Nick Miller

Celebrating 10 Years of Vertical IQ: Spotlight on Nick Miller

How time flies when you’re having fun! This is the final installment in a series of four blog posts commemorating the 10-year anniversary of Vertical IQ. Each post features one of our company founders sharing their memories and thoughts on Vertical IQ’s early days.

Related: Celebrating 10 Years of Vertical IQ: Spotlight on Bill Walker
Celebrating 10 Years of Vertical IQ: Spotlight on Bobby Martin
Celebrating 10 Years of Vertical IQ: Spotlight on Susan Bell

Vertical IQ co-founder and Clarity Advantage president Nick Miller has been working in the banking industry for most of his career. Nick and Clarity train banks and bankers to attract and develop deeper relationships with small businesses.

Nick Miller“Bobby and I first connected at a conference and discussed our shared philosophy that call preparation and industry knowledge are integral to business bankers’ success. So, 10 years ago, when Bobby started pondering the idea of launching a new Industry Intelligence tool, we met on a rainy afternoon at a coffee shop in North Hills, near Raleigh, to share ideas on what this hypothetical Industry Intelligence tool should do.

“I told him, from my perspective working with bankers who are calling on small businesses, bankers need easily accessible industry information oriented to salespeople rather than credit analysts.

“So we talked about: What are those key things that need to be on the first page of industry information if a salesperson only has time to look at that one page to prep for their call? Bobby and I put our heads together and drew on a piece of paper what turned out to be the first screen of the Vertical IQ Industry Profile.

“I knew we had a good idea for a product, and I agreed to invest both startup capital and sweat equity. Bobby recruited Bill Walker. Bill started writing profiles and sending them to me for comments. I also wrote content for the product knowledge portion of the website.

“Meanwhile, Bobby and Susan were going around the country, trying out ideas and asking prospective clients, ‘Would you buy this?’ — trying to scare up that first round of clients while gathering feedback to generate ideas for the product. It was an all-hands-on-deck effort in those early days.”

Adding value at every turn

“Like Bobby, I’ve long believed that conversations with clients should add value that the client would say is worth paying for. As a business owner myself, I feel impatient with bankers who come in and say, ‘Tell me about your business’ without any knowledge of my industry.

“I have no patience for that because I think bankers have an important role to play, especially with small business owners. Their accountants handle their taxes; their financial planners manage their investments; but in most cases, nobody is looking at their companies from a business health point of view. Their bankers should do that.

“That’s why call preparation using the Industry Intelligence on Vertical IQ saves time for the banker and for the business owner. It opens the door to more productive conversations.

“Industry Intelligence also creates opportunities for the banker to demonstrate value throughout the relationship — asking questions about things that are happening in the business owner’s industry, sharing information on trends, providing tailored solutions based on their understanding of challenges and risks within the industry, and providing that big-picture financial advice on the business owner’s company that other advisors to the business may not be providing.”

A rewarding collaboration

“This journey has been so rewarding because Bobby, Bill, Susan, Ken, Christy, Laura, and others are good people. I’ve felt a very positive vibe about being part of the Vertical IQ clan. It’s been a huge source of encouragement and satisfaction to see them turn an idea that started on a small piece of paper in a coffee café into a robust and valuable tool.”

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cofounder blog Susan Bell

Celebrating 10 Years of Vertical IQ: Spotlight on Susan Bell

How time flies when you’re having fun! This is the third in a series of four blog posts commemorating the 10-year anniversary of Vertical IQ. Each post will feature one of our company founders sharing their memories and thoughts on Vertical IQ’s early days.

> Related: Celebrating 10 Years of Vertical IQ: Spotlight on Bill Walker
Celebrating 10 Years of Vertical IQ: Spotlight on Bobby Martin

Vertical IQ co-founder and EVP of Sales Susan Bell is a former banker, who has long held a passion for helping sales professionals and advisors differentiate themselves.

cofounder blog Susan Bell“When I first started selling Vertical IQ to prospects in those early days of the company, we had maybe 50 Industry Profiles. I knew it was a leap of faith for longtime customers and prospects who knew me from previous roles I’d been in to join the Vertical IQ journey. It was definitely an ‘If you build it, they will come’ situation. But what really struck me was that those early adopters became like family. They took a chance on us, and most are still customers 10 years later.

“The creation of Vertical IQ brought industry research into a new decade. Before, this type of research was just a report. Now, thanks to Vertical IQ, it’s actionable. We put Industry Intelligence into people’s hands through shareable content, a mobile version, and more. The platform itself was lightyears ahead of what industry research was before we came onto the scene.

“After these 10 years, I think one of the best things our customers can say about Vertical IQ is that we just keep getting better. The compliment they give us as a company is we are small but nimble. We are indeed empowered to do the right thing for our customers; there isn’t red tape like at a big company. It’s a personalized experience, and I really like being able to do that for our customers.”

A family of coworkers and clients

“What I love most about working at Vertical IQ is the people. We truly have a family here. Not only do we work well together, we also are embedded in each other’s lives. We go to weddings, celebrate babies, cheer on the successes of other’s families, and we support one another through the tough times.

“Joining Vertical IQ in its early days was a lifestyle choice — a career choice — for me. I’ve had the ability to work remotely since before working remotely was a ‘thing.’ I’ve always been two hours away from our headquarters, but I never felt disconnected from the team. Flexibility and ‘family first’ are philosophies that people within this company have always embraced.

“This all goes back to how we treat each other, and it also is reflected in our relationships with our customers and prospects. Ultimately, it has to do with loyalty. I’ve been loyal to my co-founders through several companies. In fact, I’ve worked with Bobby [Martin, co-founder and CEO of Vertical IQ] since 1993 when we were both in banking. Loyalty is just a part of my personality, and that’s reflected in how I treat our customers. I am dedicated to them, cheer them on, and do everything I can to help bring about their success.”

Thoughtful innovation

“In addition to our dedicated and personalized customer experience, we can be nimble and forward-thinking because we are small and don’t have to wrestle with red tape. We put a lot of thought and energy into our product, which means constantly listening to what customers are saying. We are able to respond quickly but conscientiously with enhancements and innovations.

“For example, creating strategic partnerships over the years has been one of the keys to Vertical IQ’s success. We try to go to market wherever salespeople’s eyes are to make it easy and convenient to access Industry Intelligence. Whether that means integrating with other research or sales enablement tools, we want to make it simple to access the information you need to win more deals.

“Steve Jobs always strove to give people things they didn’t even know they needed out of an Apple product, and we have a similar mindset here at Vertical IQ. Instead of playing catch up, we always aim to stay ahead of what people realize they need, and we will continue to do that in the decades to come.”

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Bobby Martin

Celebrating 10 Years of Vertical IQ: Spotlight on Bobby Martin

How time flies when you’re having fun! This is the second in a series of four blog posts commemorating the 10-year anniversary of Vertical IQ. Each post will feature one of our company founders sharing their memories and thoughts on Vertical IQ’s early days.

>> Related: Celebrating 10 Years of Vertical IQ: Spotlight on Bill Walker

Cofounder series, Bobby MartinVertical IQ co-founder and CEO Bobby Martin is a serial entrepreneur and angel investor. A former banker, Bobby authored the book The Hockey Stick Principles about the typical progression of the startup process.

“Researching for my book on entrepreneurship and startups, I learned about a Dutch psychologist named Manfred Kets de Vries who did work on leadership and entrepreneurs. One of the things Kets de Vries found was that most entrepreneurs start companies for one of two reasons.

“The first reason is because they are frustrated by a situation in business or they aren’t fitting into the current paradigm, but they aren’t the retiring type, so instead of giving up, they start their own company. That’s why I started my first industry research company.

“But the other reason Kets de Vries found that entrepreneurs are inspired to create their own startups is because they see a good business opportunity, and that’s why I started Vertical IQ — I saw a good opportunity. I realized that my first go at industry research was good, but I believed if I did it again, I could do it better than twice as good.”

Putting our heads together

“I started noodling on this idea, and then Nick Miller, a longtime friend and colleague, came to me and said he had some ideas too, which I thought were cool and useful.

“He and I met up at a small coffee shop in North Raleigh — North Hills to be specific. That location was prescient, as it so happens, because it turned out to be only about a quarter mile from our first customer, a large regional bank.

“Nick and I were playing around with concepts, and we enlisted the expertise of Bill Walker to help us start to document some of them. Together, the three of us started formulating the product. What we were trying to do was create an industry research platform that was more useful and uses simple navigation and technology, instead of just throwing a lot of overwhelming content at people.”

Developing a recipe for success

“We began flying around the country, meeting with bankers to get their advice about what we should build. It was pretty disparate advice, but still really useful, and it helped solidify the concept that would eventually become Vertical IQ. And I learned some important lessons during those conversations.

“One meeting with the head of business banking for a large bank inadvertently taught me that just because you have a better product doesn’t mean you’ll make a sale. This banking executive said to me, ‘Looks like you have built a better mousetrap’ — which we had — but you know what? He didn’t care. “He told me, ‘We already have something we’re using, and we don’t want to take the time and effort to do something different and switch.’

“We frequently had to overcome this type of resistance when making those tough initial sales. But we also discovered two key lessons. The first was that we needed to start thinking about the whole product — not just the Industry Intelligence we were providing. Our product was more than just the platform. It was, and is, the whole Vertical IQ experience: the customer service, the personalized training and access, the flexibility and ease of doing business with us — basically, all the ways we work to make our customers more successful.

“The second lesson we learned in those very-early days of the Vertical IQ journey, before we even had our first customer, was that we needed an amazing salesperson dedicated to relationships and with a long-term commitment to our customers’ success. We looked no further than Susan Bell, and she became a cofounder and our EVP of Sales.

“Over these many years, Susan has constantly reinforced and challenged me to remember our customers always come first. One of the secrets to Vertical IQ’s success is our mutual respect among the cofounders and our employees.”

Uncompromising quality

“When we were first going to market, the co-founders and I paid the way with sweat equity and a fair amount of personal cash. We needed hundreds of pages of research, after all, and we needed a platform to surface that content.

“We hired some tech consultants, and I was sharing with them my vision for what I wanted the platform to do and how it would work. One of the programmers said, ‘Hey Bobby, let me ask you a question: Why are you telling us how you think it should work? We’re the experts; let us surprise you.’

“Well, guess what. They totally messed it up. It was done all wrong, and it cost us a bunch of money and caused a three-month delay. Vertical IQ has to be easy to use, and I didn’t think what they built was easy enough. But there was a lesson I took from this costly experience. It started Vertical IQ’s commitment to excellence.

“To that end, we created ‘Feedback’ and ‘Support’ buttons, which are included on every single page of the Vertical IQ site. If our customers or users need support with Industry Intelligence or have any issue with our platform, they can reach out online, and it goes directly to our industry research team, which takes care of it. We simply don’t compromise on quality or customer satisfaction and success.”

Continuous improvement

“Our first official employee was Laura Stidham, our Director, Integrated Marketing, who at the time was right out of college. I first met Laura at a Panera Bread, probably 100 yards from where I’d met with Nick. Laura wanted to learn about marketing, and she had the same startup mindset as us cofounders: She was willing to work hard and wear a lot of different hats.

“Once Laura was on board, she, Susan, and I went to a tradeshow, which also happened to be in D.C. We were a startup that no one had heard of, and we were struggling to get anyone to come to our booth. I suggested Laura give her best puppy dog look so people would feel sorry for us! There’s no doubt we had to be scrappy to get our first customers!

“We’ve come a long way in the past decade. We’ve made countless enhancements to the Vertical IQ product offering, but there are a few things that I’m proud are unchanged: our commitment to support our customers’ success and our dedication to our fellow employees. Vertical IQ was built on the premise that Industry Intelligence needed to be accessible, but we also wanted to create a unique business culture that prioritized people over technology. I believe we have achieved both objectives.”

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Cofounder series, Bill Walker

Celebrating 10 Years of Vertical IQ: Spotlight on Bill Walker

How time flies when you’re having fun! This is the first in a series of four blog posts commemorating the 10-year anniversary of Vertical IQ. Each post will feature one of our company founders sharing their memories and thoughts on Vertical IQ’s early days.

Cofounder series, Bill WalkerVertical IQ co-founder and EVP of Product Strategy Bill Walker has been working in the technology product management arena for over 35 years. Here, Bill reminisces about the creation of Vertical IQ.

“It’s a little-known fact about Vertical IQ that the original name we came up with was Vertical Guru. We were trying to think of a name that not only stood out but suggested the vertical marketing concept with industry focus and how to make yourself an expert or a ‘guru’ on a particular industry.

“As part of the company formation process, we did a trademark search and found there was a company in California called ‘Virtual Guru.’ Although that business wasn’t anything like our product concept, we ultimately decided to go with the name Vertical IQ instead — a name that Beth Potter on our news articles team came up with.

“While all of this was happening, we had a design firm conceptualizing some logo options for ‘Vertical Guru.’ One of the ideas they came up with was intersecting conversation blocks, which we ultimately used for the Vertical IQ logo we still use today.

“In November of 2011, we officially debuted Vertical IQ at the annual Small Business Banking Conference in Scottsdale, Arizona. It was our first marketing event, and the entire company went … all four of us.

If you build it…

“Vertical IQ was born out of an idea that bankers needed Industry Intelligence information specific to banking. We went to several key contacts at banks across the country and asked, ‘If we built this, would you buy it?’

“We created a rough prototype that we could show people with an example profile and solicited their feedback to fine-tune the concept. We got several banks that said they were interested, but we knew we didn’t actually have a marketable product until we had a certain number of Industry Profiles written.

“We called on experienced technical writers we’d worked with in the past, and we were able to initially go to market with 50 of the most prominent industries. It’s pretty amazing to think that we now cover over 350 industry niches, as well as hundreds of local economies!

“I recall another somewhat comical episode from this time period. Our first official customer asked us to complete a due diligence questionnaire as part of the contract process — a fairly standard procedure for a lot of larger companies. I remember one of the questions on that form was, ‘Please list your company’s other customers.’ We wrote in, ‘None.’

Always improving

“Soon after launching we decided that adding industry videos would be a worthwhile, differentiating enhancement for the Vertical IQ product. At that time, we were filming the videos ourselves, trying to find places where we could go in and film a food distributor, for example. I remember I was recruiting business owners from my church, and I joked that people there wouldn’t make eye contact with me anymore for fear I’d ask them to be part of a video!

Vertical IQ then and now

“Vertical IQ’s product has evolved quite a bit over the years, but we continue to listen to our customers for ideas about how to make it better. We’re constantly adding new profiles, new content, and enhanced features and sections to provide customers the type of Industry Intelligence they and their teams need to succeed.

“I am proud of what we’ve accomplished over these 10 years, but the thing that stands out most to me is getting to work with people who I really enjoy working with — people who have passion about taking care of customers and doing the right thing.”

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