David Cancel, CEO of Drift, is on a mission: to help a million people achieve their potential. I was lucky enough to get a chance to speak with him on the Sales Development podcast, where we spoke about how people’s low expectations fueled his success, staying humble, and the key to a successful business like Drift. Here are some of the highlights.
No expectations mean nothing to lose
When David was growing up, he had no idea what was possible: “I didn’t even know it was possible to start a company.” No-one, not even his parents, expected him to achieve anything. However, David saw that as an advantage. With the freedom that came from zero expectations, he had nothing to lose. When people told him what he couldn’t do, he’d set out to prove them wrong. Rather than letting self-limiting beliefs hold him back, he was motivated to keep pushing forward. Now he wants to help a million people from having to learn the hard way what’s possible.
Taking a beating from your customer
What’s the difference between successful companies, like Drift, and the 99% of businesses that fail? For David, the key is humility. That means setting aside any personal pride in your work and listening to the customer, even when it’s hard. Sometimes, when the customer is telling you you’re wrong or laughing at your ideas, it can feel like you’re taking a beating. However, any kind of growth requires discomfort. Most people will shy away from that, but by leaning into the discomfort and taking that daily beating, you’ll have a strong advantage over your competitors.
To succeed, don’t be a trend-setter
Facebook replaced MySpace. Slack replaced HipChat. Why? They’re not different services. When you compare a screenshot of IRC from 20 years ago and Slack today, they’re the same. However, what has changed is human behavior. When these earlier services came out, the market wasn’t ready. Today, messaging is the default method of communication.
When you’re thinking about starting a business or creating a product, David recommends looking for the trends and what’s becoming the new ‘normal.’ Then, look at your industry and ask yourself how it’s going to be impacted by these changes. You don’t want to start the trend—you want to use the shifts already happening.
Creating a moat around your business
Even when you’re riding that wave, you still need to stand out from your competitors—you need to build a moat around your business. For the first generation of SaaS, the moat was technology. When Salesforce came around with its cloud-based software, it was revolutionary.
For the second generation, the moat was your ‘factory.’ Did you have inside sales versus field sales? Did you have BDRs, SDRs, and so on? Who had the better factory?
Today, your technology and your factory aren’t enough. You need a third moat: emotion. At Drift, that includes the emotion in your brand, product, and service. The intersection of those three factors is what allows you to build a moat. Just one factor is no longer enough.
David didn’t have the easiest start, but he hasn’t let self-limiting beliefs hold him back. Keeping his focus on the customer, he’s been able to observe trends and create a business that truly stands out. For more valuable insights, check out the full interview a