An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Be observant and have active listening skills. What you may foresee as the customers’ wants and your vision may not be it. So, being willing to listen to your customers is super important. I initially built Brevity as an entrepreneurial tool, but we recognized from the results of our beta people wanted this same type of framework for sales and different scenarios. So it opened our eyes to the power of what we initially built and where it’s going.

We had the pleasure of interviewing Kelvin Johnson.

CEO & Co-founder of Brevity Pitch, an AI-powered software helping professionals, create persuasive pitches, Kelvin Johnson has versatile career experience as a CPA, consultant, and executive at a fast-growth tech startup in Denver. He is the author of the forthcoming novel, “Don’t Fear The Sharks: Six Principles to Pitch Investors,” coming out in October 2022. Johnson graduated from Villanova University with a Master of Accountancy.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My parents were sales professionals. They were perplexed about my first job at the Big 4 Accounting Firm. They asked me how to become a CPA when I couldn’t stop running my mouth.

Eventually, I moved into management consulting, which I thought was a good mix of salesmanship, while still being analytical. I also started to get good at cross-selling and upselling work as a consultant. Still, as a senior consultant, you don’t get compensated for that until you are an associate director or director. As an impatient millennial, I didn’t want to wait for this long to be paid for my efforts.

So I was at a crossroads in my career. Do I join the dark side of sales like my parents, or do I go somewhere where I can see my ideas come to fruition? So I chose the latter. I became the fifth employee of a tech company in Denver, Colorado. From that opportunity, I learned a lot. I managed sales, products, and operations and led two acquisitions. Eventually, the CEO of that company and founder said, “You have the makings of a CEO. When you have a great idea, I will fund your company.” And he ended up keeping this promise.

But what brought Brevity to light was when I started a freelance consulting shop called “Humble Warrior Advisors.” And at that shop, I was helping early-stage entrepreneurs get that next major milestone during that period because of my cross-functional background.

I found myself helping out the most with the pitch, and what was great about that but simultaneously frustrating was that people saw and found value in my services. However, entrepreneurs wanted to work with me but couldn’t afford my fees. I couldn’t help them.

What are the current options in the market? And on one end, you have expensive pitch coaches and consultants like me. Or you have these expert books, blogs, and YouTube channels that can be time-consuming and overwhelming to learn.

And then, when I looked under the umbrella of the pitch and presentation software as a service market, I recognized that most of them are focused on pitch deck aesthetics and cosmetics, but not necessarily the story, content, messaging, and delivery.

At that point, I saw a gap in the market, and that’s when Brevity came to birth.

Can you share the most exciting story that has happened to you since you began your company?

The most compelling story is one of our most significant strategic partnerships, Founders Live. They are a global entrepreneurial organization in 130 cities and five continents.

I saw a random email from Founders Live looking for a city leader to run the Minneapolis branch. They have a 99-second pitch competition. So I applied for that city leader because I saw obvious synergies with Brevity’s platform. I had my first introductory call with Nick Hughes.

The moral of the story is he didn’t just want me to be a city leader. He said, “You’ve built software that can help my organization” Throughout time, founders who live in Minneapolis ended up using our Beta product. And we produced a lot of global finalists, contributing heavily to Brevity’s proof of concept.

Finding an excellent opportunity for our company through a random outreach email is a lucky story.

Can you share a story about your funniest mistake when you first started? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The funniest mistake I made (if you can call it funny!) was when I was at that tech company in Denver, and the CEO founder told me that if I have a great idea at some point and I’m mature, he’s going to fund my company.

So I told him about the early stages of Brevity. He was intrigued by the concept, and without any assurance that what we built worked, I asked him for a large amount of money without any validation. There wasn’t a lot of validation. He started challenging certain assumptions and said, “You validate these assumptions. I’ll write you a check.”

So it made me go back to the drawing board. And I learned a profound lesson about validating your assumptions. And he’s one of our most prominent investors to this day.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times you faced when you started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue, even though things were so hard?

Working with people was always difficult when you have different personalities and views or philosophies that were probably different visions. At times, that’s perhaps one of the most complex parts when you first start this journey.

Did I consider giving up Brevity Pitch? I did. There was, of course, high blood pressure and all these different things, but where the drive to continue came from is, first and foremost, my parents. From an early age, they would sacrifice. We lived in West Philadelphia, and they offered to send us to prestigious private schools. And, you know, West Philadelphia wasn’t the best in the area to grow up in. Yet they made the sacrifices that put us in a position to excel.

But when I decided to pursue my entrepreneurial journey, they were close by my side and advocates.

I’d also like to acknowledge the investors of our company. We have over 20 people invested in this company, and they have helped me through many hard times and didn’t give up on me.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Early on, one of my mentors, Steve Thomas, was a massive inspiration for me.

I told him I wanted to be a partner at a Big Four firm. And he told me honestly that he didn’t think I would be happy there. He’s the one who encouraged me to leave my consulting firm to join an early-stage tech company in Denver. Once I tasted the rapid pace of working at an early-stage company, I wanted that for myself and my own company.

Can you give us your favorite life lesson quote? Can you share how that is relevant in your life?

One of my favorite quotes is from a basketball player, Sean Singletary, who told me, “Don’t get bitter, get better.” And that’s one of my famous quotes, as it’s so easy when you don’t get your way or get rejected. It’s so easy to play the victim card. Instead, he taught me to embrace the lesson of not getting bitter about things and work to constantly improve.

Now let’s shift to the main focus. The United States currently faces an essential self-reckoning about race diversity, equality, and inclusion. This is a vast topic, but briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis has evolved to the boiling point that it is now?

I live in the Twin Cities, and I watched an incredible documentary on race and the impact that it’s had on education, getting mortgages, and how difficult it is for people in poverty to have the same opportunities. This has had a significant impact on why things are the way they are. And I live in a city where my barber shop was around a corner from where George Floyd’s murder took place.

So these mechanisms purposely put in place have had a significant impact. And it shows why we are where we are today. This may be obvious to most of us, but it would be helpful to spell out.

Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it’s so essential for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

Of course. It comes down to the fact that when similar minds are the only perspectives, there is a blindspot in judgment. So if you’re trying to acquire customers, one of the big things we have within our software is buying personalities.

And, you know, people have different buying personas and philosophical meanings of life. As long as you and your team comes from a place of respect and trust, there will be synergy. My co-founder and I don’t even always agree. However, having a team that allows you to question, seek answers, and ultimately make the best decision is going to have the best impact on the culture, economics, and vision.

Let’s zoom out a bit and talk in more broad terms. It’s hard to be satisfied with the status quo regarding Black Men in Tech leadership. What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

I think we need more shepherds, right? Right. You have more opportunities you’re not ready for, but you have the capacity and competency to get there. And the best example for me is Wade Rosen, who I work for in Denver, and Andreas, who both gave me a real chance as a Director of Operations at a fast-growing tech company when on paper, I wasn’t qualified.

So I think within the interview process, being able to dig deep into people’s life experiences, not just professional experiences, shows context that they can strive in.

Digging deeper, I think these types of environments are critical. One of my favorite football coaches is PJ Fleck from the University of Minnesota. A question he askes during the interview process when he was recruiting players, “Tell me about when you’ve failed in life.” I’m paraphrasing here, but it was to tell him about when you failed and what you learned from it. For the players that don’t have that vulnerability he’s less interested. So really, diving a little bit deeper is incredibly important.

We love to learn a little bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?

I run into many people with remarkable concepts, ideas, proposals, or businesses. Still, they have a lot of difficulties communicating concisely and in a compelling manner. In this short attention span society, we compete with Zoom fatigue and lower comprehension rates. People want instant information and don’t have 60 minutes to conclude what you do, why they should care, and the following steps to work together.

That’s the most significant pain point we’re addressing, and that theme is relevant across sales, applicable across interviewing, and fundraising. Anytime you need the influence to convince or connect, it’s super important to be clear, concise, and compelling. And what we do at Brevity is help people formulate and craft the right story, content, messaging, and delivery to be clearly understood but also persuasive.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

One of our users who moved to the USA from Africa didn’t have the best English language skills. He ended up using our coaching and our software. He is on his way to becoming one of the most successful tech companies in the twin cities. By leveraging our coaching and software, he could be a little more compact in his messaging. He learned how to tell stories that illustrate the need for his product, and I would say that’s one of the best stories we can speak to.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How, how do you think this will, how do you think that will help people? How do you think that that will help people?

Yes, actually. The most exciting project is our beta product to help people raise several million dollars to win pitch competitions. But what we’re seeing now, based on the insights we’ve garnered from our proof of concept, is that people want to be able to leverage our pitch script frameworks, intelligence, timing, logic, all the things that we built in our software into a more ubiquitous nature.

So whether interviewing for a job or asking for a promotion or a raise, people want to ensure they have the right story, content messaging, and delivery to influence and persuade their target audience.

Our commercially-viable product launches in October; this is the most exciting project we are working on right now.

What would you advise of another tech leader who initially went through years of success of growth but has reached a standstill from your experience? Do you have any general advice about boosting growth or sales or restarting their engines?

The first thing that comes to mind is knowing how to be a great active listener. Being customer obsessed and asking them questions. But the beauty of it is not what they initially say.

There’s a concept of five whys in Kaizen. Someone rarely gives you the correct answer in their initial response. Being able to have that trusted relationship with your customers and understand their needs is one of the ways that can help you experience massive growth. Also, paying attention to the trends in your industry or adjacent industries is incredibly important because when you develop a product or a service, paying attention to similar characteristics and psychographics of another customer segment can also be an excellent way to expand sales.

Even for us at Brevity, we are going international. There are 67 English-speaking countries. So it’s super important to realize other geographies you could also expand into.

Do you have any advice about how companies can create high-performing sales teams?

Two things I learned early on with high-performing sales teams are: One, having a leader that can sell themselves and gets on the front line showing people that they can also do this, is super important.

And two, ensure that you have an environment of coaching, consistent training, and role-playing. This way, the time people get to the front stage, there’s less stage fright, and they can have that habit of performing in these sometimes intense situations.

In your specific industry, What methods have you found most effective in finding and attracting the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?

We still have a long way to grow, and one of the most effective methods I’ve seen in our early stages is being quite literally in proximity to your buyers. For example, we had an event that I was invited to speak to within the last three weeks called F’UP nights. F’UP nights are where CEOs express vulnerability, showcasing where they messed up in a portion of their career and

what they learned from it.

What was great about it was that a potential buyer was there. I didn’t even say anything about Brevity, I said maybe one line about it, but long story short, it resulted in a sale. So literally, strategically networking and not going in to grow a business, but instead of learning, developing, and connecting with people, has been an excellent way for us to find the right customers.

Based on your experience, can you give three or four strategies to give your customers the best user experience and customer service?

The first strategy is the timeliness of being responsive and following through–holding yourself accountable for that.

The second one is on the customer side: our customers are program directors and CEOs and having “quality partner reviews” quarterly. Those have been dynamite for us.

The third is establishing ground rules and expectations and what they see as their KPIs or critical success metrics before starting the engagement.

The fourth is owning your mistakes and not deflecting because I’ve seen many relationships improve dramatically when you own your mistake and improve.

As you like to know, this HBR article demonstrates that studies are shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Can you share some advice from your experience about how to determine customer churn? Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn?

Quality partner reviews are enormous. The other is like having a great company culture where people feel heard and valued because they will show up better for your customers. Another is listening and implementing, being honest when you can’t, and being transparent.

Here’s the central question for our discussion based on your experience. Success. What are the five most important things someone should know in order to create a very successful tech company? Please share an example for each.

Number one is to validate your assumptions and build a minimum viable product test. The ability to see if people get the end outcome of the results you foresaw is most important, and we did that with our beta product. I assumed this would help people increase their chances of being clearly understood and compelling and streamline the process of creating a pitch. And it did. You need to see if people get the end outcome of the results you foresaw is most important, and we did that with our beta product.

The other important aspect of a successful tech company is to have a hiring process early on and even for original co-founders or vendors. The method I use is the “Who Hiring Method.” And even for one of my good friends, who is now my co-founder–Max Huc–we went through that process. And we got clarity in the context of our strengths and weaknesses together. One of the most important is to involve a hiring process for co-founders, employees, and even vendors and stay consistent with it.

The third thing anyone running a successful tech company should know about is self-care. This is an arduous journey; staying disciplined and consistent with your self-care and always being willing to adapt and modify is crucial because no success can amount if you don’t take care of yourself first.

The fourth is to be observant and have active listening skills. What you may foresee as the customers’ wants and your vision may not be it. So, being willing to listen to your customers is super important. I initially built Brevity as an entrepreneurial tool, but we recognized from the results of our beta people wanted this same type of framework for sales and different scenarios. So it opened our eyes to the power of what we initially built and where it’s going.

Those are the main things that build a successful tech company. The last one is solidifying your core values earlier than you thought. You should leverage those in the hiring and selection process of the people you bring on board; that was critical for us. Easier said than done because I actually struggled with building your foundation for scale, setting up the hub spots, setting up the procedures, and making sure your administrative house is in order. From what I’ve heard, I think it is super vital regarding potential buy-out. Those organizational documents and compliance can, unfortunately, get overlooked.

The final media questions of our discussion. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could Inspire movement, that will bring the most amount of goods to the most amount of people. What would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Early on, having the education system dig into emotional education, whether a therapist or educator, was entirely helpful. I’m a big fan of cognitive behavioral therapy. I’ve been with mine for the last six years, and it helps me more often than not. It also allows me show up my relaxed best self, and a movement around that would be awesome.

We are very blessed that very prominent readers read. In this column, is there a person in the world to us with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why he or she might see this if we tag them?

Because I grew up in Philly, the first one that comes to mind would be Will Smith. He grew up a block away. And I started reading his book and just some of the early life lessons he overcame. He had to overcome being someone who was called “the only chip in the cookie” at some of the early schools he went to and how he had balanced growing up in the ‘hood versus growing up in less diverse prestigious schools. Obviously, he’s famous, and he’s had a lot of success, but his work ethic is unbelievable. So, having conversations with him at a project and breakfast would be awesome.

This was so informative, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

Kelvin Johnson Of Brevity Pitch On Five Things You Need To Create A Successful Tech Company was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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