Mailbag: “Why it matters that Axel Grell left Sennheiser”

Daryle Gessner sent in a really great question about my “Why it matters that Axel Grell left Sennheiser” email:

Hi Philip! Regarding Axel Grell leaving Sennheiser, why the crickets when I search for Axel Grell in ALL and NEWS on Google? This is important news.When I read your email mentioning Grell leaving, my first thought “Where is he going? Starting his own company? How do I get in on the products”So why the blackout? Where is Waldo… Axel?

Despite Axell Grell’s move being a significant one, it’s only niche-significant, not globally significant.

90% of the stuff that really matters in a small niche will never make the front page of any major publication or news aggregator.

If DHH left Basecamp, it would be front page news on Hacker News and a few other niche-specific sites–and it would be considered a huge deal by those site’s niche audience–but I doubt it would make the front or even back pages of the NY Times or any other similarly prominent publication.

If Elon Musk left Tesla, it would be front page news on every major publication. The difference between Grell, DHH, and Musk is not one of importance, but one of relative fame. Musk has crossed over from niche fame to mass market fame.

This is one of the tricky things about vertical specialization. You might recall from my original email I said that if you were vertically specialized in the personal audio industry and you’d heard that Axell Grell left Sennheiser…

You might reach out to someone you know at Sennheiser and say “Hey, I heard about Axell. How’s the mood over there? Anything you might need my help with once the dust settles from this?”Or alternately, you might say something like: “Hey, I heard about Axell. Does this mean Sennheiser is re-focusing on the consumer market and leaving the high end music market to Focal? If so, we should talk because [reason].”

I didn’t elaborate on how you would know someone at Sennheiser.

That’s because if you were specialized in this vertical, you eventually get to know people in the industry you’re specialized in. You just do, unless you resist it. It happens passively over time, and if you’re active and intentional about it it can happen even faster.

As I like to say: “Unfortunately, you’re in a relationship business.” I say the “unfortunately” part with a bit of a knowing wink, because as a hardcore introvert myself, I understand that building and maintaining relationships can be real work for some of us. But without these relationships, you’re missing all kinds of opportunities. Opportunities that come with knowing people and understanding their specific challenges and desires.

In the original email I also mentioned how I heard about Axell Grell leaving Sennheiser, which was through a small weird audio enthusiasts forum. The person who posted the news about Grell on that forum learned about Grell’s departure from Grell’s LinkedIn profile.

That’s a perfect example of how being an insider to a vertical benefits you. You start to understand more and more vertical-specific context, and that context helps you… well, contextualize information like this German dude leaving the headphone division of this German company. Is this signal or noise? Who benefits, who is harmed? What does Grell leaving Sennhesier mean? Contextual understanding of the vertical is what answers each of these questions.

Not long ago, Blair Enns posted a link to a really great piece of thinking. Blair said he considers it the single best piece of thought leadership he’s ever seen. Blair must not be a member of my email list, so I’ll let that slide. Still though, I read the article and it is really excellent:

If you read it I think you’ll see the overlap between one of the main points of that David Maister piece from 2001 and what I’m talking about here.