Episode 148 – Prompt Engineering: A New Skill That Professional Service Firms Need to Learn – Member Case by Stephen Straus and Numa Dhamani

Generative AI is transforming the professional services industry, lifting productivity levels to heights thought unobtainable. Interacting with large language models has become a required core competency. This is best done via prompt engineering. Attend this session and learn this new skill from a machine learning engineer.


Greg Alexander [00:00:15] Hi, everyone. This is Greg Alexander, the host of the Pro Serv podcast, brought to you by Collective 54, the first community dedicated to the boutique professional services industry. On this episode, we’re going to talk about prompt engineering, prompt and engineering. Hopefully, you’re aware of what that term is now since we’re all living in the air era, but if you’re not aware of what that is, we’re going to talk about that and how to leverage it in today’s economy. And we have a great guest who is going to walk us through the basics and then she’ll participate in our member Q&A later on. Her name is Numa Dhamani. Did I say your last name correctly? 

Numa Dhamani [00:00:59] Yes. 

Greg Alexander [00:01:00] Very good. And she is with Kung Fu AI and is a member of Steven Strauss’s team who is a member of Collective 54. So, Numa, would you please introduce yourself and your firm to the audience? 

Numa Dhamani [00:01:16] Yeah. So, hi, I’m Nima, and thank you so much for having me today. I’m a principal machine learning engineer for a boutique consulting firm that focuses on artificial intelligence. And my personal expertise is the natural language and the largely large language model space. 

Greg Alexander [00:01:34] Okay. And Numa, I was researching your background before the call, and it’s really it’s rather impressive. Would you mind sharing a little with the audience what your background is? 

Numa Dhamani [00:01:47] Yeah. So I have primarily kind of worked in the information worker space. So I’ve done a lot of work around disinformation and misinformation. And then also, like privacy and security. 

Greg Alexander [00:02:01] Okay, very good. All right. Well, let’s start with the basics. So what is prompt engineering? 

Numa Dhamani [00:02:07] So prompt engineering is really just the practice of structuring and refining prompts to get specific responses from a generative A.I. system. So here your system would be something like chat, chip or Bard. And the prompts are really just a way to interact with these systems where you can help guide the model towards achieving certain types of desired outputs. Okay, So. An effective pump engineering would kind of involve formulating prompts that would clearly communicate what your desired task is. And this can include like detailed instructions or providing context or what you want your output to look like. So you can make sure that we are getting out of the model is kind of aligned with the intention. 

Greg Alexander [00:02:55] Okay. Very good. And why is it important to develop the skill of prompt engineering? 

Numa Dhamani [00:03:04] Yeah. So it’s if you understand how to do product engineering, it can really help empower you to take advantage of the capabilities of these models for various applications. So you’re going to be able to communicate really complex tasks and requirements to these models, which can help ensure that the generated content and responses really align closely with what your intended purpose for that task was. So just helps you leverage the capabilities of these systems. 

Greg Alexander [00:03:33] So is it is it true or false that when I use Chad GPT as an example and the response that comes back is inaccurate, it’s not the model’s fault. It was that I wasn’t clear in my request. Is that true or false? 

Numa Dhamani [00:03:51] And so a lot of bit of both. Which which I know is in the best answer. But the model isn’t really designed to be accurate, is designed to be really helpful. You can, however, use strategies to help get more accurate answers so you can give it some factual information. You can do certain things on the back end, or you can hook it up to like sort of databases or something to really get factual information. But you can also ask it to go critique itself sometimes. So if it kind of provides a quote to you and you’re like, I’m not actually sure someone said this, you can be like, Well, can you actually verify that for me? Or can you go double check that response? So it’s a little bit of both where you can craft a prompt to get more accurate responses. So one of the there’s several techniques you can use something with scores of cuts of consistency where you can go ask it the same question like three or four times and see like if it actually gives you like the right answer three or four times, I kind of pick the majority. And and part of it is just the nature of these models, and it’s because they’re probabilistic in nature and aren’t designed to be factual. 

Greg Alexander [00:05:07] When you say probabilistic in nature as it relates to an elm. Explain how that works. 

Numa Dhamani [00:05:14] Yeah, so a language model is really designed to represent natural language and it’s probabilistic. So it basically generates probabilities for a series of words based on the data trained on the models that we see these days are trained on the entire Internet. They’re trained on crazy amounts of data, like billions and trillions of documents. And the way they work is they actually just predict what the next word would be. Hmm. So they kind of assign. So let’s say the sentence is I am a machine learning and we’re trying to predict the word engineer. It might have probabilities assigned for several words that could fit there. It could happen. Engineer, technologist, practitioner, researcher, and the one that would have the highest probability, which would be the words probably kind of seen the most used in that context. That’s what they will assign. 

Greg Alexander [00:06:12] Interesting. You know, I’ll give the listeners an example here on how what I learned from Numa recently has helped me. So there’s a feature in Egypt for called Code Interpreter, and this allows you to load a document. So I loaded a 224 page franchise franchise disclosure document and I asked the. The tool. I said, please summarize this document. And I got back a response and then I said, okay, you are a financial analyst. Please summarize a document. And the summary was so different. You know, it was all around financial matters. And then I said, You are a management consultant specializing in competitive strategy. Summarize the document in a whole different set of things came up. So in that little example, and I just bring the example up to help the listeners who might be new to this. Enriched my experience tremendously, and it made the tool, you know, support the initiative that I was working on that much that much better. So providing context as as Numa likes to say is is very, very helpful. Okay. Who should be using prompt engineering? Is it everybody or is a certain job functions? What are your thoughts on that? 

Numa Dhamani [00:07:30] And it’s really anyone who wants to interact with the journey of the AI system. So like any time you’re interacting with it, you are actually writing your engineering a prompt, right? So business leaders can see that, developers can use that content, creators can use it, researcher or students. It’s really anyone who wants to leverage capabilities of the generative system. 

Greg Alexander [00:07:51] Okay. And is there a particular time, like when should somebody use this as an early in a project? Late in the project. Across the entire spectrum. What are your thoughts on that? 

Numa Dhamani [00:08:01] C I think you can kind of incorporate it into your workflow. Either you can in early, later, kind of throughout. It really depends on what task you want. So you can you can use it for brainstorming purposes. That’s actually a really great tool to kind of go back and forth with to kind of brainstorm, I don’t know, like a blog post or something. So let’s say we’re we’re talking about a blog post. You can use it to kind of brainstorm a blog post. You can ask it to maybe write certain sections of it and you could ask it to refine it for you. You could ask it to, you know, correct certain like word usage kind of throughout as you want. You could ask it for like a title towards the end. You could give it the whole thing and be like, okay, well, now give me a title. What do you think the suitable title would be? So I think there’s ways to kind of be incorporated throughout your workflow. It really just depends on what works best for you. Like if that’s something that is like, useful for you, right? 

Greg Alexander [00:08:56] Interesting. So I guess the advice there would be to to try to use it in the workflow at the task level, you know, beginning, middle and end, kind of see how it works for you. That’s really great advice. Where is it used? I am a novice at this and I spend most of my time on my smartphone and therefore I don’t use it as often. But when I’m on my PC, I use it more often. So is that common? Is that uncommon? Like where? Where is it most often used? 

Numa Dhamani [00:09:25] I think people do kind of maybe most use it on the PC just because it there aren’t like really great apps right now on, you know, like your iOS app. I guess you could pull it up, but it looks great, but you can really just use it for any sort of specific task. I’ve seen it a lot for generating content and kind of a lot of the writing or customer service tasks which actually work really well if you are using it on IPC. A lot of developers that were coding, myself included, sometimes it can be really great to get like just ask it for like the example of a minimal function of doing something like this or like helping it for using with like if you’re using something like copilot, which kind of passes on the back end. And for those who do not get a copilot is basically is a generative system that helps generate concrete. It’s just what it would be, but kind of of tuned for code. Okay. So what it does is what can be useful is like while you’re typing, it will give you sort of like comments or, you know, like variable names and things which can be very easily kind of incorporated while you’re using it. I think we might come to a point where people will be using it on their phones. It might be integrated with like text messaging and kind of functions like that, like I know inflection they are. So there you can text with it. Mm hmm. Which is their version of catch up. And I think we will kind of start seeing a little bit more of that where it’s you can very easily pull it up and talk to it. But in its infancy right now, a lot of it is, I think, Web browser based. 

Greg Alexander [00:11:11] Got it. So for those that are listening that haven’t developed a skill of prompt engineering and after listening to you have been inspired to do so, what advice would you give them? 

Numa Dhamani [00:11:23] The best way is just by practicing. You can start with really simple tasks and problems and then gradually move on to more complex ones, which maybe require logic or reasoning or brainstorming or critiquing. And it’s just don’t be afraid to try different problems. Fine with it. Like it’s actually really fun to do. 

Greg Alexander [00:11:44] Yeah, I’m surprisingly enjoying myself after I was in Austin spending time with you. 

Numa Dhamani [00:11:49] When. 

Greg Alexander [00:11:50] I went back and said, All right, you know that it’s okay to to make mistakes and try it. And I found it to be. I had your PowerPoint deck up in front of me and with all the instructions on how to do it, which we’ll go over with the members in a later session. And I was using it like that, and I was really pleased with how intuitive it was. 

Numa Dhamani [00:12:10] Yeah, I’m so glad. 

Greg Alexander [00:12:12] So, Noomi, you have a book coming out soon. Can you tell us the title of the book? What’s What’s it about? And by the time this airs, it probably will be available. So where, where can people find it? 

Numa Dhamani [00:12:23] Yeah. So the work is called Introduction to Generative A.I., and it’ll be published by Manning Publications, and it talks about how you can use large language models up to their potential. And so things like this, but at the same time also tries to build an awareness of the risks and limitations that come with using generative AI technologies. So it kind of outlines the broader economic, social, ethical and legal considerations that you need to think about when you’re using generative A.I.. And it will be out this fall. Right now, you can preorder just on man income, but closer to the release date, it will be on Amazon, Target, Barnes and Noble and some other resellers. 

Greg Alexander [00:13:08] Well, congratulations on it. I I’ll be buying a copy and will read it. And thank you for contributing to the body of knowledge by going through the hard work of writing a book. I’ve done that myself. I know how difficult that is. I have to ask, did you use A.I. to write the book? 

Numa Dhamani [00:13:26] I did not. There are so there are some examples from JP and Bard and Claude in the book, but that is that is kind of the extent of it. 

Greg Alexander [00:13:40] Okay, good, good. So it’s original. All right. Fantastic. 

Numa Dhamani [00:13:43] Yeah. Yeah. Original piece. 

Greg Alexander [00:13:45] Great. Well, Numa, on behalf of the membership, I really want to thank you for supporting Steven and helping us understand prompt engineering. Really looking forward to the member session. And congratulations again on your book. And thanks for being here. 

Numa Dhamani [00:14:01] Thank you. Thank you for having me. This is fun. 

Greg Alexander [00:14:03] All right. So a few calls to action for the audience. So if you’re a member, please attend the Q&A session that we’ll have with Numa. Look out for that invitation. If you’re a candidate for membership, go to Collective 54 ICOM and apply and the membership committee will consider your application and get back to you. And if you’re not ready for either of those things, you just want to learn more. I would direct you to my book. It’s called The Boutique How to Start Scale and sell a professional services firm, which you can find on Amazon. So with that, thanks again, Numa and thanks for the audience for listening and we’ll talk to you soon.

Episode 101 – Chief of Staff: A Role You Can Leverage Today To Find The Time To Work On The Firm – Member Case with Bryon Morrison

Scaling a boutique professional services firm requires effective replication of the founder and a focus on delegation. On this episode, Bryon Morrison, Co-Founder & CEO at Proxxy, talks about the power of replication to remove the founder bottleneck so they can work on this business.


Greg Alexander [00:00:15] Welcome to the Pro Serve podcast with Collective 54, a podcast for founders and leaders of boutique professional services firms. For those that are not familiar with us, Collective 54 is the first mastermind community dedicated entirely to helping you grow, scale and someday exit your boutique processor firm. My name’s Greg Alexander. I have the pleasure of leading this group and I will be your host today. And on this episode, I’m going to talk to you about how to scale yourself, how to replicate yourself and others, how to delegate, determine who to delegate to when to delegate, how to delegate, etc.. And what I hope to accomplish on this call with my esteemed guest, who I’ll introduce in a moment, is to first just draw awareness to this issue that when we run a professional services firm, sometimes the founder or co-founders can get in the way. They they continue to do things the same way they’ve always done them. However, their firm has progressed beyond a practice. They have a real firm, large numbers of employees, etc. And in order for them to continue to scale and maybe someday exit their firm, they have to get to the point where the firm can run without them. They’re not the firm is not entirely, completely dependent on the founder. So that’s the goal of today. We’ve got a great role model with us. He’s going to share his experiences. His name is Bryon Morris and he’s a member of Collective 54 and the founder of proxy. Brian, great to see you. Welcome to the show. Please introduce yourself. 

Byron Morrison [00:02:01] Thank you, Professor Alexander. Good to be on the podcast and I appreciate you letting me talk through the bottleneck with everybody. So, yeah, I am the co-founder and CEO of proxy and you know, it was just like you said, I spent enough time working in large Fortune 500 companies watching these executives. And what I learned was they have this support system around them that makes it impossible for them to fail. And I always looked at them and I said, why? Why isn’t that available to the entrepreneurs of the world, the small to medium sized businesses that are in high growth mode that really, really need it. And so I you know, a few years ago, I stepped back and and said, you know, I’m going to see if I can solve that problem. And so met up with a couple of other my other co-founders and we developed a proxy. And I’ll tell you, it’s been an amazing ride for we’re entering our third year and, you know, it’s just natural for us to be able to help these companies because we just have this servant leadership mindset and we believe in entrepreneurs and we believe that they’re capable. So we’re excited to be able to help anywhere we can. 

Greg Alexander [00:03:25] Okay. I was really excited to see that you were on the show today because you provide something that I think our members would benefit greatly from. And this is not just a blatant sales pitch. I really believe this and that’s something is a professionally trained, remote chief of staff. And first, I want you to explain what that is. And then I’m going to offer the audience my opinion as to why they should care. So would you explain what a professionally trained remote chief of staff is? 

Byron Morrison [00:04:00] Yeah, we’re essentially an executive multiplier. You know, there’s such an important need for an executive to be able to, as you said, replicate yourself. And so it’s what we provide is a solution to automate some of the routine tasks that you see. But the reason we do that is because it frees up the executive to listen to and work with the strategic counsel that we can provide. And so will help drive strategic initiatives, help them identify where and how to prioritize those. But the chief of staff role is something that, you know, you see it coming up more and more. And it’s often misunderstood. Some people think of it as, you know, an executive admin or a support role that is really more task oriented, but it’s a really strategic role. And the thing that’s a little bit unique about how we do it is, and I would argue it should be a third party most of the time because we trying to grow budgets, we aren’t trying to build a fiefdom and get more hires. We are only focused on helping that executive. And so that’s why we built this as a remote model, so that we could keep somewhat separated from the rest of staff and really stay focused on that executive that we’re working with. 

Greg Alexander [00:05:33] Someone to tell the audience a little story, and it’s somewhat comical and embarrassing, but those are usually the best ones. So when I had my boutique firm called SBI, my wife and I were really into a television show called The West Wing. And we would we’ve been this thing I’ve probably seen every episode, I don’t know, five times. And what I learned through that show, which is crazy, that this is how I learned this, is that the way the presidents of the United States and the White House operates is the president has a chief of staff and the chief of staff is a senior person, maybe the most senior other than, you know, the president’s direct reports. And the contribution that that chief of staff made to the president was enormous. So I said to myself, with that inspiration, maybe I need one of those people. So I had one. And what I what I started with, which is what I would recommend everybody here is I did a time on it and I said to myself, Where is all my time going? And if I hold myself to a standard and the standard that I came up with was what was called a key contribution. A key contribution was the things that I did for the firm that significantly moved the needle. And if I stripped everything else out of my life and my work life, how much more time would I have to invest in key contributions? And as a result of that, could I scale myself and then by default, my firm? And really, that’s what the chief of staff did. So I, I said and I would use that word, shed all kinds of habits and things I was doing that I thought I needed to do, but I really didn’t need to do. And I had to take a leap of faith. The chief of staff had to prove to me that she, in this case, was capable of doing it. But I got to tell you, you know, today we’re talking about how to scale yourself. And that was a major moment for me. And what I love, Brian, about what you’re doing is that a lot of our members don’t have that person internally. They might not be 100% convinced that they should do this or they could do this. And by engaging with proxy, it’s a flexible model. It’s a variable model. And it’s a way to get started and see kind of what the return is. So that personal story that I just share with you, do you see that story in your other clients and do you have a couple stories that you are examples you might want to share with the audience? 

Byron Morrison [00:08:13] Yeah, yeah. It’s everybody needs a Leo. I actually wrote an article on that because everybody needs Leo McGarry. But, you know, you’re right, Greg. I think one of the challenges that people have with this is they think of it as an all or nothing role where I’m going to make this hire and man, I’m going to invest a lot in that hire. And, you know, I feel like a better place to invest that time is in the long term hire that comes up that you’re going to invest and you’re going to grow your firm around. And so that’s that whole point of succession. But you always need somebody there who you can talk to. And, you know, we have a. Every rational promise that we make to everybody, and that is that we focus on giving back or reclaiming at least 8 hours a week. Now, if I just do the math here, your point about going through your personal efficiencies and identifying where your hours going and your key contributions, you’re probably burning some time in areas that are really helping the firm. So we recognize that. And and frankly, that’s why we don’t have long term agreements, because we really don’t. All we’re focused on is helping you succeed. And each week we come back and say, did you feel it? Did you feel the impact of what we worked on? Because if not, we should change the focus. And so sometimes that’s a collaborative process where we’re working together to identify that. Sometimes we bring that to our clients and say, you really ought to reprioritize and focus on something else. And they know that it’s coming from a good place. So the rational promise is you get some time back, you know, change what you’re doing. The emotional promise that we focus on is. Being that confidant. That you can talk to and you can say anything to because, you know, if you’re working with somebody, you say something to a staff member. There’s a ripple effect no matter what because of personal biases, concerns. So we actually, you know, one of my friends and clients told us I love what she said. She goes, you know. In business as a CEO, I have speed bumps all the time and so I’ll look at lots of different lanes I could drive down and some speed bumps are higher than others, and I don’t even want to get near it. She goes. You guys just shape the speed bumps. It’s just gone. Like we just execute. We keep moving forward. And so I thought that was a great metaphor. But yeah, we see that. We see tons of issues around succession planning. We see issues around management methodologies. You know, do we have the discipline and consistency in that, the wrong people in the wrong roles, people being mismanaged because of their site makeup or their natural strengths, just poor initiative management. And sometimes it just comes down to like that hero, the CEO. You know, we see that all the time where it’s hard for us to see that. And you know, your point about funny stories. I was that guy. Yeah. I’ve absolutely been in that role where I was like, I didn’t know I was doing it, but I would set it up so I could come in and save the day. Mm hmm. And so once you’ve done that, you’ve realized it. You go, don’t let anybody else pay that dumb tax. Yeah. Then, you know, we’re. We see it all the time. So. 

Greg Alexander [00:11:46] So part of scaling yourself to the listeners is the distinction between kind of cost of doing business items and strategic mission critical key contributions. So the hard part is once you understand what your personal key contributions are and you say to yourself, okay, I’ve got to teach somebody else how to do this as well as I do it. And I talk at length in my book, The Founder Bottleneck How to Scale Yourself and How to Do That. And that is the long term multiyear process of succession planning. And it is absolutely, positively mission critical. And you can’t go cradle to grave as a founder of a boutique process firm unless you master that. What Brian is talking about and what his firm offers is a different type of service. And I would argue equally important, because it is a multiplier to use his terminology, and that is there are cost of doing business items. There’s things that we all have to do that we do not want to do, but they have to get done. If they don’t get done, the firm doesn’t operate the way the way that it should operate. And when I suggest to founders that they need to scale themselves, they always come back to me and they say, Hey, I can’t just stop sending out invoices. I can’t just stop automating this or automating that. Like, all this stuff has to get done and I’ve got to give it to somebody in my staff. They’re early, they’re already 80, 90% utilized right now. So I can’t load this stuff on top of them. I need somebody else. And that’s where I think a chief of staff can come in. Not that they’re just relegated to mundane, boring task work. These are cost of doing business items. So they’re critical that they get done. But that’s the stuff that I think can go to a chief of staff. And this is a you know, this is a new idea for many of our founders, is the idea of having this person on staff, you know, a real right hand. The objection that comes up when I suggest this, Brian, I want to give you a chance to address it is I don’t have the money. It’s I’m not going to invest in doing this. I know what I say, but I’d love to hear what you say to that objection. 

Byron Morrison [00:14:04] Yeah. I just it kind of comes back to the old argument of, hey, I’m the CEO, but I’m also the chief model washer. Well, when I hear that, I’m like, then you’re really doing a poor job for your stakeholders in that business because you should not be the chief bottle washer. I get the point of what you’re trying to get across, but you’re using your time ineffectively and that time is worth a lot. You know, we do an ROI calculation. When we start working with a client, we start the same thing. We look at personal efficiencies. Where can we save that individual time? A lot of those times they might be administrative functions like that. We identify how to automate those and make them go away, or we identify how to make those routine so that you can hire to it a less expensive resource. Then you move on to the next thing. And those tend to become more and more strategic as we eliminate the tactical issues that you’re dealing with. So you’re right. I mean, you know, a lot of people I came up in consulting and advertising and marketing and, you know, some people were like, oh, I don’t like doing that kind of work, you know, because it’s, you know, that’s for somebody else. We believe that those are the things that stop you from becoming great. So we eliminate those things. We work, focus first on the personal efficiencies, but then we move in to team assessment. What’s your team look like? Are they capable of taking on those roles? Are there spaces where we can improve upon the processes that you’re currently doing? Then we get them to the stage of growth. So where is that company at? Should we introduce, you know, like you do a great job in the boutique of laying out what you should be thinking about in each of the stages? We go through a similar process. We just break that down a little bit more granularly so that we can actually focus on what should be prioritized first and where do you spend your time. So I agree with you the little things that when people say I can’t afford to do that, that’s because they don’t really understand the role of the CEO yet. Yeah. And so most of the companies that are larger, they’re like, I have I want to have an Office of the Executive because they know exactly what that amplification or that multiplier effect is. 

Greg Alexander [00:16:25] What I say to people say, listen, I don’t have the money for this. I say, you’re missing out on the most important cost and that’s opportunity cost. So Bryan says it gives you back 8 hours a week. So what’s that worth? So let’s say you build a client, I don’t know, $250 an hour. Right. So, I mean, right there. What’s that? 2000 bucks per week. That’s eight grand a month right there. So I don’t when I hear that, I’m I don’t know, I just call B.S. on it because very often people think they think about the cash. They don’t think about the opportunity cost. What would you do with those extra 8 hours? You know, pull open your to do list. Stack, rank the things top to bottom based on the areas that you want to dove into that you’re not getting to because you don’t have the time. And if you had a chief of staff, you’d be able to get to those things. And if you pull them off, one of those worth. So the opportunity cost is just astounding. It’s it’s a real big issue. So. 

Byron Morrison [00:17:19] Yeah. You know what we also see, Greg, is just this. They get into it and they go, Well, I don’t have that many other things on my list. So a lot of times they aren’t just they just aren’t aware of what else could be done. Or when they implement something, they go, No, no, no, I did that well, they did it in their head or they did it half way and they haven’t made sure. Are they tracking it over time as a longitudinal value? Am I working through the communications that are necessary to get that out? Is there an ongoing effort to make sure that it sticks? So there’s this difference in entrepreneurs from people who are doing work because it matters and they know it. And then the individuals who are doing checkboxes. 

Greg Alexander [00:18:04] Yeah, for sure. 

Byron Morrison [00:18:05] And they go, Well, I finish that. I’m on to the next. Yeah. 

Greg Alexander [00:18:08] All right. Well, we’re out of time here. I’m really looking forward to the Friday Q&A session that we’ll have with members I this is a hot topic. Our members are time starved. I hear it all the time. And they’re going to really probe into this as a possible solution for that. So thanks a bunch for being on the show. I really appreciate it. 

Byron Morrison [00:18:25] It was my pleasure. Thank you. 

Greg Alexander [00:18:27] All right. So if you’re a founder of a boutique processor firm and you want to belong to a community of peers and meet great people like Bryon, consider joining Collective 54 and you can apply for membership at Collective 54 icon. And if you’re not ready to join, but you just want to educate yourself some more on topics like this and others. Subscribe to Collective 54 for insights, which you can also find on the website. This gives you benchmarking data, a weekly podcast, a leading blog. We actually have a bestselling book called The Boutique – How to Start Scaling, so a professional services firm. So that might be a place to start as well and until the next episode. Thanks for listening and I look forward to the next time we get together. Take care.

Episode 95 – How the Founder of a Customer Experience Design Firm Scaled Himself by Building a Team – Member Case with Jeff Pruitt & Ed Borromeo

Profits take a big hit as a result of under-delegation. Many leaders of boutiques would rather do something themselves than delegate it. This destroys morale and leads to high turnover. On this episode, Jeff Pruitt, CEO & Ed Borromeo, President of Tallwave share how they built a powerful leadership team by focusing on replication.


Greg Alexander [00:00:15] Welcome to the Boutique with Collective 54 podcasts for founders and leaders of boutique professional services firms. For those that are familiar with us, Collective 54 is the first mastermind community dedicated exclusively to helping you grow, scale and exit your pro search firm. My name is Greg Alexander. I’m the founder and I’ll be your host. And today we’re going to talk about building an executive leadership team around a founder and a CEO and the impact that can have on the scale of a firm. And we’re really lucky today because we have two guests. We have Jeffrey Pruitt and we have Ed, and I always mispronounce your last name, but let me give it a shot. Borromeo. How’d I do? 

Ed Borromeo [00:01:02] You did great. Great. Thank you. 

Greg Alexander [00:01:04] All right. Very good. And Jeff is the CEO and founder. Ed is a high potential employee that has been grown up in the organization. He started off, as I understand, as the EVP of Ops, and he got promoted, the CEO and then the president, and he’s the president of the firm now, which he’s been doing that for the last for the last almost two years. And that’s what we advocate for. We have a case for a grow your own approach to scaling executive leadership, because in pro serve, we’re a collection of people. Culture matters and success. Probability of success goes up when you grow your own. And that’s the role model that we have today. So I can’t wait to jump into it. But before I get into my questions, which I have many, I thought, Jeffrey, I would throw it over to you and have you do a proper introduction of yourself in your firm and then added love for you to do the same. 

Jeffrey Pruitt [00:01:57] Ed, thank you. So, Jeff Pruitt, founder of of Tall Wave Customer Experience Design firm, and we’ll get into a little bit of what that company is. But background was Arthur Andersen, Big Six, accounting to CFO and then president of a pro sort of digital marketing firm that that grew into a, you know, from 15 people to about 600 people and then started tall wave. As a customer experience design firm, we’re focused on helping brands increase net retention revenue through looking at the experience that they deliver, deep journey mapping of that experience, but also looking at the people process and system to deliver that experience. We’ll go in and do deep assessments and mapping of how you can transform that experience over a period of time. And then usually we’re part of product design, product management, product strategy, potentially program management of those workstreams and driving outcomes, which also include the digital acquisition or digital marketing side as well. 

Greg Alexander [00:03:01] Okay, great. Ed, how about you want don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself. 

Ed Borromeo [00:03:06] Yeah, thanks, Greg. So I’m an engineer by training and ex-military officer doing a lot of operations while I was in the service. And then I went into the utility space where we ran operations for utilities, but then started off spun out a technology company that did both SAS work as well as managed service work and sort of my skin into my beginnings of stint into professional services. Today I’m the president of Paul, where I oversee our day to day in the business, namely the growth side of the business as well as our practice areas. 

Greg Alexander [00:03:41] Okay, very good. So Jeff has been a member for a while and I’m happy to report that he’s one of our ten featured role models in my upcoming book, The Founder Bottleneck How to Scale Yourself. And the subject of that book is it’s how somebody like Jeff understands who is high potentials, are high potential employees, how to delegate them, delegate to them, what to delegate, which allows the founder to reimagine what it is that he’s working on and amplify his contributions to the business. Jeff, let me start there. How did you identify Ed as a high potential employee? 

Jeffrey Pruitt [00:04:21] And he identified that to me personally. He would come in when we were a little bit different of an organization that we are today. At the time, we’re an innovation consulting firm that said, in a holding company that also was spinning out some of our own companies. So we’d spun out four companies, separate C Corp and and some of those companies were growing well, some has since sold. And in the meantime, he came in as a contributor as he was looking at wanting to get into the innovation technology space different from where he was a little bit prior. And so you’d come in and he was working for a direct report of mine and I noticed his potential. But he also came in and said, Hey, I recognize you’re struggling with some stuff in and around operations. I can help you. And needing the help, I said, Well, let’s sit down and talk about it. And so at the time I had flattened the organization and had everybody reporting to me as I felt I needed to get closer to what some of the issues were. When Ed came in and and took on some initiatives for me, I immediately realized that he could he could probably take on a lot of the reports and run the operations of that business. He he did come in. He did so he got us to profitability. And then we had an opportunity to merge that business innovation consulting firm with a customer experience digital marketing firm. When we combine those two, it made a ton of sense to me to move him to CEO of that merger and of us both ride together in this journey of building tall wave as a customer experience design firm. 

Greg Alexander [00:06:09] Very good. So, Jeff, let me stay with you and ask a follow up to that. And then I got a couple of questions for you with bear with me. Sometimes when I work with founders and they’re struggling with this concept of kind of delegating and replicating themselves and others, there’s a trust issue. They are self-described control freaks and maybe perfectionists. Sometimes they they they don’t think about progress. They think about perfection. And they’re reluctant to delegating and give up key strategic components of running the business. You clearly did that with Ed. So did you ever struggle with that and how did you get over it? 

Jeffrey Pruitt [00:06:51] Well, I think from large part, I have an idea of where I want the company to go, and I have an idea of how I want to enter the organization. And I always look like 12 months out, and I ask myself, how do I want to enter the organization when I walk through the doors? What are the things I’m doing? And part of that is a progression of how does the company progress beyond where it is today. So getting a little bit of that vision of understanding where the company is going and then what is my role in it? How do I show up and and progress the business more? The conclusion of that is you’ve got to give up what you’re doing and rely on individuals like Ed to be able to to manage a good portion of the organization. We’ve had iterations of that, and I think we’re stepping into our next iteration right now and it feels great. I can tell you that I’m not perfect, and I would say I don’t know if I’m a control freak from an ego perspective, but but I have an idea of what works sometimes and I feel like, Hey, I know what works and I need to inject or insert myself in that process. And I hope Ed would say in the last 18 months, I’ve gotten better at staying out of that process. And he’s doing better also commanding, controlling and reporting up to me on those things where he might need me. 

Greg Alexander [00:08:16] Okay, very good. So let me come to you and look at it from your perspective. So, you know, it sounds like you’re an execution machine as a lot of ex-military are, and you’re the perfect partner with Jeff, who is probably more visionary. And that’s me commenting on that, having had the pleasure of getting to know Jeff. So you guys are really good match and you could work anywhere. Why did you decide to partner up with Jeff and and take on this role of president? 

Ed Borromeo [00:08:47] Gosh, that’s a good question. So first of all, just a notion of this space, I was pretty intentional in getting into the innovation and experience space, having sort of gotten a taste of that my prior life. So I felt like, like Jeff, Jeff is the kind of founder that also likes to surround himself with a team and doesn’t want to go it alone. And I think that’s a big part of his persona. And that was really welcoming for a guy like me to come from the outside and to be part of that. And I think I’m super grateful for that opportunity. And so I think that sort of sets the stage in terms of just just a partner. I think you said it. You know, it’s a good it’s a good compliment, I think, to your point of how to how do we make it work? It’s not without a lot of communication, sometimes healthy tension, sometimes, you know, the how versus the what and struggling between that. But it’s about wanting to desiring to grow a business and knowing that it takes different perspectives and complements. And I think Jeff adds that. He adds that he has a clairvoyance and a vision that, you know, it’s not like I wake up with that. I think that’s innate. But, you know, getting getting stuff done and really understanding how to spread that through the organization while bringing people along is something that I bring to the table. And so us working through that in partnership has been has been really beneficial for us. And it takes it takes the good hard work of talking about it and talking about it and, and and then holding one another accountable. 

Greg Alexander [00:10:14] Something that struck me regarding the way that Jeff talked about your story and how you came to him proactively saying, hey, I see these particular challenges. I think I can help you with them. I can contribute more. It was really enlightening to hear that from you. And I think many of our members who join is a team that are power members with the founder and his or her team. Sometimes they’re they’re hoping that their right hand or left hand, so to speak, would be proactive with that type of guidance. So what would you say to members of Collective 54 that aren’t the founder but are on the executive leadership team? What advice would you give them to inspire them to raise their hand and say, Please give me some more to do? I think I can solve this problem or that problem. 

Ed Borromeo [00:11:08] Yeah, that’s a good question. First of all, that struggle is real, right? Because as a growing business, you go through these, as I’ve mentioned, these iterations of having to evolve the version of the business, but then the version of oneself as you get to sort of the next level of leadership. And I think that if we’re all line of what we’re trying to do here, I think I think just having that sort of holding one another accountable for the next leg up to to evolve to the next stage, I think also causes that, you know, for us, we’re wanting to grow and we know we sort of innately believe and inherently believe that we have to evolve ourselves as individuals. And that means having a vision for where we want to individually go as professionals, as partners in the business, which means by definition having to let go of some things. And so you have to believe that these things can’t be roadblocks, that it’s necessary to evolve. And then, you know, talking about those things very deliberately. So I think Jeff and I always talk about a year ago, Hey, as president, this is where I want you to go. And as a result of that is what you need to let go of and where you need to be thinking. And and that is always a North Star that we revisit. When or are we at least, I mean, monthly, but certainly quarterly to every four months we sort of reset and we say, where are we on our journey of, you know, you coming to fruition as a president and coming to fruition as a CEO in this next stage of our business. So it’s a very intentional and deliberate move that keeps us accountable to to to having to reach and grab more. 

Greg Alexander [00:12:40] Now, you know, it’s just exhibit A on how to do this correctly. We’re so lucky to have top wave in our membership, but it’s not surprising that your firm has scaled the way it has and its button up on 100 people now, which is really a great success story. I could go on and on and on, but I’m going to save some of my questions for the live Q&A session we have upcoming on Friday. So let me let me conclude it there and just say, on behalf of the membership, the two of you are role models, inspirations for everybody else, and it’s represents how to do it in this particular area. So thanks for being here today and for contributing. 

Jeffrey Pruitt [00:13:15] Thank you, Greg. 

Ed Borromeo [00:13:16] Thanks, Greg. 

Jeffrey Pruitt [00:13:18] Talk to you soon.

Greg Alexander [00:13:19] Okay. So for those that are in professional services, who want to belong to a community like this and learn from really bright people like Jeff and Ed, continue to instruct. So you should consider applying to Collective 54 and being a member and you can do so at collective54.com if you want to read about this subject to replicate yourself and others, there’s a whole chapter on that in the book. The book is titled The Boutique How to Start Scaling Solo Professional Services Firm. You can see that on our website to pick it up on an m on Amazon. So listeners, thanks for listening and I look forward to our next episode.