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Speaker Q&A

SaaS expert Mike Carden talks small business advantages, perseverance & the Commodore 64

Software as a service (SaaS) is the ability to use the internet to deliver applications that can help your customers – and your business.

And Mike Carden knows all about it. He founded Sonar6 in 2006, an SaaS business for human resources. Sonar6 won a slew of awards, including Pwc Hi-Tech Emerging Company, Deloitte Fast 50 and Gartner Cool Vendor and in 2012, Sonar6 was acquired by Cornerstone OnDemand (NASDAQ: CSOD).

Carden is a winner of the Writemark Plain English Award and the Bayer Innovators Award. He is now involved as an advisor or board member in high-growth tech companies around the world, providing expertise in sales and marketing. He also writes the startup marketing blog halfway2.com and is a sought-after speaker on hacking marketing. He has also crashed a plane into the sea.

At the Nurture Change Business Retreat in November, Carden will be talking about "Hacking growth: lessons from tech companies for all businesses".


Q. Who is a leader that you learnt something incredibly valuable from and what was that lesson?

A. I used to work for a big corporation. My boss was a guy called James Radford. He gave me a lot of autonomy, to the point where, through a perfect storm of bad decisions, I managed to not accrue for a very large sum of money that we ended up owing a customer at year end. I was so nervous about coming clean on the issue, but as soon as I did he diffused it by saying: "This is no longer a Mike problem, this is now a company problem". You are never bigger than the company, and that is a good thing.


Q. What lesson in business do you try to pass on to others? 

A. If you are small and new you can make your products feel rare and unique. These are things big companies struggle with, so they're the advantages you need to use.
Most importantly though, small, new companies can do something that big established companies find almost impossible: they can build authentic human-to-human connections, and that is gold.


Q. Who do you think is a great innovator?

A. There's a quote, I forget who from, that says, "If you're the sort of person that everything you start, turns out successful, you should think very carefully about what you start".

Following this line of thought, I'd have to choose Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, not just because of the success that follows him, or even the audaciousness of his goals, but more because of the choices of where he puts his energy. If Tesla is successful, it's good for everyone.


Q. What has been your biggest learning in business? 

A. When we sold Sonar6 we had a big party. In the middle of this a journalist rang me. He asked me, "Now what are you going to do with your life?" "Well I'm still working" I replied. I said that because I simply could not imagine anything else in my life.

For all of the business smarts that we learned, Sonar6 was primarily about putting one foot in front of the other. It was about perseverance. We were a ragtag bunch. We made more mistakes that you could possibly imagine. But we kept showing up. And that right there is the most important thing I learned: you may not always know where you're heading, but keep heading.


Q. If you were 21 years old again, what would you be? 

A. I love software. I love the way that you can effectively create something out of thin air. You don't need any ingredients, other than your own time and your own capability, and I've loved that idea since I first got a Commodore 64 as a kid at school. 


Q. What are you most excited about in attending the Nurture Change Business Retreat in Fiji?  

A. Lying on the beach in a tax deductible fashion. On no, hang on – not that. Actually: I love stories. I love hearing about the journey as much as the destination. Entrepreneurs have the best stories.


The Nurture Change Business Retreat runs November 2 to 6 at the 5-star InterContinental Fiji and features more than 12 incredible speakers across business, health and wellness, plus other activities. Details online at www.nurturechange.com 

Nurture Change and Fairfax are giving away four scholarships worth around $4500 each. Entries for these scholarships closed recently. We will be announcing the winners shortly in the Sunday Star Times and on Stuff.co.nz

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