How Dan Tocchini, CEO The Grid, Is Rethinking Website Development (I Love His First Answer)

Dan Tocchini is the founder and CEO of The Grid where he gets a lot of mentorship from D3 AKA, Daniel the 3rd, his dad. You might find that having your dad as a founder is a bit well -- odd.

But in Dan's case, D3 is a seasoned entrepreneur who has worked with companies such as Disney, Microsoft and ESPN -- every founding son should be so lucky.

The Grid, like most things entrepreneurs build, was constructed out of a need for something better. Dan came to realize that there was a reoccurring issue with websites and their owners -- "I want to be able to manage it myself." But in most cases you need to hire a developer to manage your website.

And as Dan found out hiring a developer could run you a few thousand dollars to 10's of thousands of dollars.

And I am that website, owner. My site currently sits on Squarespace, which I adore, but outside of what the templates offer I need to hire a developer to add additional features. And, managing my website is not the best use of my limited energy. I just want to produce content, build my email list, and let someone else worry about managing my site.

So Dan spent the next few years deep in constraint programming, machine learning, computer vision & other artificial intelligence (AI) trade tools. Essentially, Dan and his small team built a website platform that builds itself:

  • no templates
  • no coding
  • no walled gardens

How? You tell The Grid what you want and through the magic of AI, it builds your website.

Yes, I know what you're saying -- "An AI that builds my website?" How do I know you're saying that because I have been repeating that same question, in my head, all morning.

But it's a reality. The Grid's website is up; there is a waiting list of over 61,000 people, and Dan's team is working with the lucky few that are in private beta.

So I reached out to Dan asking for an interview and Tocchini was happy to participate. I hope you get as excited as I am about the future of website development.

So Dan, what’s your story?

I'm founder & CEO of the Grid, the company creating the first AI websites that design themselves.

I come from a long line of entrepreneurs named Dan. My great grandfather (D1) came from Italy and invested in Real Estate in the Sonoma County area of California. He built the first talking motion picture theatre north of San Francisco, and built the first few theaters for the Naify family, founders of United Artist Theaters. My grandfather (D2) took to that business and expanded on it, and his theatre circuit is currently one of the top 20 privately held circuits in the U.S. My father, (D3), has owned a number of businesses, including movie theaters, a consulting firm, retail stores and trading companies.

So you could say that the excitement of problem solving through entrepreneurship is in my genes. In college I became a Computer Science / Physics nerd at UC Berkeley, to make spare change I developed a knack for selling fashion goods on eBay and I caught the eye of a European Diamond Jewelry Company owner.

After I graduated I soon found myself drawn into the intrigue of international diamond sales and, a year later, I was introduced to the website problem that faces so many small businesses when I needed a website to showcase inventory and communicate with clients.

In my search for a professional web designer, I received a baffling range of proposals that cited costs of between $8-40k and included confusing maintenance contracts. Since I was a programmer in my academic life I figured it couldn't be that hard to make a website, so I plugged-in, hacked my website together over a weekend, and fell in love with the intersection of design and technology that web development uniquely embodies.

The following Monday, instead of selling precious stones, I tried selling my newly acquired interactive skills as an online service and landed work for the rest of the year!

I reluctantly walked from diamond sales and opened a small interactive design firm that I ran for the next 4.5 years. After a short time it occurred to me that websites suffer from an existential dilemma - what is a website? Is Google & Facebook a website? iPhone apps are software, but do you think of websites as software? "I want to be able manage it myself" is among the most commonly requested website features, but imagine asking a developer to make you an iPhone app you can add new features too without the developer's help!

No matter what "CMS" solution we used, Wordpress, Squarespace, etc. the clients would have to pay someone else to use it & ultimately tensions would rise as they struggled to add a youtube video or upload a new background image.

Needless to say, I developed a strong distaste for the current state of website development & focused more on mobile apps, desktop software & motion graphics. But, the website problem stuck with me & key ideas slowly crystallized, like: Content should dictate form. Giving non-designers baby-photoshop is a recipe for disaster. It would be insanely awesome if you could do the same thing you do on social networks, only your content goes through the brain of a master designer like Vignelli or Müller-Brockmann.

After years of tinkering with prototypes for what is now becoming The Grid, and immersing myself in Constraint Programming, Machine Learning, Computer Vision & other such tools of the AI-trade, the vision seemed possible & I was ready for full-time product development. Soon after that, D3 introduced me to Brian Axe, former Google Ad-Sense product director.

Brian joined D3, and me on the founding team & was to become an invaluable mentor on the whole product management side of things. That was about 5 years ago and our team is 35 people strong now.

Tell us about a time when things didn't go the way you wanted - like a promotion you wanted and didn't get, or a project that didn't turn out how you had hoped?

After the first year & half of R&D at the Grid, with a rough prototype and only 3 engineers, which included me, Facebook courted us for acquisition. At the time, I was finishing one of the Grid’s platform tools, called Grid Style Sheets, a language for layout design that leverages the Cassowary Linear Arithmetic Constraint Solver, a significant algorithm that also powers the interface logic for Apple’s iOS & OS X.

We were the first to bring Cassowary to bear on the web. It just so happened that the algorithm's author, Greg Badros, was a good friend and former colleague of Brian Axe, one of my co-founders at The Grid. At the time Greg was Facebook’s VP of Engineering & Products and now he’s on our board of advisors. We have been fortunate with several happenstance personal and technical breakthroughs with the talented people behind Facebook, and still do.

We were initially informed that the offer, depending on stock, would fall between $30-$50M, which definitely got our attention considering our small team and distance from market. For a week there, we were certain we were to be Facebook-ers. Then a negotiator called and the opening offer came in between $10-$15m. I had to ask myself what else would not be as rosy as it seemed? Taking that chance just wasn’t worth giving up the vision of The Grid for what would amount to a high salary gig. We knew we would be worth so much more the moment we came to market.

You can imagine our disappointment at the time, especially after several meetings and weeks of anticipation. So much so that we lost one-third of our three-person engineering team. But in hindsight, thank God we didn’t sell out because what we’ve built over the following three years is now worth 10 times what we were offered and our value’s poised for another quantum leap in the coming months.

Now, we get to set the tone of our own culture. We have team members spread across eight time-zones, and we travel the world working from exotic locales and actually reduce our burn-rate when compared to officing-up.

I learned that true transformation requires a vision big enough to carry you through the pain of momentary setbacks and disappointments.

Fights are healthy, how you get through them is another the question. How do you deal with conflict? Compromise?

As my father, D3, would say, conflict arises when people perceive their interests are better served by being apart than being together. And, compromise comes through persevering long enough in a conflict to put language to the tensions that naturally emerge when circumstances change.

I like to work out the tension that comes with conflict by playing a lot of trampoline dodgeball:) I’m maybe a little too serious about it, but we did place 3rd in the world championships.

Tell me about the time you realized you had the power to do something meaningful.

It's amazing how diligently grinding away, not worrying about anything but finding a solution with every small step, has transformed my decade-old gnawing frustration with websites into something that you care to write about that is also increasingly making a difference in the lives of our team, investors and users.

How do you make sure that The Grid will be relevant five years from now? Ten?

It's been one year since we came out of stealth and told the world about The Grid, but few people realize that we've been going for five intense years now. The first few years were deep R&D where we launched several open-source projects like Grid Style Sheets and NoFlo. We haven't sold out to the big guys or to the wrong type of VC and now have the most successful non-gaming consumer software crowdfunding campaign to-date ($6M and growing).

We are in closed beta right now and expect all 60,000+ of our paid founding members to be on The Grid by the turn of the year. As long as we continue to execute on the product that bridges our crazy tech with our marketing, The Grid will be around for a very long time.

What values do you want to instill in your team?

Be bold, break rules, diligently seek latent discoveries in open-source and academia, and definitely play trampoline dodgeball.

Reader Question: Knowing what you know now about The Grid would you switch over and let an AI manage your site? Share your answers on Twitter.

Original Article: Huffington Post

6 Lessons I Learned From Dan Lee, Director NextDesk. I love Lesson #1.

Dan Lee is the Director of NextDesk. The company designs standing desks who in their 2nd year witnessed staggering growth -- a 600% increase.

Now you would think that Lee and his team would be cheering this epic growth. Unfortunately, the sudden growth was a curse. Why -- you guessed it the company found it difficult to fill orders and quickly found themselves in trouble.

So Dan found himself at a crossroads. He could either fold under the pressure or Lee could adapt and lead NextDesk through this growing pain. Dan settled on the latter because in his mind failure was not an option.

As the interview progressed, my mind began to drift slightly, I was not disinterested. On the contrary, I was thinking why did Dan not accept the failure?

But then I remembered something that Lee explained in great detail. Dan stated that while in college he took a psychology class that exposed him to William James, an American psychologist.

James said, “If you can change your thinking, you can change your life.”

That statement set in motion a journey of “self-mastery,” for Lee. He became a student of success. Dan learned that we tell ourselves disempowering stories that limit our belief in our potential. But if you change your thinking. If you change your story, you can empower yourself with massive certainty in your potential.

So while Dan stood at the crossroads, of self-doubt and self-oppression. Lee refused to allow those stories to derail what he knew to be certain. That he has the potential to see NextDesk through this tough time.

“The only thing keeping you from getting what you want is the STORY you keep telling yourself about why you can’t have it.” -- Tony Robbins, motivational speaker.

Changing the disempowering story, you tell yourself is critical to your success. You must divorce those limiting beliefs and begin to believe with certainty in your potential. How -- as Dan did, teach yourself everything about how those before you did it.

And yes, you will fail. But failure is never the end of your journey, it's a friend that will teach you but only if you are ready to listen. Are you ready to listen? Good... let's start your journey by listening to Dan Lee and how he learned from failure.

So Dan, what’s your story?

I was born in West Texas, and raised in San Antonio, in a typical middle-class family. It was a great place and time for a kid to grow up. This was when no one ever locked their house, and the cars were left unlocked in the driveway with the keys still in the ignition. My parents were very supportive of anything my older brother and I wanted to do as long as it was wholesome: Boy Scouts, church camp, sports, and Sunday services.

This was also an era that espoused the values of finding a good job, working for a good company with good benefits until you ultimately retire with a small pension. Not an entrepreneurial environment for sure. I graduated from high school at age 16. I honestly think the teachers pushed me ahead because they couldn’t put up with me anymore!

I used my GI Bill benefits to enroll in college. In one of my psychology classes I was exposed to William James—the father of modern psychology. He once said, “If you can change your thinking, you can change your life.” And that really resonated with me, so I sought out to begin a program in “self-mastery.” I started reading everything I could get my hands on about successful people.

What were their thoughts, habits, philosophies, etc.? It didn’t take long to discover that my upbringing wasn’t in alignment. Once I realized that, I gradually shifted into an entrepreneurial mindset, and I proved James’ theory correct.

What are a few things I’ve learned along the way?

Enjoy life and treat it like an adventure. Care passionately about the outcome, but keep it in perspective. Chances favor the prepared mind. Preparation is the mother of skill, and there is no greater teacher than experience.

You’re building your business for a reason and whatever your reason, hold it close and let that fuel your passion. We’ve all messed up at some point in our lives, and inside every mistake there is a lesson to be learned from your moment of failure.

Learn from it.

All of this eventually led to a partnership in owning a Yamaha Music Franchise in Kentucky, and after 10 years I sold my half and found myself retired at age 36. The irony is I don’t even play the piano. People were always shocked when they found out that I couldn’t play an instrument, but I owned a music store.

So there I was: a retired 36 year old sitting poolside with nothing to do, or at least not until my next-door neighbor stopped by. He was a supervisor for a regional jewelry company. The supervisors had to stay at their home store during the holidays, and he asked if I would join him to help sell jewelry.

“Dan, you love people and all you’ll do is make people happy all day long. I think you would enjoy it.” I didn’t even wear jewelry! He said, “Dan, you don’t have to lay an egg to appreciate an omelet.”

That made good sense to me. After all, I couldn’t play an instrument but I owned a music business. Six years later, he found himself reporting to me as a regional vice president of operations for that firm. We’re still friends to this day. I enjoyed my time in the jewelry business and made many great friends, but I took an early retirement to help and care for my aging mother. We got to enjoy each other’s company for four wonderful years. I highly recommend spending as much time with your parents as possible if you’re in a position to do so.

So where is the NextDesk connection? Well, I can finally say my current line of work is the only thing I’ve been involved with my entire career, sitting and standing. I was approached by an entrepreneur with the idea of building a high-quality, height adjustable desk. He was familiar with my background and asked if I would consider coming on board to help scale the company.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made and what did you learn from it?

I’ve certainly made some mistakes along the way, but the biggest mistake has been here at NextDesk. We were confident that our premium standing desks would be a hit. But I significantly underestimated the market. We had a solid first year and we were already profitable.

Momentum was in our favor and we geared us up for what I thought was a BHOG (Big Hairy Outrageous Goal): A 250% increase in our second year. We moved forward putting the operational systems in place to handle some serious growth. I had underestimated. A lot. It turned out to be well over a 600% increase.

I had seriously underestimated the exponential power of our client base. Most of our clients are highly educated professionals from all areas: Doctors, professors, lawyers and many businesses. Typically they would start with 2-3 of our desks for the executives. Then the orders started getting larger—50-100 desks at a time. Then we got our first 1000 desk client (a $15 billion company).

Houston, we have a problem! We found ourselves in a situation where our little start-up factory just couldn’t keep up. Some of our suppliers had never met a company with that kind of growth. They were used to supplying companies with 10%-15% growth.

Somewhere in my voracious reading period, I remembered a quote. The sentiments were that things are never as bleak as they seem when things are going wrong, or as good as they seem when things are going well.

We found a way to get through it. The important thing is to learn from it and move on. I just kept saying that “Failure is not an option” over and over.

I knew we had to push forward with an unwavering commitment to our goal. We did, and it took about eight months to control the chaos and scale to fully handle the new “normal.” That time period was agonizing for us. We missed some promised ship dates, and our customer-service lines were often at maximum capacity. At one point I just sat down and began calling clients to personally apologize.

Surprisingly I found that most of the upset clients were actually empathetic to our situation because they had experienced similar things in their businesses when they were growing and expanding. Many cared enough to share their ideas with me as well as give me encouragement. They will never know how much that meant to me during that time. And candidly, it was the one thing that gave me the energy to press on.

The silver lining is we now have a new 35,000 sq. ft. state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Austin. I learned that if you truly listen to your customers, you’ll get some the best, most valuable feedback.

Describe a time when you missed a deadline or failed to meet expectations. What lesson did you learn from it?

I learned a good one in college. I had a paper due on a certain date, and I had missed the deadline. It seems like I thought going out with my fraternity brothers was more important than working on my paper, and it cost me a grade point.

After I got a B on the paper, I made an appointment to see my professor after class to complain. “Why didn’t you give me an A?” Casually, he replied, “You can’t get an A when you’ve made B-quality preparation and effort.” That professor, who ended up being a lifelong friend, taught me that it’s vital to have mentors that care enough about you to be brutally honest.

FYI: I never got another B in his class.

Solving complex problems often requires a re-framing the problem. So what is your process of re-framing the problem so it can be resolved?

You already know going in that starting a business is, by its very nature, a challenging proposition destined to have complex problems. Solving these problems may require a complete paradigm shift; Reframing might involve taking a look at what created the problem in the first place.

I think we sometimes get so close to things that we can get trapped “inside the box.” It never hurts to bring in someone from outside of your industry because a fresh set of eyes aren’t suffering from tunnel vision. My experience is that problems are always progressive.

By that I mean they present themselves at different levels of flights: Once one problem is solved, new problems present themselves. It’s important to recognize that not having problems isn’t necessarily a good sign. Growth is the only evidence of life, and experience will teach you that it can be painful.

That’s why they call it growing pains. You just have to push forward with an unwavering commitment to your goal, and hire people better than you with the same passion and dedication.

The execution of a creative idea can be a chaotic experience. So how do you organize, prioritize, and manage your team's creative ideas?

The real question is how can you take what is generally considered to be a chaotic experience and turn it into a productive and fun exercise?

This can be done best by setting up a meeting with all of your best creative staff members and establishing this rule before the meeting begins: Any and all ideas are not to be “value judged” when presented.

This isn’t a value-judging or decision-making meeting. This is simply a brainstorming session. There are no bad or good ideas, and all ideas are accepted. Once the idea session is complete, a follow-up meeting is held to evaluate each idea individually. At that time, the ideas that aren’t deemed worthy are eliminated.

Basically it’s a distillation process with only the top 10 ideas surviving. The ideas are then ranked from 1 to 10 by each participant, and then they are tallied with only the top three ideas left.

Not every business determines success in the same way. What trophy do you want on your mantle?

I have a story about trophies. Over the years, I accumulated a number of sports trophies and even a military trophy for being the most outstanding trainee during basic training. One year my wife had a garage sale and I decided to pull all of them out. My wife said, “Why are you putting those old trophies out? Nobody is going to buy those.”

One hour later, all the trophies were gone.

Personally I have little interest in personal trophies, but there is one team trophy that I’d be proud of. It would be for the Best Company to Work For. Being known as a great place to work has rewards far greater than any trophy on the mantle. It’s critical for companies to focus on something more than transactions. I’d like our company to be a partnership of people creating a better life for others and ourselves. Don’t get me wrong, transactions are important, but that side must be tempered and crafted with building deep relationships both internally and externally.

That’s how you add transformational value to any company.

Jeff Woods, Community Evangelist at The Grid, Talks About Not Being Good Enough

Jeff Woods is the Community Evangelist at The Grid. Woods is also an amazing photographer and an accomplished entrepreneur.

There is no clear route to becoming a creative. That very same journey becomes even more labor intensive when you strive to become a creative entrepreneur. Woods’ struggle with his journey was not based on the lack of talent but on believing his disempowering story… “you’re not good enough.”

This statement is a common story that we tell ourselves which can limit your potential. But Woods had plans to becoming a world class photographer, so those limiting beliefs had to be removed.

Jeff found a mentor that could guide him and Woods also modeled Donald Miller, founder of Story Brand. Jeff understood that building a community that would support him was critical to his success.

As Jeff advanced on his epic journey, he began to believe deeply in his potential as a creative entrepreneur, and this allowed Jeff to take massive action. Woods became a platform speaker for Canon. And Jeff evolved into different mediums like design work for humanitarian projects, filmmaking, consulting, UX/UI design, and Jeff’s latest project as Community Evangelist for The Grid.

It’s been a chaotic trip but through the conflicts and wins Jeff Woods is living a fulfilled life.

So, Jeff, what is your story?

Something that learn early on from one of my favorite authors (Donald Miller) is what makes a good story. A good story is one that has a character that is faced with conflict or struggle and must dig deep to find resolve. When we choose our ambitions, they should be difficult, and we should anticipate and even welcome conflict.

I started out my career as a creative jumping into Photography. I had a mentor who was a photographer, and he took me under his wing. I never expected what would open up. When it all began, I did not know the first thing about photography. I could not even tell you what a F-stop was. However, that jump in the deep end put me on an amazing journey. I was a platform speaker for Canon and I was allowed to photograph all over the world. It came with its conflicts, trying to keep the lies in my head to a minimum.

We tend to listen to the lies that would say, "you are not good enough."

What I learn by sitting in that process is that the soul usually knows what to do to heal itself. The challenge is to silence the mind. Part of the process of progress is the struggle. It's important to align yourself with those on the same mission as you. (more on that later). Once I understood that I began to work on my strengths and neutralized my weaknesses. Over the years, I evolve into different "mediums" other than photography. I went into design work for humanitarian projects, filmmaking, consulting, UX/UI design, and as of late community evangelist for The Grid.

I get bored easily... I have more than one craft, more than one way of doing things. As one of my friends pointed out you are not ADHD, you're a polymath. A polymath is a person whose expertise spans into a significant number of different disciplines. I am grateful to find the common ground between all my "Mediums."

The execution of a creative idea can be a chaotic experience. So how do you organize, prioritize, and manage your creative ideas?

A great question and one that could be a book in an of itself. A creative by choice tends to live life with a bit of a chaotic approach. One thing I have notice that comes with this way of being is you will have high highs and low lows.

Exploring for me is a big part of my everyday life. I have taken that advice from my wife who is a well-known photographer as well. You have to prioritize time for yourself as a creative. You have to dip your toe in the cold water. Meaning, take on some new ways to create.

You don't have to jump in, but you might want to experience some new things so I have learned to carve out time to allow that. I tend to have a Moleskine handy most of the time or my iPhone with various apps to help me align my day or my project.

I tend to collect article, art pieces, marketing material that appeals to me and my brand. I have created an idea box both physical and virtual where I store all those creative ideas or schemes. The hard part of managing my ideas is that sometimes they will be epic fails.

In those time, I am learning to take what I can from that and move on. I have learned to create a culture for myself that encourages experimentation and the free flow of ideas. And if I don't know how to do something I look for resources to partner with me or teach me what I need to know.

How I prioritize is instead of focusing on one "big idea," I consider many ideas and assess the opportunity for each. Then I validate those ideas and decide which path to go down. The validation process includes some variables like the market, customers, and competition.

I recognize when fear paralyzes me, it is a good sign. Fear is an indicator that I am on the right path. Fear tends to get me stuck in a proverbial rut. The dirty little secret no one talks about is that everyone is making it up as they go along.

Fear tells us what we need to do next.

What’s the biggest mistake you made in your life and what did you learn from it?

The biggest mistake is being too hard on myself when I make a mistake.

That means being able to be vulnerable with myself and those close to me. Failure is misunderstood, failure means there is room to grow. Today I allow people to come alongside me and help me "grow" in my vision.

I am not in this alone. I now look for resources, while in the past I would put it all on myself. Resources could mean taking on side projects. Side projects allow me to be stupid. Going off the path creates a new appreciation.

I have many butterflies that come in and out of my life. Some just have a way of sticking around.

How can entrepreneurs find success in a marketplace that always seems to change?

I heard this a long time ago and have adapted it to my everyday life: "Old ways won't open new doors."

Disrupt yourself or be disrupted. Prime example of this is the story of Kodak. They could and did not want to realize what was coming around the bend, even though they built one of the first digital cameras.

Today they are irrelevant in the marketplace, they were insecure in who they were. Its one of the reason we struggle with insecurity because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel. Have the confidence in yourself to figure out what to do next and if not fake it until you do.

What would you say to someone who wants to take the plunge into entrepreneurship?

Don't look around for inspiration; the rest of us just get up and go to work. Products and services are being dematerialized and demonetized like never before. The entrepreneurs who win are those who can think exponentially.

If you are going to take on something take on something that others think you are crazy for taking on. We have all seen examples of this through Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, and Larry Page to name just a few. Same with what we are doing at The Grid. We are taking on a difficult problem, the website problem. Nobody has touched this technology that has been ignored by bigger tech companies.

We are using algorithms to publish content with the ease of social media. Using artificial intelligence to teach the computer to make decisions instead of humans. A personal designer consultant for the user that is doing the heavy lifting.

That would be my first advice dream big hustle harder. Align yourself with those who want to get into the arena with you and don't listen to the critics who are outside the arena. Dream. Risk. Hustle. Repeat.

Why have you chosen to work for The Grid as Community Evangelist?

I did not see The Grid as a job but a movement. Work was never meant to be something we do just to make a living. It was meant to be a means of making a difference.

I just had to get out of my way and stop talking myself out of jumping into the deep end of the pool. Many thought my wife and I were crazy when we uprooted our family sold our home in Illinois and went on an adventure into the unknown. You typically don't make those moves in your forties.

However, I have a strength, and that is being a connector and pioneer. The partnerships that I am able to create globally allow me to help remove the barriers of entry for small business to have a meaningful place to call home on the internet. I am too familiar with the struggle that small business owners have in today’s marketplace.

The biggest pain point of my business was building a website. Then keeping it relevant and fresh was another issue. As soon as I built it, it was already stale. There is a profound shift happening on the web, a more personalized web. Most solutions being built on aging platforms, make personalization scalability, not reality. A website is the vehicle that people, like small business owners or artisans, use to communicate and execute their vision, product, or service.

There have been a few years of developing going on behind the scenes with The Grid. We are a platform first company. Instead of cashing in when Facebook came with an offer to buy us out. We wanted to stay the course and build something that was years ahead of it’s time. Game changing platform tools that we have created like The Grid Colorverse and Typographyverse will ensure that your site will always be uniquely yours.

Reader Question: Are you waiting for inspiration so you can start your journey? Don’t. You just need to start -- so what will you do today to move one step closer to a life fulfilled? Share your answers on Twitter.

Original Article: Huffington Post

Todd Barrish, President Indicate Media, Focuses on re-Framing the Complex Problem

Todd Barrish is the president of Indicate Media. The company is a personalized public relations firm, which focuses on telling powerful stories to drive their clients message. But before you can become a successful entrepreneur you first need to develop the skills necessary for success.

The Internet is in part responsible for lowering the barriers to entry and in some cases removing the gatekeepers. If you want to start a life changing business, become a New York Times best selling author, or simply create a lucrative second income as a personal coach -- the opportunity is available.

Unfortunately, while the opportunities are available the work still needs to be done. And the journey needs to be undertaken by you. Furthermore, because the level of noise today, the entrepreneur needs to work harder to out hustle the other guy.

And there is only one way of doing that.

Barrish quoted Seth Godin as saying "being the best in the world at something."

I agree with Godin. Many entrepreneurs feel they need to be experts at many things. While that is a worthwhile endeavor, it's a misplaced use of your limited energy.

Bearish continues to explain, that to be the best in the world you need, "to be focused and avoid distraction while keeping an eye on what's happening around you."

While the focus is critical, the question of what to focus on is elusive. So how do you narrow your lens? Simple -- focus on those skills that will give you the most freedom in the future. Once you have identified what those skills are, you need to create a learning map and then make learning a priority.

You don't have to become an expert, but you do have to master the skills.

It does not make a difference where you are in your entrepreneurial journey. But it's your duty to stop and review where you are -- checking in on your progress and making sure that you are solving problems. You need to make the review a weekly event, which is scheduled on your calendar.

By taking this type of action, you will slowly become what Seth Godin describes as the lynchpin -- the person that is necessary to...

These are strategies that Barrish has fostered through his entrepreneurial career.

Tell me about a project that forced you to be innovative and creative?

Innovation and creativity are the bedrock of any successful public relations campaign. Clients not only expect this kind of thinking, it's also the best way to build relationships with the media and other outside influencers.

The best example of a project that forced me to be innovative and creative wasn't a specific campaign at any agency - it was actually the creation and launch of my own agency, Indicate Media. After starting the business as young entrepreneur, the secret sauce to building brand credibility from the ground up and securing new business centered on our ability to differentiate our services from others.

Innovation and creativity are two principles that have never left us over the past four years and continues to guide everything we do today.

Discuss a specific accomplishment of yours in a previous position that indicates you will thrive in this position?

The interesting part of this question is that the term 'accomplishment' is meant to portray something positive. Yet in life, as I am sure we all know, accomplishments can also take on different meanings. In a previous life, I worked for an agency where I was tasked with helping to build out their regional operations.

Through some strategic reorganization and a focus on new business, we were able, in a very short amount of time, to bring on a significant amount of businesses. By all measures that is a great accomplishment because new business is the lifeblood of any PR firm.

However, through the process, it became clear to me that new business is only one part of many things that need to go right in building a business. Employee morale, compensation structures, adequate resources, etc. also have to be in sync.

So, the accomplishment of knowing how to secure business, coupled with the life experience of understanding the multiple moving parts that make a successful business has made me a much stronger entrepreneur and prepared me to execute better in my current business.

Solving complex problems often requires a re-framing of the problem. So what is your process of re-framing the problem so it can be resolved?

Problem solving is a key attribute for all successful entrepreneurs. In fact, one could argue 'problems' are an everyday part of business. At Indicate Media, we practice a 4 pronged approach to problem solving.

  • Step 1: Thoroughly identify the problem and the root cause of the problem.
  • Step 2: Discuss solutions. This includes potentially reframing the conversation. Usually the best solution is one that you can act on quickly. There is a rule that says that "every large problem was once a small problem that could have been solved easily at that time."
  • Step 3: Assign responsibility of the solution. In other words, who is going to manage moving things forward.
  • Step 4: Set a measurement of the solution so you know when and whether the problem was solved. Success is defined by a person or organization's ability to solves problems.

By being tactical in our approach to problem solving, we are better able to deal with whatever is thrown our way.

What would you say to someone who wants to take the plunge into entrepreneurship?

Being an entrepreneur is one of the best decisions I have made in my professional life. While it is true that entrepreneurs are able to take more pleasure in the good days and feel more pain in the bad days, at the end of every day, knowing you are working towards a goal that uniquely belongs to you and your team is extremely satisfying.

My advice to those thinking of taking the entrepreneurial plunge is 'go for it'. Jump right into the water. The very worst that happens is you might have to go get a job. But the very best that can happen is endless ... and that is the point.

How can entrepreneurs find success in a marketplace that always seems to change?

Over time all marketplace's change. It just so happens that today - thanks to technology innovation - it is changing at a faster rate than ever before in history.

The world of public relations is certainly no exception. The best way to find success in an ever-changing marketplace is to have a mission, be strategic in your work, work hard and pay attention to the things happening all around you.

Seth Godin calls it "being the best in the world at something." To do that, you need to be focused and avoid distraction while keeping an eye on what's happening around you.

Fights are healthy, how you get through them is another the question. How do you deal with conflict? Compromise?

At Indicate Media, we encourage everyone to say what's on their mind. It's the only way to identify problems and mismatches in thinking and allows us to push past them.

We work hard to set the tone for everyone that starts from a place of respect. If you start from a place of respect and mutual admiration for your co-workers, then when conflict arises, even though sometimes it can include passionate discussions, everyone in the end is able to move past it.

Business is and isn't personal. It just depends on which side of the table you are sitting at any given time. In any organization, on any given day, decisions need to be made. The best scenario is when those decisions are made on compromise and respect for the other side of the argument.

Reader Question: As an entrepreneur what strategies do you have in place that will help you learn those skills that will give you more freedom in the future? Share your answers on Twitter.

Lux Narayan, CEO of Unmetric, Fails and Lives to Tell the Tale

Lux Narayan is the CEO and co-founder of Unmetric. The company is a social media intelligence platform focusing on brands.

Unmetric was born not out of some grand vision but out of failure. Before Unmetric was born Narayan, and his team worked on a product called "Eyes and Feet." Unfortunately, the product failed to capture the attention of the target market.

A failure of this size would destroy most companies. Narayan decided that this failure would not define the company's future. After a great deal of debating the team had decided to pivot, and Unmetric was born shortly thereafter.

I make the history of the pivot sound simple, but Narayan explains it was a difficult time. Lux recalls, "I had to go to my team and say, everything we’ve done over the past 12 months was probably not right, and we need to change direction."

Yep, demoralizing. Narayan understood that the pivot would test his resolve. And that he might lose team members, but it was the best move for the company.

Fortunately, Lux was right and today Unmetric is a success story.

So Lux, what's your story?

If I could wrap my professional life into a single storyline it would be: right brain meets left brain and lives happily ever after. Let me explain. In college, I studied mechanical engineering, a discipline that obviously geared my mind to work in a highly analytical way. Later, I went back to school and received an MBA with a focus on marketing. This interesting dichotomy actually ended up creating a road-map for my career.

For nearly the first decade of my professional life, I worked in advertising, a field that typically requires and generates a lot of creative thinking. Later on, I was part of the founding team at a tech startup focused on the data backup space, which is about as hard core analytical as it gets.

This dual mindset that grew from working in both the creative advertising space and the more deterministic area of data analytics and engineering in many ways dovetailed into the company I co-founded and lead today called Unmetric. As a company, we define ourselves as the only social media intelligence platform focused on brands. It’s this convergence of data analytics plus brand marketing that defines our philosophy and vision.

What are the gaps in your knowledge and experience? And how do you compensate for those gaps?

In any business when you build category defining products from scratch, there isn’t a large knowledge base to go by except for the collective wisdom of the crowd (often times, your customers). Having constant conversations with our customers is one thing I do to build upon my own knowledge and help ensure we look at things through a practitioner’s lens. It’s common for companies to unknowingly distance themselves from how people actually use their product and having open dialogue with customers is the most fundamental way I augment my knowledge.

From an experience perspective, every startup founder has his or her own strengths and gaps. My strength lies in creatively defining and bringing to life the vision for a product. An area where I’ve benefited greatly from coaching is after establishing a product, how to scale. Scaling up a company requires a different skill set, and we have a board member with a lot of experience who has been a great mentor. In my mind, the shortest path to experience is learning from others and surrounding yourself with people who have previously lived in what you see as your future.

What prevents you from making the changes that will make you a more effective leader?

Like many startup founders, limited time is a fundamental obstacle to making changes that allow me to be the best leader possible. At any moment when I go to my inbox, there are multiple hats I need to wear when engaging with various people - from investors to customers to colleagues. This constant çontext switching can be quite demanding. That said, I like to think that I have the smarts to know that I’m not good at many things, which is why it’s important for leaders to surround themselves with an awesome team that can compensate for gaps in their own capabilities.

There’s a management theory formulated by Laurence J. Peter that says: “Managers rise to the level of their incompetence,” (i.e. every person will rise until they reach a role in which they are not competent). At Unmetric, I know I’ll hit those levels pretty soon in some departments, which again is why I need to surround myself with an awesome team. So, it’s a combination of limits on my time and my own abilities to lead in certain areas of the business that are often the biggest roadblocks.

Can you tell me about a time when you almost gave up, how you felt about that, and what you did instead of giving up?

This requires a bit of back-story. We weren’t always Unmetric. In fact, for 6 months before Unmetric, we didn’t even have a name. And before that, we were a product called “Eyes and Feet” that was focused on the SMB market (e.g. local restaurants, bars and spas). We spent over a year building out and launching what we thought was a great product but it turned out that the market wasn’t as large or receptive as we initially predicted. Coming to the realization that the company wasn’t going to work out in its current state certainly took the wind out of our sail after all of the time and resources we put into it.

However, at that time, we were lucky enough to have a couple of companies look at what we built for Eyes and Feet and asked if we could do it for bigger brands. After a lot of internal debate, instead of giving up, we decided to pivot and focus on large brands and agencies. Our new approach eventually became Unmetric. This isn’t to say the shift was easy. In fact, making the change before we saw proof points for the new direction was very tough on my own psyche. Essentially I had to go to my team and say, “Everything we’ve done over the past 12 months was probably not right and we need to change direction.” Looking back, this is now easier to talk about, but at the time, it was very tough.

What is your company’s mission statement and how is it used to keep your company focused on long-term thinking and not short-term goals?

Having done an MBA, we were coached in creating mission statements but to be honest, we haven’t developed one tangible line that hangs on the wall that everyone must take as dogma. However, if I were to try to articulate my mission, it’s to have Unmetric be the company I would have wanted to join straight out of college. Being a company that continues to be your dream job–whether someone joins straight out of college or otherwise–is what we’re aiming for.

Essentially, this is the way to attract the best people and have them do their best because everyone wants to be part of something bigger than just coming in, collecting a paycheck and going home. People want to be part of creation and have fun while doing it. After all, if we spend the majority of our waking hours working, it’s very important that we enjoy those hours and that they translate into a collective legacy. Having this mindset is the only thing that allows a company to weather the short-term ups and downs and stay focused on long term sustainability.

Not every business determines success in the same way. What trophy do you want on your mantle?

As a startup founder, team and people are so important to me. It’s important to recognize in the larger canvas of life that everything we do, including in business, that relationships and connections are critical to success. As far as what ‘award’ or ‘trophy’ we would want on our mantle, it would be a great collection of shared experiences. When I recount all of the challenges and conversations about team building, product, marketing, sales, operations, finances, and what direction to take the company (a fair number of these chats happened at different categories of watering holes, depending on our mood and finances at the time), I think our history can be recalled with a ton of shared experiences. The best trophy is a team that can look back and not only say “those were the days,” but also look the future with optimism. Of course, the more people that can be a meaningful part of that, the greater and more meaningful is that ‘certificate’ of success.

Reader Question: Failure is an intimate part of any success story. And it's not the failure that defines your success but how you react to it. How will you react to your next failure? Share your answers on Twitter.

CEO of RealMassive, Craig Hancock, Talks About Company Culture

Craig Hancock is the CEO at RealMassive. The company operates in the commercial real estate space and is a source of commercial real estate information.

During our interview, I picked up on something that Hancock mentioned – relationships.

I have found that companies who focus on product, only, are destined to fail. Why, because the market will shift, customers are fickle, and sometimes the product is ready before there is a need.

This is not to say that the product should not be a core piece of the company's culture. But it must be tempered, even crafted, by deep relationships which adds transformational value to any company.

"At Zappos, we really view culture as our No. 1 priority. We decided that if we get the culture right, most of the stuff, like building a brand around delivering the very best customer service, will just take care of itself." – Tony Hsieh, CEO Zappos

Hancock explains that culture is one of the things he is most proud of at RealMassive. Craig continues to explain that by coupling culture and the company’s mission, teams build a deep sense of ownership and accountability.

These are two important values that a company must foster. Why, because those values help build a foundation of trust and reliance.

Teams that can pull this off are massively invested in getting the job done.

So Craig what is your story?

My path to becoming an entrepreneur has been atypical. I've always been entrepreneurial minded in how I approach the jobs I've held but technically this is my first company. After graduating from the Air Force Academy I served on active duty for 5 years, first as a grad assistant/football coach at the Academy and then as a program manager for the Global Positioning System (GPS).

Serving my country was a great honor and provided incredible leadership opportunities. I took that foundation and moved on to pursue a career in business in late August 2001. My plan was to either find a job in Silicon Valley or attend business school and get onto Wall Street. Two weeks later 9–11 happened.

Silicon Valley was still reeling from the dotcom bubble and all of the business schools I wanted to attend said no. Jobs were scarce so I consulted for the defense industry for about a year to make ends meet before finding an entry-level job on Wall Street. This taught me an important lesson... the common/popular path (in this case the idea that I needed an MBA to work on Wall Street) to an outcome isn't the only path.

In my 11 years on the Street I studied the business models and management teams of public companies across a myriad of industries, saw companies experience wild success and rapid failure and helped my investors profit along the way.

In 2013 I had the opportunity to help my friend and Academy classmate Josh McClure start RealMassive. He had a big idea and I saw clearly where I could help him turn it into a reality. As co-founders we balance each other out amazingly well.

Early on I knew this company would be a success. It's not very often you get a chance to help transform a $15 trillion industry.

How can entrepreneurs find success in a marketplace that always seems to change?

Entrepreneurs must find ways to adapt to the market they serve while staying true to their vision.

Most marketplaces are constantly evolving and I often see companies pivot too much and/or too quickly in response. Understanding the difference between your ever changing marketplace and a strategic inflection point is critical.

It's what Andy Grove referred to as recognizing the difference between the "signal" and the "noise" in Only The Paranoid Survive.

If a dynamic marketplace causes you to constantly change your priorities then your vision is either too narrow or unclear. At RealMassive we use a customer-driven, data-informed process to stay on top of the commercial real estate market. That means we listen to customers but we also pay close attention to data.

If the signals point to a strategic inflection point, we must act boldly.

Describe a time when you missed a deadline/revenues/failed to meet expectations and why? How did you feel? What lesson did you learn from it?

During my time on Wall Street the market for sell-side research and trading changed dramatically. Decimalization was already starting to compress commissions when I entered the business in 2002.

High Frequency Trading (HFT) took hold of the equity markets shortly thereafter and ultimately produced the flash crash of 2010. Throw in the housing/banking crisis of 2008–2009 and the bursting of multiple insider-trading rings in 2009–2011 and it was a rough backdrop for research sales and trading.

The scrutiny on research budgets and execution costs was intense and much of the industry, myself included, failed to recognize and adapt to these strategic inflection points. I started missing sales targets in 2009 and continued to miss them for 3 more years.

I built a solid reputation in my first 6 years on the Street, never seeing less than 30% y/y growth. Now my business was dropping every year and there was no end in sight. It was incredibly painful. I was somewhat fortunate in that most of my competitors were dropping 30–40% each year and I was able to keep my declines at 10–20% because of the strength of my customer relationships.

That was a huge lesson... strong customer relationships are critical to success. Only through those relationships was I able to outpace the industry, often besting much larger and better-resourced competitors.

What is your 5 year goal for the business?

To become the leading commercial real estate marketplace.

What is your company’s mission statement and how is it used to keep your company focused on long-term thinking and not short-term goals?

RealMassive connects commercial real estate decision makers to the data, people, and insight necessary to make data-driven decisions. The essence of our mission puts us in a position to serve commercial real estate professionals with the best technology and data available.

This servant-leadership position we have with the industry informs our product process and guides our sales and customer experience teams. It has become part of our culture to operate with this mentality, which helps ensure our short-term goals are always consistent with our longer-term mission.

How do you choose your team?

We hire for cultural fit first and foremost.

The culture our team has fostered is one of the things I'm most proud of. We lead with culture in our recruiting efforts, and it ends up being the most common reason someone joins our team and why they stay motivated, more so than compensation or functional role.

Culture can mean a lot of different things but for us it starts with having a clear mission and connecting the work with the mission. Everyone on the team knows how the work they perform supports the overall mission.

Another key component is empowerment. Everyone on the team has the authority and resources to get the job done as best they see fit, including plenty of freedom to fail. In downhill skiing if you never wipe out you're not skiing hard enough. That means you're not getting better. The same goes true in business, and we want our employees pushing the limits on what's possible or accepted so they and the team as a whole succeeds.

After the culture check we spend time getting to know the person to make sure there's a fit between the employee's skill set and the role(s) we need them to fill. If there's a mismatch between skills and role both culture and job satisfaction can degrade quickly.

Lastly we ensure compensation and benefits are at least inline with industry norms. Most of our team came through referrals from people who know us well, such as existing employees, investors, partners, and contractors.

We also have a vibrant internship program that has produced 7 of our 28 full-time employees who now fill roles in sales, marketing, support, and product. I love the foundation we've built and see it serving us well as we approach the next stage of growth.

Reader Question: Building your team around a cultural model is a critical building block of any successful company. How do you hire for your company?

CEO of Lotame, Andrew Monfried, Examines His Career

Andrew Monfried is the founder and CEO of Lotame, a data management platform for marketers, agencies and publishers. And I heard something interesting during the interviewing, which got me thinking differently about purpose.

As I meet with entrepreneurs and research topics about living life on purpose, I am starting to see a trend emerge – "making great money but feeling totally unfulfilled." Mark Twain said that the lack of money is the root of all evil.

Yes, of course, the lack of financial stability breeds more instability. But at what point do you stop trading fulfillment for financial stability?

Finding real freedom has less to do with money and more to do with living your life on purpose. Why? Because as human beings we need to feel that what we have done matters – that we have contributed to a greater good and enriched the lives of others.

How is this done? You have to take massive action because by not doing so you risk becoming stuck in an unfulfilling situation; that may lead to regret. Monfried realized this circumstance and left his good paying job at the legal photocopying business.

Taking action is a personal choice but one that will define the rest of your life. So answer these two important questions:

  • What do I really want out of my life?
  • What can I give back to the community for getting the life that I really want?

I am certain that before Monfried took action and joined and eventually founded Lotame, he asked himself those two questions. I am certain, if you asked Monfried, today "Are you fulfilled?" He would say, "Beyond my dreams!"

So Andrew what is your story?

When I look back at my career, things really started getting interesting when I got into advertising. Before that I was an executive in a legal photocopying business, making great money but feeling totally unfulfilled.

Then I met the two founders of, a company that was a pioneer in the world of digital advertising. Switching industries and working alongside two true entrepreneurs helped unlock my passions as a business leader: understanding people, tackling complex problems and working in environments that constantly change.

I went on to build the company's New York presence from scratch and within four years turned it into a $100 million a year business. I loved being at the forefront of emerging technology and innovation and that has continued to inspire me as an entrepreneur.

I founded my current company Lotame in 2007 and have since dedicated myself to becoming a better leader, mentor and innovator.

Tell me about an accomplishment that shaped your career?

When I was in college, my best friend and I started a window cleaning service that we would run each summer when we came home. It became a booming success.

This was my first taste of building a business from the ground up, from literally nothing, using only grassroots marketing - from flyers to referrals from satisfied customers. While I have replicated this success several more times since, and on much bigger stages, this initial success is still one I feel incredibly proud of and one that has helped shape the trajectory of my career.

What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?

Every day in this business brings new, complex problems, challenges and opportunities, and I thrive on tackling those head on. Improvisation and intuition come in strongly here as well; this business keeps you on your toes, but I live and breathe chaos and I'm always up for a new challenge.

What do you value most about your company’s culture and vision?

I remember as an employee sometimes having the "Sunday Night Blues" - that feeling of dread you get on a Sunday evening when you realize you have to go back to work in the morning. I never want Lotame employees to have that feeling, so I foster a culture of open communication and transparency.

There are very few closed door, C-level only meetings where challenges are discussed and decisions are made; instead everyone is aware and involved. Lotame is a flat organization - I didn’t even do an org chart for the business for five years until an investor asked for one.

The execution of a creative idea can be a chaotic experience. So how do you organize, prioritize, and manage your team’s creative ideas?

I don't.

I trust them and give them the intellectual freedom to come up with their own ideas and pitch them without fear of being ignored or devalued. My first success was about organic growth and grassroots ideas, and we run Lotame in the same way.

I don't want to be a dictator and I'm the first to recognize my own weaknesses. I'm not always right and I have a team that I trust to solve challenges and contribute ideas.

How do you design a company that will be around for 100 years?

You don’t.

Anyone who says they can do that is either lying or kidding themselves, especially in technology. Technology evolves so quickly, even Google and Apple probably won't be around in 100 years.

The game changers and new technologies come out of suburban garages or shared office spaces. That's the beauty of this industry--the way you stick around is by being flexible and adaptive to those changes.

Reader Question: I totally understand the "Sunday Night Blues." You experience it every 7 days. You hate how it makes you feel. So what can you do, now, to ensure that your Sundays are no longer blue?

Photo Credit: Unsplash/Ales Krivec

Mahi de Silva, CEO of Opera Mediaworks, Discusses Transformational Growth

I am re-reading Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson. The first time I read the book I wanted to learn about the man behind the black turtle neck. But for the 2nd reading I am focused on learning what made Apple such a successful company.

Yes, I know, there is no one formula for success but there are rituals, habits, things that if done over and over again can lead to the building of a successful company. For Apple, it was about product, relationships, vision, loyalty, and expertise.

But while I was interviewing Silva, he mentioned one other quality which is critical to a company’s success – transformational growth. You can argue that growth is a prerequisite for any company – a check box on the form if you will.

But if you are looking to place your company on a steep upward trajectory then growth cannot be a prerequisite; it must be transformational. So let’s read what else Mahi de Silva has to say about building a rockstar company.

It's easy to be a cheerleader when everything is up, but it takes real leadership and discipline to manage business risks. As a leader, you have to set that expectation and build credibility both inside and outside your company that the risks are manageable.

So Mahi what is your story?

I was born in Sri Lanka and grew up in Wichita, KS.

I moved to Silicon Valley in 1988 to work at Apple. In 1996, as part of the startup team at VeriSign, I helped establish some of the basic building blocks of Internet trust and security, which helped start the flywheel of e-commerce. Also at VeriSign, I led a team that built and ran the mobile business as a trusted intermediary for messaging, roaming, content and commerce for mobile carriers.

In 2008, I co-founded AdMarvel with an aim towards improving the efficiency of the mobile advertising marketplace. We sold the company to Opera in 2010. I've remained at Opera, running and expanding Opera Mediaworks (10 acquisitions to date), which has become the largest independent mobile ad platform in the world.

What I've learned in my professional journey: The greatest advances in humankind have come from exponential leverage of resources. The world needs more levers – such as tools, trusted intermediaries, reliable infrastructure and machine learning. A real business can be created by packaging some of these building blocks into a service-based solution that is singularly focused on solving a real-world problem.

Really big economic opportunities, 100-billion-dollar markets are all about commerce. Removing friction, increasing transparency and trust for both buyers and sellers creates highly efficient markets and drives exponential scale in commerce.

Tell us about a time when things didn’t go the way you wanted – like a promotion you wanted and didn’t get, or a project that didn’t turn out how you had hoped?

For many companies, transformational growth comes from acquisitions. In the mid–2000's, I led the effort on a $600 million acquisition in the mobile content space. The transaction was immediately accretive and helped deliver strong growth when our organic growth was slowing.

Post-acquisition, the business was doing much better than anyone expected, growing from $40 million to more than $400 million in revenues in less than two years. The ROI on the transaction was phenomenal and in addition to revenue and profits, it helped add $4 billion to our market cap.

But within 18 months, the mobile content market changed dramatically, for a number of reasons including consumer appetite, carrier billing standards and fraud, and the business started to slide backwards. Everyone, including my team, our shareholders, industry analysts, were shocked at how quickly the market changed.

For me, it was a painful but important lesson on anticipating the unexpected and setting expectations. I failed in anticipating change and contingency planning -- but more importantly I failed in setting expectations.

It's easy to be a cheerleader when everything is up, but it takes real leadership and discipline to manage business risks. Everything that goes up will eventually come down. As a leader, you have to set that expectation and build credibility both inside and outside your company that the risks are manageable.

When you are a startup it's relatively easy to focus on one thing, but in a medium-sized company, growth comes from diversification and parallel innovation. You have to invest in new things that have breakthrough potential and dedicate some of your best and brightest to that journey of discovery and celebrate both success and failure -- celebrating failure is hard!

How do you see the company changing in two years, and how do you see yourself creating that change?

Our long-term vision is to be the go-to platform for mobile advertising. We will achieve that by providing the best products and services in our industry, which our customers will effectively leverage to drive more commerce. We are well on that path but we still have giants like Google and Facebook that are approaching duopoly status – which in itself is an opportunity.

If you look at the evolution of digital advertising, the majority of the revenue is concentrated amongst few giants (e.g. Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Baidu). Even if they start out with the aim of being an "enabling platform", they've all gravitated towards servicing and monetizing their own traffic and all that's left for their partners are crumbs.

We aim to be different; we don't compete for eyeballs with our customers. We want to bring a whole new level of transparency and trust to the digital ad ecosystem.

What values do you want to instill in your team?

The two most important values for us are ownership and accountability. These traits are important at all levels of the organization and it helps build a foundation of trust and reliance. Teams that can pull this off produce results that are far greater than the sum of their parts.

Fights are healthy, how you get through them is another the question. How do you deal with conflict? Compromise?

Passion and diversity of opinion are key ingredients for innovation. If you have a passionate and data-driven POV, people listen and are open to changing their opinions. Sometimes you have such a divide in approaches there's no viable compromise.

Organizations are a journey, we have to navigate what bridge to cross, what bridge to avoid and what bridge to burn.

When your team is developing a new product what does the creative process look like?

In our business, new products, features and services are born in every level of the organization.

It often starts with a simple spark of an idea. It could be a salesperson, a customer service employee, an engineer or a finance person. From the very start and through a bunch of acquisitions, we found a common thread across our organization – a desire to delight our customers through innovation.

That sounds awfully cliché, but we are constantly engaged in conversations around making things better. Not just better than our competitors but better than what we did yesterday -- not resting on our laurels. We live and die by helping our customers do more. Sometimes it's a small change that could be implemented in hours, other times it takes months, even years to fully realize.

The longer-term projects tend to require more planning and prioritization and paying attention to ROI, but if you celebrate innovation, you empower creativity.

Reader Question: Being a leader is not limited to senior management – everyone should take a leadership roll when dealing with risk. What is your strategy in managing risk?

Photo Credit: Unsplash By Luis Llerena

Josh Speyer, CEO of Aerserv, Looks for Happy, Humble and Hardworking People

Josh Speyer is the CEO of Aerserv. And I love a CEO that is focused on the culture of the company he captains. Yes, revenue is an important indicator of the health of a company. But more importantly, the cultural health of an organization is a key indicator of its continued progress.

And Speyer makes it a priority in making sure that the culture at Aerserv is one that promotes happy, humble and hardworking team members.

Let’s kick off this interview with Josh’s story.

So, Josh, what is your story?

I am an entrepreneur of twenty years; my life has always been about seeking out new challenges. I love the thrill of embarking on a new venture. I’m also a former athlete and that competitive drive is core to my personal and professional identities; I’m always looking for new challenges.

I started with domains in 1995 and jumped online fulltime 1998, when it became clear that it was going to be something big, and it has been a fun, constantly challenging journey.

What kind of person do you like to work with?

I am always looking for happy, humble and hardworking people. People who want to be part of a team and contribute, who want to share in the wins and fight through the setbacks. At AerServ, we look for folks that have a team-first, not “me-first” attitude. Good teammates want to help the team in any way they can.

We are always looking to draw from each person his or her unique perspective, intrinsic talent or hard-won skill. I love to see people live up to my expectations of them and exceed their expectations for themselves.

And that only happens when each person knows that he or she can find individual success, however they define it, within that team concept. I love to see everyone contributing in their own way - and it is those that are happy, humble and consistently hard-working that get there. And I might be happier for them than they are for themselves when they do.

Tell me about a project or accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career?

Bob Dylan sang, “There’s no success like failure, and failure is no success at all.” I don’t have a particular accomplishment or even failure that is more significant than the fun I have had working through challenges to succeed (or sometimes fail) with teams of people I liked and respected.

Whether that was athletics as a young man or operating a business today - just getting the opportunity to play is a win.

Solving complex problems often requires a re-framing the problem. So what is your process of re-framing the problem so it can be resolved?

This is a recurring theme in technology; as problems or issues arise, we must troubleshoot the source and often, create new solutions or technologies to solve them. I start my process by identifying everyone involved and trying to understand the problem through each party’s point of view.

It’s easy to become myopic in any industry, but ad-tech in particular requires you to look outside your own universe to understand literally dozens of businesses that must work in unison, and to approach problems in the broader context of that collaboration.

Not every business determines success in the same way. What trophy do you want on your mantle?

I am not sure by the time I retire that we will have mantles anymore!

But if any trophies were up there I hope they would be pictures of my family, friends and teammates doing fun things, going fun places and enjoying the journey.

I am proud and grateful that I get to work with great people everyday.

How do you make sure that AerServ will be relevant five years from now? Ten?

I think part of finding success is listening and part of it is leading.

We first need to listen to our customers, our partners and our team here.

And then we need to lead - leveraging what we have heard, our experience, our creativity, our entrepreneurial agility - we must anticipate the market and anticipate what will please our customers and all constituents - so that by the time the marketplace realizes it wants or likes or needs something - we are already there to provide it.

This business seems complex but like all businesses, it is actually quite simple. Give the people what they expect from you, do it well and you will win and keep their business.

Reader Question: As a solopreneur or entrepreneur, how do you make sure that the company you are building will be relevant five years from now?

Image Credit: Unsplash By Abigail Keenan

Factual Founder, Gil Elbaz, Talks About Failure And Neutral Data

Yesterday, I saw a Best Buy back to school commercial. A student is shopping for a laptop for college and his startup. As the commercial evolves the students are hard at work developing their product that gets the thumbs up from “investors” and just like that the startup is an ”overnight success.”

Oh, if only it were that easy. Unfortunately, 90% of startups are destined to fail. It’s a grim statistic but true. There is a host of reasons why these companies fail; poor management, lack of vision, and segmenting responsibilities too early.

“A good product idea and a strong technical team are not a guarantee of a sustainable business. One should not ignore the business process and issues of a company because it is not their job. It can eventually deprive them from any future in that company.” -- Dijiwan’s leadership

No one wants to fail, but it’s an intimate part of a business. Taking intelligent risks and making mistakes is how you grow, as an entrepreneur. So failure is not the enemy it’s an escort that guides you through your journey.

If you learn from your mistakes, they can lead to a treasure of significant discoveries.

As an entrepreneur, investor and philanthropist Gil Elbaz has followed this philosophy, and it has led Elbaz to understand:

  • the worth of working with the right people
  • that working in the right environment would define his standard
  • that learning as much as possible as fast as possible was important to his success

Elbaz understands that failure is an asset that teaches you how to evolve as an entrepreneur. But we must be ready to listen and responsible enough to take action. So let’s take a look at Gil Elbaz’s story on becoming an ”overnight success.”

So, Gil, what is your story?

As a child I was always fascinated by data - weather data, baseball stats, really anything. My parents got me an early Apple computer and I would spend hours upon hours working with spreadsheets, collecting, organizing, and analyzing data on all subjects.

I went to college at Caltech where I studied economics and engineering. There was a tremendous amount of math in general at Caltech and then of course in my majors. One course in particular that really influenced me was probability. It’s the basis for the natural language processing and predictive algorithms that we used at Applied Semantics and that we use at Factual.

After school I worked at a couple of jobs, but in 1998 I co-founded Applied Semantics with an old friend of mine from college. We built natural language understanding technology based on our proprietary database of word meanings and relationships and used that to understand the context of web sites. We developed a contextual ads product called AdSense, and in 2003 Applied Semantics was acquired by Google.

I was at Google through 2007 and then I left, and formed Factual in 2008. To date my life had largely been about building products with data, but I wanted to focus on the data itself, specifically, building a neutral data company that enabled anyone to access trustable data so that they can go on to build great products.

We’ve been focused on location data, collecting data on every place in 50 countries around the world, and building technology to make it available in ways that make it easier for others to consume. There is a tremendous amount of understanding, or context, that can be derived from a proper understanding of location, and this has incredible potential for mobile content and mobile experiences.

The long term plan is to cover many different types of data, but to me, anything that happens in the physical world is location data, so there is a lot to do under this very broad umbrella.

What’s the biggest mistake you made in your life and what did you learn from it?

I glossed over those years in the previous question, and I’ve certainly been extremely fortunate in my career since, but I made a big mistake early on in my career. I chose a job based on title and salary, which in hindsight is really not the right way to start a career.

I should have optimized on working with the right people, and working in an environment where I would be empowered to push myself, so I could learn as much as fast as possible. It ended up taking me two years to realize I made this mistake.

Who is your role model, and why?

There are many successful, ambitious entrepreneurs who I look up to and highly respect. Some of these individuals enjoyed tremendous, seemingly overnight success. It’s generally a combination of talent, hard work, building great teams, and a bit of luck - being at the right place at the right time.

But, what about those individuals who eventually built something great despite a serious challenge that needed to be overcome. Perhaps they were in the right place at the wrong time (too early), or perhaps they had a bit of bad luck and an entrenched competitor decided to make their product free.

Those are my real role models, the gritty competitors who like Elon Musk “stared into the face of death” and lived not only to tell their tales but to build a great company (or two, or three.)

I think of Ben Horowitz who, along with Marc Andreessen, built LoudCloud in 1999 and raised $120m in a 2000 IPO, but by 2002 they had to reimagine their business as Opsware and start a new business from scratch with no revenues. Through sheer willpower Opsware grew, succeeded, and had a great exit in 2007.

I think about Adam Miller, CEO of Cornerstone on Demand. Today they are a very important, significant SaaS business helping other companies optimize their human resources. But, from 1999 when the company was co-founded, it wasn’t an overnight success, and Adam’s focus, long-term dedication, and passion for serving their customers paid off.

What were the biggest challenges you faced at Factual in the first 3 months?

“Big data”, “data is the new oil”, “data scientist” - these terms, ideas, and concepts didn’t really exist back in 2008. Back then, investors were really looking at two main categories, you were either making software / web apps for consumer or you were doing so for the enterprise. The concept of a neutral data company that didn’t do either and was trying to solve a relatively vague problem of “access to data” was going against the flow.

Fortunately I was able to raise a healthy seed round from a variety of forward thinking investors and now we’re in a world where data is a part of every conversation.

What is Factual's mission statement and how is it used to keep the company focused on long-term thinking and not short-term goals?

I briefly mentioned this above - we view ourselves as stewards of the world’s data, sitting in between millions of disparate sources of data and those who need data to solve problems. We ingest data from millions of different sources and then we clean, structure, and package it up to make it easily accessible for a variety of use cases.

This leads to two fundamental tenets at Factual - an emphasis on data and the concept of neutrality. We always want more data, and we structure our deals to incent partners to share data with us, even if it may cost us some short-term revenue. This core tenet of valuing data can be seen in the way our sales and business development teams interact with clients, always looking for opportunities to strike new data sharing partnerships.

The second one is the concept of neutrality. We call ourselves a neutral data company because our product is data - we don’t have “end user products” such as consumer apps or an ad network. If we did, we’d be competing with our customers and that’s rarely a recipe for success. Plus, it would prevent us from forming data sharing partnerships that have been so foundational to our success. No one wants to share data with their competitor.

So we make our business and product decisions with these two tenets in mind, and that keeps us on the path to be successful in our long term mission.

How do you design Factual to be around for 100 years?

I think it largely boils down to two things - work towards something big that inspires people, and then create an environment that attracts and retains great people to work towards that vision. We’ve already talked about the vision so I’ll focus on the second part here.

I try to create an atmosphere of respect where people believe that they can have hand in influencing the company’s strategy and really have impact on the company. Ultimately a company is a collection of people, so if I can create a place where people believe in what we’re trying to do, and they believe they can have material impact, then the company will thrive.

Question: You are still worried about making mistakes. It’s natural. But understand that by not taking intelligent risks you will not grow. So what will you do today to grow?

Andrew Argue, of Ten Key Heroes, Talks About The Agony Of Failure

Entrepreneurs fail repeatedly. In all honesty, they fail more than they succeed. So are you entering entrepreneurship so you can start a business and have a multi-million dollar exit?

If you are, then you will be epically disappointed. Nine out of every 10 startups will fail. That is the bleak truth behind the, not so glamorous, life of an entrepreneur.

The failure post-mortem pens the many reasons why the entrepreneur failed:

  • No market need for your product
  • You ran out of cash
  • You don't have the right team
  • You made a bad product

There is no strategy that will guarantee you success. And luck is not a plan of action.

Yes, having a product that the market needs is one ingredient to success but the entrepreneur needs something deeper to continue the fight for success.

These three attributes need to be part of your DNA:

Andrew Argue, the founder of Ten Key Heroes and the host of The Bean Counter, has failed many times before achieving success.

Argue's journey was not rosy -- he was busted for selling drugs, was nearly broke, and in debt. But Andrew refused to give up on his dream.

After hustling for two years and with the help of a business coach Argue's hustle has paid off.

So Andrew, what’s your story?

I'm originally from Oklahoma sadly but lived all over the US (NYC, New Jersey, San Diego, Tampa, and Costa Rica for two years in high school).

When I was about 14, I was sent to a troubled teen program for selling drugs (my first entrepreneurial stint) to kids in my neighborhood.

All small time stuff by my parents freaked!

I spent the next two years in Wilderness Program (Utah) and Boarding School (Costa Rica).

After that, I went to University at The University of Tampa where I got a Masters of Accounting and my CPA License before starting at PwC.

I loved PwC and did extremely well.

In my first year, I got a 1 rating on a 1-5 scale and a 10% raise that was big compared to the 3% I thought most people got.

My second year was even better, a 19% raise and another 1 rating and worked with a Fortune 100 client.

But in that second year I changed offices as my girlfriend (now wife took a job in Miami).

I didn't like the new office as much as the old and decided to quit.

In the 22 or so months since I quit PwC, I've done a lot.

I've started 4-5 companies, and all have stopped or failed except for The Bean Counter.

I have failed a lot.

And no I don't have this glamorous entrepreneurship story of selling my company for millions of dollars.

The truth is; I've mostly failed.

But, I have made more money each year than I would have at my job.

My wife and I have been able to pay off $55,000 of student loans in a 14-month period and saved on top of that.

I haven't let me pride kill me. I've started 4-5 companies but I've also worked contract accounting jobs, taken writing gigs, and other small freelance gigs to earn extra cash and keep things going.

I've learned a TON! It's like an actual MBA, not that crap most schools are selling.

I now know the basics of:

  • Sales
  • Internet marketing
  • Start-up funding
  • How to buy a company
  • How to sell a company
  • Fundraising
  • How to find/handle investors
  • How to write
  • and much more

While I haven't made crazy money, I've done okay and learned a lot.

I'm excited about my future. It's been a crazy adventure the last two years and I am only 25 years old!

Who is your role model, and why?

I'd have to say, George Carlin, the comedian.

He did an interview once where he said he didn't succeed early in his career because he wanted to be a mainstream comedian. Very middle America, a people pleaser, he had in mind a traditional job, a mainstream dream.

But in reality he is more of a rebel.

And once he accepted that he became wildly successful.

I think I have a similar problem that I hope to overcome.

Being too mainstream in terms of the business ideas I think I should start, vs. where my radical rebel brain takes me.

Tell me about a project or accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career?

When I first started The Bean Counter, a site with career advice and information for young accountants and professionals, I knew I needed some reputable people to make the brand seem legit.

I mean, who was I? A 23-year-old nobody.

At the time, I emailed the #3 partner for PwC US, the largest accounting firm in the world at the time and asked to interview him for my podcast.

He responded and preferred a video interview, and he flew me to New York.

We did a full video interview on a set with a crew, and this launched The Bean Counter from nothing into something very special in the next few weeks!

I guess the reason this was so memorable wasn't because I got any monetary gain from it. But rather because I learned a simple lesson:

Anyone. And I mean anyone is reachable with a great fucking email.

What has been the biggest let down in your career so far?

There have been some tough times these last two years as an entrepreneur.

When I quit my job, I saved up about $20,000.

But I hadn't learned how to properly budget (weird for an accountant), and I got married a few months later.

One month after my wife and I got married. And five months after I quit my job I have no income at all, $55,000 in student loans, and only $1,500 cash to my wife and I's name.

I was scared.

In the depths of that fear though, I find that crazy motivation to dig us out. A little over a year and a half later we are debt free and have lots of savings!

While not directly related to one of the businesses I started, this was a huge part of my experience.

Being broke isn't a great way to start.

But sometimes that almost life or death fear can help you get crazy and get shit done.

How can entrepreneurs find success in a marketplace that always seems to change?

If things always stayed the same, then there wouldn't be any opportunity.

The only way we can find opportunity is with the market constantly changing/shifting.

"Chaos is a ladder" - Petyr Baelish, Game of Thrones

That's true for business.

The execution of a creative idea can be a chaotic experience. So how do you organize, prioritize, and manage your creative ideas?

I was "institutionalized" at the age of 15. I went to boarding school, then college, and then a big public accounting firm.


Institutions tell you what to do. They set everything up for you with rules, expectations, deadlines, etc.

The real world isn't like that.

You need self-discipline. I didn't have it, and I found that out after five months of being an entrepreneur. I had no income and no money.

So what did I do?

I hired a coach. A business coach.

She helped my transition from my institutionalized mind into an entrepreneurial, self-organized self. I can't give one answer for every person, you have to know yourself and find your way.

But, if you know you aren't organized, can't prioritize, and manage your ideas. Get a good coach.

The first five months after I quit I made less than $1,000. The 12 months after I got a coach I made over $100K.

It was WELL worth the $4,000 it costed me for the few months we worked together!

Question: Failure is a right of passage for every entrepreneur. It's not what happens to you that shapes the outcome; it's how you react. How do you react to failure? Share your answers on Twitter.

Charles Lee, co-Founder of Genee, Talks About His Biggest Letdown

The journey to becoming a successful entrepreneur is never clear.

In all honesty, the journey is more of an expedition, where failure, not success is the only guarantee. You must approach entrepreneurship with a few basic assumptions:

  • The marketplace is constantly changing, so it’s imperative that you are constantly scanning for those changes;
  • Technology is a tool that must be used to provide a unique solution to a problem, but at the right time; and
  • Building a team that is both passionate and smart is critical but if there is no cultural fit, then the team’s cohesion suffers.

So how can you work through these challenges and take advantage of the opportunities? You must focus on your mission and not the product.

The mission is the reason you are in business. The mission is the long-term plan that survives a fickle market, technology disasters and the replacement of a team member.

Charles Lee understands the importance of a long-term mission statement, especially if the company is to survive for 100 years.

What has been the biggest letdown in your career so far?

In 1999, I was the fifth employee at a startup, Backflip. The founders had a vision of creating a personalized Yahoo search through online bookmarking of web pages. I believed in the founders and they were charismatic in their long-term vision. From an engineering perspective, we were working at the forefront of some truly interesting technologies, such as search indexing, natural language processing, automatic categorization, content sharing, and authorization models.

The company grew quickly, and the level of talent was top notch. However, a year later in the face of missed expectations, the founders pivoted quickly to something completely unrelated to the original goal.

I left the company with misgivings about the founders having given up too early on a vision that they spoke so passionately about and that I believed in. However, the letdown truly materialized later as other companies in search, social networking, content aggregation, crowdsourcing, adwords, data analysis, and machine learning emerged.

In hindsight, I believe that timing was not right from both a technology and user perspective. I learned a lesson about having a long-term mission statement to believe in, and providing a solution and technology to a current problem that users can find immediate value from.

Entrepreneurial Tip: Think long-term and have a mission statement that can get you through the messy middle. But more importantly, you must understand when it's the right time to marry the current problem and technology so you can offer immediate value to customer.

Can you tell me about a time when you almost gave up, how you felt about that and what you did instead of giving up?

As an entrepreneur, you’re constantly faced with putting in a lot of hard work and not seeing a reward immediately. This is especially stressful when you have risked your livelihood and the financial picture of the company is bleak.

I co-founded a company named Hyperic with four other founders in 2004. It had been a year since we started the company and sales had been uneven and unsteady. My wife became pregnant with twins and another co-founder’s wife was also pregnant. When things looked particularly dire, the other co-founders and I sat down to discuss the future openly.

As I looked around the room, I saw that I was not just among a group of co-workers. They were also my friends, whose talents I respected and company I enjoyed. It was clear to me that beyond the financial gains, we were already successful in building a company that I looked forward to working for everyday. I believed that this group of smart, talented individuals could achieve something great together.

So we pressed on and looked at other ways to evolve the business so that sales numbers were not the only measure of success. That led to a commercial open source model for Hyperic, and we built a community of contributors and IT professionals that really broadened our reach.

Entrepreneurial Tip: The journey of an entrepreneur is hard; sometimes lonely. But when you surround yourself with people who are smart, talented and driven -- you have a formula for achievement.

Tell me about a recent project or problem that you made better, faster, smarter, more efficient, or less expensive?

We started Genee specifically to tackle the problem of time, effort, and stress being wasted on coordinating and optimizing our schedules. This is a common problem, and the only solution thus far has been to hire an executive assistant that can understand your requests, knows your preferences, communicates with others on your behalf, and makes intelligent scheduling decisions.

Clearly, that is not an option for most people, and yet, we all juggle our schedules just as much as any executive.

We feel that with the advancements in natural language processing, artificial intelligence, cloud services, and mobile devices, the time is ripe to bring a technology-based solution for this age-old problem. Genee provides the same level of functionality and care as a human assistant but surpasses them in certain respects like cost, response time, and data and systems integration.

Entrepreneurial Tip: If you want to put a ding in the universe, find a pain point then engineer a unique solution that will provide immediate relief.

How do you see the company changing in two years, and how do you see yourself creating that change?

One constant you can count on for a startup company is that it is continuously evolving and changing. Complacency is the leading indicator of imminent failure for a startup. As a startup co-founder, I am mindful of both internal and external forces of change.

As a company, we are guided by our mission, but we need to be aware of market trends and environments to continuously update our solutions that deliver on the promise to help coordinate and optimize people’s times and schedules.

As an example, the most popular interface for our hardcore Genee users is to interact through email. However, in a couple of years, as messaging becomes the platform (like Facebook Messenger), users will want to coordinate and schedule directly during their chat sessions without leaving the platform. We have to ensure that we build our technology so that we can go where the users and markets are to continue growth and stay relevant.

The internal change will likely be the organization’s size. Company leadership, roles, organization structure, and processes are different when you have five employees, 50 employees, or 500 employees. While we don’t yet have a forecast of where we will be in two years, I have to be the driver of those changes as the company scales. I have to understand how the magnitude of growth translates into success and exercise good judgment along the way.

Entrepreneurial Tip: You must be a student of market trends and the environment -- this strategy will allow you to guide your company through its evolution.

How do you design a company that will be around for 100 years?

It’s an extremely high bar for a technology company to be designed to last 100 years, considering how quickly the world has changed before and after the popularity of the Internet.

Good examples of technology companies that have been able to endure and stay relevant are IBM and Apple. I believe, aside from having created a company culture that fosters continuous innovation and reinvention, that those companies adhere to their mission and core strengths.

It’s not necessarily about Mission Statements, as they often evolve and take on different words or meaning as products and markets evolve. It’s their internal compasses that are timeless and drive decisions and execution.

IBM, for example, is about building great client relationships and ensuring client successes. That has taken them through a wide gamut of product categories from hardware to software. IBM is truly a 100-year-old company that is a mainstay in technology.

Apple was founded with a mission “To make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind.” That mission has taken them from a computer kit for PC enthusiasts to the largest company in the world delivering products ranging from computers, phones, and music.

We like to think that we are following in the footsteps of giants and focused on building a company that delivers virtual assistant technology that is personal and delightful. Hopefully, that mission will be as true today as it is 100 years from now, and as a company we will have delivered on a wide range of amazing products in those 100 years.

Entrepreneurial Tip: If your company is to last the test of time then you need to focus on your mission statement and a culture of innovation.

How can entrepreneurs find success in a marketplace that always seems to change?

It’s precisely the constant changes in the marketplace that creates ample opportunities for entrepreneurs. Otherwise, existing players would prevent anyone from entering their market given their financial clout and footprint.

As entrepreneurs, I think success depends on our ability to detect market changes early and use them to our advantage, because these market shifts have the potential to change the game and put new entrants in a better competitive position against established companies.

For Genee, we saw a number of changes that made it possible to offer a free scheduling assistant for everyone:

  • Smartphones got everyone to manage their calendars electronically and made their calendars accessible from the Internet
  • Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) is mature enough to allow machines to understand the nuances of sentences (not just words) in natural language
  • Large amounts of data can be analyzed and processed results can be delivered in real time

By leveraging these advancements in technology, we can deliver solutions for existing problems in new and innovative ways.

Entrepreneurial Tip: Be a student of the market but keep in mind that markets will change. It's your responsibility to deliver solutions in new and innovative ways.

Question: Clarity of purpose is important to an entrepreneurs success. What does your company’s mission statement read-like? Share your answer on Twitter.

Diego Saez-Gil, CEO at Bluesmart, Talks About Building A 100 Year Business

Fear is good. It's a friend. It's a primal emotion that is engineered to keep you safe. Unfortunately, fear has a dark side which also prevents you from pursuing your dream of...

  • writing that book
  • starting that business
  • traveling to that foreign country

Why, because fear is an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that something is dangerous. So you live your life avoiding everything that appears to be dangerous. As a result, you have given into living an average life that is plagued with resentment.

But you don't want to live an average life. You have a dream of living an extraordinary life. So how do you overcome those fears so you can start living a remarkable life? You don't.

You don't overcome your fears. Instead, you have to be more fearful of not living a remarkable life. You have to be horrified of what your life will be like if you never attempted to write that book or start that business or, travel to that foreign country.

This is, in part, what has driven Diego Saez-Gil to live out his life's mission...

  • traveling throughout Europe
  • traveling to NYC
  • building 2 companies
  • creating the world's first smart luggage

Saez-Gil did not allow fear to govern his life. He used it to become a world traveler and successful entrepreneur.

The Interview

How do you choose your team? The most important criteria for me is shared values and belief in the mission that we are working towards. Of course skills and experience are important and I seek to work with very talented people. But I've learned over the years that talent and skills without passion and a sense of mission, are not enough to overcome the big obstacles that you face when you are building a new company or project.

Entrepreneurial Tip: While skills and talent are crucial attributes, they become worthless if the team-member no passion for the work.

What about co-founders? How do you know who will be a good partner? I think for co-founders shared values and mission are even more important. Additionally, I look for partners who are honest, humble and ambitious. People with whom we can speak openly about everything, giving each other constant feedback, so that we can all grow, and pushing each other always to not settle, to go for more ambitious goals. I have been fortunate enough to find partners like that in my entrepreneurial journey.

Entrepreneurial Tip: co-Founders are the backbone of a successful business. More importantly, co-founders must drive the business forward through ambitious goal setting.

How do you design a company that will be around for 100 years? I think it must start with a purpose, a mission. Then products can change, markets can change, industries can change. But if you have a larger purpose the company will be resilient to those changes and will adapt to continue fulfilling its purpose. Additionally you have to think long term on everything you do and build a culture of long term thinking. We live in a time in which this is rare, but it's so important.

Entrepreneurial Tip: If you want to build a 100-year-old business, then focus on the long-term mission, not the product.

The execution of a creative idea can be a chaotic experience. So how do you organize, prioritize, and manage your creative ideas? Yes, I think that a certain level of chaos is actually necessary in a creative process. That's why I think startups have a better chance at creating new breakthrough products and technologies than larger companies. Still, you do need to be able to organize and prioritize your ideas as focus is key. We try to prioritize our ideas and projects based on whatever is better and more important for our customers, the travelers.

Entrepreneurial Tip: A little chaos injected into the creative process is healthy, but it must be tempered with organization and prioritization.

Can you tell me about a time when you almost gave up, how you felt about that, and what you did instead of giving up? Once with one of my first entrepreneurial endeavors we were trying to raise investment and got rejected by every single investor we pitched. It was disheartening and it made me doubt what we were working on. I thought of quitting and maybe going back to look for a job or doing something else. But there was something inside of me telling me I shouldn't quit. I realized that while the "what" we were doing could be off or improved, the "why" we were doing it was right and worth persisting for.

Entrepreneurial Tip: Failure is part of the entrepreneurial journey. This is why focusing on the mission is more important than the product.

What Are Your 3 Biggest Accomplishments? I try to stay humble and not get too proud of past accomplishments. That being said, I feel proud of a few things:

  • Firstly, of moving to a new country where I didn't know anybody and barely spoke the language and still "making my way".
  • Second, I feel proud of building my first company which I started having no idea how to start a company and being able to make it arrive to a good port (it was acquired by StudentUniverse).
  • Finally, I feel proud of helping create the world's first smart suitcase, which brings significant innovation to an important industry and will empower a lot of people to travel the world better.

Entrepreneurial Tip: If allowed fear will derail your dreams. So accept your fears, surround yourself with mentors and have a bias toward action.

Question: What's your life's mission and what's keeping you from accomplishing it?

The Power of Doing Something Meaningful with Vivek Sharma, CEO of Movable Ink

Being an entrepreneur has little to do with running a business and more to do with a mindset.

The world is peppered with insanely large problems. And while many try to address those problems with conventional remedies, the entrepreneur will reframe the problem.

Vivek Sharma has spent a lifetime reframing problems. Sharma asks questions in different and unexpected ways. This mindset changes how he sees and responds to the problem.

The entrepreneur must seek out the unconventional questions:

  • How can I break the big problem into 6 smaller ones?
  • What limiting beliefs do I have that are stopping me from solving this problem?
  • What if I am the problem?
  • What am I actually trying to achieve by solving this issue?

Sharma has a long career of solving problems while failing to solve others. But what Sharma has done better than most is to intimately understand how to reframe the problem so he can find the exact answers needed.

The interview

Who is your role model, and why?

I really look up to inventors who challenge conventional notions and attempt to solve insanely large problems. Three such individuals come to mind: Elon Musk, Ray Kurzweil, and Nikola Tesla. I could write at length about any one of them, but I’ll focus on Kurzweil.

It was the late ‘90s and I had been a recent computer science grad and working at a fast-growing Silicon Valley startup. One of the engineers on the data mining team clued me in to Ray Kurzweil and his book, The Age of Spiritual Machines.

Kurzweil was a child prodigy and by his 20s had invented several technologies including the music synthesizer, the print-to-speech reading machine, and optical character recognition.

In 1999, his book laid a compelling argument on why pattern recognition is core to human intelligence. A child can quickly learn how to catch a baseball, identify objects in photos, learn a new language, and reason.

Pattern recognition is a skill that the best computers struggle with. Kurzweil went on to make many predictions about technologies we could expect to see in the coming decades and many of those predictions have been borne out.

What was so inspiring about his ideas was that they were world changing but none of them conflicted with physical laws. He went on to make the case that the exponential progress in different technologies would converge into some mind-blowing products at a reasonable timescale.

Kurzweil doesn’t come without his critics but his ideas have inspired many computer scientists as a blueprint for the future. If you can’t imagine the future, then you can’t create it.

Entrepreneurial Tip: Choose role models that attempt to solve insanely difficult issues because they will change your standard of thinking.

What do you value most about your company's culture and vision?

Movable Ink is working on helping marketers create highly personal experiences and prioritize context over channel. The balance of power has shifted to consumers who choose when, where, and how to engage with a brand, and we get to build the tools that make this possible.

I’ll highlight one of our core values: “Outcomes over Activities”.

We constantly think about this one. It’s very easy to grow a company and spend your time on things that don’t really matter. When you’re running a five-person company, teams naturally pick the most valuable things to work on because of a lack of time and a visceral feel for how the entire business is doing.

This gets tougher as a company gets large and we are hyper-focused on defining the few things that matter in any quarter for every employee. The great thing is that every employee gets to be CEO of their piece of the business and have that visceral feel of how they contribute to our mission.

Entrepreneurial Tip: Whether your company is small or growing rapidly the most important thing to keep in mind is that each team member plays a large role in your companies success.

If we're sitting here a year from now celebrating what a great 12 months it's been for you in this role, what would that day look like?

Companies go through some very distinct phases:

  • Idea
  • Product-Market Fit
  • Growth
  • Empire Building

Movable Ink sits squarely in a fast-growth phase and we’re constantly thinking about how to do everything at scale. This could mean building a predictable leads engine, a consistent way of interviewing, and setting objectives throughout the company.

We’ve also built out an all-star management team, many of whom have joined in the last six months.

Looking back in 12 months from now, our biggest success will be building out a consistent way of recruiting stars and providing the support and training they need to do the best work in their career.

Entrepreneurial Tip: Each distinct phase your company will require that type of rock-star. It's important to build systems that allow you to attract those rock-stars, at the right time.

Tell me about your last project. Who was involved and what was the biggest challenge?

One of our big projects this year has been objective-setting and getting the company aligned on common goals. We are implementing a performance management system called OKRs (Objectives & Key Results) that were invented at Intel and popularized by Google.

OKRs force you to be disciplined at defining your company’s top-level priorities and breaking them down into small parts.

We are believers in the long term values of OKRs, but the challenges have included: educating the company on why we are using them, making the process as light-weight as possible, and choosing the right software platform to track them.

We are beta-testing the program with the management team but it will make its way to every employee at the company. The biggest challenge has been in making the program lightweight because people won’t buy into and stick with a framework if it isn’t easy to do and helps them do their job better.

Entrepreneurial Tip: Setting clear objectives is crucial to accomplishing company goals. More importantly, the system used to implement and track those objectives must be easy to use and designed to empower your team.

What has been the biggest let down in your career so far?

Back in 2003, I started a company to build a mobile social network, a “Friendster for the phone”, in a time when few startups were exploring mobile.

This was about 4 years before the iPhone launched and the state-of-the-art were Palm and Nokia phones because they had SDKs. We started building a product, fueled by a giant vision to connect people through their mobile devices.

It was a 3-year grind with no salary and we built a lot of product without validating the market and moving the business along the way. We were also too early to the market and it took the iPhone launch to unlock what is possible with mobile apps.

When we finally closed shop after 3.5 long years it was the biggest failure of my life. In retrospect I recognize the great lessons I learned and the importance of frequent and honest feedback.

Entrepreneurial Tip: Intelligent risk taking is part of the entrepreneurial-brand. And using a framework that exploits intelligent risks is crucial not only to the company success but learning from each failure.

Tell me about the time you realized you had the power to do something meaningful?

The first time I programmed in BASIC on an IBM PC (in middle school) I realized this was fundamentally different.

It was incredible to realize that a computer could do exactly what you told it to do and even take input you provided to come back with an answer. Early projects involved solving simple math problems. Later I would program a tiny Pacman sprite that would run around the screen.

It wasn’t until high school that I programmed something called the “Game of Life”, which is an example of an evolutionary algorithm. In the “Game of Life” the programmer sets some simple rules of nature and lets the program run over many generations.

The outcomes can be very unpredictable, and I realized that computers could do far more than people think. I entered college as an aerospace engineer but switched into computer science when I realized I could build things that weren’t bound by the physical laws.

When Marc Andreessen says, “software is eating the world”, I fully believe it and there is nothing more exciting than working in this new frontier.

Entrepreneurial Tip: We all have many passions. But I believe that we only have one calling. Search for your calling and then pursuit it without fear.


Question: As an entrepreneur what problems are you solving? And what does your unconventional process look like?

Todoist Founder, Amir Salihefendic, Talks About Never Giving Up

I have to admit that I am a productivity junkie. And I have been on a journey to find the best tool to help me be more productive. I have gone from pen and paper to applications, back to pen and paper.

But all of these tools always fell short of helping me be more productive. Fortunately, I came to understand that the tool was not the problem -- I was the problem.

I was...

  • unfocused
  • distracted
  • saying yes to every request

It was only after following Michael Hyatt that I actually began to understand what it meant to be productive.

Once I started modeling Hyatt, I began to realize that no tool can help you be productive until you start...

  • focusing on what matters
  • discarding distractions
  • saying no to requests

Once I was focused, I returned to my search of finding a tool that would help me get things done -- Todoist is the application I found.

I manage many writing projects and sometimes it gets stressful and Todoist helps me stay on task. In part because of its simple design.

Todoist has been an invaluable tool. So I wanted to reach out to Amir Salihefendic, founder of Todoist and talk to him about his story.

The Interview

So Amir, what’s your story?

The truth is, I never seen myself as an entrepreneur. And I didn’t initially start Todoist with a big company or big service in mind. The step of creating a company just came naturally. That said, I do come from a family of entrepreneurs, so my background probably influenced me.

Todoist was actually a tool I made for myself. I was still a student, studying computer science in Aarhus (Denmark) and I had two programming jobs on the side. I had a lot of projects going on and I needed to effectively manage my work and my productivity. I looked at the other tools on the market and none worked the way I wanted them to work.

When I started Todoist, I never imagined it would become anything significant – it’s only later that I released its true potential.

Tell me about a project or accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career.

Todoist is by far my most successful accomplishment. It means a lot to me to know it has helped millions of people accomplish their goals.

That said, Todoist isn’t only an accomplishment by myself, but also by an amazing team of people who are working very hard on making Todoist even bigger every day.

Discuss a specific accomplishment of yours in a previous position that indicates you will thrive in this position.

I think one of the most important things in life and especially in business is evolving and learning. When you start a company it's just you or just a few people and you face the enormous challenge of building a minimal product that people want.

After you have some success, you add more people and things become more complex. After more success, you have teams, multiple products and maybe even entire departments you need to manage. Every step has new challenges and requires new skills.

I am doing everything I can to thrive in my position and to thrive as a leader. I do it by reading books, reading articles, following Coursera courses – anything that can help me prepare for the next steps of Todoist’s lifecycle.

How do you see the company changing in two years, and how do you see yourself creating that change?

I am very motivated by solving hard problems and having a positive impact on the world, and I am very inspired by people who are creating something of significant value (e.g. Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, etc.).

Today, what we’re doing with Todoist is helping people and teams get more done and become more organized, in less time with less effort. In the next two years, my role will be to steer Doist towards becoming something of true significant value for people around the world.

What do you value most about your company’s culture and vision?

I think Doist has a very unique culture. We have hired people from almost all the continents in the world. We also work remotely, something that was not even possible a few years back.

Collaborating with people who come from very different cultures is awesome, since everyone has a very different perspective. I think this multicultural and multiracial aspect will enable us to create products that truly target the world - instead of just a specific demographic.

Can you tell me about a time when you almost gave up, how you felt about that, and what you did instead of giving up?

I never felt like giving up. I think the reason is simple: I never put myself in a position where Todoist/Doist was the only thing that paid my bills. In fact, I worked on Todoist for over five years before it could even pay my salary!

When you start something, I don’t think you necessarily need to commit everything to it. You can start it on the side and see how it evolves. That’s at least how I started Todoist. This way I was never forced to give up or to try something else.

On Making Your Choice To Fail

The journey of an entrepreneur is peppered with failure. Those failures can either push you to progress or to give up.

But it all comes down to one thing -- making a choice.

And when you are at that crossroad the choice to either progress or give up is suffocating. Because the wrong decision could be devastating.

In the case of Salihefendic, he took a slightly different path. His choice to progress was fed by the fact that if Amir failed -- he had other things to fall back on.

Salihefendic always made sure that he had other projects on the side. And when you have options the choice doesn't seem as daunting. Moreover, those options allow you to be more tolerant of failure.

Amir's strategy worked -- even though it took 5 years before he could take a salary from Todoist. And what he created has allowed the Todoist team to help millions of people get things done.

Question: What tool do you use to keep you getting things done?

Interview Links

Mike McDerment, CEO of FreshBooks, Talks About Almost Giving Up

So why do you build a product? Do you do it for money, fame, bragging rights?

In the case of Mike McDerment, CEO of [FreshBooks][0], you do it because you see there is a problem with the current convention.

When McDerment led a four-person design agency, in 2003, invoicing was a painful process. Instead, of pulling his hair out, Mike decided to find a better solution.

So [McDerment, Joe and Levi][1] decided to build an invoicing system.

The two-year side project was upgraded to Mike's parents basement and for the next 3.5 years the co-founders worked and built FreshBooks.

Building a product is a long journey. It's marred by failure, financial ruin and in most cases massive competition.

So why would anyone ever take on such odds? In Mike's case, it was not only a passion for serving others, but he loved working with his team.

That passion and love have turned FreshBooks from a piece of software built in a basement to a cloud service that helps over 5 million customers get paid.

The Interview

What do you value most about your company’s culture and vision?

We’ve invested a lot over the years into creating a culture of supportiveness and collaboration. It’s in the DNA of FreshBookers to go to great lengths to execute extraordinary experiences every day for our customers and for each other.

Without a doubt, the most important thing we’ve done to build the foundation is to hire for cultural fit, hiring only people who share our core values.

And from there, it’s not something we just talk about; it’s something we live. Every single FreshBooker spends their first month on customer support -- no exceptions. Everyone gets the opportunity to have close contact with our customers, learn their stories, and help them solve problems.

And that connection to the customer keeps us going and keeps us on the right track.

Entrepreneurial Tip: Hiring smart people is important but don't sacrifice the companies culture for one smart guy.

Can you tell me about a time when you almost gave up, how you felt about that, and what you did instead of giving up?

In the first 18 months of the company’s life, we were making maybe $100 a month and working out of my parents’ basement. Every indication was that we were failing miserably, and being patient was hard for me.

Being an entrepreneur is in my blood, and unless there’s a lot going on, I’ll create problems to solve. I remember thinking that we should just pull the plug and start working on another idea I had, and then I looked over at my co-founder Levi, who was busy programming and bobbing his head to some tunes, totally loving what we were doing.

This is a guy who’s 10 times as smart as me. I knew if I were to ask him how things were going, he’d say, “Mike, we signed up 23 people today, that’s awesome, right?” That kind of positivity kept me going.

I’ve said it a thousand times before and I’m sure I’ll say it again, but I wouldn’t have made it through without my co-founders Joe and Levi. I think their positivity and encouragement helped me through the tough patches.

Entrepreneurial Tip: Change your standard by surrounding yourself with people that not only inspire but are smarter than you.

How long are you willing to fail at a job before you succeed?

Failure is a funny thing to define, and there is certainly no black and white with what success and failure look like. I can tell you that over the years, we’ve done a lot of things that conventional wisdom says you shouldn’t.

We took the business to the internet when most accounting software was being bought off the retail shelf, taking on the big, entrenched players in the market who everyone thought would crush us.

We didn’t take on venture capital for more than 10 years because we wanted to establish our way of doing things, and not be influenced unduly till we were ready. We were early believers in customer service -- we spent a lot of time and energy and money on it -- which made no sense to folks back then, looking at things only through the lens of a spreadsheet.

These were all things that could have indicated failure to some, but we didn’t ascribe to external measures of progress -- we stuck to our guns and were persistent with how we wanted to build the business. I’m a big believer in persistence and focus, and if you’re prepared to push hard when others won’t, you’ll make it through to the other side.

So in my opinion, failure is when you stop evolving and growing, and you’re closed -- otherwise, it’s all learning and no failing.

Entrepreneurial Tip: Failure is never the end of the story -- it's a course correction. And for those that understand that; progress is all but guaranteed.

Tell me about your last project. Who was involved and what was the biggest challenge?

I’m not an armchair leader. I want and need to be in the game with my team, getting my hands dirty with challenges. This means I spend time with different teams at critical turns in the road, in whatever capacity needed.

Presently, I’m our interim CFO, helping the finance team dig deeper. I’ve also been working closely with a recently restructured PR team trying to redefine what communications should look like for FreshBooks.

The big challenges for the team being that they were facing a lot of unknowns and the way was not clear. This is the kind of opportunity I thrive on and I get my energy from the sense of adventure that comes finding a path through the dark, and helping others evolve through the process so they become leaders and better problem solvers.

Entrepreneurial Tip: The boss commands you to do what needs to be done. A leader jumps into the pit with you and asks, "how can I help?"

Tell me about a project or accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career.

As a founder turned CEO, my ability to grow personally directly affects the company’s ability to grow, so I’ve spent a lot of time learning about leadership, learning to be a leader.

I’ve really come to grasp the importance of leadership that builds other leaders. I’m nowhere near done, not even close, but I think I’ve broken through a few walls in the last couple years and this feels significant in a personal way.

It’s not easy and it’s never ending, but I think I’m slowing inching my way in the direction I want to go.

Entrepreneurial Tip: The most important asset in your company is you. Always keep in mind that your journey is not done.

Tell me about a time you realized you had the power to do something meaningful.

This has been a bit of an evolution. The first realization in the early days that we were on to something was seeing the impact we were having on customers.

I remember, years back, being on the phone with a customer, and he told me that FreshBooks had changed his behavior. It was so simple and easy to use that he was now invoicing his clients faster and more often, and in turn, getting paid faster.

This was positively impacting his business’ cash flow. This actually became one of the core value propositions for the company -- helping customers get paid faster -- and we’ve been fortunate enough to help millions of people with this.

The second realization came out of building a company from my hometown, Toronto -- recognizing that we will build a world-class technology company headquartered here and that that is a great way to give back to the community that has given me so much. It’s something to be proud of.

Entrepreneurial Tip: To really make a dent in the universe you need to give back more than what you take.

One of the most important lessons from this interview is the importance of company culture.

I have worked at many companies and even help start a few. While smart, savvy and driven people are, lynch pins. The progress of a company sits deeply within its culture.

I am not sure if Mike knew it at the time but those seeds of a good company culture where being planted in his parents basement. McDerment, Joe and Levi not only enjoyed working together but worked as a team to push through many walls.

As the company progressed, Mike never forgot how good culture allowed him to overcome many failures. And stopped him from nearly giving up on FreshBooks.

McDerment continues that philosophy today by making certain that each person hired is a cultural fit.

I would sacrifice smarts for company culture.

A company with good culture can have many benefits -- financial, moral and more importantly being able to manage better the quality of the customer experience.

Touch Lab's Jeff Namnum Talks About His 3 Biggest Accomplishments

I have not spoken with Jeff for over a year so when I found out he was VP of Sales & Marketing at Touch Lab, I had to drop him an email, to congratulate him.

I am proud of Jeff. I have watched Namnum hustle since Social Media Camp Long Island. And that hustle has allowed him to become part of the Touch Lab team.

Jeff will be the first to tell you that being an entrepreneur is an amazing journey. But that journey is neither a straight line or without its failures -- which tempt you just to quit.

But Jeff has been blessed with incredible advisors. He has a supportive family, the encouragement of friends and team members that keep Namnum humble.

A supportive community is a critical lifeline for the success of any entrepreneur. You come to rely on this group of advisors to help you with difficult decisions or to simply have as mentors on retainer.

It's been a long journey from Social Media Camp Long Island. But Jeff's persistence and clear vision have been invaluable tools on his entrepreneurial trek.

Namnum continues to use those tools to grow Touch Lab's business 40% year on year and increase the company's brand awareness, dramatically.

Simply put he is crushing it!

What are your 3 biggest accomplishments?

First is being lucky enough to get my wife to stick around for the past 20 years or so. I'm a pain in the ass, but luckily she's really patient and extremely loving.

Second is the three kids God blessed us with. I count it as a major accomplishment that we've grown up with our kids, learned alongside them and continue to have a close, open, honest relationship with each of them.

Lastly, at least so far, growing our business 40% in our first full year of partnership & increasing our brand awareness drastically is also a pretty big deal in my life.

What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning


The first thing I say every morning, in my head or out loud, is thank you God for another day. In between talking myself into getting on the treadmill in the basement and trying not to forget anything on the way out the door, I try hard to give thanks for all the amazingness in my life.

Like breathing and walking and great opportunities.

What do you value most about your company's culture and vision

Take a bunch of remarkably talented professionals in the prime of their career, add in a ton of irreverent jokes (with just a bit of sarcasm) and toss in the animated gif / film clip / meme of the day and you may get a fair idea of what our crew is like.

What I really love is that in the midst of all of this is an undercurrent of respect. Respect for talent & work of course, but more importantly just a basic respect for each other as human beings.

I joined this team as a marketing guy in the middle of a bunch of amazing Android engineers.

No one gave me crap for being the muggle; everyone was encouraging and eager for my success. We've had the occasional bad seed come through but they never last long.

I love working somewhere where the baseline for success isn't just talent & hard work but also respect for your teammates.

How long are you willing to fail at this job before you succeed

I gave this one some thought but I really don't know. For better or worse, it's not something I think about much.

I have the chance to grow the IDEO of Android with an amazing team; I just plan on continuing until we're done.

Discuss a specific accomplishment of yours in a previous position that indicates you will thrive in this position

It's funny but it's not a job or business that comes to mind at all. What comes to mind is Social Media Camp Long Island. It was a 400+ person unconference in 2010 about Social Media that attracted some amazing and wonderful professionals and amateurs.

That event would have been impossible without the team of incredible people who came together as the organizing committee. These were very successful people who committed to meet at crazy hours for a ridiculous amount of time and put in more then their fair share of work.

In the end, my job was to identify their talents, skills and connections and ask them to use them in a directed way. I was the coordinator of talent, nothing more, even though I got a lot of credit for SMCampLI.

For Touch Lab to truly become what we envision, I have to be a coordinator of remarkable talents

Tell me about the time you realized you had the power to do something meaningful

7 or 8 years ago, I got the chance to volunteer with a teen group at my church. Eventually I got the opportunity to run it with a great partner.

During that time (I no longer volunteer there as of a year ago) I had amazing young people share things with me, experiences terrible and wonderful, that blew my mind.

Some that they'd never shared with anyone.

Those young people taught me that if I can shut up and listen and if I can avoid judging, then I can effect real change where it matters most: on the level of the human heart & soul.

Question: Being an entrepreneur has very little to do with running a business. It's more of a mindset; an understanding that with each problem encountered is an opportunity to adjust and overcome. What recent issue have you encountered and how did you resolve, it?

Interview Links

What is the best small business resource you have used

What is the best business book you have read

About Ramon B. Nuez Jr.

I am a contributing writer for the Huffington Post, Business 2 Community and the Goodman Project. I also run an online business coaching entrepreneurs. Every week, I send out an email newsletter with my latest articles, and free tips.

An Interview With Qwilr co-Founder Dylan Baskind

What does it take to be a co-founder of a startup?

Is it some complicated formula of skills, self-awareness and pedigree? Or is it something a bit more fundamental like creating solutions for pain points?

For Dylan Baskind, it is the latter.

Baskind is the co-founder of Qwilr. The startup takes static documents and transforms them into websites that are data rich and interactive.

"Qwilr started out as a disobedient idea. One that simply wouldn’t go away."
– Dylan Baskind

So Baskind went to work brainstorming ideas, concepts and workflows.

But the idea was ambitious perhaps too ambitious so Baskind shelved Qwilr until later.

But as Baskind finally got around to building Qwilr he realized this would not only solve a pain point, it would be a long-term sustainable business.

What do you value most about your company’s culture and vision?

One of the unique strengths of Qwilr’s company culture and vision is the co-leadership of design and engineering. Many tech companies, by nature of their talent profile or incumbent culture, lean towards being mostly engineering led, or mostly design led. As a consequence this tends to produce either Left-Brain solutions (careful and detailed UX, but lacking in functional power) or Right-Brain solutions (powerful functionality with mystifying interfaces).

Our vision for Qwilr, is to walk the gauntlet between these two, sometimes antagonistic, mind-sets. Ideally we want to enable powerful functionality, delivered through an intuitive and easy to use interface.

Looking specifically at our culture, a few key phrases spring to mind - stay curious, solve real problems, search for simplicity. Qwilr addresses all of these factors from a product standpoint, and I’m confident that we will totally disrupt how the business world views archaic approaches to documents as long as we continue to instill this culture as our business grows.

We’re constantly making things better, faster, smarter, or less expensive. We leverage technology or improve processes. In other words, we strive to do more—with less. Tell me about a recent project or solution to a problem that you made better, faster, smarter, more efficient, or less expensive.

We’re always on the hunt for tools which improve internal communications. The decision to incorporate group chat tool Slack into our team organisation has had a profound impact.

Communication within a collaborative team is one of the primary factors influencing its success. The more fluid the transmission of ideas, the quicker the iteration cycles, the more efficiently a team can arrive at an optimal solution or conclusion.

Admittedly, when I first read about Slack, I thought to myself: “Yawn, another chat client - really?” - but once we tried it out, we were hooked. These days, I couldn’t imagine running our organisation without it. We literally never email each other. Anything we say (non-verbally), we say over Slack, which means it is then instantly searchable for later reference. We have saved a significant amount of time by not digging through email chains to find information. The integration piece is wonderful. We’ve got our Twitter, customer service communications, payment information, metrics, and error logging notifications all wired into Slack. It’s both our information epicenter and “town square”.

My hat goes off to the team behind Slack. Getting one interaction design decision just right is really tricky. Somehow Slack has managed to get hundreds of these decisions just right, all at once.

Tell me about an accomplishment that shaped your career.

Oddly enough, one experience that has had a profound impact in shaping my career was playing in a band and being its ring-leader. Contrary to what your granddad might say, it can actually teach you a lot of useful skills for the CEO role of an early stage tech company.

We were serious about the band. We rehearsed twice a week, every week. We signed a record deal, a management deal, got our album mixed by some big names, toured all across Australia and the US. It was a real enterprise for us.

The environment of the band room is in many ways a microcosm of the modern tech company. You’ve got a group of talented individuals, in a very collaborative, structurally flat environment, all looking to make a creative contribution and impact on a final product. As the leader of such a group there are many conflicting forces at play. You’ve got to make each member feel validated, so they feel their contributions are heard and valued. As the final arbiter, it’s your duty to veto a contribution or direction that is not going to make the cut (E.G. “We should, like, add a cowbell here right?!”).

Morale and motivation are also key. Rehearsing until midnight can be a real grind. Just like bug-fixing until 2am, or writing 100s of customer emails can be. It’s essential to the success of a company or band that the emotional chemistry of the room is carefully monitored. Happy people to do good work and get more done.

It’s also quite easy to draw many economic parallels between the music and tech industries. Within both worlds, to produce quality collateral (whether it be music or websites) in such a resource-scarce environment means you have to be creative about your means of production and embrace a general ethos of self-sufficiency.

Finally, there is a huge amount of negotiation and contractual issues in music. There are sync deals, management deals, record deals and more. These deals are predicated on similar notions of value as with early stage tech companies. It’s about the quality of the band and their capacity to execute (in this case, to execute art, not a business), the “vision” of the band and what they are looking to grow into and that vital ingredient, the size and composition of the addressable market, i.e. “How many people will want to listen to these songs?”.

How long are you willing to fail at this job before you succeed?

I think “failure” as a concept has an interesting place in the startup culture’s psyche and one in which I think the emphasis is sometimes misplaced. I’d argue that failure in isolation is not something to be enshrined.

What makes failure valuable to the entrepreneur is the forensic analysis. Failure without retrospect is nothing more than…failure! Dealing with that gnawing question of “Why didn’t it work out?” is where much higher-order learning and growth happens.

If you try to start a business and it fails, and at the end of that process you don’t have clear ideas about why it failed, and what you might do differently next time - then that’s the real failure. Alternatively, if you come away from that experience with a laundry list of concrete learning about what you did wrong and how to improve and adapt - that’s a hugely valuable experience.

As Bob Dylan says: “There’s no success like failure. And failure’s no success at all.”

What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?

I feel very thankful that in my day-to-day existence I get to tackle such a broad and engaging range of problems. I was a Lego kid growing up. I love building things and I love problem solving.

Building a company like Qwilr means there are fascinating problems to work with every single day, whether they be software engineering problems, human-cultural challenges (like deciding who to hire), business and strategic problems or language problems like how to express a new or paradigm shifting idea.

The real fun for me is the mental cross-pollination of working across these problem spaces every day.

Tell me about the time you realized you had the power to do something meaningful.

I was a design and engineering consultant for many years, and while I loved the work, I loathed creating proposals. I was like a school-kid with a geography essay to write. It was just so mechanical. Lots of copy and pasting, searching around for some old document, and fiddling with Excel pricing tables. It was absolutely the least enjoyable part of my job. And what made matters worse, the outcome was a static PDF! I was a web guy, why was I producing PDFs to communicate the value of my services?

Qwilr was conceived as a dream solution for my own pain point. Remove all the copy-pasting, fiddling and drudge work - and replacing it with a fluid and visual experience, that produced something engaging, interactive, web based and re-usable.

Using the early versions of Qwilr made me genuinely happier in my work, because I’d removed that last piece of drudgery (besides doing my taxes!). It felt good to produce these self-hosted websites in a couple of minutes, for what used to take me half a day.

What has been really meaningful for me is seeing this same positive experience now being shared by thousands of Qwilr users. Hearing feedback from customers about how much time they’ve saved, how much better their collateral looks and how much they enjoy the Qwilr experience gives me a lot of satisfaction.

Question: What do you think is most important in building a company – culture or product?

About Ramon B. Nuez Jr.

I am a contributing writer for the Huffington Post. I also run an online business teaching high achievers to live a life of purpose. Every week, I send out an email newsletter with my latest articles, free tips on writing and creativity.

What Real Estate Entrepreneur Nick Ruiz Learned from Being a Failure

photo credit: nick ruiz

photo credit: nick ruiz

Your life just sucks!

I get it. I understand why you are feeling like a total loser. I mean, you...

  • work more than 40 hours a week
  • hate your job
  • live from paycheck to paycheck
  • have not been on a vacation in years

And you are, literally, being sold the American Dream, which is nothing more than a big fat lie. Yes, the American Dream is dead!

And you wonder why your life sucks?

But there is a miracle cure -- the entrepreneurial mindset. This established set of attitudes is waging a war on the accepted view of how we are supposed to live.

Now when we think of entrepreneurs, we think about people like...

  • Jack Dorsey, co-founder, Twitter and cofounder, Square
  • Gretchen Rubin, Author of The Happiness Project
  • Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer, Facebook and Author, Lean In

But in today's Internet-leveraged economy the entrepreneur has more to do with how you see the world. It's a movement that focuses more on personal growth and helping others than making a six-figure salary.

Chris Guillebeau, the author of the $100 Startup, calls this movement the Art of Non-ConformityNick Ruiz is one of those non-conformists.

Ruiz has made it his mission, to decide for himself what he wants to get out of life. But more importantly, Nick gives back to others -- helping people to be successful and financially independent.

My Interview With Nick Ruiz

Michael Bloomberg explains that being an entrepreneur has less to do with running a business and more about seeing the world through an unconventional lens. You have been flipping homes for some time now — what are your thoughts on being an entrepreneur?

Entrepreneurs make the 'invisible' visible.  What I mean is that they are looking through a lens that is so laser focused, the outside noise and chatter of naysayers, family, and friends gets tuned out.  It's hard sometimes though because, lots of times, the people closest to you are the ones that downplay your ideas and ambitions…

Your vision needs to be crystal clear, and surrounding yourself with key people that are successful and support it is critical.

As an entrepreneur, I look at business as a game I want to win and treat it like chess.  Most people look through the lens with today, tomorrow, or next week in mind when they make decisions.  I look through the lens of complete strategy when I make business and money decisions and how that particular decision will fit into the larger landscape of my plans.

Entrepreneurial Tip: Surround yourself with people that will not only pat you on the back but kick you in the butt and give you good advice.

The Internet has changed how we live and do business. How do young entrepreneurs prepare themselves for the new economy?

Young people need to prepare by immersing themselves with the latest trends because what's here today, can DEFINITELY be gone tomorrow.  They also must learn to NEVER take their current successful position for granted because someone out there is leveraging the internet and technology to beat them at their own game RIGHT NOW!

This new economy is rapidly changing and it allows for faster success than ever before, but again, that means that there is more competition.  NEVER STOP HUSTLING!

Entrepreneurial Tip: Never stop moving forward and never stop learning.

Those that live purposefully are always evolving — keeping themselves in permanent beta. Is this the mindset that every entrepreneur should have?

I love the phrase "permanent beta".  It's the perfect description of my personal and entrepreneurial life.  

I've always been obsessed with improvement.  As the world is constantly evolving in all aspects, it only makes sense to evolve with it.  There are MANY things that I think and believe today, that 5-10 years ago were never even a thought.  I think anyone is doing themselves a disservice by standing firm in any one particular strategy, idea, etc…

Constant evolution is part of what makes life more exciting and it also allows you to overcome a wider range of challenges…

Bottom line - being able to adapt and evolve is CRITICAL for long term success.  In fact, a quote that is near and dear to my heart is "when the winds change, you have to adjust your sails."  I created a multimillion dollar net worth in my 20s and the big crash of 2008 put me into bankruptcy.  

I quickly bounced back with "outside of the box" thinking and some newer strategies.  As far as evolution as an entrepreneur goes, I'm the poster child for it.

Entrepreneurial Tip: You must be obsessed with personal improvement and constant growth.

The risk is a large part of being an entrepreneur and it must be measured with a degree of intelligence. What is your process for taking intelligent risks?

When it comes to risk, my approach is simple. I'm willing to risk something if the rewards massively outweigh the risk. I will never 'bet the farm' on one specific thing and put everything I have on the line. I believe people can take on a safe risk that will get them to super success while staying safe enough to make sure their family is still secure.

With that being said, I do believe that when you are young and don't have other people to support (spouse, kids, etc.), you have much more time to recover from mistakes and greater risk.

So, if you are able to recover without crushing your family, I say 'bet much bigger' and put more on the line.

If you are in a position where you have people to support, educate yourself as much as possible in the area you are planning on taking a risk, and weigh your options carefully.

Entrepreneurial Tip: Take risks often but they must be intelligent.

Failure is another large part of being an entrepreneur. What has failure taught you about your resolve in being an entrepreneur?

Failure has taught me volumes.  

I filed bankruptcy after the big real estate crash of 2008.  I'm VERY familiar with failure and being completely depressed in every sense of the word.  Failure exercises your 'adversity muscles'.   This is extremely important as an entrepreneur because as you grow your business, more and more adversity and 'bumps in the road' will come about.  

If you are unfamiliar with adversity and failure, you'll have a tough time getting through those challenges. I read lots of books and am always educating myself, but the things that I know the absolute best, have come from 'trial and error' learning.  I've learned many things 'not to do'.

I'm a big fan of newer entrepreneurs failing early on in their career.  It teaches them quickly what to avoid so down the road, they can maneuver around the expensive and extremely painful mistakes later on.

Entrepreneurial Tip: Fail early but more importantly learn from every mistake.

Question: Does living your life on your own terms appeal to you? Then what will be your first baby-step in taking ownership of your life?

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How Kimanzi Constable Left a Job He Hated and is Now Living His Dream

Being an entrepreneur is a tough business. Almost immediately, the odds are stacked against you:

  • The hours are long
  • The pay is sporadic
  • You have to fight your demons
  • The gatekeepers happily tell you -- "You not good enough!"

So while Hollywood makes being an entrepreneur sexy -- the truth is, it's the furthest thing from sexy.

"The journey to create true freedom in every area of your life is hard."

-- Kimanzi Constable

Entrepreneurship is less about building a business and more about creating the freedom you want for your life.

Kimanzi Constable was trapped in a job that he hated, working 60+ hours a week and 170 pounds overweight. Until one day, Constable decided to stop living a life that sucked.

Kimanzi made the choice to take massive action, so he:

  • lost 170lbs
  • saved his marriage
  • left a job he hated
  • paid off $180, 000 of debt
  • started an online business
  • moved to Hawaii

Constable gave himself and his family a better life. Let me show you how Kimanzi achieved these big goals.

The Interview

So who was Kimanzi Constable before he became a published author and coach?

He was and still is a regular guy. The difference is now I’m living my dream as a regular guy.

For 12 years, my life could best be described as “existing.” I was 170 pounds overweight, working a job I hated, and living in a place I wanted to escape. Life sucked! The only thing that got me through some rough days was my amazing wife, beautiful children, and supportive friends.

For over a decade, you explained that you just “existed.” What was the catalyst that made you want to live a life of purpose?

In 2011, we were $180,000 in debt; I was dealing with the weight issues and the terrible job. That year my wife and I separated. I wanted to win her back but I knew words weren't good enough; I had to show her action.

That started me on a journey to radically change my life.

You have mentioned the phrase “negative people” a number of times. Why is it important that you identify and remove negative people from your life?

The journey to create true freedom in every area of your life is hard. You battle doubt and fear. Negative people feed into the struggle you already have going on inside of you. They make your self-limiting beliefs seem logical. They try to bring you down to their level.

To make real change, you need to cut anything negative out of your life.

Why is creating a passive income strategy important to any online business especially if you want the maximum amount of “freedom” in your life?

It’s simple: time.

Time is the one thing none of us will ever get back, which makes time our most valuable resource. We can spend that time doing what we value the most in this world, or spend it trading time for dollars.

The passive side of things gives you time back. As you grow, so will the sales of your passive products.

When did you know it was time to leave your day job for your dream job? Was there a strategy?

At the end of 2012, my online business was generating $5,000 a month consistently. We had a large emergency fund just in case, and had a healthy amount of events booked for 2013.

The plan was to pay off the debt, get some consistent income, and build that emergency fund. We took an entire year to make sure this was the right move for our family.

What advice can you give the aspiring entrepreneur that wants to be the next Kimanzi Constable?

Figure out what value you want to add to the world.

Figure out what you're passionate about and have interest in.

Research. Don't blindly follow popular advice just because someone else has had success doing it.

Keep it simple and don't wait until you have everything in place.

Focus on producing great content. Create things that people buy, and sell those things.

Build a loyal following around what you do.

So what can a former bread delivery guy teach you about entrepreneurship?


The Remarkable Few

Kimanzi Constable hated his work, and it negatively affected all parts of his life. Constable could have continued "existing" and remained a member of the unremarkably average

But Kimanzi had another plan, he decided to join the ranks of the remarkable few. How — Constable dedicated himself to grow intentionally.

Kimanzi studied entrepreneurs like Pat Flynn, who gave him the knowledge to launch a writing career and an online business. Constable's success has allowed him a great deal of freedom one of the most impressive has been his recent move to Hawaii.

Question: If you want a life of more freedom, it starts with you. You must get up and do it because it's necessary -- don't wait for motivation. What is something that you will do today to move closer to your dreams? Share your answers on Twitter.

This article was originally posted on the Huffington Post.