RSPA Recommended Read: Escape Velocity

“RSPA Recommended Read” is a series of articles in which RSPA staff members share details from books we think would be helpful to leaders and aspiring leaders at VAR, ISV, and vendor member organizations.

By: Jim Roddy, President & CEO at the RSPA

Consider this article to be like a pre-booster shot before attending this year’s RetailNOW trade show and education conference. You’re going to hear at the event new ideas you want to implement, but when you return home you’ll realize where the rub lies: doing something new creates a resource conflict with your current activities.

In his book Escape Velocity, author Geoffrey Moore refers to that concept as attempting to “free your company’s future from the pull of the past.” Moore’s more complete thought is this: “To free your company’s future from the pull of the past, to escape the gravitational field of your prior year’s operating plan, and to complete the round-trip by returning with next year’s operating plan, you need to apply a force that is greater than the inertial momentum of current operations.”

I’ve shared Escape Velocity concepts with many RSPA VAR and ISV members who are struggling to move their business forward because of the pull of their past. I’ll list for you now key concepts from the book before sharing my own escape velocity story and offering advice for solution providers:

  1. How will your legacy business model stand up in an increasingly digitized, globalized, and virtualized economy?
  2. “Market transitions wait for no one.” John Chambers, Cisco
  3. Once a year, ask the question, “What does the world really want from us?”
  4. Your prior year’s operating plan is the pull of the past. That plan exerts a gravitational force that pulls inexorably at any investments that seek to depart from its inertial path.
  5. You are not dividing up the check at a restaurant. You are setting up a base camp to climb K2.
  6. The world is more powerful than you. The market is more powerful than you. What do you say we tap into some of these external sources of power to give your company a boost?
  7. You can be in a hot category and fail to execute, producing a near-zero result. Similarly, you can execute like crazy in a dying category and have an equally disappointing outcome.
  8. Category performance is the number-one predictor of company performance. No business can outperform its category over time.
  9. Uncritically following a course leads inevitably to dilution of differentiation, erosion of competitive advantage, waste of innovation resources on things that don’t matter, and failure to achieve sufficient competitive separation on the things that do matter.
  10. Your company must differentiate to such a degree that your offers are simply unmatchable. That means you have to allocate resources in a radically asymmetrical way.
  11. Companies unable to achieve escape velocity have almost always fallen into the cadence of a manage first, lead second.

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  1. The path to reform is clear. Spend more time, talent, and attention on things outside yourselves.
  2. Anybody can be the big fish by picking a pond of appropriate size and then delivering a value proposition unmatchable by the rest of the competitive set.
  3. Have a strategic dialogue prior to resource-allocation decisions. You have to nominate the favorites, fight fiercely about which ones are truly deserving, and drive yourselves to the edge.
  4. The real key to achieving escape velocity is to overlay an additional execution discipline – transition programs – the role of which is to convert an activity from a current to a future state.
  5. The overall rhythm of innovation in a secular growth market is invent, test/learn, deploy, redeploy/reinvent. There is no time for optimize – that will come when the market finally matures.
  6. Experience has taught us there is always someplace else to go. It’s just that you have to jettison a lot of baggage to get yourself under way. The longer you stay at the fair, the more baggage you have to jettison and the weaker you are when you start out.
  7. Achieving escape velocity means freeing yourself from power-deflating bake-offs with competing companies by creating one or more unmatchable offers.
  8. The arrow that leads from your current state to this highly desirable future state represents the investment in innovation required to achieve this success. The greater the force embodied in this arrow, the less likely that competitors will succeed – or even try – to neutralize its unique value.
  9. Every company has a strategy to be different. What ingredient is present in the few that actually do get to escape velocity? The answer, I submit, is leadership. Without breakaway leadership, there is no way to achieve escape velocity.
  10. Commit to a deeply asymmetrical bet before you allow yourself to become enmeshed in last year’s operating plan.
  11. The smaller you are, the more important it is to tighten your focus, because it is this very tightening of market dimensions that keeps the bigger fish out of your pond.
  12. It is easier to take a new solution to the same customer than it is to take the same solution to a new customer. Customer intimacy is a stronger card to play than product leadership.

RSPA Recommended Read Rating: 9.75/10

After reading those passages, are you (A) scared, (B) invigorated, or (C) both? You should be C – a mix of scared and invigorated. Adapting for the future is make-or-break-your-business stuff but it’s also an exciting opportunity to have the wind of market forces at your back instead of always playing catch-up.

When I worked for Jameson Publishing (1998-2016), known best in retail IT channel circles as the publisher of Business Solutions Magazine, we navigated a transition that felt like riding a roller coaster without seatbelts – exciting, scary, and frequently scar-inducing. In the late 90s and early 2000s, the company was highly profitable (think 30-40% profit margins) solely as a publisher of magazines and directories. We had established and refined best practice systems for launching and growing print products.

Our financial statements screamed at us “stay the course!” Meanwhile, market conditions where whispering, “the Internet is coming.”

Our owners wisely began to investigate an Internet-based B2B publisher that was up for sale and, after a few meetings, invited several employees (yours truly included) to load into a van to drive from northwest Pennsylvania across the state to suburban Philadelphia to learn more. After co-locating with the Internet publisher for a few days and fully realizing web publishing was the future, our team faced a choice: do we slowly but surely build our own web products in our spare time with leftover resources or do we “commit to a deeply asymmetrical bet” and immediately plunge into web publishing through this acquisition?

Understanding that “market transitions wait for no one” and after asking ourselves “what does the world really want from us?”, we realized our job was to serve content to our subscribers and provide exposure for our sponsors whether that was in a glossy magazine or on a laptop screen. So we took a deep breath, spent $2.35 million, and bought ourselves a web publishing company.

There were thousands of wrinkles to work out, but we were clearly in the test/learn, deploy, redeploy/reinvent cycle with a futuristic concept and product. Our team of 50 employees grew nearly 50% as 20+ experienced web employees joined our organization. Over the next 10+ years, we watched as competing magazines flailed building weak websites that tried to merchandize content to generate leads. All of them eventually sold out, shriveled up, or folded.

In retrospect, it’s obvious publishers should have escaped the pull of their magazine past and invested more in digital products. The same can be said for retail IT VARs nearly 20 years ago when payment processing was only a whisper in the POS industry. Back then, many resellers wanted to embrace payments, but their core business pulled them back into a world of selling pole displays and rolling trucks to repair greasy POS hardware fans.

What is your core business overshadowing today? Perhaps it’s more recurring revenue generated through managed services and cloud-based products. Or it could be morphing from a pure reseller to an ISV/VAR hybrid who offers their own intellectual property through niche software. Perhaps it’s new products like Electric Vehicle Charging Stations as-a-Service (EVCSaaS), Programmatic Digital Out of House Advertising (pDOOH), IoT (Internet of Things), or telecommunications and the many professional services wrapped around them. Or it could be expanding into a new vertical market like grocery (very stable) or cannabis (high growth potential).

One RSPA VAR member I counseled a few years ago had been considering adding more managed services because they understood the macro trend of services and recurring revenue. But they were frustrated that month after month at their leadership team meeting progress never advanced beyond talk. So, embracing Escape Velocity, they freed themselves from the gravitational pull of their core business and purchased a small MSP (managed services provider) to lead the way. I talked with that VAR’s CEO recently, and he says it’s one of the best decisions his team ever made.

Don’t misinterpret these two stories to mean the only way to escape the pull of your past is through acquisition. But that’s the level of investment you need to commit to in order to successfully innovate. This is way more than a line item on a leadership team agenda. It’s well beyond a task force within your company. It’s more like a different division – or even a different org altogether – with its own employees, resources, responsibilities, and goals.

Don’t look back five or 10 years from now and bemoan, “I should have done more!” Do more this year.

Purchase your copy of Escape Velocity here.

Don’t forget to register for RetailNOW 2023, July 30-Aug. 1 at the Gaylord Palms in Orlando. It’s Where The Industry Meets!

Jim Roddy is the President and CEO of the Retail Solutions Providers Association (RSPA). He has been active in the retail IT channel since 1998, including 11 years as the President of Business Solutions Magazine, six years as an RSPA board member, one term as RSPA Chairman of the Board, and several years as a business coach for VARs, ISVs, and MSPs. Jim has been recognized as one of the world’s Top Retail Influencers by RETHINK Retail, a Leading CannaTech Influencer by The CannaTech Group, and is regularly requested to speak at industry conferences on SMB best practices. He is author of two books – The Walk-On Method To Career & Business Success and Hire Like You Just Beat Cancer – and is host of the award-winning RSPA Trusted Advisor podcast. For more information, contact