Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in business development but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with John Topping, President and COO of BetterManager, located in San Francisco, CA, USA.

What's your business, and who are your customers?

BetterManager is a virtual leadership development platform combining the best of leadership assessments, 1:1 executive level coaching, collaborative group learning, and supporting e-learning tools to develop better people managers or all levels. We are the only leadership development platform pulling the pieces together to deliver continuous learning journeys (as opposed to point solutions).

Our customers range from global enterprises like Chegg and GroupM to universities and government agencies like NASA. Organizations engage us because everyone deserves to thrive at work. From entry-level staff to executive-level management, we cater our learning journeys to meet the leadership needs and achieve the goals of your organization, whatever its size or industry.

Tell us about yourself

My first career was as a publishing executive. From there, I spent 6+ years as an early executive at Google, where I served as Director of their Technology Vertical segment. At Google, I led a team who grew revenue to $500 million and was awarded a luminary award, given to the top 5% of leaders in the organization.
It’s well known that Google has an excellent work culture, and I can personally attest to that. Creating and supporting the best functioning teams was always a top priority, and it led to rapid growth and unprecedented success.

That’s what first got me started working at BetterManager. Some of my colleagues from Google felt a responsibility to share their knowledge about high-performing teams with the rest of the world and asked me if I wanted to get involved. Since 2009, I’ve been focused on our mission of helping everyone thrive at work. That’s what motivates me. All too often, people don’t get the support they need to become better leaders and better managers (especially mid-level employees).

Executives receive a ton of coaching and support, and everyone else who really needs it gets left in the dust. That’s not fair or effective. The best organizations understand that everyone deserves to learn and grow, and they reap the benefits of that understanding. They often experience higher retention rates, higher productivity, and improved business outcomes. Their employees are loyal because they feel valued as individuals.

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

My greatest sense of accomplishment comes from reading our customer evaluations. BetterManager has an industry-leading NPS score of 90. This is something our entire team takes pride in. We are committed to providing excellent service across the board, and we’ll do anything to ensure our customers are satisfied.

In fact, we offer something that no other leadership development company does. If at any time someone is unsatisfied with their coach, they can start the process over again with a new coach free of charge. That’s how serious we are about matching the right coach with the right coachee. We know it’s something we do well, and we offer this guarantee to prove it.

What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?

Honestly, one of the hardest things about owning a business is knowing what the heck to do when you encounter a problem for the first time. There is no textbook that gives you the answers to the infinite issues that arise when you’re managing a business. The challenges are so varied and unexpected, and you’ve got to be able to adapt quickly. That’s really difficult. The other thing I find challenging is prioritization.

I manage a lot of people, and I never want to give someone short shrift, but I also have to ensure that the biggest problems are being dealt with first. This can be a hard thing to weigh when you’re taking into account the triple bottom line. Should an internal personnel issue take priority over a client's needs? Does a contract matter take priority over a program-related challenge? There’s no easy answer, and that’s challenging.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

  1. I would tell anyone looking to start a business that they need to put people first. Of course, making a profit is important. You have to live. But, the best way to ensure the success of your business is to make sure that you’ve got a team with the right chemistry who feels valued and appreciated. Without this, you won’t be able to retain your team and will constantly be spending energy on recruitment.
  2. When employees leave, they take their institutional knowledge with them, and that’s really difficult to recapture. When people are happy, healthy, and well compensated, they’re also motivated. A psychologically safe work environment where people are empowered to innovate will only increase your chances of success.
  3. Relatively, it’s important to avoid short-termism. Most businesses take a while to become profitable, and that’s because it takes time to build the necessary infrastructure. This requires investment up front to ensure you’ve got the right structure and the right team in place. If you cut corners here, you’ll end up scrambling later to do the things you should have done earlier. Be strategic. Make sure you have a vision and a plan for getting there. Listen to people with experience who can help you avoid silly mistakes.

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

I just want to re-emphasize the importance of soft skills like relationship development and communication when it comes to running a successful company. I completely agree that technology is an incredible tool for helping people work together and that data is essential for good decision-making, but understanding how to work with and through people is the key to succeeding in life, no matter your interest or pursuit. No matter how advanced our technology becomes, there is no substitute for the power of human connectedness. People are at the center of every business. Never lose sight of that.

Where can people find you and your business?


If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.

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