In our first Leadership Spotlight, Socialeads Co-Founder and CEO Larry Hitchcock details the serendipitous origin story of the company, the routines that have brought him success, and his advice to insurance and financial agents for 2022.
During our series of Leadership Spotlight interviews, we will learn about the individuals behind Socialeads and share the stories, challenges, and successes that have led them to where they are today – along with some of the helpful lessons they have learned along the way.
Larry Hitchcock was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. After graduating with a BA in Political Science, History, and Economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he went on to work in Silicon Valley to imagine, launch and manage start-ups from scratch. Hitchcock operated within large enterprises, fundraised millions of dollars, closed strategic partnerships and worked with entrepreneurs, business leaders, and C-suite executives– all before launching Socialeads with Matthew Salzer in 2018.
Watch our clip from our conversation to learn more about Hitchcock’s passion for riding his bike, and the lessons from biking that have carried over into his work life. His expert knowledge around the world of startups, his preferred role as a CEO, and his resolute nature make it clear why he is at the helm of the company.
These are 10 key takeaways from the conversation with Hitchcock:
1) SOMETIMES, A HAPPY HOUR IS LIFE-CHANGING
Hitchcock is a Milwaukee native, but became a mainstay in Silicon Valley upon leaving college. A few nights after heading home for his father’s 78th birthday, he went across the street to Northwestern Mutual’s (NM) public pitch contest, but, according to Hitchcock, not to pitch.
“I went across the street to NM’s public pitch contest, mostly to get to the happy hour because NM is known for putting on really great local happy hours,” Hitchcock says. “I figured I’d listen to a couple of executives explain some things that are going on in a big company like NM, and then I’d go chat and have some free beer and sausage in downtown Milwaukee.”
While there, he noticed that they had a couple of challenges centering around field sales enablement and helping their millennial field sales hires get in the business, as well as understand how to sell products and services better.
According to Hitchcock, the millennial field sales hires were different from other generations. “These people are digital-first. They look to their social networks for their prospects and their connections.”
So, he wrote up an email. “Cut to four months later, they’re calling me up and saying you and your cofounder won, and please come back to Milwaukee and build a company for us and collaborate with all of our leadership team in order to get this done,” he details.
2) FIRST ORDER OF BUSINESS: GET MOVING
Preferring to get moving early in the morning, Hitchcock says he makes time to take a peek at the status of the company and the progress made by the close-knit team working around the world. The next part of his morning routine involves a little exercise.
“This time of year when I’m up early and it’s wintery and cold […] I’ve got a yoga mat, and I’ve got a bunch of hand weights and free weights, so I’ve got about 45 minutes of an exercise routine that gets my body moving,” he says. “I’m an older guy that used to be an avid cyclist, an athlete, and competitive, and I feel like that really gets everything happening [mentally].”
3) SMALL AND SCRAPPY CAN LEAD TO SUCCESS
Along the way, Hitchcock feels he has really found a passion for the space Socialeads is in, even though there was no one lightbulb moment. “It wasn’t so much inspired by waking up one morning and having an idea that we’re going to help transform how the financial industry/sales work in a modern world,” he said.
Instead, it was more about being given the opportunity to work with national-level decision-makers to help shape Socialeads from the start. “We understand the product extremely well now, and it was a great opportunity to build a product in collaboration with the largest life insurer in North America….It’s a rare thing that a small tech startup and a bunch of scrappy entrepreneurs get to stand inside of a company of that scale and success and heritage, [and] work with their senior teams around making sure that a brand new product is enterprise-grade, secure, and compliant with all the requirements.”
4) WORKING REMOTELY HAS HAD A POSITIVE IMPACT
Although Socialeads is not the first startup to capitalize on being a virtual company, Hitchcock reflects that the strong company infrastructure and the human talent onboard have allowed Socialeads to seamlessly carry on working from anywhere to the same degree through challenges like COVID-19 disruptions.
Regarding the infrastructure, Hitchcock says, “We, as a team, really started the company in a virtual environment, so the whole work from home, or work from anywhere during COVID, we seamlessly continued on just the way that we were and built a really strong product and really strong team through that.”
“We’ve got a great triangle of people that work on the team; myself and the cofounder are based in Milwaukee, that’s all part of our working with Northwestern Mutual executives in their headquarters on building the product and getting to product-market fit. Our Head of Product is a Silicon Valley veteran… and she’s still in Silicon Valley, so we get that kind of vibe infused in the product and our company and the culture. Our Head of Data Science is down in Southern California, and he travels around the world a lot.”
5) ALTHOUGH SOCIALEADS WAS BUILT WITH THE ENTERPRISE IN MIND, INDIVIDUAL OPERATORS MAY BENEFIT THE MOST
Because of the fact that from the first line of code, Socialeads was imagined as the kind of product that a big enterprise was going to approve and to want to procure, it is somewhat surprising to learn that its use case is really for the individual advisor.
“Every field sales advisor, whether you are in the insurance business, whether you are in the life insurance business, whether you are in the financial services business, or whether you’re working in the property and casualty space… you’re pretty much an independent businessperson, “ Hitchcock reflects.
“You wake up every morning, you’ve got to make your own numbers for your own family, for your own team, and you get support from your home offices, but at the end of the day how you conduct your sales operation day-to-day and week-to-week, that’s going to be your success. For each of our users, we really are a unique platform because every user is going to be able to use Socialeads for their own unique book of business, as it’s reliant on your own personal social network and your professional social network as the source of opportunity.”
6) HE PREFERS TO BE THE TEAM CHEERLEADER
Hitchcock acknowledges that not every conversation you get to have in the start-up world is an easy one. But, he says, when you do it with people who are great collaborators that are great at what they do, it’s a joy to watch that happen.
“I really love it when our team comes together, we support each other, and we have each other’s backs on a day-to-day basis,” he comments. “To be the facilitator for that, to be the cheerleader for that, I think that’s my favorite thing. You get up every morning and you’ve got all the tasks you’re supposed to do, but then when you are able to celebrate everybody’s successes when you’re able to be supportive of your team and help give them the guidance they need to watch them grow, that’s what I love.“
7) CYCLING HAS TAUGHT HIM THE VALUE OF PERSEVERANCE
As a competitive cyclist with cycling numbers posted on the wall of his home office, Hitchcock draws from his experience with the sport in his day-to-day life. “Cycling at the level I’ve done it and continue to do it is one of those interesting daily experiences of pushing yourself to your limits, feeling like you’re as far as you can go, and then discovering that there’s more,” he explains. “If you just keep concentrating and focusing your energies, you can go more, do more miles, go a little bit faster, ride with a bunch of younger people, and come home proud about the thing that you accomplished.”
He relates his experiences with cycling to the startup world, where people don’t always think in terms of the long game. Instead, he says in reality it can be a long slog. “You have to get up, you have to do the work, you have to lick your wounds when you’ve made a mistake. It’s very challenging when big companies say they are interested in using the product, and six months later they say… this won’t really work for us, and that happens every day in startup land… It’s like going up a long hill. I love to ride in Northern Italy… you know, you get 15 miles into it, and you think ‘Wow, I could be down at the bottom really fast if I just turned around,’ but you can’t, you don’t, you keep going all the way to the top… cycling is a sport about endurance and perseverance, and startups are the same.”
8) ALL THE OARS HAVE TO ENTER THE WATER IN SYNC
His personal motto: “Keep your eye on the prize. Day to day, things happen, they get frustrating. You had a meeting that wasn’t the one you wanted, didn’t have the outcome you wanted to, you have a customer that you’ve been trying for six months to close and they change jobs or, in our space, big enterprise people are always getting reorganized, and the budget was there and now the budget is gone….. At the end of the day, you have to keep your eye on the future.”
Hitchcock elaborates, “Build many successful days, of course, but if you get yourself mired in the minutiae of the day, the complaint of a customer, or that we should have won, but didn’t win, or we had to give a bigger discount than we wanted to, those are the things that you have to do to keep the ball in play.”
He says that the key is in keeping an eye on where the company is going. “Constantly manage the North Star, message it, periodically question it, are we going in the direction now? Get the team to really be a part of those conversations as well.’
“It’s not just me that has a vision for the company, the team has a vision for the company. I might be the one who sparks a discussion about whether we should turn a few degrees to the left or right for the next couple of quarters, but it’s really the team who decides it because they are the ones that have to carry the oars. All the oars on the boat gotta go into the water in sync, or the boat just sits there in the lake. Keep your focus on the long haul because it’s not a short journey.”
9) SUCCESS IS DEPENDENT ON MOVING THE BALL DOWN THE FIELD EVERY DAY, EVEN IF JUST A LITTLE
In short, Hitchcock says that the secret is to put yourself out there and put in the work.
“My advice for people who are getting into the business as an agent or advisor is kind of the same thing that we apply to ourselves as a startup. You gotta get up every day, and you’ve gotta do the job. Whatever your metaphor is, you’ve gotta stand up, and you’ve gotta do it,” he says.
“You have to go out there and show it. Everyone today is branding themselves, talking about their successes, talking about their failures, maybe showing themselves as both a success and a learner and a try-er. Not everybody wakes up every day and has a great, successful day. But, if you don’t get up and push it, you don’t get up and say, ‘Today I’m going to move the ball down the field a little bit, even if it’s just a little bit,’ then you’re going to get weighed down in all kinds of other stuff.”
10) LET THE DAY-TO-DAY TAKE CARE OF ITSELF
Hitchcock’s advice to digital natives, millennials, and other young people who are trying to build success for themselves is to plan ahead.
“Think about where you want your life to be in two, three, five years; think about it in those increments and then the day-to-day will take care of itself,” he explained. “If you say, in five years, my book of business will be this, then you can get there; if you say, I need to do something by the end of Wednesday, and it’s Monday, that’s a bigger challenge than you think it is.”
For 2022, Hitchcock advises starting by thinking about where you want your book of business to be 12 months from now, 24 months from now, and 36 months from now.
“Focus on what works, talk to people who are likely to want to hear your voice, hear your story, and want to use your product and services,” he elaborates. “Use tools like Socialeads that will help you be successful, and you have to have a vision for where you want to be a number of years from now so that you know what you are doing it for.
For further information on Larry Hitchcock and the rest of the Socialeads team, head to the About page.