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David Mammano

Episode 4: The Business Initiatives System, with David Mammano

David Mammano’s mission in life is to help people realize their highest potential through education. To accomplish this mission, David founded what has become Next Step Education Group, in 1995.

Next Step Education Group is a multi-media enterprise with digital, mobile, video and consumer products and has grown to become a nationwide resource that helps millions of students a year with college, career and life planning.

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • David’s entrepreneurial journey
  • The business initiatives system — what are business initiatives?
  • How the key initiatives are implemented after they’re identified
  • The Google Doc that keeps key initiatives organized
  • How to establish accountability with key initiatives
  • Why celebration is a key step in the key initiatives system
  • David’s upcoming podcast and other things upcoming for his business

Ways to contact David:

Welcome to System Execution, the strategy in system behind today’s successful companies. Systems can make or break your company. But here we’ll solve your physical, technological, and psychological systems issues by connecting you with experts that have succeeded in overcoming those challenges in their own business. And providing you the guidelines and tools you need to implement those same strategies for immediate results. Now, here’s your host, Vera Fischer.

Vera: Welcome to System Execution. A podcast devoted to using processes and systems to drive to a better outcome for your business. I’m Vera Fischer, your host. All businesses, no matter the size, relies on systems. Some of these are physical systems, such as a factory, some are technological, like project management software, while others are psychological systems, such as checklist and organizational charts. Many of these systems will overlap in your business.

Today’s guest, David Mammano, will be discussing a system that has contributed to his success. David is the CEO of Avonti Entrepreneur Group. His mission in life is to help people realize their highest potential. As an entrepreneur, David founded the beginning of what would eventually be Next Step Education Group in 1995. Today, David is an accomplished entrepreneur in the field of education and the success with his own workplace culture philosophies has catapulted him to the professional speaking arena as well. David graduated from the University at Buffalo in 1991, with a bachelor’s in communications in advertising. He is also a graduate of the MIT Entrepreneurial Masters program and Executive Education program offered through the entrepreneur’s organization. Welcome to System Execution, David.

David: Thank you, Vera. I appreciate it.

Vera: Great to have you. So, David, I’ve given System Execution listeners a brief glimpse into your background. So, take a minute and tell us more about you and your experience and then we’ll dive into your particular system that you would like to share with us.

David: Sure, well, I love what you’re doing. I think entrepreneurs are famous for not using systems and using their gut. And then, before you know it, you’ve got this wild bush growing all over the place instead of a finely pruned tree growing upwards. I like what you’re doing. Am I a typical entrepreneur? I definitely need systems so I’m looking forward to following up with you and learning more. For me, I started my company as you said, back in 1995. The reason I started it was I saw a lot of high school students kind of lost about what to do after high school. A lot of them went to college but they didn’t know why. They would go to college because their parents told them to, it was the thing to do, it was expected.

They would go and they really weren’t sure why they were there, what they were going to do or study. It was almost just like this ritual and I thought, “Well, with college getting more expensive, it really kind of behooves students to do some research and do some self-introspection about who they are and what they should be doing with their life naturally as it relates to college and career planning.” So I started a magazine called Next Step Magazine here in Rochester, New York, where I’m from. Every article dealt with college planning, career exploration, and life skills so that we also helped them with skills with their life as they, you know, grow into maturity as well.

We had this magazine, printed 10,000 copies, gave it out free to local high school students in the area through the high schools. We would send all copies to high schools all over Rochester and then we made a profit on the third issue, typical entrepreneur, got excited, expanded to our two neighboring cities of Buffalo and Syracuse and just kept on going. The next year, ’97, all of New York state. Then in ’98, we started franchising into different states, regions. Before you knew it, we’re in the whole country. We had 17 regional editions all around the country, we’re in 20,000 plus high schools 5 times a year. Between print, digital, online, mobile, we’re reaching about three million high school students per year.

All free to the students. And the way we made our revenue is through advertising. We had colleges advertising. Built a pretty cool company, we were an Inc. 5000 company three years in a row, had about 18 employees at the peak and it was a finely tuned, very efficient, profitable company. Learned a lot. Learned a lot about how systems are important, right? And all that. We ended up folding the magazine back about three years ago, 2013, because print and teens really was no longer a cutting edge technology with the changing times. A lot of our advertisers just did not want print any more. They wanted our web stuff, our digital stuff.

We just did a complete reboot. We took a deep breath and we kind of restarted the company. We started NextStepU.com. The letter U dot com. We put articles on there, a college matching tool, a scholarship search, so continued to help high school students. We also started an online school called Next Step Academy where we would have online courses on career skills and life skills for teens. Then we opened up a retail center here in Rochester where we were almost like a Sylvan learning center or a Huntington. Except we were super-hyper focused on helping families with college planning. So we were almost like an outsourced guidance counselor on steroids.

We did that and since then, we have morphed that business into an online business called NextStepCollegePrep.com, which has become an online college planning curriculum. We licensed that to charter schools, not-for-profits like the Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCAs, things like that. That’s been the Next Step side, that’s been my actually little entrepreneurial business, and then you mentioned the Avonti Entrepreneurial Group, which is my latest adventure. I’ll tell you how that got started.

About 6 months ago, this young man, 25 years old, gave me a call to thank me because I had helped him about 5 years ago start a business. A lot of young people call me, a lot of people, just in general, call me about wanting to pick my brain about starting or growing a business. A nice guy, meet with him, have some coffee, give my experiences, the highs and lows of being an entrepreneur for 21 years now. I just help them get started or whatever questions. This guy was thanking me because he was doing very well, his business was five years old and doing very well. He looked back at his notes and he realized that I had given him some really great advice that apparently, he took. Surprise, surprise, right?

I was like, “That’s great, thank you so much, thanks for the call.” He just wanted to call and say thank you. Then at the end, he goes, “You know, you should think about making a business out of this. You’re really good at helping people.” It dawned on me, that would be fun. I’ve been doing it for free for so many years but I thought, “Is there a way that I can take my systems, take my knowledge and experience, and help people either start and/or grow businesses?” I literally got back to the office later that day, talked to Diane Fischer, my VP of marketing, and said, “We’re going to start another business and we’re going to create a website and create systems to help entrepreneurs grow and scale their business.”

That’s about six months old and I have clients. I’m working one-on-one with CEOs and their executive teams. We’re having events called the Avonti Entrepreneur Summits. We have events for entrepreneurs where we bring in speakers. Then I also started a mastermind group called Mangiamo and Mangiamo means “let’s eat” in Italian. We meet for dinner every other month and we have a mastermind session, we discuss issues where everybody helps each other out through experience sharing and advice. It’s been a very helpful group, we’ve had two meetings so far and we have 10 members, going for 12, and then we’ll start another group. That’s kind of exciting.

Between the Avonti Summit, my Mangiamo group, and the coaching, loving it, probably haven’t been this excited in years about what I’m doing because I’m just taking something that’s very, very natural to me and helping people, which I just naturally love doing. Kind of a long-winded answer to your question but that’s what I’m up to.

Vera: That sounds really, really exciting and I love the reboot comment about changing it. I’ve always called that a start-over instead of a start-up.

David: Right, yeah.

Vera: It’s the same concept, so that’s a lot on your plate. With all of the systems that you’re using to help entrepreneurs get started, which system would you like to talk about today?

David: The system that works really well for me and I’ve been doing it along with my entrepreneurs is just a system of setting up key initiatives. Because entrepreneurs, especially, are famous for the new idea, right? Getting really excited about a new idea and everybody’s on board and then two months later, the entrepreneur’s now excited about another new idea and then the other one kind of fades, puts on the back burner, and it just stresses out everybody. Before you know it, everyone’s moving in different directions and, like I said before, this phrase came from somebody on my team, you literally start to grow like a shrub, outwards, instead of like a pruned bush, growing upwards in the right direction. I think talking about the systems of how we establish key initiatives for a team is probably the most exciting thing I’m working on.

Vera: As far as these business initiatives go, is there a set number you would recommend or is it really different for each entrepreneur?

David: Depending on the size of your company. Normally, what happens is, if you ask an executive team what the key initiatives they’re working on, what are their priorities, you’re going to get, like, 40, right? I mean, I did just did an exercise last week with a company that has about 30 employees and had a meeting with 8 people, the CEO and their executive team and just managers. I asked them to, on paper, without anyone else knowing, just write down what you feel are the key priorities over the next year for the company. Then everyone turned them in. We literally had over 40, right? They say if you have 10 priorities, you have none. Especially during the day, I think if you have more than one priority, you have none.

We ended up honing that down to six priorities for the year. What we did then is reverse engineer that into quarterly milestones, quarterly planning, and broke it down and realized what’s really, really doable and important over the course of the next year. Everyone’s on the same page and agrees about it.

Vera: What are some examples of key business initiatives in your opinion?

David: An example of a key initiative is kind of like a big project. Something that you want to get done in a big way. For this radio station group that I was working with last week, one of their big key initiatives is to revamp one of their stations. Completely change the format, change everything about it. That’s a big project. They own nine radio stations in their group so that became a key initiative. It also might be a new product launch. It also might be an internal issue. A lot of companies will have different factions, the way the company is built. For instance, I ran a magazine for years and there’s the editorial side and there’s the sale side. Traditionally, at a magazine or a newspaper, those sides don’t talk too much. In fact, sometimes they even fight, it’s like church and state a little bit.

The radio stations, you have the programming and the DJs on one side, and then again, you have the sales staff on the other side. You have the product and then you have the people that sell it. A lot of times, there’s a lot of friction, they don’t understand each other. Often times, a key initiative at a company is to find out where the friction is. It often lies with different factions not getting along. Then setting up a system in place to deal with that, to get these factions working together to empathize, understand, and come together for the betterment of the whole instead of fighting each other within the same company.

That could be a key initiative, right? Over the course of the next year, we’re really going to fine-tune and intertwine these factions that have caused friction with each other and we’re going to set up a system in place so that doesn’t happen anymore. It could be internal, it could be product-oriented, it could be a BHAG, you know, your big, hairy, audacious goal, what are we going to do to move towards that this year. Those are some examples.

Vera: When you’re visiting with these clients that you’re working with, do you go deep into defining the business initiatives from a not only are we identifying what that key initiative is, but I’m also going to educate you on how to implement it?

David: Absolutely. What we’ll do is, we’ll look at all the business initiatives and what we’ll do then is- it’s very simple. We actually create a Google doc, right? On that Google doc, it’s so- Verne Harnish, who started EO, and I’ve been an EO member for many, many years and I love them. He uses the term stupidly simple. A lot of systems are just that, they’re just stupidly simple but they’re systems that, if you don’t use, you get off track easily. Right? So we actually created a very simple Google doc, where everybody can go and meet about this Google doc once a week.

It’s very simple. One column literally is called Key Initiative. Below that you just list what are the key initiatives for that quarter. The next column is called Owner. So every key initiative has an owner, you know, a champion, darn it, I’m running with this ball, this is my baby, I own it. Then the next column is called Description. Let’s describe what this key initiative is. What is the purpose, what’s the why, why are we doing it, what does it look like. Really start to understand why are we doing this. Then you have a due date. This is going to be due by. That’s another column, Due Date. Within that due date, you could also put in milestones. You could have an overall due date but then you also set up milestones. By this date, this is going to be done, by this date, this is going to be done, et cetera.

The next column is called Status. Every week you have in there what is the status. Where are we, what have we done, where are we moving towards. Just so everybody gets a quick update of what’s going on with the initiative. The last column, and once again, I got this from Verne Harnish, Red, Yellow, Green. You actually fill this in with a color. If red is there on that key initiative, that means, you know what, we are way behind. We haven’t met our milestones, it’s not looking good to hit the due date. That’s a problem. If you have red in there, I would say two to three weeks in a row, then, Houston, there’s a problem. Either with the person who owns it or is the key initiative really that important?

That’s red. If it’s filled in with yellow, that means, you know, it looks like it’s pretty darn on-track, it’s doing pretty well, maybe we’re a week behind because the owner was on vacation or had another emergency fall on his or her lap. But, you know what? We’re not concerned, it’s yellow, it’s good. Green, if it’s filled in with green, that means, like, we’re doing great. This is on-track, meeting the milestones, the owner is fully engaged, really passionate, status is on-track. That way, everybody, the CEO, the managers, the executive team, everybody is looking at this document once a week, in a weekly meeting, it takes about an hour. All you’re doing is going through these key initiatives, each owner is reporting, updating the status and filling in red, yellow, and green.

That simple exercise establishes a rhythm, a rhythm of accountability. And ensures that execution happens. Because, Vera, I’m sure you’ve worked a lot of companies and they have all these great ideas and execution is just terrible. Accountability is terrible. These are simple, simple exercises that will- you don’t need any complicated software programs for this. If you want to get rock-hard abs, it’s very simple. Do 100 sit-ups a day. Just keep on doing it. Very simple exercise. Same with this. If you do want accountability, execution, and focus for your team, something simple like this, staying true to the weekly meeting to go through it, get people talking about it will do wonders for your company. It’s amazing how simple it is but I’ve seen this over and over again. Even with my own company.

Vera: Sometimes documenting and realizing that taking the idea off the whiteboard and putting it into a plan of execution can be very difficult for some people. But laying it out, almost like a journey of what’s going to happen, it can be highly impactful for everyone.

David: Absolutely. I’m sorry but I’m a big follower of people like Darren Hardy and John Maxwell and Jim Rohn. They talk about a system to make your goals happen. Brian Tracy’s another one. Just write them down. Write them down and look at them every day, every other day, every week. It’s so simple. But how many people do that? They’ve done research and the probability of your goals actually happening increases tremendously if you just simply write them down and look at them at least on a weekly basis.

Vera: From this particular system, the business initiatives system, has it always been structured this way or did you have to go through any trial and error to get it to the point where, okay, this is really what works for all of my clients?

David: It worked for me, it worked for my company and I’m your typical manic entrepreneur. So I’ve said, “Geez, if this could work for me, then I know it could work for other entrepreneurs.” I was born in 1968 and I would have been on Ritalin, I think, if it was invented when I was a kid. My parents were very worried about my hyperactivity. I’ve never been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD but I’m sure I have some form of it. I need something simple that is not complex to keep me on track. I know a lot of entrepreneurs and I’m sure you’ve met them too, a lot of very successful entrepreneurs are literally diagnosed as ADD or ADHD. To keep a system so simple like this and then just coming back to it on a weekly basis proves to be very, very helpful and powerful.

Vera: It does. When you achieve those goals within that system, I’m assuming that’s your measure for effectiveness of this particular system. When you see green on all of your business initiatives.

David: Correct. Yeah, and to your point, when it gets done, right, so, wow, hey, the deadline was 8/11/16. Beautiful. Now, what I also recommend to the CEO is let’s celebrate. When a key initiative has been completed, what does company going to do to celebrate? Sometimes that’s another column where you literally write Celebration and when we meet this key initiative, what are we going to do? Are we going to go out for dinner together as a team? Are we going to go to tickets to the ballgame for everybody? Let them help you decide, right? You don’t want to dictate what the celebration’s going to be. But have a celebration. It’s always great when you reach a goal and you get to pop the proverbial champagne.

Vera: I absolutely agree and today’s society, with the emphasis on goal setting and always reaching your goals, we don’t celebrate enough the milestones that we achieve both business and personally. I’m  a huge advocate of that.

David: Yeah, yeah. And it’s fun. People need to recharge, take a deep breath, reboot themselves, almost. In my company, I’m a big culture guy. I wrote a book about our company culture called Make Love in the Workplace. It’s filled with strategies all about these different take-home tips on building culture. One of them is celebrations. I call some of the celebrations field trips. When I was a kid in school you go on field trips, right? We go to the museum, planetarium, aquarium, et cetera, it was great. Get out of school for the day, reconnect the synapses a little bit, laugh, maybe talk to people that you don’t really talk to in school.

That’s something that I recommend companies do. We do it where, hey, maybe one of your celebrations is we’re going to do a field trip. We’re going to get out of the office all day, we’re going to go to this ballgame, this museum, and we’re going to go out to lunch and it’s just a great thing for the team to do to just take a deep breath with each other. And, like I said, what happens often is people end up kind of hanging out with people that maybe that normally they don’t. They get to talk to people a little bit more and they get to laugh and they get to just reconnect the synapses. If you have all a-players on your team, the work is still going to get done. People like, “Oh, take a day off, that’s going to set us behind.” My opinion is baloney. If you have a-players, they’re going to, in their own time, going to make up the work. I never worry about that.

Vera: I absolutely agree with you. Let’s transition to what’s next for your business.

David: That’s a great question. What’s next for my business is, now, don’t get scared because I’m sure I’m not going to be competitive. But I may have a podcast starting this fall. Very excited about that. It’s really going to be geared towards beginning-to-middle stage entrepreneurs start and grow their business. That’s my superpower. That’s what I love doing. I’ll say I’m not a sophisticated entrepreneur in the fact that I’m never going to grow a Facebook. I don’t like investors, I don’t like partners. I’m a very simple, bootstrapping, grassroots entrepreneur that just likes to- I’ve started six businesses and I just like to roll my sleeves up, have the idea in my brain, get it going through great planning and selling, marketing. And I want to work with like-minded people like that and, really, that’s a good 90% of entrepreneurs, I think. I’ll call them more grassroots entrepreneur with no investors, no partners, not raising capital, et cetera, just the money they raise is through sheer sales. Willpower, right?

In my podcast, I’m going to be helping entrepreneurs like that and have guests on that can help with those areas. I’m also going to be doing more speaking. That’s another goal of mine. I have done a lot of professional speaking, conferences, especially after my book came out, I’ve done more talking to companies about workplace culture, strategies. I did a TEDx talk a few years ago, really enjoyed that. More speaking, the podcast, I’m probably going to write another book. I love writing so I’m going to write another book at some point.

The next big, big thing that I’m really super excited about and this is around the corner, is I’m creating an online program for entrepreneurs. Part of the program will be me coaching them. So I’m creating an eight-week program. Entrepreneurs will be able to take my- it’s an online, eight-week course on starting and growing a business. Part of the whole program is they get calls with me. So, personal coaching with me. They also get, we’re going to be doing a weekly go-to-meeting conference call. Where just a bunch of entrepreneurs be on the phone, asking questions, we’re having a discussion, helping each other. Then I’m also going to create a Facebook group page, private, where we’ll all be able to help each other. You’ll be able to post questions, I’ll answer them, other entrepreneurs will answer them, we’ll just become this kind of peer group of entrepreneurs helping each other. This is an eight-week program and the participants get lifetime membership to the class, the online class. They can always go back and watch the videos and do the downloads and resources and all that, forever.

I’m really excited about that and one of my core values is we’re helpful. After 21 years, it’s a way for me to be really, really helpful in just sharing my experiences because I joke that I’ve done some things great, I’ve done a ton of things wrong, and my luck has always just been a little bit ahead of my mistakes and I’ll say my blessings, really. I’m at the point now where I can look at all my highs and lows and my entrepreneur roller coaster and help people, first of all, avoid a lot of mistakes I made, and then second of all, just really start and grow their business, which I’m really excited about.

Vera: That sounds so great and when you talked about working with entrepreneurs and bootstrapping, I’m absolutely one of those entrepreneurs, where it was all just by going out and getting the work yourself, no money, no funding. I recently gave a talk at the leadership academy at a high school in Austin, Texas. One of the questions was, “Where did you get your funding?” I said, “No, no, there was no funding. It was just write down a list of people and reach out and say I’m available for work.” I absolutely get that. David, this has really been educational and you’ve provided us with a few of those nuances that our listeners really need to hear regarding the execution of a successful system in what is clearly several successful businesses that you’ve created and run. Before we go, let’s close out today’s discussion with any final advice you want to share about business initiatives, or anything we’ve missed and then tell us the best way our listeners can connect with you.

David: Sure, I think my final advice is, really for business owners, entrepreneurs, is to take the time to have with, maybe someone on your team, maybe an outside coach, facilitator. Take a day or two to take a deep breath, do some proper planning about your priorities. What are going to be your key initiatives for the year? And then create a very simple system, like I said with the spreadsheets to reverse engineer your initiatives, to make sure that they happen on a quarter by quarter basis. And that there’s an owner for every one, for each of those initiatives, due dates, milestones and celebrations.

You will be surprised how this simple system actually makes accountability and execution happens. I also want to say for people thinking of starting a business, a lot of people start business because they’re passionate about something. Which is great, passion is awesome. But you also have to make sure that it has the other P, which is profit. A lot of people start businesses because they are passionate about something but they don’t really think about, “Is there enough profit in this for my family?” Really try to relate the profit piece of your business to the passion piece as well.

If someone really wants to get in touch with me, which I encourage very much, they can reach me at David@DavidMammano.com. That’s David and then Mammano is M as in Mary, A-M-M-A-N-O, so David@DavidMammano.com. I’d love to talk to you. What I do with people interested in working with me is I set up a completely free, no pressure phone call. We’ll just talk about if I can help you, what your needs are and just see if it’s a good fit. At the very least, I’m going to give you some good tips to help you hit the ground running, no charge. So, I’m all about helping people at this point in my life.

Vera: That sounds great. System Execution fans, no matter how many notes you took, or how often you re-listen to this episode, the key is you must know that every successful business uses systems to drive to a better outcome. David, I want to thank you so much for sharing your expertise and insight to our listeners today.

David: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

We hope you found this episode of System Execution on business initiatives enlightening. For free examples, case studies, e-books and more, be sure to visit SystemExecution.com/resources. Contribute to the conversation by reaching out to Vera directly on email at Vera@SystemExecution.com. Until our next episode, thank you for the privilege of your time.




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