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Focused Offers, Structured Processes, and Executing Targets: Zoltan Vardy and The Launch Code

Zoltan Vardy

US-born and London-based Zoltan Vardy has closed more than $2 billion in sales over the last 30 years, mainly in the TV industry and for hi-tech, entrepreneurial, B2B startups in over 25 countries. He joins us today to share his process for generating recurring revenues and scaling sales globally by applying his sales and marketing blueprint called The Launch Code. Zoltan’s business development approach is built on focusing your offer and message, creating a structured sales process, and executing based on targets.


The Launch Code

Working with start-ups in developing countries.

Working in the TV industry America vs Europe.

Launching media companies globally.

When going globally goes wrong.

Zoltan Vardy bio:

Zoltan Vardy is a startup mentor, trainer, and speaker who helps B2B tech founders build predictable, recurring revenues and scale their sales globally by applying his business development blueprint called The Launch Code.

The Launch Code is built on the principles, tools, and techniques Zoltan used to close $2 billion in sales over his 30-year global career as an executive, entrepreneur, and investor.

Zoltan has helped 200+ startups in 25 countries by teaching how to apply The Launch Code via a personal mentoring program, group workshops, and an on-demand, online course.

Zoltan was formerly Sr. Vice President/Global Sales at NBC Universal International and a regional CEO at Germany’s ProSiebenSat1 Media. He helped launch a dozen media, technology, and professional services businesses including eEuropeMedia, Brainient, and Antavo, where he also serves as Chairman.

He was born and raised in the US, graduated from Cornell University, and divides his time between London and Budapest. He tests his personal limits by participating in Spartan Race obstacle course races.

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Full Transcript

Hello everyone. Since today’s guest is an American with a Hungarian background, I thought it would be most appropriate to start with a blooper from a sign in the Budapest Zoo during Communist times, which said very simply in English, Please do not feed the animals. If you have any extra food, please give it to the guard. 

With that, today’s guest is Zoltan Vardy.

Zoltan Vardy is a startup mentor, trainer, and speaker who helps B2B tech founders build predictable, recurring revenues and scale their sales globally by applying his business development blueprint called The Launch Code.

The Launch Code is built on the principles, tools, and techniques Zoltan has used to close $2 billion in sales over his 30-year global career as an executive, entrepreneur, and investor.

Zoltan has helped 200+ startups in 25 countries by teaching how to apply The Launch Code via a personal mentoring program, group workshops, and an on-demand, online course.

Zoltan was formerly Sr. Vice President/Global Sales at NBC Universal International and a regional CEO at Germany’s ProSiebenSat1 Media. He helped launch a dozen media, technology, and professional services businesses including eEuropeMedia, Brainient, and Antavo, where he also serves as Chairman.

He was born and raised in the US, graduated from Cornell University, and divides his time between London and Budapest. He tests his personal limits by participating in Spartan Race obstacle course races.

Hello. Welcome Zoltan.

To begin, please tell us a bit about The Launch Code.

You know the Launch Code itself is the outcome of a personal journey that I went on when I left behind sort of my corporate background and started working with early-stage businesses. You know, I basically realized that as much as I had become used to a very structured and very, very organized environment in the corporate world, that wasn’t the case very much in an entrepreneurial environment, which in itself is not a problem. It was a bigger problem that a lot of the entrepreneurs I started supporting early on didn’t realize that that was a problem, right? 

So, they were really knowledgeable about their product, and they were very knowledgeable about what they wanted to build, but they really didn’t have the necessary knowledge and experience to build a structured sales network, writing process or approach that would deliver the type of predictable recurring revenues that entrepreneurs need in order to be able to scale their businesses. 

And so they typically struggled with explaining why customers should buy what they’re selling, with very simple sentences. They didn’t have any processes in place to track the best prospects. They didn’t have the ability to set targets and track performance, so a lot of the things that had become very normalized in my past were very new in this environment. 

And so, what I realized is that there was a need to create the blueprint. You know, I call it a sales and marketing blueprint that creates the process by which you can reach out to customers, convince them that what you’re selling is of value and then ultimately close the deal, and then do it on a repeatable and predictable basis. 

And so, I took all that I’d learned from closing about $2 billion in business-to-business sales, all the principles, the tools, and techniques, and I packaged them into this kind of three-pillar system that I call the Launch Code. And, in a nutshell, what the Launch Code does is giving business-to-business tech startups who are struggling with sales a way to build a system for recurring revenues and build on basically the idea first of focusing on your offer message.

So basically, being able to explain simply why customers should buy what you’re selling. Second, creating a very structured sales process built on the principles of outbound sales partnerships and of inbound marketing. And then finally executing based on targets, meaning you decide what you want to achieve. You create a system for tracking your Performance. And then you make decisions based on data rather than gut feeling. 

This is what I’ve been able to apply to over 200 founders in 25 different countries across Europe and I’m very proud to say that I managed to really deliver a lot of value and my customers thankfully are getting to the stage where they can really start scaling their business on a global scale.

It’s marvelous, and it sounds like these are sort of obvious marketing principles. Does it differ in some way? Is it unique in some way?

Well, you’d be surprised how things that may seem obvious to you, or somebody who maybe has had the background that you have and that I have, how not obvious it is for people who don’t come from the background. 

So, you know a lot of the founders that I work with are product-focused people, right? They’re extremely passionate about development and quoting and creating the right mouse trap. But they don’t know how to sell that mousetrap. 

So yes, focusing on your message seems obvious, but I would say that 90% of the entrepreneurs I work with can’t explain to me in a single sentence what problem they solve and for whom and why are they better than the competition.

So, they’re technologists. They’re not marketing and sales people, and that’s why they need your business principles.

Exactly. Exactly.

Can you give us some examples of companies for whom you’ve generated major revenue streams?

Sure. I’d say that if you wanted to make it in terms of measurable results, just three come to mind. I worked with a tech startup in Poland that sells a solution to automotive manufacturers to streamline their internal production processes. And so that was a perfect case where we went through the whole program. And this company from Poland was able to close three new long-term contracts with three major automotive suppliers in Germany based on the principle that I have in the Launch Code. 

Another example is a company called CampMap out of Slovenia. They offer a tool for camp managers and camp owners to create a very simple map that they can then use to promote various services and elements within their campsites to visitors. I just read today on a LinkedIn post that the founder there just announced the tenth market that they’ve opened in the United States. In fact, when we started working together, I think there were two markets they were working in: Slovenia and Croatia. 

The third one that comes to mind isn’t necessarily about new revenues, but about how you can actually take what you have and just sell it much better. So, one of the companies I worked with out of Hungary was an IT consulting firm. And through the principles that I talk about product offering about creating a very simple way for customers to engage with what you’re offering to give, making it easy for them to say yes, they were able to sell the exact same product and service for twice as much money, by simply positioning it in a slightly different way.

And so these are all great examples of how sometimes it’s not about the voodoo right? and the magic fix. It’s really about doing the basic things really well that are going to deliver results. What’s increasingly important, however, is not necessarily just the financial outcome, but it’s also the change of mindset that comes along with it. 

For you and me, Philip, it’s obvious that we think in terms of customers, right? What customer problems are and how we solve customer problems. For many tech founders, that’s not necessarily an intuitive thing, right? It’s about the product. It’s about why I’m important, why I’m doing it. And I always like to say that nobody cares who you are until you first explain what problem you solve for them. Then they want to know who you are and why you’re a credible solution, but not before.

I’m smiling and I’m feeling a bit angry because you’re absolutely right. What I am immensely galled about with technology is that these people developed these mouse traps, developed this great technology, and don’t realize that it’s customers who pay their salaries. It’s the users that they’re serving, and they seem to want to put on all these bells and whistles and make it all fancy and incredibly difficult. And frankly, what infuriates me is how incredibly difficult these damn programs are. And these people don’t realize that the user is the person who’s using it, who’s paying their damn salary … and to make it simple and stop being complicated.

Yeah, yeah.

To promote the egos of the founders.

Yeah, but you know it’s also a process, right, because I think at the beginning when you’re actually building a product out, you don’t have an entirely clear view of why people should buy what you’re selling. You’re offering a potential solution to an important problem, and as you progress as you build your business. What I found is you move towards focus, right, you start going more and more towards a very specific problem and what I like to say is the worst thing you can be is everything to everybody, because if you’re everything to everybody, then you’re nothing to nobody. You have to be the perfect solution for a very specific problem, and that’s what’s going to enable you to scale quickly. 

Let me give you an example. 

A tool that many people discovered during the pandemic is Calendly, right? The typical problem, how do I negotiate a time that’s appropriate for all parties to have a sit-down and have a conversation? Have a meeting. You know that could easily be, you know, 50 emails with 17 CC’s back and forth over two weeks. They simply created a platform that enabled you to identify your availability. People go on, they book the time and that’s also linked in to various forms of communication with the Zoom or Teams or Meet or whatever. And if you think about it, they took a very, very complex manual problem and they solved it with a very basic solution. 

And you know you don’t use Calendly because it does 17 things. You do it because basically, it solves that one problem extremely well. And understandably the company skyrocketed as a result.

Yeah, very true. Except that one of my project managers cannot use it. It does not work for her. She cannot log in, so….

  1. Well, that’s an unusual circumstance so far. I found it to be pretty useful.

Right. And for most people, it works fine. Yes, and as an aside, the other part of technology that infuriates me is that these people do not have a customer service phone number. So when it does not work, you want to talk to a live person to fix it. They make it extremely difficult.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, I mean, a lot of this stuff is about scalability, right? If you have to maintain a call center, it’s a more expensive proposition. That’s why often they’ll use Chat or Live Chat or something to do it. But look, I think the customer journey is critical to building a successful company. 

But what’s even more important when you’re in a business-to-business environment is creating that customer journey for your customers, so what you’ve described is typical as a user of a service. But when you’re thinking about your service as something that needs to be sold to a business customer, they’ve got a customer journey as well. You need to be able to raise their awareness about what you’re offering. You need to then create interest. You have to move that into some desire for them to engage, and then you’ve got to get them to a decision, right? 

So, you have to go through that process. My own approach is that giving to founders who aren’t naturally sales and marketing focused, a clear blueprint that they can follow to take a customer through that pipeline in a very efficient way. That’s what’s going to add a lot of value. And it’s what’s made the service that offers a significant value for a lot of founders across multiple markets.

That makes sense, yes. So, the Launch Code seems to be mainly for tech companies. Do the principles apply to tech companies in developing countries also, say in Latin America and the Middle East and Africa? Or is it just primarily in Europe and North America?

Well, I think the problems that the Launch Code addresses are universal, right? So these types of problems are about how do you focus your offer message, how do you create a structured sales process, and how do you execute based on guidelines and targets. These are not tied to geographic locations. 

What I would say is there’s probably a greater need just in terms of absolute market penetration in markets where there is not as strong of a sales and marketing focus. You know, I was born and raised in the United States. I always like to tell people, having lived in Europe for the last 30 years, that in the US, you’re imbued with this concept of you can basically be anything you want to be, right? You know you can be President, right? 

That was a good thing when I was a kid. You know, if you work really hard, you can be president. In Central Eastern Europe, which is part of my heritage… But also, you know I split my time in Budapest… That’s not the mentality. It’s much more about the problems you face and focusing on the difficulties and the obstacles and not having to create market-ready products for a generation that has created a whole gap in founders who don’t have those skill sets. 

So you know, I’m not an expert in Africa. I’ve worked in Southeast Asia quite a bit. I’ve worked in Latin America, but I would say that in more developing markets, you might find that there’s less of a commercially focused consumer culture and therefore there maybe would be a greater need. However, the fundamental problems are the same no matter what market you’re in.

And that leads me to another question which is that basically do behavior patterns change? You’re dealing with founders, many of whom have large egos. So, do the behavior patterns or the expectations change depending on the country in which the founder is based, or is it just about an individual?

Well, I’m not sure if it’s geographical or just personality-wise. Look, I mean if you want to create something out of nothing, you better have a big dose of self-confidence, right? I mean that’s something that is a requirement for success. 

So, I don’t have a problem with founders who’ve got a big ego as you described it. I think that’s a problem if you’ve got a big ego and you’re not necessarily open to outside influence your thoughts, because you believe that you got the answer to everything. That in itself is already a disqualifying element for the people I deal with because I’m actually offering an outside opinion, right? So, if you’re not open to that prospect, then there’s nothing for us to talk about. 

I would say that the companies and the founders that I’ve been most successful with are the ones that have a strong self-belief that they can execute but understand that there are people who have already done something similar to what they have and offer that level of wisdom, and then they can shorten the runway that they have to walk down in order to be successful. 

And so that’s what I think is so critical for the founders that I work with, whether they’re in the business space or being in any environment, is being open to the prospect of having a different point of view and then ultimately making the decision of whether they take that on and they implement it or they think that they’ve got a better solution. 

I always say at the end of the day, you know you’re the owner of your own company. I’m not here to tell you what to do. What I could share with you is what I would do in your position based on 30 years of experience facing similar problems and sometimes making dumb mistakes and sometimes being successful and sharing that insight and then providing that guidance.

Yes, that makes sense. 

Back to one of the previous questions I was asking you. We were talking previously about developing countries, a place like Kenya, for example. I think Kenya developed mobile money, the Mpesa system, where people can basically use their cell phones to transfer money around the world. Do you work with companies like that or have you worked with companies like that? Or in developing countries with these new technologies that can penetrate a country where it’s a more difficult environment, but certainly, when it works, it can skyrocket?

Well, I think the principle in the startup community is that you are building a global company, right? That’s from Day One. You know, you are building a company that should be able to scale across borders, and by nature, that’s why 95% of startup companies or true startups are basically software-as-a-service companies, right? Because that’s what scales. If you have a physical product, that’s more. 

So yeah, I’ve effectively focused on companies that have scalable products of the type that you described. You know, in this particular case, I would say that you know, the benefit of being from an underdeveloped market or potentially a smaller market is that you are forced to scale globally more quickly, right? 

So, if you like something in the US, frankly, you’ve got such a massive domestic market that you don’t necessarily need to think globally from Day One. You know if you’re launching something from Slovenia, a country of two million, or Estonia, you know, is kind of the gem of the startup world. I think they’re 9 unicorns that have come out of stone. In the small country of Estonia, of 2 million people, you’re forced to think globally from Day One because your domestic market simply will not support a business, and so it does actually create an incredible engine for global expansion. But thankfully I’ve been able to tap into it in some cases because yeah, I’m working with founders who think globally from Day One.

You know, it’s very interesting. In your previous professional incarnation, you were a global TV executive. What were some of the similarities or differences that you found working, for example, in New York versus Germany?

Well, I think that I was fortunate enough to be in a really exciting industry at its peak. I mean, the TV industry, I think, was in its sort of golden age in like the 19 or something the 2000s through 2015. When I was running a group of TV broadcasting channels in Central Eastern Europe on behalf of ProSiebenSat 1 Media, which is a large German broadcasting company, or later when I was at NBC Universal overseeing a portfolio of 30 different cable TV channels stretching from Latin America through Europe to Asia. 

So I got a really good insight into the diversity of the industry, the diversity of markets, you know, I can’t say that there was this radical difference from market to market. What I would say is that the way that certain content was consumed. Going was different from market to market and I’ll give you a very basic example. Early on in my career, I worked for Cartoon Network which is an animation channel. I was responsible for launching local versions of Cartoon Network across Central Eastern Europe. 

And so I actually launched Cartoon Network in Russia and Poland and Hungary and Slovenia. And what was interesting is that the library of characters that Cartoon Network had at its disposal was quite broad, but actually, the local acceptance of certain characters was very different. 

So, for instance, Scooby-Doo, which was one of my favorite characters as a child, had a huge following in the UK but was virtually unknown in central Eastern Europe. At the same time, the Flintstones, which of course had a huge run in the US, had an almost cult-like following in countries like Hungary, where it was running in prime time as late as the 90s. 

So it was a very different selection of characters and composition of your product, so to speak, depending on what that local market had historically liked in that genre. And so, what we found was we had to make those adjustments on the product level and in the collection of content we created to match the needs of the local consumer.

And I suppose you often don’t know whether something will work until you launch it and find out. Is that right?

I mean, you certainly can do a bit of market research in terms of name recognition. But at the end of the day, of course, the proof is in the pudding, as they say, right, once you launch.

When you’re launching either the media companies or these tech companies now, are there issues across countries regarding registration or financing or branding or hiring practices?

Well, I would say I’m less of an expert on the legal and the financial administrative elements and more on the sales and marketing side. I couldn’t really speak to that in terms of the sales and marketing side, I would say that you know the companies that I work with are largely universal and that they have an easy-to-pronounce name in English. You know, they mark it in English in most cases simply because that’s the default language for international business. I’d say that it’s more about how you position your product for the market size. I’ll give you an example of Antavo, a company of which I’m an early investor and also a chairman. They basically offer a loyalty and enterprise-focused loyalty management platform. 

So, if you’re a large consumer-facing company and you want to build a high-tech loyalty program on top of providing the platform that technology solution for you to do that and to create all sorts of great loyalty programs that work online and offline in an experiential way. 

And you know, it’s interesting that the company has grown into having literally hundreds of customers across three continents and what they targeted… what we’ve targeted as the target customer we consider as an enterprise customer in Europe, sort of let’s say, in the range of 150 to €250,000 per year type of spending with the company. Those are actually mid-market companies in the US, right? 

So, you know it’s a different type of process. Now what? How does that impact your product? Well, you know, a mid-market company will normally not expect the same level of personalized service as an enterprise customer. So, with things like self-service onboarding, self-service rather than personal involvement becomes much more important. 

So, what we’ve had to do is as we expand in the US and gain more and more customers. That exact same size of customer requires a different set of parameters for us to be able to service them. And so that creates this kind of interesting product development challenge. It creates a question of positioning. I mean, how are you communicating? Are we the enterprise loading platform or the mid-market loyalty platform, right? So, it creates a bit of a standard when in fact the core product or the service is identical whether it’s the U.S. or Europe.

So, you know there’s this misconception, I think, for people who don’t do business globally that you can just copy and paste what you’re doing and then replicate in different markets. Nothing could be further from the truth. I think it’s probably one of the biggest misconceptions. You do have to do market research. You have to find that gap where you can fill it and you have to find the appropriate sales channels and the appropriate messaging that’s going to resonate with that local consumer in that local market.

Can you give us some examples of perhaps when it went wrong?

Well, the fun thing about when you’re building a startup business is that it’s always going wrong, right? Because it’s a constant face of iteration and missteps, and trying to figure out the path. 

So, I’m wondering if there’s anything in particular that I could emphasize. I think that, yeah, I can give you an example because I think the flip side of it so, so again on top of low to management platform described had very significant success in building its presence in Europe, has had quite a bit of success in Europe in the US, has less success in Southeast Asia. 

And I think one of the interesting reasons is because it’s a technology platform, it’s not a full service, it doesn’t come up with the concept. It doesn’t do all the packaging, it just provides the technology platform in Southeast Asia, for instance, the expectation for customers, there was a full service, right?

So, they don’t just buy a technology platform, they get all the marketing support, they get all the conceptual support. And so that’s an example where the company’s strong technology positioning or tech-only positioning is a point of difference and value in Europe where there are a lot of other service providers in that space who fill the other gaps whereas in Southeast Asia the expectation is we should want to get all that from one customer. 

And so, we haven’t had success in terms of building traction. We’ve had customers in Australia, in China even, but there hasn’t been that breakthrough success simply because, there’s a different expectation of what providers should provide.

And in that case, what does this company do?

Again, a company that provides loyalty-management platform technology, 

OK, very interesting.


Is there any issue with government regulation as you enter these markets with certain technologies that governments prohibit or other ones that they encourage?

I would say that as a general rule in Europe, in particular, privacy is at a higher level than in the US, for instance. In the US, I think the principle is if the consumer doesn’t like it, they turn it off, they’ll delete it, they’ll do whatever they need to do. In Europe, you know, the general principle is we need to protect the consumers from themselves. 

And so, as a result, they create a lot of regulation and a lot of regulatory frameworks that limit companies. For instance to track their users, certain markets like Germany, have very, very draconian limitations on data that you can save about your customers.

A lot of times American companies are going into Europe they’re shocked by how much regulation there actually is. You know how that prohibits development and competition… I don’t think I have to go further than just to see the level of development in the technology ecosystem in the US versus Europe. Broadly speaking, I say that probably about 40% of global unicorns –  a unicorn is a company that’s valued at a billion dollars or more – about 40% of those companies have reached about a billion-dollar status. There are about 1,150 companies that have done that. Forty percent of those are in the US and less than 10% are from Europe so you see, you know the impediment to progress is maybe a little bit more difficult, but a little bit greater in markets that are highly regulated.

Very interesting. Is there anything else you’d like to add before we close?

Well, I think you know what I want to emphasize in my communication to listeners is the importance of having an extremely focused and goal-driven approach to building a company, right? This kind of ”let’s try 100 things and see what sticks” sounds very romantic, but it’s actually very inefficient. 

And so, you know, one of the things that I offer as a starting point for a lot of these tech founders that I work with is actually a process to create a simple value proposition that a 12-year-old will understand. That’s kind of the standard that I set.

I thought I could offer a completely free resource for any B2B tech founders out there. If they go to, they’ll get access to a free 30-minute video that takes them through this five-step process to create a single easy-to-understand, high-impact value proposition along with the worksheet that helps them go through the process. It’s a tool that I think has the low-hanging fruit because actually what I found is once you got the value proposition right and that really sticks, then you can really start building all the different elements on the back of that to be able to build a predictable recurring revenue stream. 

So, I just want to offer that as an opportunity for your listeners. If somebody wants to reach out to me, they can reach me on LinkedIn. Or certainly through my own website.

Very good and of course, these will be published on our platform on our own podcast, so very easy to access. It’s great to meet you this way and to have your wonderful insights.

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