Phil Alves of DevSquad: “5 Things You Should Do To Become A Thought Leader In Your Industry”

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As a leader, you have to know that you don’t do things on your own. If you’re doing too much yourself then you’re not a leader. A leader needs a team. I remember I worked for this guy who said: “A team is a bunch of people doing what I say.” And I thought, wow that’s pretentious. But he has a point — if you’re not leading, then you’re doing too much and you may burn out. Yesterday I had a meeting and told my coworker to lead the meeting. I trusted him to do the job because I know he could do it after following my lead. You have to spend time mentoring people so that you can avoid doing too much and burn out.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Phil Alves. Phil began his entrepreneurial journey when he was 17, starting and exiting his own SaaS business. From there he worked in senior positions in the e-commerce industry before founding DevSquad, a software development firm that helps entrepreneurs launch new SaaS products and growing companies plug in a ready-to-go dev team. In 12 years, he has led the build of more than 75 SaaS products.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

I started my first SaaS business by accident. At the time I was learning to code and I loved to blog — not only on my own blog, but also on other websites. All those websites were linking back to my blog and I didn’t know at the time that I was link building. I was actually building SEO without knowing it, and then I was hired to do a software CRM for the direct marketing industry. After it was done, I posted it on my blog and I put just the right keyword software to manage direct marketing companies. I had all those links going back to my page, and the blog post had 600 comments. A lot of people wanted the same software, so I was able to successfully close a couple of contracts. That’s how I got into software development and SaaS specifically.

After I sold the company and moved to Utah, I worked as a CTO of another company and started my own company, Devsquad, to help businesses build their SaaS products.

Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?

I have been in contact with many SaaS products and helped so many entrepreneurs that I am able to see and learn from their experiences. That’s another cool thing about the position that I’m in — instead of going straight to build my next product, I found a way to help other people build theirs. So I got to be a part of many SaaS products in many different industries. This has really given me the knowledge to share thoughts on this topic for more than 10 years now. I have helped more than 75 SaaS products enter the market, many of which have gone on to raise a lot of money.

I just want to share my knowledge along the way to help other people build SaaS products.

I’m in a position now where I’ve seen people on both sides of the spectrum. Some were failing and some were succeeding, and now I am able to advise people so they can succeed.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I met with a company that had raised $3 million to build a SaaS product. I really connected with the CEO who was trying to find the product-market fit and asked me if it was ready to take to market. His value proposition was clearly strong because he had just raised $3 million pre-product, pre-revenue, pre-everything. But at that point he had an advisor, his CTO who wanted to go a different route than I wanted to go — I was concerned about the product-market fit. The problem was that the CTO was basically the opposite of me. He had a recent exit where he made a lot of cash — a lot more recent than mine with a lot more cash. So, I lost that argument. He decided to listen to his CTO.

Then the year went by and the company had spent almost a million dollars and they still didn’t have anything to show to take the product to market. And so, the client came back to me and said, “Hey, I’d like to restart the conversation. I was really impressed with you, but I decided to go this route, and I think that was the wrong decision.” We made a plan together and in around 30 days we were able to actually create a product they could start selling and then keep building upon.

But I think the lesson was that you need to take advice from different people depending on the stage you are in as a company. The CTO was definitely qualified, but he was there to scale. That was his specific expertise. He was there to help them go big, but he was worried about scaling problems but had no idea about initial stages such as finding a market fit for the product.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I started very young — when I was 19 I already had 10 people that worked for me. One of the things that I feel like was a funny mistake was while we were developing a product that wasn’t very feasible and we were doing a short workaround. One of the coders commented something like, “hack, this is going to break in 30 days” in the actual coding of the product. The developer sent the code for review, and I thought it was funny and so I approved the code. The code went live, and three days later the client called me. He had actually accessed and read the code that we wrote — I didn’t think he would actually read it. He tried to give me a hard time, but luckily he really liked me so we didn’t lose the client in the end. But while it was definitely funny, it’s never a good thing to write something bad about the client — especially on something that’s available for them to see.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?

For me, the word “leader” means putting your ideas out there as a way to ignite people in a physical sense. But a “thought leader” uses their ideas and knowledge and tries to help people think in new ways. It’s different in that, you’re using your ideas to cater to people’s intelligence. For me, I try to help people understand my point of view. What I am. What my company is. As a thought leader, you’re basically inspiring people at a deeper level than the day-to-day operations for your team. The more people you inspire, the more you receive in return. But you have to think first about the people you help.

Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader. Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?

People start coming to you to ask questions about topics in which you are an expert. They ask you to start speaking at conferences. It gives you a big network of people that you are able to work with. You’re also able to demand a higher fee and even choose who you want to work with. If enough people agree with your ideas, you have people that will listen and follow. It’s a lot of work — a lot of people are good at what they do but they don’t spend time blogging about it, making videos about it. But it’s a quick way to capitalize on what you want to do.

Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?

In my business, I try to be a thought leader in two areas. Not only for my clients who hire me to do their SaaS, but also the people who work for me. I have a lot of people who want to work for me and I have to hire the staff. When you’re a thought leader, people look at you and see what you’ve done and decide that they want to work for you. In December I’m going to a conference and speaking about product-market fit and when to actually go to market. When I go to these conferences I have many people come up to me and ask if there is an open job. It has helped me a lot to help bring in the right talent and scale my business. A lot of opportunities come when you position yourself as a thought leader out there.

Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.

My five strategies are as follows:

  1. Sharing on social media is really important for building a brand and getting yourself out there. Linkedin is huge and my personal favorite, but just choose a social media channel and put good content out there. Linkedin is great for B2B products so I prefer it.
  2. You need to start guest posting on big sites. This gives you the opportunity to bring in different readers that are not yet on your radar. You have to put valuable content out so you can bring in a new audience. If you’re not sure how to get started with this process, it’s best to hire a PR team to secure these opportunities for you. Hiring someone who focuses solely on the PR side of things is really helpful.
  3. Try your best to take note of experiences that are reassuring and worth sharing with an audience. Your memory can only take you so far.
  4. I like to text with internal groups, mentor groups, share ideas with people in the company, get feedback from people so you can see what people want to hear about and isn’t important. Test in close circles of people you trust before moving on to bigger groups.
  5. You need to reserve the time. You have to have the time to do things — even through your busy schedule. Block out a time in your schedule to force you to do so.

In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has that has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach.

Neil Patel. I think he has done a very good job being consistent as he shares things across his channels. He has built a strong brand for himself and the way he also builds other brands has been impressive. I like his blog, and he shares so much valuable content. He’s just so transparent about how he helps people and it’s so nice to go to his blog, podcast, or videos: He’s everywhere. There’s so much insight that can be gained through reading his content. And he releases stuff on a wide variety of content. He’s a marketing guy, but he also helps grow SaaS companies as well as doing SEO for other companies. He’s what I call the quintessential thought leader.

I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?

It’s a word where somebody’s going to have to say it for other people to understand. It may be a bit overused, but it is definitely established and makes sense for the business world. But I personally avoid the word and let my actions speak for themselves. You have to let other people call you thought leader — proclaiming yourself one would defeat the purpose of the word.

What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?

As a leader, you have to know that you don’t do things on your own. If you’re doing too much yourself then you’re not a leader. A leader needs a team. I remember I worked for this guy who said: “A team is a bunch of people doing what I say.” And I thought, wow that’s pretentious. But he has a point — if you’re not leading, then you’re doing too much and you may burn out. Yesterday I had a meeting and told my coworker to lead the meeting. I trusted him to do the job because I know he could do it after following my lead. You have to spend time mentoring people so that you can avoid doing too much and burn out.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

It’s a hard question. But one thing that I’m hoping to promote doing is a big movement already — remote work. A lot of our team currently works remote — we do have a local office, but when needed we work remote as well. I think most people in the office work remotely around 25% of the time. I just think that having time for your family, to explore the world, and still do great work is essential.

Actually, when you think about it, working remotely is about being more responsible. You don’t need someone breathing down your throat to get stuff done. It’s a movement that has been going on for a long time. But in Brazil, for example, it’s not very strong. I’m actually going to Brazil to speak at a big conference. I want to help more people in Brazil specifically make that move and help more companies trust their employees and be able to work on big projects and be able to grow. I really want to devote a lot of time to make this idea bigger in the developing world. But even in the US we can do better. We need people to explore the world, spend time with their family, and live now — not when they are retired. I think that’s a big change that’s coming to our generation. Enjoy life as you’re working, when you’re younger. And I hope people do more of this.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Speak softly and carry a big stick” I think is a great quote. I think it’s a good life lesson. Sometimes, people meet me and think I’m just a nice guy and always laughing. And I am, but I always make sure to carry a big stick in my back pocket. I tend to “speak softly” when it comes to most business transactions. But my team and clients know that I’m not afraid of confrontation as well. As a business owner, you have to be able to speak softly, be nice. But you need to carry the big stick at all times. Be ready because sometimes people will try to take advantage of you and that’s when you just bring a big stick. The big stick is your stability.

We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Bill Gates. He’s just so amazing. I really like him because he built a huge company. I think he added so much value. That’s why he is one of the richest people in the world. He made it possible for me to work, but he also was so, so good at what he did. If you tag him and he responds please let me know.

Phil Alves of DevSquad: “5 Things You Should Do To Become A Thought Leader In Your Industry” was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.