Brian McMahon is co-founder and CEO of Pickle, a social polling platform that allows users to quickly and easily source opinions from targeted groups of people. In addition to his role as CEO, Brian is also the lead developer of the platform. Prior to Pickle, Brian managed various data science and analytics teams at Blackstone and Booz Allen Hamilton. His background in data is what inspired the idea to create an authentic market research tool that can be used to augment decision-making at both the personal and corporate level. He is a graduate of the University of Maryland where he also played on the varsity football team.
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Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Brian McMahon: Happy to be here! During college, I realized how valuable data is in making any type of decision – personal or professional. We are all looking to de-risk our decisions and having data available to reference does just that. After graduating I went to work at Booz Allen Hamilton where my boss and I started a data science strategy consulting team. Our goal was to essentially analyze the data at our clients’ disposal and then create a roadmap that would get them on track to realizing the true value of their data and using it with every decision they made. At Blackstone, my team did similar work but focused on our fundraising efforts and then our Real Estate portfolio. Again, our goal was to have data involved in every decision that was made.
It has always been a goal of mine to start my own company. I really enjoy reading books and listening to podcasts on other founders and their journeys through building some of the most successful companies in the world. Through my experience in collecting data, I realized it was always difficult to collect reliable data on consumer opinions. A friend and I were discussing this challenge and realized consumer data is not only valuable for companies, but also for individuals to help us with the many decisions we have to make every single day. After spending a few months studying social proof (the psychological phenomenon behind why we all crave knowing and mimicking other people’s opinions) I realized there is a huge market for this type of product that can be used on a very social level while also producing valuable underlying data.
Was there somebody in your life that inspired you to take that specific journey with your business?
Brian McMahon: My mom started a company when I was younger and that was when I first became interested in entrepreneurship. I always found it very cool and exciting to watch my mom be heavily involved in solving problems across such a wide range of activities throughout the company – from company strategy to business development to marketing, etc. I love learning new skills in order to solve problems and being a business owner you get to do that every day.
What are the most common mistakes you see entrepreneurs make and what would you suggest they do?
Brian McMahon: I would say the most common mistake is not setting up a data-driven strategy from the get-go. Without collecting data on your product/service how are you supposed to properly pivot to best achieve product-market fit? Setting up the necessary tools to collect and track this data can feel like an unnecessary cost (both time and money) but is the only way to determine how your offering is being received in the market. For every new feature, we release we start by looking at usage data to determine what needs to be improved and then finish by determining how we are going to measure success of the new feature. This has really helped us make the proper enhancements to meet our goals and the benefits far exceed the upfront costs.
The best place to start is to take a look at your objectives, determine how you measure success, and then set up the proper tools to track those success metrics. It’s definitely going to feel unproductive because you won’t see immediate tangible benefits, but over time it’s definitely worth it.
Resilience is critical in critical times like the ones we are going through now. How would you define resilience?
Brian McMahon: We talk a lot about resilience at Pickle. Resilience to us being confident in our idea and continuing to stay positive even when we might not see the desired outcome from a recent initiative. Figuring out how to best resonate with users to get them over the barrier to download another app takes a lot of experimentation. Just about every week we have some “great idea” about how we can further increase growth and I would say less than half of those are as successful as anticipated.
It’s always a bummer when things don’t work as expected, but that is when we have to be the most resilient by logging what didn’t work and then using that new knowledge to come up with the next idea. At the end of the day, we’re all confident in Pickle which allows us to stay resilient and has led to all of the successful outcomes we have had so far.
In your opinion, what makes your company stand out from the competition?
Brian McMahon: Pickle is a unique social media platform because it is not primarily focused on personal networks or status/perception. Our goal is to connect users with communities of people that share their same interests and provide an outlet for these users to get quick, honest, and relevant feedback at scale. By doing this we are able to help our users better understand the world around them and gain direct access to an authentic “wisdom of the crowd.” Many other interest-based social media platforms are forum or audio-based, requiring users to read through thousands of comments or listen to full discussions in order to understand the overall sentiment of a topic. We aim to summarize the general opinion with high-level insights while also facilitating debate and discussion at a deeper level through comments and direct messages.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success?
Brian McMahon: My top three are motivation, dedication, and patience. In order to get a company off the ground you have to realize that no one is going to do anything for you so have to be motivated to learn about and solve any problem that comes up. Dedication is pretty clear. If you’re not dedicated to, and passionate about, what you’re building then there is no chance it will be successful. The last one, patience, is admittedly something I have never been good at but focus on the most because I think it’s so important. Most founders have the Field of Dreams mindset – “If you build it they will come”. This couldn’t be less true. It takes time to build brand awareness and you won’t necessarily see a positive ROI on marketing spend for a while. You have to trust your strategy, improve on it where necessary, and really commit to seeing it through.
How important do you think it is for a leader to be mindful of his own brand?
Brian McMahon: I think it’s very important. Your brand as a leader sets the brand for the company. As a leader, and especially as a CEO of a startup, you have to get people to buy into your vision to the point where they will follow you anywhere. Having properly motivated and passionate employees is the best way to build a successful company and no one is going to passionately work for someone whose brand they do not resonate with.
What’s your favorite leadership style and why?
Brian McMahon: My favorite leadership styles are inclusion and trust. I want everyone to feel ownership of what they are working on and know that their day-to-day contributions are making a huge impact on the company. This can only be achieved by including people in high-level discussions and trusting them to make the right decisions. I believe the approach of throwing people in the deep end and helping where necessary is the best way to quickly learn. I always say we want to be the bumpers at a bowling alley – we can help keep our team on the right track but give them the freedom to operate. Obviously, this doesn’t always work, but our goal is to hire hard-working problem solvers and we find that these types of people are motivated enough to always find their way.
What advice would you give to our younger readers that want to become entrepreneurs?
Brian McMahon: My best advice is that if you feel confident and passionate about an idea to just go for it. I like to say “what’s the worst that could happen?” Obviously, there is tons of risk, primarily in terms of financial stability, but you will learn so much that even if this idea fails you will be more marketable than most of your peers when looking for your next opportunity. All companies – big and small – are focused on hiring people with an entrepreneurial mindset and what better way to craft that than taking the plunge?
What’s your favorite “business” quote and how has it affected your business decisions?
Brian McMahon: My favorite business quote is from How to Win Friends and Influence People: “Talk in terms of the other person’s interests.” People are most motivated by scenarios that benefit them. Before every call – whether it’s with employees, an investor, ambassadors, etc. – we discuss the value proposition from the other side’s perspective. This allows us to really highlight how our proposal can benefit the other side instead of how it benefits us. Obviously, the best deals come from mutually beneficial scenarios and we have found it to be very helpful to highlight what those benefits are for the person you’re talking to.
Mike Weiss, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Brian McMahon for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Brian McMahon or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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