Lee Frederiksen may have taken an unconventional road to becoming a managing partner, strategist, and growth expert at Hinge. However, his training as a behavioral psychologist has given him the insight and experience needed to solve complex marketing and business problems. His work also helps him add to the impact of the CEO on business and industry.
As a professional, Lee Frederiksen wears many hats. According to him, he is an entrepreneur by nature and a mentor by choice. And that’s not all. He is also a natural strategist, a teacher, an author, a researcher, strategist, consultant, producer, teacher, or coach. He plays all of these roles well, too.
However, Lee Frederiksen says his specialties lie in devising strategies for companies, marketing, and branding for professional services and firms. He’s also very interested in tackling the challenges of “accelerating and managing growth.”
At Hinge, Lee Frederiksen helps their clients’ growth through the design and implementation of various strategies. The company also offers services like online marketing and outsourced services. Companies consult with Hinge to help them take their enterprise to the next level. Hinge also works with clients in different fields, from technology, government contracting, management consulting, accounting, finance, and AEC. Lee leads Hinge’s strategy aspect.
Before Hinge, Lee Frederiksen was the founding partner of Gemini Effect, LLC. He was also the CEO of the Frederiksen Group. From 1986 to 1991, Lee was the VP of Development at Health Innovations, Inc., which he also co-founded.
Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Lee Frederiksen: Before entering industry, I was a research scientist, a tenured professor of behavioral psychology, and director of the departmental training clinic for doctoral students at Virginia Tech. My work caught the attention of Ernst & Young, where I later headed a regional management consulting practice that focused on issues related to strategy, human resources, and organizational development.
While at Ernst & Young, I met someone who was interested in my academic work on behavioral medicine. One conversation led to another, and we founded a venture-funded health products company that eventually won SBIR grants from the National Institutes of Health and patented behavioral change technology using some of the first pocket-sized, single-purpose computers. We sold more than one million units through direct-response TV and international distribution to companies that used the product in their smoking cessation programs.
I parlayed the hard-won lessons from our successful direct-response TV campaign into an electronics retailing firm and ad agency that, at first, specialized in direct-response TV but later diversified into media sales, international distribution and online retailing.
I’ve been helping companies of all sizes grow, rebrand, refocus, and launch new offerings ever since.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Lee Frederiksen: Today, going from business to academia is a well-trodden career path. By comparison, the path from academia to business has less foot traffic. But in 1984, it was almost unheard of. When we formed the health products company, I was a research scientist by training. Never having started a company, I had to build up my business expertise while starting a business and managing its hyper-growth. That’s about as simple and easy as building a car while driving it.
In academia, your expertise is your brand. What I didn’t know was how important business expertise was in running a business. As naive as that sounds, sadly, it’s true. My academic background enabled me to understand the science behind our product, but not the science behind the business itself or the marketplace. We had a great product we believed in but no list of potential customers, which in our case were people trying to quit smoking. Every list that was generated would be purchased by tobacco companies. So we had to generate our own. That’s when we hit upon the idea of conducting an infomercial campaign, which in the early 80s were just a handful and none were high quality. We needed to produce quality infomercials that reflected our product and protected our reputations as behavioral scientists. With a lot of hard work on producing an ad that was educational, credible, and easy to digest, we were able to grow our run rate from less than $1M to $19M in just six months.
Through it all, we never considered giving up. We had no choice but to try something new in order to sell a product we believed in. As a result, we ended up pioneering a new method of inbound marketing.
Academics are inured to hard work and committed to a life of continuous learning. And when your work centers on scientific research, you must have a passion for experimentation. This is why we never quit and were open to taking calculated risks with infomercials, a format that had few, if any, experts back then.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Lee Frederiksen: While none of the mistakes were funny at the time, my first consulting gig comes to mind. A colleague and I had been conducting research on fear and anxiety. We decided to deliver workshops based on our research to ski instructors in Aspen and Vail who wanted help with instilling caution in their students. Before the workshop, we anticipated participants to have a certain degree of skepticism about our research and pushback on our recommendations. We had assumed that instructors, with their mastery of the slopes, would be more cavalier than the average person about safety and risk. On the contrary, they turned out to be the most committed, detail-oriented workshop participants, shattering our earlier mental picture of ski instructors’ complacency. We would never underestimate our audience again. This experience underscored the importance of doing research on your target audience.
Jerome Knyszewski: What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Lee Frederiksen: Our research-driven approach to marketing helps us stand out from the competition. Unfortunately, marketing agencies have developed a reputation for lacking rigor, unable to back recommendations with sound research data. Thousands of firms around the world make strategic decisions with the help of our research-based insights on shifting buyer behavior, the techniques and processes of high-growth firms, and practices that cultivate strong, enduring brands. With the business environment turned on its head and businesses leery of taking unnecessary risks, firms are looking for advisors they can trust — ie, those who understand and have the expertise to address their issues.
Jerome Knyszewski: Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Lee Frederiksen: First, embrace your lack of control. You’re not in control of a lot of things: the pandemic, the recession, the fact that your kids are attending school virtually, etc. And, that’s OK. Whatever control you thought you had was just an illusion anyway. You have two choices: pretend you’re in control or accept the reality that you aren’t.
Second, find out what you can control and spend time on that. Clean your closet, focus on a work priority, rearrange the garage, engage in self-improvement, start gardening, or play the guitar. Whatever it is, focus your energies on it.
Third, develop if-then plans. Rather than worrying something will happen, plan what you will do in the event that it does. We didn’t anticipate COVID. No one did. Nor did we know what would happen after it hit. We developed different scenarios and charted what courses we’d take in response. If A happens, we’ll implement B. If it doesn’t, relax.
Fourth, go back to embracing your lack of control.
Jerome Knyszewski: None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Lee Frederiksen: Mrs. Johanssen was my favorite teacher in elementary school, one of those people who are naturally warm and encouraging. She taught you that you were worth something, that your ideas were important, and that you can do great things.
I remember one episode that changed my life. In fourth grade, I had to recite “The Night Before Christmas” at our holiday program we had at our little school. I was terrified that I would forget my lines. She told me that I would do a good job and that, even if I didn’t, it was OK. That understanding launched my career in public speaking.
Jerome Knyszewski: Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?
Lee Frederiksen: We judge firms by their financial performance benchmarked against those of their peers. We define as great those firms that experienced 20% or greater compound annual growth in revenue over a three-year period while exceeding 25% gross profit. We call them High-Growth Firms, and they come in all sizes, from small to large. For some perspective, High-Growth Firms grew 3x as fast as their average peers and were 2x as likely to be highly profitable. On average, 90% of their growth stemmed from organic growth rather than M&A activity.
On our scale, average performing firms are good. Their profit figures ranged from 11–24% and their positive growth fell below 20%.
Jerome Knyszewski: Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.
Lee Frederiksen: #1: Keep up with the changing needs of your target audiences. This means conducting research that goes beyond anecdotal evidence. Why is this important? First, the pandemic and its aftermath have just changed your buyers’ needs and behaviors. Second, firms that conduct market research at least once each quarter grow 2x as fast as those who don’t. Is it any surprise that those who know their audiences are better positioned to know where the gaps are and close them?
#2: Be where your prospects are looking — these days, mostly online. Firms with robust digital and content marketing programs grow faster and are more profitable. Our studies show they relied less on travel and in-person events before 2020 and have swiftly adapted to a largely virtual business environment since the shutdown. By leapfrogging competitors with digital marketing and business development techniques, they were able to spread valuable content online that caught the eye of buyers — within and outside their traditional geographies — who were searching online for answers to new problems.
#3: Think like a digital publisher. Today’s work-from-home environment has made traditional marketing techniques unfeasible, if not obsolete. Firms that generated 66% of their leads online grew twice as fast as those who generated only 33% or less. Push your prospects through the funnel with relevant digital content in the right format at the right time. There are few hard and fast rules as audiences vary in their learning styles and appetite for depth and detail. Some prefer podcasts to white papers. One of our clients posted a COVID-19 safety guide we helped them write. By including the right key words in the document, it was discovered by NPR and a high-profile client.
#4: Build a strong employer brand. Your corporate and employer brands are two sides of the same coin. Strong brands draw great talent, who in turn enable companies to deliver on their corporate brand promise. In a study we conducted during the pandemic, 57% of job seekers across career stages considered culture as important as pay when evaluating job offers. Similarly, cultural fit outweighed work experience among 75% of recruiters. The upshot is that culture matters on both sides of the employer-employee relationship. If you want to win business, you’ll need to attract and keep great talent. You can do this by cultivating the right culture.
#5: Make talent management a business development task. You need recognized talent with the right expertise to meet the moment. Today’s uncertain economy has engendered an atmosphere of low trust and high risk avoidance. Widely recognized experts who can flex their expertise and a track record of success on those issues across a range of formats and channels — blogs, podcasts, webinars, guest posts, etc. — are more likely to earn a wary buyer’s trust and in so doing their business.
Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?
Lee Frederiksen: Readers can follow me on @LeeFrederiksen and LinkedIn.
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!