I recently went one on one with Tony Saliba, CEO of Mercury Digital Assets. Tony is also the founder and CEO of LiquidPoint, a trading platform, broker, and solution provider that he sold to Convergex for $250 million.
Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your advice. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. How did you get here? What experiences, failures, setbacks, or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?
Tony: An early setback led me to an important realization: when creating a technical product (software or system), always work with the assistance of experienced legal counsel. When I created my first trading application, I didn’t know anything about intellectual property rights. When the work was completed, I had one copy of the program that I designed/created and one copy that I sold for five times what it cost me. I was working on the project in tandem with another person who helped me write the program whom I paid fully to code the formulas that I had created. I was able to walk away with value for my ideas, however, he went on to sell the program to all the banks and clearing firms on Wall Street and then creating a support business of his own. Without my knowledge or participation. 22 years later I went back and bought that business from him for $11 million. In the long run it did help me learn a valuable lesson, but in the short term, cost me millions in opportunities. By the time I completed my fourth application, I knew to never work without legal counsel again.
Adam: In your experience, what are the key steps to growing and scaling your business?
Tony: The solution must, at a minimum, meet the needs of the client base, of course, but once that is the case then you need a highly repeatable process of closing the sale and delivering the solution quickly, with solid multi-level support. In our area of business, unlike a mobile app or a pure retail delivery, we provide a bespoke institutional solution that often requires a high degree of customization. Our upside is in staying power, or “stickiness,” and the growth of our institutional clients. For us, scaling happens in a different way. Rather than delivering a lot of individual smart cars to drive around, we’re loading big freight trains with those means of transportation and that is where our scalability and growth lies. Our company scales by reducing the customization required each instance, because every time a client asks for something it eliminates that request from occurring with another client. So, whether they need it or not, our feature set gets bigger and easier to deliver to everybody else on demand.
Adam: What is your best advice on building, leading, and managing teams?
Tony: I’m big proponent of trust. We work at the pace in the Speed of Trust. Having trust in your coworkers allows you to deliver a lot faster and with more efficiency. Teams that have worked together in the past eliminate fallout, drop out, and steps that aren’t necessary because they know each other. Within Mercury, we have a team that’s been together for quite a number of years ranging from a few to some team members who have been with us in other businesses for over 20 years. We have a lot of trust amongst each other, and that helps with the leadership and the management. We’re still young, a year ago there was a team of four and now we’re 22. This time next year we plan to employ over 40 FTE. We’re getting a lot of traction with our solutions so it’s natural for us to growth our team.
Adam: What are the most important trends in technology that leaders should be aware of and understand? What should they understand about them?
Tony: We have several methods of communication and in the crypto space people are using more platforms compared to those in other industries. Since interoperability and collaboration are significant elements, being able to use the latest and greatest components that allow for collaboration and communication is key. Requirements are changing all the time, so it is imperative we get that which matters most done quickly, and consistently. We need to be up to date with the latest information every moment in the 24/7 trading cycle. Unfortunately, we’re not all physically together at the moment but we’re able to collaborate using various commercial applications and an in-house solution. This trend of improving communication tools significantly helps people in the crypto world collaborate better. Those involved in the industry are located all around the world. It’s not as if we can go into every office, so it goes hand in glove with the whole post pandemic environment. At Mercury we have homegrown collaboration tools, and we try different means depending on what the clients are using to maximize our results.
Adam: What do you believe are the defining qualities of an effective leader?
Tony: An effective leader can’t be afraid, and they need to be able to assess risk. Even if you’re not the owner of a company, you have the resources of the company and your staff at risk, so being a leader requires assessing risk at that level and being able to take the right amount of risk for each situation. You need to make the team feel that their efforts are being optimized, that they’re being heard to the right degree, and then being able to use “past as prologue”. I think leadership can have different components for different people, but I think the underlying thread looks like: discipline, trust, risk assessment, proper risk for reward analysis, and using delegation properly. As Ronald Reagan would say “Trust…but verify”.
Adam: How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?
Tony: Taking leadership skills to the next level is a challenge all the time. I’m constantly challenging myself. I’ve been leading teams for 40 years and I’m constantly second-guessing myself to see if I’m doing the right thing. It’s really a constant review. I’m rereading a 40-year-old book right now called The Mythical Man Month. It’s a book written in the late 60’s by an IBM executive who was one of the earlier people to recognize the demands of software development, how hard it is to actually quote things, and how the “calendar stretches”. How much time in a day do you have to read self-help content to get back to what’s important to help your team grow? It’s relentless. They say in politics that personnel is policy, I think that personnel are the solutions in a solution providing business. Though we have great technology, it’s our people that make it happen. When I left LiquidPoint we had about 90 people. Matrix has about 50 people. Mercury has about 20 people with our numbers set to grow to around the 40-person level. Even with only 40 people on our team, we can do more with 40 than most companies with 90 because we have great technology.
Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives, and civic leaders?
Tony: There is an entrepreneurial flourish that women and men have. They have an idea to create something fun or some solution. My first tip would be to embrace and amplify that flourish. However, you should temper it with the understanding that others may not immediately or initially share your sentiment. There are plenty of entrepreneurs that get out of control or become too much for somebody to deal with.
Executives that are not entrepreneurs are often like the caretakers and those that carry on for the entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs treat their companies like a family and a lot of times with executives that are handed the reins from the entrepreneur there is a drop off in that approach. “Maintaining the culture”, is how it is usually referred. The executive who takes over does not have that same pride of authorship. The tip is to learn from the entrepreneur how to respect the culture and maintain that zest that the entrepreneur brought to the table. Civic leaders need, in my opinion, to respect the business creator for all that he or she is. Business creators typically make something out of nothing. They come up with an idea, put pieces together, raise money, employ people, and pay taxes. These creators are the lifeblood of any city or county. Civic leaders should understand how to reduce red tape, keep regulation sensible, and assist those companies to stay in their environment, helping their local citizens be gainfully employed. Civic leaders should allow businesses to have the wherewithal to shop with other purveyors and donate to charities and participate in civic events. I think in the 2012 election there was a big kerfuffle about Romney saying, “corporations are people too.” That was unfortunately made fun of. Corporations and companies are made up of people, and they typically have a culture which should be understood by civic leaders. They’re an important component in the structure of their communities.
Adam: What are your best tips on the topics of sales, marketing, and branding?
Tony: I’m a Glengarry Glen Ross type of guy so it is all about A.B.C.; Always Be Closing. The best salesperson is the one who really cares for the client and believes in their product or solution. Their passion comes through. It is important to care about your customer whether they are big or small. Advertising is different depending on what you are selling. One of my companies sells email as a service. We’ve found over the years that it was easy to find our targeted audience, but the results of ROI varied from campaign to campaign. With Matrix or Mercury our client base is institutional, so it’s challenging to produce consistent ROIs to advertise to that audience. This means most of our clients come from word of mouth. Which has worked well for us. The goal is to drive revenue and close new deals. In the crypto business, word of mouth is heavily relied on along with the relationship to the salespeople. When all is said and done, it is our reputation that matters.
Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?
Tony: When I started trading, I was scared and traded only one lot at a time. My partner told me to “act like a banker who has had some positive experience with their small loans and increase the size of your loan.” This was important as I soon went from one lot to two, then two to five, and then I finally broke out of it. This advice helped me launch my early career from low level clerk to a trading industry leader.
Adam Mendler is the CEO of The Veloz Group, where he co-founded and oversees ventures across a wide variety of industries. Adam is also the creator and host of the business and leadership podcast Thirty Minute Mentors, where he goes one on one with America’s most successful people – Fortune 500 CEOs, founders of household name companies, Hall of Fame and Olympic gold medal winning athletes, political and military leaders – for intimate half-hour conversations each week. Adam has written extensively on leadership, management, entrepreneurship, marketing and sales, having authored over 70 articles published in major media outlets including Forbes, Inc. and HuffPost, and has conducted more than 500 one on one interviews with America’s top leaders through his collective media projects. A top leadership speaker, Adam draws upon his insights building and leading businesses and interviewing hundreds of America’s top leaders as a top keynote speaker to businesses, universities and non-profit organizations.
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