Why Skunkworks Teams are a Startup Entrepreneur’s Secret Weapon

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The pace of play in the startup world can be rapid and ever changing. You want to make sure you’re creating unique and innovative technology or services, yet at the same time, you have to focus on growing a team, handling day to day operations, marketing and selling your existing services, and a thousand other things that are always on your plate as an entrepreneur.

As your company grows, it’s vital to set aside a key group of innovators to tinker on new projects free from any structure: the skunkworks team. 

Dave Woodward became Regional Director of Americo, a local Texas firm which he took national in just two years. In 2003, Dave founded Monopolize, Inc., a direct response marketing agency focused on financial services and the real estate industry. As a lifelong entrepreneur, Dave has become a master of efficiency, innovation, and problem-solving under pressure. 

In 2014, he recognized a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity when he met Russell Brunson and Todd Dickerson, the two founders of ClickFunnels. Dave joined as a vital part of the team as Chief Revenue Officer, and recently stepped into the role of CEO.

Dave says it’s never about the title of CEO, it’s about results and making customers happy. In addition to his CEO duties, Dave is also the host of the wildly popular podcast, ClickFunnels Radio, where some of the savviest business owners and entrepreneurs on the planet share their top sales and marketing secrets.  

During his interview on the Making Bank podcast, Dave shares how he’s guiding ClickFunnels to remain on the cutting edge of SaaS business innovation after helping the company grow from a bootstrap startup into the widely successful online sales and marketing platform that it is today. 

Scaling a Bootstrap Startup 

 As an entrepreneur, you’re a natural innovator. Leading a bootstrap startup, like ClickFunnels in 2014, takes creativity, hard work, and lots and lots of trial and error. Dave says, “As you’re growing and scaling without a whole bunch of money, you’ve got to get really, really good at testing things.” Speed and efficiency are important (time is money, after all), and as a bootstrap company you don’t have tons of extra cash to spare in the beginning.   

Testing everything and being able to implement changes to things that don’t pass your tests are two of the best skills you can have as an entrepreneur. Plus, you’ll already be primed to start up your first skunkworks teams down the road when operations can’t move as fast as your innovations. 

The Skunkworks Philosophy 

There comes a breakpoint in every startup where the company has grown to a point that daily operations move slower than you’re previously used to. Dave explains, “As companies get larger, the pace at which you’re able to grow and make change slows down.” And for entrepreneurs used to the “ready, fire, aim” way of life, maintaining flexibility and efficiency on some level becomes a high priority.  

The idea of a skunkworks team started with Lockheed Martin during the World War II era, in a field of stinky (read: skunky) flowers, where they invented numerous new aircrafts that were faster than anything else in the world at the time.

“Skunk Works” today is a widely recognized pseudonym for Lockheed Martin, and “skunkworks” is also a common term in technology and engineering for a small team with a high degree of autonomy focused on innovative secret projects. 

At ClickFunnels, both Russel and Todd experimented with forming their own skunkworks teams in 2020. Russel’s team of four focused on rapid split testing at a pace that would normally be impossible within usual business operations. Todd’s team focused on wildly innovative tech and software brainstorming and programming, the results of which are set to be announced in the fall.   

Innovation, Speed, and Breaking the Rules 

The impact of skunkworks teams has been proven countless times. Apple credits a skunkworks team to the creation of the original iPod and iPhone, for example. Keeping the creativity high and the bureaucracy low is a key part of innovation.

As a lifelong entrepreneur, Dave says skunkworks efforts are the “only way an entrepreneur can actually grow and increase the speed at which they’re growing their business; you can’t do it in your normal business.” 

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