Dave Knox is Co-Founder of The Brandery, a consumer-focused startup accelerator. He as well as the author of the book Predicting the Turn, which examines the intersection of disruption and innovation between startups and large companies.
Dave is a brand builder, venture investor, and startup advisor. He worked at Procter & Gamble’s corporate digital team and later became the Chief Marketing Officer of Rockfish, a digital agency that was acquired by WPP Ventures.
Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:
- [01:08] James introduces his guest, Dave Knox
- [02:10] How are traditional national brands embracing disruption and innovation concepts?
- [04:05] How can small brands adopt new innovations and accept disruptions more effectively in order to stay ahead of the competition
- [05:57] Why are companies looking at Amazon as an inspiration for disruptions and innovations?
- [09:23] How can brands avoid moving slowly on Amazon?
- [12:17] Dave emphasizes on the value of innovation matrixes and how to build those into their brand
- [16:10] Dave shares his perspective on what constitutes a brand that’s market-ready and how businesses can build and maintain a brand that has real brand equity
- [20:47] How retail partners can help big brands realize the value of managing online marketplaces more effectively and more aggressively
- [23:43] Dave talks about the opportunities that businesses can explore to build and grow their brand online other than Amazon
- [26:13] How did Dave realize that he was good at helping brands get clarity about their products?
- [28:04] The one piece of advice Dave got from a mentor that has led him to where he is today
- [30:07] Why large national brands need to change their compensation models in order to improve their competitive advantage
In this episode…
Amazon has been at the forefront of creating innovations and disruptions in the world of eCommerce so much so that many companies are looking to it for inspiration on what to do next to up their game. The waves of change that Amazon has brought in online marketplaces and online sales marketing have had such a huge impact on how business is done on the internet and companies are starting to see the need to embrace innovations and disruptions in an effective and optimized manner.
Dave Knox of The Brandery joins Buy Box Experts host James Thomson in today’s episode where they talk about the best ways for both small and large brands to embrace the possible innovations and disruptions in their particular market and how they can use these to stay ahead of the competition. They also talk about the importance of building brand credibility, other opportunities for growth in the online world that isn’t within the confines of Amazon, and why updating a company’s compensation model can help them propel their business forward. Stay tuned.
Resources Mentioned on this episode
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Welcome to the Buy Box Experts Podcast with your host, Joseph Hansen. We bring to light the unique opportunities brands face and today’s e-commerce world.
James Thomson 0:18
Hi, I’m James Thomson one of the hosts of the Buy Box Experts Podcast I’m a partner with Buy Box Experts and formerly the business head of the selling on Amazon team at Amazon, as well as the first account manager of the Fulfillment by Amazon program. I’m co-author of the book The Amazon Marketplace Dilemma and co-founder of The Prosper Show, one of the largest continuing education conferences for Amazon sellers today in North America. Today’s episode is brought to you by Buy Box Experts. Buy Box Experts takes ambitious brands and makes them unbeatable. When you hire Buy Box Experts you receive the strategy optimization and marketing performance to succeed on Amazon. We are the only agency that combines executive-level advisory services Is with expert performance management and execution of your Amazon channel strategy. Go to Buy Box Experts calm to learn more. Our guest today is Dave Knox. Early in his career, Dave worked at PNGs corporate digital team and later became the CMO of Rockfish, a digital agency that WP acquired two years ago. Dave is a co-founder of the Brandery, a consumer-focused startup accelerator, as well as the author of a book called predicting the turn, which examines the intersection of disruption and innovation between startups and large companies like PNG. Dave knows brands, he knows Amazon. He knows agencies, and he knows startups. Welcome, Dave, and thank you for joining us today on the Buy Box Experts Podcast.
Dave Knox 1:45
Thank you for having me.
James Thomson 1:47
Dave, I’d like to start our discussion about disruption and innovation. two topics you bring together in your book predicting the turn. If I look at what Amazon has done in the past 25 years, most of its efforts can be classified into those two buckets of disruption and innovation. How do you see traditional national brands currently embracing such disruption and innovation concepts?
Dave Knox 2:10
Yeah, the biggest thing that I think you see in especially this world of Amazon emerging and what it causes for big brands, is having rethink all of the relationships and the go to market strategies that were frankly foregone conclusions in the past. You know, growing up in the world of PNG, we did our category launches based on the category reviews of traditional retail, it was okay, we’re going to launch this product in August of next year, because that’s when Walmart and Target and Kroger resetting their shelves, yes, and you started at retail and went backwards. But in the world of what Amazon has created, that flips the script entirely, because you don’t have to live by category reviews and timing and things of those nature. So when you look at these whole category reviews, and how Those category reviews are changing across the board. It’s really at the heart of what innovation and disruption means. Because too often I think we think about new innovation and new disruption, being new business models, new things that come about, but really the most intimidating innovation and disruption comes about when how you go to market and how the processes of your business kind of get pulled out from under you. And that’s what Amazon has done with retail. It’s not a new retailer that is disrupting, quote, unquote, you know, traditional retailers. It’s the fact they’ve disrupted what the very process of retail looks like.
James Thomson 3:41
So let me let me think about this from the perspective of some of the types of companies that we run into regularly. Let’s suppose I’m a small brand selling $5 million a year. Some of that’s online, some of that’s offline. How would I embrace the concept of innovation and disruption more effectively, to move faster To stay ahead of both current and future competitors that I might run into.
Dave Knox 4:05
Yeah, so I think that it’s hard is actually what gives such an advantage, frankly, for smaller brands right now that are willing to embrace that. Because you know, when you look at things like let’s take $1 Shave Club are Harry’s as the brands that have now reached a large size. But when they came about, it wasn’t that the biggest players in the marketplace didn’t see the appeal of the concept. You know, they all knew that subscription made sense that people would want it. But they couldn’t walk into a Walmart of target, the guys that represent 98% of their business and say, Hey, by the way, this thing is coming. And we need to start competing against you now, because we’re going to lose our business five years from now. Because target didn’t care if they were going to lose, you know, if Gillette would lose five years from now, they cared about today, right? So what that means for Small brand is you can embrace it to that. And take that moment in time. go all in push as hard as you can, because that nimbleness and that speed and that agility is an advantage that you’re you’re going to have, and that window will close, but done rightly, you can take advantage of it today.
James Thomson 5:20
I’ve worked with brands that have asked me what their firms can do to learn from Amazon’s ability to disrupt and innovate seemingly more easily than than most firms. Why do you think there’s so much fascination with Amazon as being the place to look to for disruption and innovation? I mean, disruption, innovation comes in lots of different forms. But but it there’s there’s this almost a, almost a cultish type approach that executives take and say, well, we need to copy what Amazon did. Like somehow they’re going to actually copy parts of Amazon.
Dave Knox 5:57
Yeah. So I think it’s a few things that causes them to be aspirational, inspirational both at the same time. You know, number one is if you go and talk to the fortune 500, you know, let’s just say over the last decade, nearly every single person at some point would talk about, well, we’re really big company. You know, we’re like an aircraft carrier, it takes us a long time to turn. And that’s, you know, that’s really the difficult part of innovation. Well, Amazon, depending on the day is the largest mark one of the largest market cap companies in the world. And they are able to do this innovation without their size being excuse. You know, I always use the example of Amazon Prime now, you know, when they launched that in 2014 2015, you know, their market cap was already in the hundreds of billions of dollars, yet they were able to launch that product in 111 days from go to having that in market. So that’s one reason I think a lot of Fortune 500 turns and uses Amazon On this example, because they can, despite being big, still move with that nimbleness and that speed that, frankly, I think a lot of companies are jealous of. So that’s number one. I think number two is that Amazon has done a really interesting thing when it comes to balance. You know, you have a company that last year I think spent $22 billion on research and development. So they’re spending a lot on innovation and what’s next and everything else. but on the same token, anybody that has, you know, worked at Amazon like you have or has studied, Amazon knows that. Jeff has also created a culture where it’s okay to actually search and reapply or be a copycat. You look at Amazon local was down to the UX a rip off of livingsocial and Groupon. You look at my habit, which was the same thing for gilt groupe and everything else that Amazon unlikes two, when they see an innovation, they don’t have to be so prideful and boastful that they created it. It’s okay to copy it and just see if that model plays out or not. And a lot of big companies are afraid to do that. You know, Apple’s not one that’s usually very prideful or they’re too prideful, that they won’t copy something else. But Amazon has done this really fascinating balance of we will create things, but will also copycat things. And we’re okay with both, because we think we can out innovate based on that.
James Thomson 8:35
So let’s talk a little bit more about brands on Amazon. As we see the accelerated fashion on Amazon today, brands are being copied quickly by b2b brands, looking to steal share with many of the brands that you have helped to launch or your clients have launched. But those brands were definitely complex types of products aimed to solve problems and yet national brands aren’t necessarily good at launching little side businesses, little side brands to build a compete with so many of these new upstart brands that are very much Amazon centric. How do you think about that? And how do you talk to your clients about opportunities to avoid moving too slowly, even though they may have large national brand awareness?
Dave Knox 9:23
Yeah, I think one of the things I like to talk with them a lot is about reframing what a new innovation means and what a new launch looks like. When you look at a lot of these brands that let’s say are billion dollar businesses. The hurdle for a new product launch was often this needs to be able to get to be 100 million dollar product within six months or 12 months. Well, we’re in a world today. I’m not sure if there’s ever actually going to be another billion dollar brand that’s created from scratch. We’re seeing the dollars be sliced into worlds of nickels and dimes and quarters. Because of that, one of the things I like to coach new, big brands on, is you have to reframe what success looks like that if you launch a brand that is only, you know, maybe on e commerce or Amazon, if that can be a $10 million business, that can be a good business, but you have to frame it the right way and think about it. And think about the fact that ecommerce can allow you to find niche audiences that you couldn’t have found otherwise. You know, a lot of times the problem is that you need create not only a brand that moves the needle from a revenue size, but also one that is, you know, frankly, generic enough that it can move enough units per store per week, that it matters. And the problem is that per store per week, gets down to you know, let’s take target. It has to do that volume on 1800 separate stores, or in dollars, you know, Dollar General 13 thousand different stores? Well, that same volume on a single site is a lot different of a game. So like one of my favorite products PNG ever launched was the downy wrinkle release. It was an amazing product that people absolutely loved. And it got pulled off the shelf after being, you know, into the eight figures revenue, because it didn’t sell enough per store per week. If that had been launched just on Amazon, or just as an e commerce DTC, it would have been a runways success. So it’s about reframing and thinking about where is the right place for something to be sold, and what’s the right audience to be offered to do it? Because a niche doesn’t mean it’s small, a niche can still be a massive business
James Thomson 11:45
The other constraint that I see large national brands running into is not just what the financial threshold is, but being able to organize their bureaucracy so that it doesn’t take two to three years to go through endless focus groups to finally get that product. Launched? How do you help companies think through how to move more quickly and be willing to launch something that may not be absolutely perfect your traditional thresholds of customer excitement? But but nonetheless get it out there and start selling start collecting customer data?
Dave Knox 12:17
Yeah. And that’s where it comes down to an innovation matrix. And what are the right approaches that businesses can look like for doing that? And, you know, I wish I could sit here and say there’s a there’s an easy one size fits all solution to that. But there’s really not what instead I like to encourage brands to think about there was a great innovation matrix that was created by monitor probably almost a decade ago, that talks about core adjacent and transformational innovation. And what’s important for a business to do is think about all three of those levels of innovation, and to build those in, you know, what are those things you need to innovate that your core business to protect what you are have, what are those Jason’s and that adjacent might be? Let’s take, you know, tide is an example, tide doing tide drip tide, dry cleaners was an adjacent innovation. You know, it was something that was around the core equity, but kind of going after a new consumer. And then there is transformational innovation of those new things. So step one for a brand is think about those three levels of matrix. And how do you go do that? Then it’s thinking about what are the things that you could do in the types of innovation, to your point move more quickly and spontaneous if you will. And that can be everything ranging from corporate venture capital, which doing direct investments or direct investing in a fund, that could be looking at partnership that could be looking at acquisition, or it can be looking at the build strategy. And I think this gets to the heart of where brands need to move more quickly. is how can you create those spaces that are intentionally set up to move quickly? You know, the folks at Allegiant is one that I love right now, Allegiant is the biggest maker of locks in the US, or maybe actually the world. So company brands like slosh and other are within their portfolio. They recently launched something called pin and Tumblr that is meant to be a venture studio. And it is, let’s take an idea. And instead of spending our time doing focus groups, and all kinds of these other things to see if there’s a market behind it, let’s put it up on e commerce and see what happens. Let’s use Shopify or Amazon to be our focus group, because that can let a consumer speak. You’ve seen some of the appliance manufacturers have done it really in a really cool way with using Kickstarter, actually, as their focus group. Where I think it was I want to say it was GE appliances. is a few years or about a year ago. If you’ve ever been in the south, you know what Sonic ice ice cubes are, you know, the nice little pellet. So they launched a pellet icemaker up on Kickstarter and sold a ton of them. You know, they could have spent two years going through focus groups to find out and realize that that would sell really well in the south, or two people that were born and raised in the south and then moved elsewhere. But it was a lot easier just put up on Kickstarter and have that happen. And lead sales be the focus group. So those are all the different ways there’s a ton of different models, but it’s going to come down to different cultures and different mindsets.
James Thomson 15:41
I’d like to perspective on sort of new problem we see with brand building. What What do you think it takes to build and maintain a brand that has real brand equity to it, especially in today’s era where you’ve got these private label brands on Amazon that are little more than a trademark logo and maybe some unique packaging, how do you help established brands? Think about that threshold of what constitutes a brand or good enough brand to be able to go to market?
Dave Knox 16:10
Yeah, so one of the things I’m, you know, I’m not sure if I, I’m in the minority of thinking it but I’m a believer, at least that I think we’re entering the next phase of direct to consumer businesses and brands, that is going to be the return to performance. The first generation of brands that were out there were exactly what you described it. It was, let’s create really fancy marketing that has a great way to growth hack or whichever other words you want to use there. But we’re just sourcing it from a contract manufacturer, no differentiation for our product. And we can’t make any claims or anything else because it is what it is. And that was very successful. I mean, you can’t argue against some of the brands that were built doing that. But I think the next phase of business is they’re launching are going to have to be around some sort of a competitive advantage, where you have a chance to start getting rewarded by building that, starting with products that can be differentiated. And then building communities that can be differentiated around it. You know, there’s a gentleman named web Smith, who runs a company called 2pm. that talks about that today’s DTSC brand isn’t going to start with a media by, but it’s going to start with a community that they built. And that might be around content and media and other things that they do. But they’re going to stop renting audiences, ie which advertising a media is, and they’re going to start building communities around certain content. So I’m a pretty big believer, I think we’re going to see that as the next phase. Not just Can you source from a private label manufacturer, throw it out there and game the system to get sales.
James Thomson 17:57
If you look at some of the very largest private brands that started on Amazon. They’re doing exactly what you talked about. They built huge social media followings. And every time they launch a new product, they go back to their actively managed social media following and they say, Hey, listen, we’ve just launched this line of product, or maybe this particular individual unit of product. Let’s get behind this product and being able to get the first hundred sales, the first thousand sales, the first 20 reviews, that happens much, much faster for them because they have built and maintained that social media following it’s it’s almost it’s a little crazy when you think that when you go to some of these seller forums, people talk about this, like, Ooh, it’s the secret sauce that helps these brands launch so quickly. And yet, it’s exactly what you talked about, which is, let’s let’s have a real customer asset to start with, versus let’s just yell louder than everybody else to get our products to get some attention.
Dave Knox 18:54
Yeah, that’s exactly it. And you know, the value on that too is that can not just Via channel for you to promote when you have the new product, but it can inspire you new products as well. You know, when we had our call before this, we talked about a small business that I bought recently. And one of the things I’m looking at with my product pipeline is reading through the Amazon reviews and the customer feedback. And the side use cases are what’s actually inspiring the new products that will be launching with that business. And so that’s a huge advantage that if you’ve got that audience, you’ve got those fans, you’ve got access to their voices, you never know what you’re going to be inspired to create next because of that. And that’s something that the big historical big brands, they just are really lacking because most of them do not have that direct connection to their consumer.
James Thomson 19:47
What’s amusing is that, you know, I’ve talked to some folks on this podcast who are specialists in helping to sell brands, and they will all say if you’ve got a large engaged customer following you’re gonna get Hire multiple in your business simply because it’s easier to launch new products. And yet yes, it’s more work to actually build that following. But it truly is a critical part to the overall flywheel that allows you to continue to be relevant and continue to grow quickly online.
Unknown Speaker 20:17
Yeah, without a doubt. Yeah.
James Thomson 20:19
So one of the biggest challenges that we had Buy Box Experts and faced with prospective brand clients is the lack of willingness of senior management to evolve the way they go to market. Now that all on marketplaces add unique brand control pressures for brands. How do you see leadership teams coming to grips that online marketplaces need to be managed more assertively, and can’t be delegated to some random retailer that they choose to have sell online?
Dave Knox 20:47
Yeah, marketplaces are one of the more fascinating things of how sales organizations are responding because if you still talk to the majority of Fortune 500 leaders They will call Amazon a retailer. And they’ll talk about Amazon in the same breath that they talk about. Yeah, target and Walmart and Kroger and everybody else. And that’s, I think, an oversimplification that is credibly dangerous for any of these sales leaders and executives to talk about. Because Amazon one P versus Amazon three p, you might as well treat them as being two different, you know, businesses in many ways. And same goes from Walmart these days to frankly with marketplace of Walmart getting you on shelf at a store versus Walmart, online. Two very different things as well. And the problem is that I think a lot of people still want to have their head in the sand on that, because it forces them or allows them to not talk about some really tough things. Yes. You know, you look at and you work with so many brands that have to deal with this that you know, one P is easy. I’m just gonna Treat them just like I treat anybody else. I’m going to sell it to them. But then you have to answer the questions of, well, why is Amazon suddenly selling this product for 20%? What below what they bought it from me from? And how do I tell my other retailers about floor pricing minimums and everything else. That’s the danger of trading Amazon like another retailer because they don’t play by the rules of other retail either. versus something like three p gives you a ton more ability to control and to do interesting things. But it’s also really scary, because then it’s a direct to consumer business that happens to just have Amazon’s logistics behind it. So I think a lot of big brands still, frankly, aren’t willing to come to that realization and have the discussion of one P versus three P. Because they’re scared. They don’t know which way it’s going to go. But that’s why they need great partners to help figure it out. Because it is nimble, it’s not something that can be planned out two years in advance, because it might change one month from now, depending on what’s going on and where things are and where they’re evolving.
James Thomson 23:15
Dave, I want to shift gears here a little bit. One of your ventures today is providing seed capital to companies. What do you see new companies doing in response to Amazon seemingly endless tentacles to practically all what is e commerce? Where do you see Amazon not being as nimble and hence being opportunities for some companies to be able to, to build and grow successful ecommerce businesses?
Dave Knox 23:43
Yeah, so I think, you know, when you look at some of the opportunities across the board, you know, I’m a big believer of trend and counter trend. And just because somebody is going after space and doing really well, doesn’t mean it closes off all doors out there. And if anything, it creates the opposite opportunity. So you know, one of the ways I look at it is, I make a very clear line between why called shopping and why called buy. And Amazon has created one of the best buying mechanisms in the world. If I have an intent of something that I want to go purchase, there is no better channel than amazon prime to go get that thing immediately. But if I want to go shop and discover and explore, Amazon’s actually not a very good mechanism for that. You know, they try but if I want to go figure out a gift for my wife for Christmas, or you know, a Father’s Day gift or any of those, Amazon’s not very good place to go do that discovery. It’s going to personalize maybe decent things for me based on my purchasing behavior, but it’s not going to surface those recommendations for others in a really good unique or different way. And I say all of that because I still think there is a massive opportunity for somebody to do shopping better online than Amazon offers. I think that’s why Pinterest was so appealing for so long, and Pinterest and house and some of these others are great shopping and discovery platforms where I can be lost in four hours. Because shopping is an intuitive human nature thing. There’s a reason American balls worked for so long because you could go get lost shopping for six hours. It doesn’t mean you were buying for six hours, you might have walked away with a single thing from those six hours. Amazon hasn’t solved that. They haven’t created shopping in an amazing way yet. So that’s I think probably the biggest space for somebody to do something with really interestingly.
James Thomson 25:55
Dave, early in your career, when you were working with brands, you You were learning the space, you were trying to figure out how to be as effective as possible with brands. Was there a particular turning point where you realized you were good at what you were doing helping brands to get clarity around what they needed to do?
Dave Knox 26:13
You know, one of the amazing things about starting a career at a place like a PNG, is it’s almost like you’re going through a second education. You know, it’s a company that you when you start as an assistant brand manager, you do a VM college, when you get promoted to brand manager, you do brand manager college, throughout the whole time period, you’re doing different classes and learnings. And so for me, I had about a seven year you know, MBA, if you will, yeah, that was just everyday going to work. And for me, what I learned along the way, and why, why it’s kind of sent me on the path I have is that I found that I personally loved the marketing side of things, more than I loved the general management side of things and That’s what kind of left me to leave p&g and then go to rockfish and kind of do what I’ve done with brands is I love the art of marketing and creating a brand. Getting that out to consumers making people realize it. And I at least was a pretty early believer of the power of digital to do that. And to change what that go to market strategy was going to be it so for me, the turning point was, you know, when I had started the corporate digital team with another colleague, yeah, that was 2007 2008. And we did some stuff work we were really proud of. And for me, it was going to be well, thank you for being this digital expert. The next thing we need you to go do is, you know, be the tide brain manager in Singapore. Right. For me, I like playing to my strengths versus developing my weaknesses. And so for me, that was kind of the turning point.
James Thomson 27:55
Was there a particular piece of advice that a mentor gave you at some point that really helps you crystallize the approach that you’ve taken here with runes.
Dave Knox 28:04
Yeah, I think it’s a both the approach I’ve taken with brands but even broader than that was a piece of advice I got from a amazing woman named Wendy Lee. And Wendy, when I met her, she was the CEO of a company called get satisfaction. That was kind of one of their leading community feedback review companies at the time. And she went on to be board member for tech stars, the CEO for central fuse and has done a lot of different things. And as I was thinking about my next steps, Wendy said, always go one degree from where you are today. And what she meant with that was that so many people have a vision of where they want to be that ultimate place in their life. And oftentimes, they’ll take a leap of faith to get there. And they have some really hard bumps along the way. And what she encouraged me instead of think about the things I was doing today, and go one step closer, So each time to where I ultimately want to be, and so for me going from PNG to rockfish, you know, my one degree was going to a much, much smaller company. You know, I left a company that was 100,000 people to one that was 60 people. But the folks we were selling into, we’re still the same guys I worked with every day. It was the PNGs and the Kimberley, Clarkson, the Unilever’s. So all I was doing was changing the size of the company, not changing the industry or anything else. That little piece of advice. Every step I’ve taken along the way has been a one degree shift that has ultimately led me to the place I want to be today.
James Thomson 29:45
So I’ve got one last question for you, Dave. When you think of large national brands, what one change would you suggest that they make in order to adjust their culture to be able to handle some of these unique needs and unique pressures that online marketplaces like Amazon have introduced to their business.
Dave Knox 30:07
Yeah, so I think the number one change that they need to make is actually the one that is the most difficult one to make. And what I mean by that is, they have to change the compensation models. Because when you look at the nimbleness that’s required in today’s world, a lot of these big companies, you were rewarded by consistency, it was we’re going to grow the business 4% this year, 5% this year and 6%. And it was about how do you hit that number? missing it, you were punished, but frankly, going to a 10% growth or an 11% growth. You weren’t rewarded that much either. It was deliver what you’ve said you were deliver, and nothing more, nothing less. And you were compensated accordingly. You know, you got very good salary But your bonus structure was usually within some set boundaries. You’re now competing against a different mindset with entrepreneurs. And it’s going to require, you know, new risk taking and new approaches, but you have to compensate the risk accordingly, and create that sense of ownership. You know, I think the thing that all of us in entrepreneurship that what we love so much, it’s not just the freedom, but it’s you know what betting on yourself can do. And you deal with the downside of that. And you deal with the upside of that. If you’re going to create compete against a world where you have to compete with people that mindset. You won’t get that if you’re still paying somebody the same salary and the same bonus, no matter how well they do or don’t do. That’s really, really tough for a big company to change. But I don’t know if you can survive unless you figure out a way change that competition. Model tab that more entrepreneurial upside and downside.
James Thomson 32:05
You’re basically setting your people free to do as much as they need to do to keep growing the business. Very interesting. And thank you for that. Thank you for that advice. Dave, thank you for joining us today. For those of you interested in learning more about Dave Knox’s ventures, I asked you to go to predicting the turn calm. Thank you for joining us today, Dave. That’s it for today.