Friday, December 9, 2016

Co-Founder of CarLotz Shares Success Formula

Aaron Montgomery of CarLotz addresses VACEOs

When you look back at your first entrepreneurial endeavor, do you recall a sweet image of success – or an embarrassing moment of failure? For Aaron Montgomery, Co-Founder and COO of CarLotz, it’s the latter.

Speaking at a recent VACEOs membership luncheon, the charismatic executive shared what he described as one of the biggest blunders of his life, which happened during his second year at Harvard Business School. It took place during the decade when many entrepreneurs subscribed to the business philosophy of “Get big fast” and/or “Figure it out as you go,” Montgomery told the group. It’s a great story involving t-shirts, some of which he probably still has!

The good news is that Montgomery’s mistake paved the way to a better, more accountable, and leaner way of doing business. Today, he and the CarLotz ownership team adhere to a simple formula:


1. Create a hypothesis.
2. Speak to customers (get data).
3. Take that feedback back to the lab.
4. Refine the idea or product.
5. Repeat.

It sounds simple, but it’s a formula the car consignment company has followed many times to successfully streamline marketing messages, refine various internal and external processes, and hire the right candidates.

Speaking about the company’s reliance on data and information, Montgomery said, “All of our feedback came from actual interactions, and not just theorizing what we were going to do and saying to ourselves, ‘Here are all the studies on this, so here’s what we’re going to do.’ We got actual customer feedback. We asked actual people.”

“You can make a change that’s small and test it for performance results, but you’ve got to be ready to embrace that sometimes small changes can lead to big ones and let go of the idea of throwing it all in and seeing what happens.” – Aaron Montgomery, Co-Founder and COO of CarLotz.

Montgomery also stressed the importance of what companies do with their data. “You can make a change that’s small and test it for performance results, but you’ve got to be ready to embrace that sometimes small changes can lead to big ones and let go of the idea of throwing it all in and seeing what happens.”

The philosophy is working – and well. CarLotz, which was founded in 2011, just opened its fifth retail location not long after making it onto The RVA 25 – Richmond BizSense’s list of the area’s fastest-growing companies. (To learn more read: “CarLotz Poised to Grow.”)

CarLotz3This learning experience was taken from the VACEOs Quarterly Luncheon presentation “Test and Refine: Building a Business in the Face of Uncertainty” with Aaron Montgomery (Thursday, November 17, 2016).

VACEOs members have access to national thought leaders with unique voices not often heard in this market on a regular basis. Check out other member benefits.


Posted by Staff at 12:45 pm
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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Cyber Security 101: 7 Facts and Tips to Remember 


October has passed, so we must say farewell to Cyber Security month, but not before we leave you with seven important things to remember, thanks to Chris Moschella, Manager of Risk Advisory Services at Keiter, who was on hand at a recent Knowledge Network lunch. Listed below are just a few of the things we learned.


  1. Attacks can cost hundreds of dollars per data record to recover, but it’s the damage to your reputation and loss of business (and sometimes employees) that costs SMBs the most.
  2. One of the best investments you can make as an SMB owner is in security awareness training.
  3. 91 percent of breaches start through email.
  4. It’s vital to know where your “cyber doors and windows” are – and to keep them closed.
  5. Mobile devices, laptops and phones = examples of cyber windows.
  6. Know exactly where your sensitive data resides – and limit who has access to it.
  7. When it comes to security, know where your data/internet service provider’s responsibility ends and yours begins.

Members Only: Please send me Chris Moschella’s presentation on cyber security risk prevention


“While I admit that the topic of cyber security did not elicit feelings of excitement, it’s exactly the kind of information that responsible CEOs need to have in this world that’s changing at lightning speed. I now feel prepared and have the much-needed information to ensure the right checks and balances, appropriate training and policy needed to protect our business investment.” – Maria Page Candler, President, James River Ground Management

“If something is not important to you, there is almost a zero percent chance it will be important to your staff.” – Chris Moschella, Keiter, on setting a serious corporate tone when it comes to cyber security and threat prevention.


Related articles: “Making a Claim for Cyber Security Insurance.”

Posted by Staff at 10:03 am
Tuesday, May 17, 2016

2016 VACEOs Retreat CliffsNotes

This year’s CEO Retreat was a huge success! “CEO Essentials” was the theme, and we’ve got a few short and sweet nuggets here to jog your memory, should you find yourself lost in (ahem) “urgent” matters. Bookmark this page and return to it often. If you care to relive some of the fun, take a look at our Retreat Sights and Sounds video.



BRIAN MORAN: “The 12 Week Year”
When you think of Brian’s presentation, think blue poker chips. He gave us tools to develop clarity and focus – and a healthy sense of urgency. When you shift to a 12-week year, everything changes. And you’re sure to discover what matters most.


Nuggets from this presentation:
• Develop a repertoire of “gracious no’s” for non-essential requests.
• The moment you decide what matters most (i.e., what you need to do) will be one of your Greatest Moments.
• Move through the plan one week at a time. Peer support is important. You will quickly succeed or fail. Refine your plan. Repeat.
• Learn more here.



ROBERTA OSTER SACHS: “Enhance Your Executive Presence: Tools to Fuel Your Confidence and Impact”
When you’re getting ready for a big sales pitch, think about Roberta’s presentation. This Emmy Award-winning journalist and leadership trainer taught us about the science behind “Power Posing” and gave us mindfulness tools to enhance our productivity and health.


Nuggets from this presentation:
• Executive Presence Pillars:
1. Gravitas (ability to recognize others’ emotions)
2. Communication (*listening* skills)
3. Appearance (physical health)
• Feeling stressed or not confident. Practice your best power pose!
• Meditation matters. And mindfulness makes you smarter.
• Learn more here.



GREG MCKEOWN: “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less”
Need inspiration to de-clutter your life? Think about Greg. This superbly hilarious professional from across the pond is a New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-selling author and founder and CEO of THIS Inc. He gave us the inspiration to pursue less to reclaim control of our own choices about where to spend our precious time and energy. Or said another way, to pursue a closet filled only with joy. “Can we get a snap?!”


Nuggets from this presentation:
• Your job as CEO is to protect your ability to prioritize.
• Become more of who you REALLY are. Eliminate the non-essentials.
• Remember: It’s either “HELL, YES!” or “No.”
• Becoming an Essentialist begins with small wins.
• Learn more here.



JONAH BERGER: “Crafting Contagious”
This fast-talking New York Times best-selling author and Wharton professor showed us the science behind content that goes viral. He shared just enough data and secrets to entice us to devour his book. Genius approach, wouldn’t you say?


Nuggets from this presentation:
• Remember these three stories:
1. Secret entrance into bar / social currency
2. Blender video / inner remarkability
3. “Never say no to a panda” / story content that carries a message
• There’s power behind peanut butter and jelly. Find your trigger.
• Your homework: Read your free copy of Contagious by Jonah Berger.



Posted by Staff at 6:24 pm
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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Avoiding the Bermuda Triangle with Entrepreneur Avrum Elmakis


It was like a casual chat with a friend. CEO to CEO. Only he happens to run a $40 million company that in all likelihood will double its size in the next several years.

The Virginia Council of CEOs is all about quality knowledge sharing, and we weren’t disappointed as Avrum Elmakis took the stage during our recent Quarterly Luncheon.

Avrum Elmakis, CEO of TDBBS, LLC, is a self-proclaimed “business addict,” award-winning entrepreneur, strategic investor, innovator and trusted business consultant.

“Every person I meet wants to be an entrepreneur, “ said Elmakis to the large group. “We all know what it takes to do that. It takes a lot of passion and drive and risk – all those things that define who we are as entrepreneurs. That’s our first move into risk-taking. Then we become comfortable and we want to keep what we have. We become content.”

Elmakis’ advice is to join him in the world of the discontented.

Avoiding the Bermuda Triangle

Elmakis likens business contentment to the Bermuda Triangle – a place where business owners get comfortable generating a certain kind of volume and revenue. We get wrapped up in staying lean and small, and we don’t make the kinds of investments required to become a more formal organization. We hover instead of pivoting to the next revenue tier. We don’t allow our employees to take on responsibility. Our decision-making ability is paralyzed.

Sound familiar?

So how did Best Bully Sticks avoid the Triangle? “For me, an important moment was when I recognized early on the powerful concept of surrounding yourself with real quality people who are way more advanced than what you need. I started doing that in 2013, and it allowed us to fuel our growth early and break through. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of ‘I could hire this person, but the cost is too great for me.’”

A few other things we learned from Elmakis:

• A peer network is critical for an entrepreneur.
• The timing is never right. Don’t wait. Stretch yourself.
• Remember to check your company’s horizon often. Are you honoring your original intention?
• Always be able to separate emotional attachment to your business from good decision-making.
• The attraction to the excitement of a young company, the building of a team, the passion of an entrepreneur – these are things that should not be taken lightly when recruiting top talent.

Posted by Scot McRoberts at 2:48 am
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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

What’s On Our Minds? Stinky Culture.

“If you have a bum culture, you can almost smell it.”

THINK ABOUT IT. This sentiment, expressed by Tom Laughon, co-founder of Catch Your Limit, sure rings true.

TomL-SidebarThe good news, as we learned during his recent Knowledge Network presentation, is that it’s relatively easy to get rid of the stench. It begins with getting the right people on the bus and building a culture around trust.

“The most strategic decisions a CEO should make are focused on people – checking who is on the bus and in the right seats, growing and retaining great talent and pruning all others. Where you’re going is for naught if you don’t have the right people to get you there.”

Sometimes it’s just plain nice to see a best practice in action, and that’s what Tom gave us. How do we connect with that passionate yet disparaged employee we saw on the video – the one who openly shared her concern for the business and wanted to do more to help it grow?

You have to be brave enough to hear what she has to say – all the good, the bad and the ugly about your business. You must simply listen and collectively think of ways to make a change. Then, “amazing conversations will result,“ Laughon promises us.

Remember: This is a “we” game. Listen. Get your employees involved. And witness a change.


* This “What’s On Our Minds” moment is from the VACEOs Knowledge Network Luncheon “The Company You Keep: Keys to Attracting, Growing & Retaining Talent,” presented by Tom Laughon, co-founder, Catch Your Limit Consulting.

Posted by Scot McRoberts at 3:08 pm
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