Finding Success in Failure with Sam Jacobs

Host of the Sales Hacker Podcast and leader of the global sales community phenomenon Pavilion, Sam Jacobs looks like he has got it all. In this episode, we talk to him about how he got to this point of success, including candid stories about firings, failures, and knowing when to fight against the grain. 

Tune in to hear:

  • What inspired Sam to start Pavilion
  • How always doing the next best thing helped him scale
  • Why Sam believes in breaking free from existing business models

Listen to the episode now!

Guest:

Sam Jacobs, CEO, Pavilion

Transcript
Michael McNary:

Welcome to Mimeo's Talk of the Trade. I'm Mike McNary. In addition to leading the sales organization here at Mimeo, I'm also interested in unlocking the secrets of sales and marketing. In each episode, I talked with creative leaders to find out how they approach problems like motivating sales teams, structuring their revenue cycle, and getting product to market. At the end of the conversation, you and I have new takeaways to apply to our everyday life. Let's jump into today's episode.

Michael McNary:

Hey everyone, Mike McNary here. Welcome to Mimeo Talk of the Trade. Today's episode is finding success and failure. How Sam Jacobs turned his experiences into a goldmine for sales professionals. Our guest is Sam Jacobs. Sam is the founder and CEO of pavilion. He's also the host of one of my favorites, the Sales Hacker Podcast. Sam, it's great to have you. Welcome to the podcast.

Sam Jacobs:

Thanks for having me, Mike.

Michael McNary:

We're going to talk quite a bit about Pavilion in a moment. But I wanted to start out by asking you about the Sales Hacker Podcast. You know, I'm a big listener. I think you have great guests and great takes. How did you get involved with that project initially?

Sam Jacobs:. And he reached out to me in:Michael McNary:

Yeah, you have quite a few episodes and covered quite a few topics on it. What's your, you know, a few years later now, what's your favorite part about doing the podcast these days?

Sam Jacobs:

Well, I mean... if you want the truth, here's the truth. The truth is that, you know, there's this old phrase, no conflict, no interest. So my favorite thing about it is that it helps me reach lots and lots of people. I obviously love talking to interesting people and interviewing them. But I also, I really like the the idea that I can spread the word about Pavilion to an audience that is directly related to the people that we're trying to enroll into our membership and do it in a way that's not hitting people over the head, because what we've negotiated this point is that Pavilion can get sort of a permanent sponsorship, and in exchange for that, they can keep all the ad revenue that comes from other sponsors, and they don't need to pay me anything. But of course, it benefits, you know, the company that I run during the day. So that's, that's my - and that, and again, just sort of like tying it back to the very beginning. Because I know one of the questions is like, "Hey, I do this thing called Pavilion, it was called Revenue Collective back then, how did it grow so quickly?" And there's, there's a bunch of answers, but one of the answers is the Sales Hacker Podcast, actually, because I started doing the podcast, and they had, you know, like, there's 100,000 people on the Sales Hacker mailing list, maybe 200,000. And that was how Tom Glason in London and Andrew Purcell in Amsterdam and all of these people heard about what we were doing and said, "Hey, I want to start a chapter in my city for what was then called Revenue Collective." And they heard about it through the podcast.

Michael McNary:

Yeah, you do have a big, you know, audience and I can imagine that, you know, intermingling, the two is going to have benefits on both sides. But yeah, I'm a big fan. And you know, when Pavilion, I think is, when featured I think it's done well. And I can see it driving a lot of engagement, because I think you're onto something with Pavilion. Let's dig into Pavilion a little bit right? You know, for our audience that might not be familiar with your organization. Why don't we start out with some background on the organization and its mission overall, Sam?

Sam Jacobs:

Sure. The organization Pavilion is a paid membership community focused on what we call professional development and career enablement, which is a way of saying that people pay to be members. And in exchange for paying to be a member, we build things to help you navigate your career more effectively, to help you be better at your job. And to help you achieve the results that you're trying to achieve. We started off focused on sales and marketing and customer success, revenue functions. And that's why the original name was called Cevenue collective. And my background is as a sales leader, so that you know, 90%, or of the people in the community come from a revenue function. They come from RevOps, they come from sales, marketing, CS, but that's what it is. And you know, the foundation of it is community, people coming together. But it's not... It's not networking for its own sake. We use the community to build products and services that have a practical impact on your ability to be good at sales, to be a good executive to find the next job to make sure that you're negotiating for that job in the right way, but really, so that you can be as impactful as you possibly could be in your role. That's um, that's what we're trying to do the specific stated mission is to help all of our members unlock and achieve their professional potential, which is a sort of a highfalutin way of saying that we, and I, believe that there's greatness inside a lot of us. And a lot of us are just struggling to figure out how to bring it out into the world. And we're struggling with the playbook and we're struggling with the steps what steps should we take, how do we get there? How do we become a CRO? And so we try to demystify that, we try to provide you the concrete tools that you need, so that you can become whatever you want to be if you want to be a CRO you can become that if you want to be CEO, which is what I am now, you can become that.

Michael McNary:

Yeah, I think that's really compelling. And I love the mission, because I think you're right, you know, folks who want to get somewhere in their career, you know, whether it be sales or another revenue function, and it's not so clear as to what the right steps are, or how they should navigate one aspect of their career or their path versus another. And having that community I think is really valuable, especially people who have done it or had some similar instances, you know, going up the ladder themselves. So there's a lot of value there. Now, you know, you described what it is today. And I candidly, you know, I know so many people who have had fantastic experiences with Pavilion didn't really start out as this fully realized thing, though, right? In the beginning... Yeah, what what was your goal initially, right, you know, cuz this was a, it was almost a networking, like, it started as a meetup group in some respects. Right?

Sam Jacobs:b. And then like I said, fall:Michael McNary:

Yeah.

Sam Jacobs:,:Michael McNary:

I love... I love the candor, as you explain that, Sam, it's great. No, I just think it's fantastic. And it's, you know, one after another, and I think, you know, you've landed somewhere that it sounds like, it makes more sense for you. But I also get the sense, you know, I, you know, know, a little bit and you're pretty altruistic cat, you know, you put a lot of people in touch for just for the sake of, you know, I think what that does for the world in a positive light, and you want to help other professionals, especially, you know, in the revenue functions, do you think that, you know, this has given you the ability to kind of maybe protect some other people from having experiences like you have? Do you think that that's been some gratifying part about this, whether it's been conscious or subconscious?

Sam Jacobs:become what it is, we've got:Michael McNary:

Self-fulfilling prophecy. Yeah, exactly. Love it.

Sam Jacobs:

I'm not saying... listen, she did it on our own. I'm not saying we did it. I'm just saying she, that she, she thanked us publicly as one possible input into her success among many, many. And first and foremost of which is her own talents and capabilities. But that's just, that's awesome. And that's just awesome. To see somebody achieve what they're trying to achieve.

Michael McNary:

Yeah, I agree. And I imagine, as the numbers have kind of grown, right, as you said, you started out as one thing, and it's gotten quite bigger. And you talk about the numbers and that it's global at this point, you know, so despite this, besides the scale, and you know, the actual kind of feedback, is there anything that's been like really surprising about the evolution, right, maybe where you thought you had a sense of where it was going, and then it took maybe a sharp turn in a different direction, or there was maybe something that you really loved about it that you didn't think was going to be one of your favorite aspects of running the organization.

Sam Jacobs:I don't talk to all of these:Michael McNary:

Right. Who are all these new people?

Sam Jacobs:

Yeah, exactly, exactly. And they, and, you know, a big part of our messaging for next year is like, listen, flip your brain, that's not the point. The point is that when there's a million people in pavilion, those are a million people that you can do business with more easily, with more confidence and more trust than are not because all of those people have agreed to our Code of Conduct. Does that mean that they're not takers, and people that are insincere, and assholes, you know, in that are making their way into the system? Of course, it's not a perfect system, but relative to LinkedIn, relative to like the rest of the world, these are people that are more likely to, right? There's so much peer pressure within Pavilion to do a good thing, to be a good person, to help another person that even like the jerks are, feel this pressure, you know, they're like, "Shit, I got to do this, you know, and otherwise." So

Michael McNary:

I like it, maybe, you know, and I think that, you know, what you're saying makes a lot of sense to me in that, you know, these days that, you know, everything is experiential, right, everybody wants to have a great experience, and whatever they're doing, and, you know, we also talk it specifically, but not isolated to the corporate environment, about culture, right. And I think that is experiential in some way. And in the business version of it. And people, I'd imagine the network that big, probably don't have all great experiences with where they're coming from culturally, and where you know, they've worked or who they've been able to collaborate with, and they get to walk into this network of competent people that are bought in to be, you know, altruistic, you know, willing to, you know, espouse the values of the organization and take care of one another, you know, I don't know that that to me would probably seem like a haven to a lot of people and make it very compelling.

Sam Jacobs:

Yeah, I think "haven" is exactly the right word.

cNaryI guess I ask you this::

you talked about what it was to start and what it is now. At what point did you really know you had something right, something that you could turn into your own, we'll call your your enterprise, right? Like you said, this is $100 million valued operation now. And you know, when was it that you said, "you know, what, there's something here and I might be able to really make this with my mother and my, my sister and folks in my life and telling me I should do and make something of my own."

Sam Jacobs:So that was, we grew through:Michael McNary:

Yeah. And those are some pretty rock'n'roll moments that you described, right? The million dollars in the account, you know, getting the rebrand and scale and getting that investment. And also, you know, being a resource during a time where people were starving for something that would help them get through an upside down and unprecedented kind of work and personal scenario, right? So there was companies that kind of went the other way with it, right? Because they weren't maybe equipped to deal with the new circumstances. And then I think the things that were really adding value, saw a ton of engagement in the first 12 months of the pandemic. So it's not necessarily a unique story. But I think it's unique to companies that are really adding value because people didn't have much time for anything else.

Sam Jacobs:

Yeah. And we, like many things, right, that we were not the first I'm not the first, this is not the first sales networking club. This is not the fir... Like there was MSP. We're not the first Google Group. Right. And there was a dinner club, you know, of dinner platform here in New York, called Voray. And Voray, David Olk, and his company Voray used to plan a lot of dinners and sales. And, you know, there's no, it's not like we had some, you know, this, obviously, I don't come from like a trust fund background ...note, but like, this was an open field, this was an open opportunity for a lot of different people. And we just had a, I guess, a unique perspective on it, because you're right, Mike, you know, Voray, among other businesses, like many businesses went to zero, even though you know, they had the same, probably more resources, and a better a better opportunity than we had, in some ways.

Michael McNary:

So yeah, and that's really interesting. And I've been thinking about it, you know, throughout this conversation, and even in preparing for this discussion, Sam, the idea of, you know, there's not it has become quite unique and innovative. I believe that and things that you're saying, I think make it very singular, right. But, you know, a lot of those things took a while to develop, right. So, you know, why? Why did did this succeed in ways that other comparable or similar initiatives didn't?

Sam Jacobs:

So the first thing is anybody that tells you if they know precisely why they were successful is full of shit. So that's standard number one.

Michael McNary:

I agree with that.

Sam Jacobs:

Sometimes you just don't know sometimes the universe conspires you know, and and I feel product market fit for me. I mean, I sometimes, you know, I don't know what I sound like I sound New Agey, I guess. But I do believe this stuff like product market fit is about alignment with the universe, you know, just about like, the world is going somewhere. And it's not about you changing necessarily where the world goes. It's about you listening to the world and understanding it and being quiet and still so that you can be caught by the breeze in a way. Anyway, that's poetry. But the point is, I, so first of all, we had some marketing, here's the marketing insight that we have that other people have since copied, we told people to put the fact that they were members on their LinkedIn. Right. So. So that was, I don't know if it was brilliant. But it worked. Right? Because people started seeing it. They started seeing recruiters started seeing it, what the hell is this thing? Who is this, and then it became a badge of honor. And then you felt like you weren't part of the club, if you didn't have it on your LinkedIn.

Michael McNary:

I agree.

Sam Jacobs:e we build it, once you're at:Michael McNary:

Yeah, you know, you were able to maintain that purity, right, because it did grow pretty quickly, right. And you had this success in a timeframe that is, you know, unprecedented in some respects. But it was definitely fast enough that you didn't have to seek a lot of alternate revenue streams, right, you could keep it a pretty intact and you didn't have to kind of, I don't know, blur the lines of where your, you know, mission to stay clean in, devoid of other things that are driving your, you know, day to day mission. I think that's really cool. But I think it also, you know, the universe conspired to make it doable. Let's talk about, you know, where you said a couple times during this conversation that, you know, you don't know how big it can get. What are your goals regardless, like what do you want to do next?

Sam Jacobs:

In the short term, there's three things I'm super excited about over the course the next 12 to 18 months. The first is learning. We just hired a VP of learning from 2U. And she's going to be developing not just Pavilion University, the traditional concepts of like a school or a course ,but also thinking freshly about online ways that you can absorb and apply information that are specific to being online that aren't just a model for a class. Like maybe it's a quiz that you take every day that assesses where you are in your CRO development. But anyway, learning is going to be a huge emphasis for us. The second big emphasis is going to be premium communities. So while you know, while there are AI, while there's a good reason why I think Pavilion should be big, because as I mentioned, it helps people do business better. There are people that want elevated experiences, they want workshops, they want personal transformation, they want to ensure they're willing to spend a little bit more money to transform how they, how they really think about their career in a more handheld concierge style way. So we're going to be introducing those, and we're already doing that with CEO Pavilion, as I mentioned with Stephanie Cox. And then the third thing is, which I'm most excited about is really around gamification. And that's about rewarding people. Basically, all of you know, all of the things that people do they answer a question, they serve as a mentor, they take a class, they teach a class, whatever it is, we want to establish points for all of those things, and reward people for their... for their behavior, we're kind of calling it the kindness score, and for lack of a better word for now. But basically, you know, to create a system where we can surface the people that are the most helpful to the community. And then ultimately, not just like, let other people know, which, of course is step one. But step two is, is really rewarding them. And, ideally, you know, my actual goal is to create some kind of monetizable financial value, to helping provide support back to other members in the community. So that's like the long term goal. The near term goal is like, let's just collect all the data and tell people, these are the 10 best, most helpful. People in the Indianapolis chapter, these are the 10 best, most helpful people in, you know, in sales, or whatever, and have that be a constant thing that's running so that people feel some sense of reward and fulfillment, and frankly, competition around doing good and doing best.

Michael McNary:

Yeah, you know, what, giving people access to the real high, you know, high return folks, is big, right? And it's also I think, great, because if somebody is putting in that effort, Sam, to help all these folks within Pavilion, you know, they're integral to why Pavilion is great, right? In, you know, rewarding them, it seems very smart to me, but maybe it's something that's been lost and other similar scenarios.

Sam Jacobs:

One of the keys to our success, Mike is, frankly, the fact that we're willing to share. So what I mean by that is, again, most communities are like, Oh, we have a chapter in San Francisco, the person and everybody's a volunteer, you know, and sometimes they're even nonprofits. But of course, you know, the people that run the nonprofit are paying themselves a huge salary. But we grew very quickly, because, frankly, all of the chapter heads and all of these regions, they were getting massive checks from me, because we were giving them such a significant percentage of the dues. So just a willingness to share. Now we've restructured those deals to make it easier for us to scale, you know, so they went from getting 90% of every dollar to 50% of every dollar, but still 50% of every dollar. It's amazing. So, um, you know, anyway, I think that like, that's, again, a little wrinkle that's sort of lost on people, because sometimes you assume like, you're just gonna keep everything for yourself. And fundamental to the concept is like, hey, I want to reward people. I would love it for people to get rich, helping build the community. That's awesome.

Michael McNary:a way that makes sense to now:Sam Jacobs:

Sure. I mean, if you want to reach me, you can just email me Sam at join pavilion dot com (sam@joinpavilion.com), and, and then if you want to join, click, go to joinpavilion.com, upper right corner, click Apply. And depending on, you know, you'll fill out some information. And depending on how you fill that out, it'll route you to one of our three communities Executive Associate or analyst and then go from there, and we've got an enrollment team. And we're, we'll take we'll take hopefully good care of you. But if you have any questions, you can just email me.

Michael McNary:

Yeah, that's great. And what I can speak for directly about Sam is that he is legitimately responsive and engaged and interested, you know, in getting folks connected, and you know, just seeing relationships get built around him. And I've had the opportunity to experience that myself. And it's no bullshit. So reach out if you think there's something here that can help. And I think Sam's a good guy to direct that that inquiry towards. So finally, you know, thinking about summing it up really quickly. The Pavilion story, to me is very interesting because it speaks to how legitimate culture and I'd say, genuine business practices are important in this day and age, people aren't finding it in ways that they would probably hope to. And when you can get around like minded folks that can put all the bullshit aside, add value, you know, help people accelerate their learning curves and find answers to really tough questions, and to navigate really difficult and unique scenarios. You know, you're getting a lot of people that want to be involved in that. Right. And it grew fast, for good reason. And now, you know, you're in a spot where something that started out as one thing is a huge resource to the sales community globally. And you know, what's next? Sounds exciting, too. Right? I think you guys are on a really good track here. So check it out. Everyone in the audience. I'm very impressed by it all. And you know, appreciate Sam, you coming on the show today. And what you're doing for sales professionals across the globe, it's real. And I think there's probably a lot of people out there that are very appreciative that you started it and I'm excited to see what's next.