The GC People Leader Series meets…Game Changer Ton Dobbe

In this edition of The GC Index People Leader Series Lucy Brown talks to Ton Dobbe, Founder and Chief Inspiration Officer at Value Inspiration about what it is to be a leader and how his natural proclivities support his effectiveness as a leader.

Ton says “I founded my business on one transformative idea: The future belongs to software businesses that create products worth making a remark about. There is a problem though: Many software companies start off on a big idea but then struggle to create the momentum they aspired.“

“A lot has to do with the fact many software companies define their success by their size and quarterly growth figures. I believe success should be about the difference we help our customers create, and what we help them become as a consequence. Once that is firmly in place, customers turn into advocates and with that success follows, in volumes we couldn’t have imagined upfront.”

“That’s what makes me jump out of bed every morning. That’s what gives me energy – so that’s where I aim to make a difference:  Helping tech-entrepreneurs shape the software business their customers would miss if it were gone. One that gets noticed in a dense market, wins more and bigger and turns customers into advocates.”

“At Value Inspiration, we therefore created a framework of 10 traits that define the software businesses we just keep talking about. I published my first book ‘The Remarkable Effect’ about that earlier this year and started a tribe to guide tech-entrepreneurs on their journey to close the gap.”

Ton Dobbe is Dutch by birth, and he has been living in Spain for 11 years. He ended up there as a result of his international journey with his previous employer, Unit4, where he worked for 26 years. In that period, he had various roles including heading up Product Strategy, Product Management and Product Marketing. In the last part of his career with Unit4, he became their Chief Evangelist.

Starting his own company in 2017, he didn’t want to be a CEO, so Ton chose to call himself the Chief Inspiration Officer, a perfect title given what his business does.

What does your GC Index profile tell us about what underpins your success?

The GC Index profile made a whole lot of things clear to me. I initially thought my profile would be more on the Play Maker, but it made complete sense to me being a nine on Game Changer and then an eight on Strategist and an eight on Polisher. It explains a lot about what I’ve been doing in the past and why. Particularly, for example, the last one and a half years at Unit4, where I was the Chief Evangelist. It was all about taking our customers and our employees in the company forward. Showing them where we were going with the Strategy, painting a vivid picture about a different, better future.

To be the ‘Game Changer’ in the marketplace, I had to connect the dots for people, both customers and employees, and working with the various departments inside the organisation, to really make our operations super slick, cutting edge and market leading – to really stand out.

What skills have you had to develop to make the most of your set of proclivities?

Allowing the Game Changer in me to see the things that other people don’t see and facilitating the Strategist part of me to connecting the dots and figure things out, and then identifying the essence of this and why this is important. Another key skill is communication. Taking these factors and creating an energy around it, then bringing people on the journey with it. And, of course, I’ve had to learn with a lot of mistakes to get better and better and better. This journey of learning and making mistakes, understanding how to get others on board and how to create the bigger picture image, allowed me to build the foundation of my own company.

I also think I’ve learned that mistakes aren’t always mistakes. I mean, certain things are, but if you look at them in hindsight, the decision often was the right decision, it just didn’t turn out as we expected. If you try to do new things, try to do the game changing things, there is no path for this. There’s no manual. I mean, if I was an Implementer, and I had to do the same things the whole day, and I’d then make a mistake, then a mistake is a mistake. Because it’s really predictable. But I’m not an Implementer and on that basis, I work at the front line of the unknown: nothing is predictable – there’s no tried and tested, and as such, I have to plot my own map.

When have you felt that your career was most in tune with your proclivities?

I think I’ve always been in tune with my proclivities. Early on in my career, when I was based in the Netherlands, I was responsible for a product for the SME market. I owned product strategy and was pretty much in my element. I worked with the R&D team to create a product of which I knew where it needed to go. It was exciting because I had to communicate with them and explain how we could shape the future marketplace with the product that was in my mind. To me it wasn’t about arriving at the destination (The release), it was about the journey and looking ahead. So, every time there was a product release, I was saying to everybody, okay, this is done – but we’re not done. Here’s what’s next.

Later in my career, everything turned from being focused just on the Netherlands, to going global. I also had sort of a freewheeling role there, influencing product strategy, working with a team of product managers, and driving product marketing with the subsidiaries around the world. Everything scaled there – so in order to make the most of my proclivities I ensured I had a very good product owner in my team to shape the product. Someone that could do a far better job than me on implementing, so I could focus on strategy, polishing and work with my team to change the game.

When have your felt, in your career, that your role was least ‘in tune’ with your proclivities?

Well, it was going really well until the company was delisted and became part of a private equity firm. At that point I had to make the choice to turn my career focus to just product marketing and I became the Global Head of Product Marketing, which I thought was perfect for me.

But what was asked of me was to become the Implementer. I was asked to create a centre of excellence in Utrecht. By that time I had been living in Spain because my role and my work was global, but now I had to go back to The Netherlands every single week… on the same flight, same seat (16c) every Monday and Friday!

I didn’t see anybody anymore and it was just an execution role – process, process, process, something that I didn’t enjoy at all. I had a discussion with my boss at a time, and he said there was one role that he still needed to fulfil, the role of the Chief Evangelist. He said: “I think you are perfect for that.” So, I took the role and started to communicate with people around me who all said: “That’s what you’ve always been. So, what’s the news?” That’s when I was back in my ideal role again.  

So now, as you’re running your own business, do you chose to work with people who complement your proclivities and get the best from you?

In the last two and a half years, my business has been project oriented. So, project based creative work engaging with dozens of companies around the world and I also wrote my first book. In that process I realised ‘okay, I’ve got the book, people read it, but there’s something missing.’ There needed to be something to help them execute on the framework I provide in my book. Without execution there’s no progress. To achieve this I’ve started my tribe for what I refer to as ‘tech-entrepreneurs-on-a-mission.’ These are entrepreneurs who all have a firm idea about the change the want to make in the marketplace. Through the tribe I’m becoming their guide to accelerate that journey.

There’s great power in bringing like-minded people together. That peer-collaboration is where their best work comes out: It helps remove their blind spots, encourages them to explore new paths, sharpen their thinking and formulate better strategies. I am there to connect the dots, polish the way they communicate their unique value, and with that align product strategy and go-to-market. We’re changing their game together

Do you think the GC Index will help you go forward with your tribe?

Yeah, absolutely. As I said before, I strongly belief the future belongs to software businesses that create products worth making a remark about. The mix of proclivities that the GC Index revealed underline the capabilities I bring to to the table to help those entrepreneurs define that future.

–– Words by Lucy Brown, founder of GC Partner Lucy Brown Consulting. Discover your GC Index personal profile today.

The GC People Leader Series is published exclusively in partnership with Dialogue and celebrates the journeys of leaders around the world changing the game for the better.