Lessons from Omar

By Bredesen Lewis, Wharton MBA 2013; Co-founder, Skillbridge

Recently, we were lucky enough to meet with Imprivata’s CEO, Omar Hussain. Imprivata is a leading company in secure access and collaboration in the healthcare sector, and Omar has had an interesting and varied career. He has never worked in the same industry twice and has successfully navigated Imprivata through two major changes of direction. Omar epitomizes the classic image of a serial entrepreneur with a singular passion for building great companies. Offering plenty of good advice for young entrepreneurs, Omar’s charismatic delivery was that of a natural salesman. He was even kind enough to follow up afterwards over the phone. Here’s what we at Skillbridge learned.

Sales doesn’t always = traction

Omar was emphatic that as an early stage company you have to find the holy grail of product-market fit. The best way to do that is by using sales as a measuring stick. But he cautions to not mistake being a good sales person with product traction. Avoid questions that lead the witness and instead ask, “Why wouldn’t you use this product?” When a client’s ideal product sounds like what you’re offering, then you’ve hit the sweet spot.

Our experience at Skillbridge has been exactly that. We are building a platform where companies can cut their costs by accessing premier talent on an as-needed and fluid basis. We have shifted our sales calls from aggressively pushing our platform to giving clients the space to tell us about their pain points: too many short-term projects and a lack of time to screen piles of under-qualified resumes. By meticulously interviewing our customers we are learning to completely understand their needs. These conversations have even provided us tips such as which budget pool to target with their CFO and what conferences their competitors attend find related vendors.

Here are some of Omar’s suggestions for the questions you should be asking on your initial sales calls:

  • What are the products/services you most need?
  • How often do you need them?
  • Why do you need them?
  • How do you try and get them today?
  • Why have you not been able to get what you want?
  • If you were able to find the product/service you want…
  • How would you like to access it? (e.g. hourly, per use etc.)
  • How would you like to purchase it? (e.g. directly over the web, through your IT department etc.)
  • If XYZ product existed what would prevent you from using it?
  • If you found a service/product that fulfilled your need where would you get the money to pay for it?

Develop a strong gut instinct and then have the courage to follow it

Omar also touched on something we’ve heard consistently from startup founders – follow your gut. Some see it as the brain’s ultimate self-adjusting pattern recognition system. Omar believes that following your gut is a skill that you develop and hone over time, providing you a strong compass to guide decision making. His extensive career and ability to bring people with him on Imprivata’s winding and often unexpected journey is a testament to his ability to stand up and act on his convictions.

The biggest takeaway

Blocking out the noise and focusing on the underlying truth was our biggest takeaway from the time spent with Omar: “You may be able to BS investors and BS customers but don’t ever BS yourself.” We at Skillbridge are taking Omar’s advice to heart.

Brett LewisBio: Bredesen (Brett) Lewis is a co-founder and Director of Skillbridge. Skillbridge connects companies and investors with high caliber professionals for a fraction of the price it would normally cost to access that level of talent. Brett was born and raised in New York City. He received a BA at McGill University, an MSc at the London School of Economics and an MBA and MA at the Wharton School and the University of Pennsylvania where he was a Philip Whitcome and Leonard Lauder Scholar. He began his career at Bain & Company where he worked focused on Private Equity and Tech and Telecomm. Brett can be reached at bredesen@wharton.upenn.edu and on Twitter @bredesen.