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Interview with Andrew Miller of True North Advisory

Episode 29 - Translate ideas into full business impact. Round out your go-to-market approach with the wisdom of consultant Andrew Miller


#consulting, #entrepreneurship, #innovation, #insight, #interviews, #marketingstrategy, #thoughtleadership

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What this episode will do for you

  • Gain insight into how to harvest innovative ideas into full business impact.
  • Learn strategies for finding alignment with market opportunities.
  • Discover a process for identifying blind spots in an entrepreneurial venture to better ensure success.
  • Better balance the visionary entrepreneur mindset with the other strengths necessary for a successful business.

Andy Miller of True North Advisory

Andrew Miller is a partner with True North Advisory, which serves the B2B Enterprise and Service Provider industry with high impact advice combined with tailored senior level access.

Andy has spoken at the World Economic Forum in Davos and has given keynote addresses at BroadSoft’s Connections User Group, the Aspen Ideas Festival and Unified Communication’s Next Generation Conference as well as guest lecturing at UCLA, USC and Stanford.

Miller is known for leading aggressive growth and building profitability in fast-paced industry leading companies, including BroadSoft, Polycom, IPC, Tandberg, and Cisco. As a senior operating executive, Andy excelled in focusing on strategic growth areas, leading global expansion, and driving improved profitability. As a director, he has collaborated on two very successful IPOs in the enterprise communications space at BroadSoft (BSFT) and Gigamon (GIMO).

Find Andy on Twitter as @truenorthandy and True North Advisory on Twitter as @tn_advisory.

Curated Transcript of Interview with Andy Miller of True North Advisory.

The transcript is lightly edited for clarity and is a partial transcript- the full interview is on audio. Click here to listen.

Chris McNeil: So, I'm Chris McNeal, host of Thought Leadership Studio, and I'm sitting with Andrew Miller, partner with True North Advisory. How you doing, Andy?

Andrew Miller True North AdvisoryAndy Miller: Good. Doing good today. It's a little earlier out here than it is where you are, but only by three hours. So starting off the morning. It's a beautiful crisp fall morning here in Marin, so, doing great.

Chris McNeil: Excellent. Yes, it's about 73 degrees here in Charleston right now, and that's prime temperature for me. We get a little more humidity than you do there, but it's a nice temperature. So maybe we can start by telling us a little bit about what you do at True North Advisory, uh, to help businesses, to helps startups, entrepreneurs, whatever type of business you normally focus on.

Andy Miller: Well, True North Advisory is a boutique consulting firm, advisory firm, and we help customers, clients that are typically entrepreneurs or early stage, and we focus on a specific SA space in the technology area, which is customer experience. That's kind of our, our niche. And that's where we were kind of all birthed in terms of our technology and early days with inside the industry.

And that's our focus: to help entrepreneurs, early adopters in the CX space with anything from go to market to board advisory to financing approaches to strategy, product introductions, kind of it all in terms of a 360 approach.

Chris McNeil: Excellent. Certainly customer experience is huge these days. So thinking about our listeners who are looking to advance their own thought leadership, which is often but not always based on a product of service innovation, what do you look for in terms of companies to work with in innovation and what you have to offer there?

diamond in the rough

Finding Potential Disruptors- Diamonds in the Rough

Andy Miller: Typically, most of our customers have birthed a solution that was either differentiated or greenfield in the marketplace. So innovation that was not necessarily a copycat of a current piece of technology solution, but something that was innovative and disruptive. So it could be in the, in the CX space, it could be something in the contact center, it could be something in collaboration, it could be something in network communication, something that satisfies a need in the marketplace that hasn't really been invented or brought to market yet.

So we look for those clients that have that disruptive innovation. Sometimes it's a diamond in the rough. It's a piece of technology that needs to be productized. It needs a go to market strategy. It needs a selling strategy in terms of direct, indirect, but that's really what we focus on. That's where a majority of our clients are today.

Chris McNeil: So you're looking for clients that have an innovation and they're meeting an unmet need and you're helping them mature their business and get well rounded ... that is my understanding. And so with niche opportunities and, and gaining these kinds of market insights, what makes a good market insight?

Can you maybe give an example? I know you probably can't reveal but so much about clients, but if there's a way to do it in a general way that respects confidentiality, I'd love to hear a story about an innovation that was discovered that was something that was right for a communication to a marketplace.

Andy Miller: Well, there are number of examples - we have many clients. Each one of them particularly plays into a particular vertical market. We have a client that participates in the financial services market that, right now in the financial services market, there's quite a bit of work by the security exchange commission around collaboration, communication on mobile devices, where traders are using both their personal phone and work phone that it could be using a different type of medium such as WhatsApp and others to message. And so that provides an opportunity for disruptive technology to come in to be able to provide, you know, governance around the type of communication.

So that's, you know, one example that was created by the market, but a smart entrepreneur will be able to solve that problem. Another one of our clients provides testing for a whole host of communications devices and has realized that there's a super return on investment opportunity in terms of outsourcing this type of testing and methodology that will really focus on advancement of revenue by their particular clients.

So, you could go back to financial services, to retail, to the federal marketplace. In each one of those is an opportunity for disruption. And that's most of our clients, I would say, our technologist in the, you know, rather than go-to market experts. And what we really helped them do is put the wrapping around that in terms of the go-to-market aspect, the strategy aspect, how to fundraise and, and move the company forward.

On Making Ideas Profitable - Aligning with Market Opportunities

Chris McNeil: Excellent. So the, your typical client will have an idea, they'll, they'll have perceived, they'll have some insight into a potential breakthrough that could be disruptive, and you're helping them check all the boxes so that they have a well-rounded organization that is properly funded, and has all the functions in place to harvest these ideas.

Andy Miller: Correct. And some, some are early entrepreneurs where there's no product revenue yet where they're just very early adopters. Some clients are 10-50 million where they've had a product. They've brought it to a particular vertical market.

You know, one of the big challenges is ... let's pick a vertical market retail where someone comes up with an innovative idea to satisfy a retail solution. There's only so much total addressable market within that vertical. So then the next challenge is, what's the next vertical to participate in? Is it a, is it federal? Is it state, local? Is it financial services, is it health? And or do they go to different geographic areas such as EMEA or Asia Pacific?

So our focus is really how, you know, how do you take that product and productize it for that in the subsequent verticals that they are focused on.

And typically a product innovator, early adopter entrepreneur doesn't have that, you know, background able to decipher that particular strategy. So at True North, we have five partners. All of us have either been, uh, chief technology officers or CEOs of, uh, significant size, uh, both private and public companies. So we've all done this before. We're old enough now to have a few companies and a few transactions under our belt.

So we're operators, we've done this. It's not a hypothetical or textbook scenario. It's real operators working with entrepreneurs to be able to grow their companies.

Chris McNeil: And that's one of the things that made me want to talk with you after Evan Kirstel put us together because it just made me think of how we're helping entrepreneurs and business leaders, solopreneurs, influencers, salespeople, marketers polish their message for innovation to have a disruptive message.

And that might be the case, even if their product or service is not necessarily as disruptive, but they can have a way of reframing its use or bringing it to a higher purpose that they would lead the marketplace to.

But what happens of course is, as people start to get a response from the marketplace to this kind of message.... They have growth potential and they're going to have blind spots that are going to limit them. And my understanding is what you do at True North Advisories is point out these blind spots and help them fill them in.

Andy Miller: Well, we have a kind of a framework with different swim lanes. You know, one of the is a messaging or marketing framework where we'd actually help with the messaging to that particular vertical or that particular geography. You know, what does the product do? How does this solve a need, what is the use case? How does it translate to be, you know, accepted by the particular clients? So there's a whole messaging framework around the product side of this and then the go-to market side of the elements.

So you're right there, there's the, the swim lane around marketing messaging, a swim lane around go to market. There's a swim lane around productization, there's a swim lane around how do you obtain financing? There's a swim lane around how do you provide corporate governance as you grow. So we provide all of those swim lanes. But each entrepreneur has a, um, particular challenge for a particular swim lane. Some need more help in terms of the messaging aspect. Some needs more help on productization, some need more help on go-to-market sales. So we kind of prioritize what's the most important to the particular client and then focus in that area.

Analyzing Ideas

Self-Assessing for Going to Market with an Idea

Chris McNeil: So what's, what's your initial interface like? And what I'm thinking is in, in the mind of the listener. So if you're listening to this, you're probably thinking about your own situation and how you can apply this. And Andy, I'm wondering what, what kind of quick punch list or checklist- if you had a short meeting with an entrepreneur to kind of go through and ask them - do you have this in place? Do you have this in place to kind of identify blind spots to expanding their vision? What would that look like?

Andy Miller: That's a great question. We have what we call an initial discovery call with the client where all five partners participate. Because each one of us has a certain background, whether it's product, sales, go to market strategy, and we have the customer prepare a short deck.

And it's basically a framework of where they are in the current business state. So where is the product readiness, what have they done in terms of messaging, how are they financed? Do they have an initial customer?

If it's a particular vertical like retail, are they PCI compliant? If they're federal, ...

There's really a checklist in terms of where they are and where the gaps are. And then we use that discovery call to create a statement of work where we work with the client and really prioritize what's the burning issue today? And let's figure out how we put together our phases over the particular months in terms of what has to be achieved. And that's how we kind of start the initial process.

Chris McNeil: Do you find, uh, many of your prospects or customers are surprised at what they don't know?

Andy Miller: Oh, very much. Sometimes it's shocking , they think they know, but they haven't really thought through....

I'll give you a good example. We have a client now who really wants to move into the federal market space. There's a $6.2B adjustable market in FY 22. There's a lot of money in the federal market space, but there's a whole host of requirements that requires significant investments to participate in that space around certifications, skiff labs, separate organizations, security provisioning, et cetera.

So they sometimes take a step back and say, wow, I didn't realize it would be that much of an endeavor to participate in that particular market, or, I really hadn't thought through the collaboration testing we have to do with the other partners in the ecosystem to be able to participate in a particular RFI. So, uh, I would say most calls there's a, you know, eyes wide open and, um, more work to do than they expected when we get off.

CPA holding kite strings of entrepreneur

Balancing the Visionary Entrepreneur Archetype

Chris McNeil: That makes sense. And one archetype that I've noticed and am familiar with - and I think a lot of our listeners will relate to - is the visionary, big picture entrepreneur that probably needs to be partner with somebody who's more detail-oriented, conservative, well-versed in financial controls, that can be the holder of the kite strings of the entrepreneur who wants to move forward a thousand miles an hour, but maybe hasn't considered all of the things that need to be handled moving forward.

And I think probably because we're talking about visionary type communication on this podcast, I would guess most of our listeners fall into the visionary entrepreneur category as opposed to the more detail oriented, management oriented, controller personality. Does that make sense?

Andy Miller: It does. Those personalities seem to move in as the company gets bigger, once they get to, you know, 50-100 million, then the choices have a scaled above the entrepreneurs or founder's capability. And is that person better suited to be a CTO, like a co-founder, you know, non-executive board member? It's all over the map, but, in the early days, we find that we act sometimes as therapists and sometimes as , you know, kind of as an extended board in terms of helping them navigate through literally daily or weekly, um, opportunities or crises.

And what we found now in a more challenging fundraising environment is that takes up a lot of time for the entrepreneur - meeting with, whether it's venture capital or private equity - raising money to kind of, you know, allow them the runway they need. So there's just a lot of twists and turns, and we have weekly check-ins with the partners and with the client. We have quarterly, strategy reviews. So we have a pretty intimate relationship with the client.

Chris McNeil: That's really interesting. So what about your own experience and what brought you to this position at True North? Can you tell us a little bit about what your own vision is and, and how what you're doing taps into your own personal mission?

Andy Miller: Well, we all kind of came together. I mean, the five of us have known each other now for 25 years.

Chris McNeil: That's awesome.

Andy Miller: I was the CEO of a company called Tandberg, which was a video conferencing company based in Norway that was ultimately sold to Cisco, and there was a CEO of Polycom. Um, it turned out that we were a large partner of a company called BroadSoft, which was a Gaithersburg, Maryland based unified communication as a service player, which also was sold to Cisco for about 2 billion in 2017.

So the, the CEO of BroadSoft, the CTO BroadSoft, the CFO of BroadSoft, and the head of sales from BroadSoft, we all knew each other. I was actually on the board of BroadSoft, we were partners. We croseds paths at whether it was board meeting, industry events, and once our companies were, were sold, we decided it wouldn't be fun to kind of get the band back together and form a partnership where we could have a little bit more work-life balance than, you know, travel in the world running a company, but also kind of give back a lot of the experience we've had in our 30 years of, of running companies, and provide that type of experience back to an entrepreneur.

And, um, that's kind of how we all came together. And it's been quite a bit of fun.


The transcript is lightly edited for clarity and is a partial transcript- the full interview is on audio. Click here to listen.


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