunities that may fit my referral sources and friends in the industry. Deals give investment professionals things to talk about. I much prefer using a deal to reconnect with someone versus a cold call.
My Axial rep has been great over the years. He provides warm introductions to potential clients that fit our investment mandate. There’s nothing like a warm introduction to provide some relevancy and context before spending time with someone. Axial’s networking events are good and can provide an alternative to the monotony of the ACG circuit.