Entrepreneurs are Everywhere Show No. 31: Congressmen Dan Lipinski and Seth Moulton

Lean methodologies have changed the way science is commercialized in the U.S. Now it is changing how we protect the homeland and keep Americans safe and around the world.

How the U.S. government has embraced Lean methodologies to reinvigorate its innovation efforts was the focus of the latest episode of my SiriusXM radio show, Entrepreneurs are Everywhere.

The show airs on SiriusXM Channel 111 (weekly Thursdays at 1 pm Pacific, 4 pm Eastern). It follows the journeys of innovators sharing what it takes to build a startup – from restaurants to rocket scientists, to online gifts to online groceries and more. The program examines the DNA of entrepreneurs: what makes them tick, how they came up with their ideas; and explores the habits that make them successful, and the highs and lows that pushed them forward.

Dan Lipinski

Rep. Dan Lipinski

Joining me in the Stanford University studio were

Seth Moulton

Rep. Seth Moulton

Listen to the full interviews with Reps. Moulton and Lipinski by downloading them from SoundCloud here and here.

(And download any of the past shows here.)

Clips from their interview are below.

Rep. Dan Lipinski is a six-term Congressman and on the Committee on Science, Space and Technology and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Research and Technology (and one of a handful with a doctorate).  He championed the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps (NSF I-Corps). I-Corps teaches scientists and engineers how to get their technical ideas out of the lab and into the marketplace using the Lean Startup processes.

Rep. Lipinski also serves on the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, and three of its subcommittees: Aviation; Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials; and Highways and Transit.

Innovation drives the U.S. economy, he said: 

Innovation is really is the life blood of our American economy. … looking back at the stories of Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell and the Wright Brothers, you look at emergence to technology innovation and what it has done for our economy.

We need to continue that. America is full of entrepreneurs, inventor and dreamers.

Coming back to Stanford, reminds me of a German friend when I was here in grad school  It was 1989. He saw the movie, “Field of Dreams.” I asked him what he thought about the movie and he said, “Well, that would never happen in Germany. In Germany, you’d never have some guy with a crazy idea, who’d plow under his field so he can build something like a ball park.” He said, “You just would not. No one in Germany would ever believe that story but in America, things are different. Americans are dreamers. They’re doers.”

I think that’s why we are so good at innovation. We’re risk-takers.

Unfortunately it seems in this presidential election, we’re in a place where we have candidates who instead of growing the pie through innovation, are talking about “How are we going to divide the existing pie differently?” … what we really need to do is to help innovators grow the pie. 

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

He offered context for the government’s innovation efforts:

The Federal Government plays a critical role in innovation in our country and has throughout our history. If you’re listening to this show on satellite radio, satellite radio was pioneered by the Department of Defense and NASA. If you’re listening on the Internet, DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) and the NSF (The National Science Foundation) were critical in developing the internet.

Most people don’t know the role that the government has played and continues to play funding most of the country’s technology and medical research. That research is the building block to innovative products. It’s the envy of the world.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

Rep. Seth Moulton is a Harvard graduate and U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served four tours in Iraq, including two tours as a platoon commander and two tours as a Special Assistant to Gen. David Petraeus. He was elected to Congress in 2014 and serves on the House Armed Services Committee, the House Budget Committee and the House Small Business Committee.

He spoke about the efforts of the Department of Defense to connect the Defense and Intelligence communities with the Silicon Valley innovation mindset, with their first innovation outpost called DIUx:

Connecting to the Silicon Valley innovation culture is another way to make sure that we’re doing as much as we can to protect their lives of our soldiers as they’re putting their lives on the line for our country.  

He acknowledged the role that the new Hacking for Defense class is playing:

There’s a lot of technologies that could save American lives overseas if we could just get them to the troops and get them more quickly. It’s also a great way for people around the country, whether it’s in Cambridge, Mass., or out here in California, to contribute in the fight against terrorism, to help the young men and women who are out there putting their lives on the line for us. 

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

The Cold War spurred innovation, Moulton said: 

Rep. Moulton: There was a time in the 1950s and ’60s, when the latest and greatest technology was coming out of the Department of Defense. Then later our advanced technology came from the civilian sector. That’s why we had the most advanced intercontinental ballistic missiles and bombers and other things that we built during the cold war. 

Today, innovation isn’t happening at the big defense contractors as much as it’s happening right here in Silicon Valley. We’ve got to change them all.

Steve:  The Department of Defense and House Armed Services Committee helped start a  innovation outpost out here called DIUx, didn’t they?

Rep. Moulton: That’s right. It was a recognition in Washington’s that we ought to have better connections out here. This is one of the reasons why I come to visit. Not just because I’m on the Armed Services Committee but because I’m one of the youngest members of congress and I’m one of the only member of congress who has a degree in science. I like to think that I can understand this stuff, at least better than some of my colleagues. It’s important that we have these connections between Washington and the innovation that’s going on out here.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

As a former Marine, he has first-hand experience with the need to speed defense innovation efforts:

I remember when my GPS mapping system in my Humvee broke down when I was over in Iraq. We had to take it to the base to get reloaded and they brought out a stack of 3 ½-inch disks. A lot of listeners probably don’t even remember what those are.

It was an amazing system … in the late ’80s or ’90s or whatever, but now it’s really out of date. The Department of Defense just hasn’t been able to keep up with the pace of innovation. We would have been a lot better off with iPhones in our Humvees at the time.

We’ve got a lot of work to do on faster integration of innovation inside the Department of Defense. This is something that the committee right now is focused on, including the Republican chairman Mac Thornberry who’s a great chairman, very bi-partisan. One of his priorities is to reform the procurement processes at the Department of Defense so that we can take advantage of all this incredible innovation that’s going on right here at home.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

He’s also committed to improving the Veterans Administration to better serve veterans’ healthcare needs, he said:

Rep. Moulton: We have a number of bills that we’re working on. The most recent is called the Faster Care for Veterans Act, which directs the VA to conduct a pilot program with existing applications to make appointments on your Smart Phone. 

We all know the stories of veterans who wait in line for months trying to get an appointment. It’s also a problem with waiting in line on the phone to try to get through to schedule an appointment. That’s what someone in my office who’s a veteran was trying to do one day, and he kept, he got in this infinite loop on their phone system: Press 6. Press 2. Press 3. OK, back to the beginning. Press 6. Press 3. Press 2. Someone else in the office just made a video of it, and it went viral on Facebook.

This Faster Care for Veterans Act is totally bipartisan. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, one of the leaders in the Republican Conference, is cosponsoring it with me, and it’s gotten a lot of support. My bottom line is this: Our veterans deserve the best healthcare in the world. If there’s technology that’s available to folks in the private sector right now, it should be available to veterans as well.

Steve:  Is the problem with these institutions leadership, technology, bureaucracy that has no incentives to change, all of the above?  

Rep. Moulton: It’s all of the above, but I’ll tell you, from my background in the Marines, I think a lot of it does come down to leadership. The leadership is starting to change. The new Secretary of the VA comes from the private sector. He’s a veteran, but his experience is really in corporate America, and he’s quickening the pace of innovation at the VA. So that’s an example of a place where it’s starting to change, but this is also why we need innovators in government.

The government does a lot of important things and so many people are just frustrated with politics today, especially with the presidential election, that they’re just checking out. Actually, this is the time when people need to check in, and especially young people.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

Rep. Moulton said he is inspired by the culture change he’s seen during his short tenure in government:

Rep. Moulton: I like seeing new young people come into government and give some of the old bureaucrats a run for their money. We’ve got to improve the personnel system to give more opportunities to you young people, but I spend a lot of time as one of the youngest members of Congress just trying to get other young people involved. For some, it means potentially running some day, for others it means working on a congressional staff or just doing something else in government where you can be an important contributor to fixing some of the problems in government. … 

Steve: You’ve now been in the world largest bureaucracies, US military and probably the biggest bureaucracy in terms of spending, the US Congress. What still gives you hope?

Rep. Moulton: I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the impact that a freshman can make. I run my office like startup. I got my chief of staff from Silicon Valley. We’re just trying to think outside the box and do things differently and we run into bureaucratic obstacles every single day but we don’t let them stop us. Just in my own little personal experience over the past year, I’ve seen the difference that innovators, than an entrepreneurial spirit can make in government.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

Among the ways the government fosters an entrepreneurial spirit is by helping to commercialize scientific research, Rep. Lipinski said:

Rep. Lipinski: Not all research is going to be turned into some new innovation, but there are some things that can be, and that haven’t been, and I think the federal government has a proper role to play in doing that.  

At the Department of Energy I pushed them to create an Office of Technology Transition at the Office of Science so that they can centralize their commercialization activities.

I also was part of helping create the Technology Commercialization Fund created in 2005 to help get research out of labs and into creation of new products.  The third thing at the Department of Energy is Lab Corps which is a … version of the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

The NSF I-Corps is the biggest example of this effort, Rep. Lipinski said. To date, more than 800 teams of scientists and engineers have gone through the program which is built on the Lean LaunchPad curriculum.

I don’t have a background as an entrepreneur. It’s not something that’s in my blood so I honestly had never really thought to myself, “If I had an idea, how would I go about trying to do something with that idea?”

Your Lean LaunchPad class, which became the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps, made complete sense to me, to my engineer mind.

You have an idea but before you say, “I’m just going to launch myself full-force into it,” you must find out, “Does this idea make sense to customers? Do people really want this product?” Maybe they want something a little bit different. You need to get out of the lab to figure that out. …

As someone who was a university professor, I know what some professors are like. These are extremely intelligent people, but they spend all their time in the lab. You really don’t know until you get out and you ask questions, and find out what are people really looking for.

The idea of taking a professor, a graduate student working under the professor and they get together with an entrepreneur — someone who has the experience — and work as a team, going through the whole Customer Development and Lean Startup process … just made complete sense to me and I thought everyone would see that. I thought there was no question.

This is so obvious. First of all, I don’t know why no one came up with this before, and once people hear this they’re going to feel like I feel: This is such a great idea, we’ve got to do everything we can to promote this and spread this. 

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

But while the idea was a no-brainer to Rep. Lipinski, he had to convince others on Capitol Hill to support the program:

Well first of all I got a lot of pushback on the Science Committee. Questions about “Well, should we be choosing winners and losers here?”

A lot of members, mostly Republicans — OK all Republicans — would say, “Solyndra. Remember Solyndra? Remember that our government put all that money into this solar company and it went under, so why are we going to pick winners and losers like this? That’s something the market should do.”

The other thing was, “Well, the National Science Foundation should not be doing this. The National Science Foundation should just be doing basic research. This is not an area the NSF should be in.”

Although if you go back to the original charter of the NSF it clearly lays out that it is something that they should be in. I said, “Look, this is about education. NSF certainly is about education, what we’re doing is educating professors and graduate students about how to be an entrepreneur.”

I still could not get a hearing on the Innovation Corps. … This is the way politics works: 

I was the top Democrat on the Research and Technology subcommittee. Mo Brooksthe Republican chair of the subcommittee, said to me, “I want to have a hearing in my district. If you come to my district for a hearing I’ll come to your district and do a hearing and you can pick whatever topic you want.” So I said OK.

We went down to Huntsville, Ala., he did something with local educators about science education and I said “OK, I want to have a hearing in Chicago. It actually has nothing to do with anything locally,” but this was my chance finally to say “I’m going to bring Steve Blank in and others from the NSF and we’re going to talk about the Innovation Corps.” That was the first hearing.

I tell you, things have certainly turned around since then and I think the Innovation Corps has really been embraced in Washington, especially on Capitol Hill by both sides of the aisle.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

The program has had a tremendous impact, he added:

There aren’t that many things that get done in Washington these days, not many things, especially, that really work. I tell you that day that I came out to Stanford, and sat in on your class, met with you, talked with you, I came out of there thinking this is just an incredible idea.  

After the NSF I-Corps had been running for a while I visited and heard the presentations from the I-Corps teams and then saw companies developing from those ideas, venture capital coming to some of these companies that were being formed, I realized this is something that it really works and it’s something that I championed that was right – and good for the country.

The NSF I-Corps is a great idea, something the government needs to really continue to invest in, and I’m very proud of this maybe more than anything else that I’ve been a part of in the 12 years that I’ve been in Congress because it’s working and making a difference.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

Listen to my full interviews with Reps. Lipinski and Moulton by downloading them from SoundCloud here and here. (And download any of the past shows here.)

Next on Entrepreneurs are Everywhere: Evangelos Simoudis, co-founder and managing director of Synapse Partners; and Ashok Srivastava, Verizon’s chief data scientist.

Tune in Thursday at 1 pm PT, 4 pm ET on Sirius XM Channel 111. 

Want to be a guest on the show?  Entrepreneurship stretches from Main Street to Silicon Valley, from startups to big companies. Send an email to terri@kandsranch.com describing your entrepreneurial journey.

Entrepreneurs are Everywhere Show No. 30: Guido Kovalskys and Doris Korda

There was a time when having the information gave you the power. That’s no longer the key. The problem isn’t getting information or data; it’s knowing what to do with it.

Founders will always encounter naysayers, shut out the voices and listen to the customers instead. It gets you to a business faster.

Two lessons from the guests on today’s Entrepreneurs are Everywhere radio show.

The show follows the journeys of founders who share what it takes to build a startup – from restaurants to rocket scientists, to online gifts to online groceries and more. The program examines the DNA of entrepreneurs: what makes them tick, how they came up with their ideas; and explores the habits that make them successful, and the highs and lows that pushed them forward.

Guido Kolvaskys

Guido Kovalskys

Joining me in from the studio at Stanford University were:

DorisKorda

Doris Korda

Listen to the full interviews with Guido and Doris by downloading them from SoundCloud here and here.

(And download any of the past shows here.)

Clips from their interview are below.

Guido Kovalskys founded four companies in the last 15 years — classroom education, entertainment, health care and adventure vacation destinations and worked at McKinsey & Company before becoming a startup founder.

 While doing Nearpod his education startup, Guido learned to listen to the customers and shut out the naysayers:

Guido: I was clueless about how the education system worked other than as a consumer… so I’m learning a lot. Including that there are a lot of naysayers in the education business. They say things like “There’s a lot of government money and we don’t want to deal with that.” “There’s unions and you don’t want to deal with unions.”

There’s a lot of negative stuff from investors, from sometimes employees. … the publicity around working in education as a for-profit company is not the best one, but it’s huge and important for our society, and I think we need more entrepreneurs in this space.

So I decided to ignore the naysayers. If you feel passionate, and have positive customer feedback, then go do it. You’ll find a way to actually make a business in the space.

Steve:  With almost everything great, people have said, you can’t do that. “The world is flat, you’re going to fall of the edge.” “You can’t go to the moon.” “You can’t build electric cars.” “Who’s going to want a personal computer on your desk?” and “Who’s going to want to talk to your friends on some Facebook? That’s just some kind of stupid idea.” I think every great idea has had that phrase. 

Guido: (Nods.) Nearpod in particular had a lot of that feedback. The first one was, “Mobile devices are not going to get into classrooms anytime soon.” Well they were wrong, it’s happening now.

The second thing we heard was, “Teachers, these are not great customers. They don’t make a lot of money. They will not spend their money on these lessons. They don’t have an influence on the ways the districts spend money. I’ve seen it before. There’s a Death Valley of startups trying to do business with schools and teachers. Don’t do that.”

Well, here we are with $5 million in annual revenues and we’re a consumer company that starts with teachers first, and we don’t charge them a dime.

Now the new naysayer narrative is, “this is not going to scale. …”

So there’s always a good way to destroy what you’re doing. If you really believe it, you put energy and effort, there might be a chance.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

Prior to her 21 years as an educator, Doris Korda spent 15 years as an engineer-turned-entrepreneur in the cowboy days of the high tech industry. She started at AT&T Bell Laboratories, then grew a small network company she sold to Sterling Commerce.

While working at Bell Labs, Doris honed one of the most essential skills for a founder:

Doris:  I learned to ask questions and not to be afraid of asking questions. That sounds like a simple thing, but back then, in the tech world, it was mostly engineers talking tech, bits and bytes. There were lots of people in the room (who were) a lot smarter than I was, technically. I always wanted to know why should we do this, who wants it, who needs it. I talked to people.

I learned a lot about asking questions, asking why? I learned how to form and cultivate shared interest among people in a system where everybody had individual interests. That sounds like a fancy thing, but it’s really just about a lot of relationship-building.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

Doris had been on the job at Bell Labs for a year when the company was broken up. Her youth and inexperience became assets as the company worked to remain competitive:

Doris: Some of my colleagues were paralyzed by the change, but I looked for ways to take the piece parts that my particular unit was allowed to work with and create new solutions. I partnered with people all over the company and I basically built new products.

It was really exciting, because they were so desperate for any kind of competitive success, and I was really, really successful. I ended up at a very early age being promoted, and that put me on the fast track, given awards, all this stuff. When I look back and I think about how young I was, and what they let me do, they were crazy. But it was a great opportunity.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

A founder must love his work, Guido said:

You have to fall in love with the problem. If you’re going to spend your next 5, 10, 15 years working on something it might be as well something that you really feel passionate about. 

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

He talked about what went wrong with Bionexo, his first startup:

Our plan was very theoretical. The business model for automating hospitals was perfect on paper, but we missed very tiny little details, like hospitals don’t have computers for example! This is back in 2000 and most hospitals in Brazil didn’t have computers. And we missed another detail like the procurement process in hospitals in Brazil were corrupt. The person that needed to approve the system was not really interested in actually pushing it forward.

Even though the theory was perfect, we were way ahead of our time.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

And he discussed why immigrant founders face cultural challenges:

Guido: I get the feeling that as an immigrant when you put your feet off the plate you get punished harder. You always have to be watching your back. It’s not that I feel that way at all. I was lucky to come legally to the U.S I came for business school I came for work. I didn’t suffer the typical stigma. I worked at McKinsey. That gave me that interesting aura, really respect academic and professional background. But I think immigrants in general have a challenge in terms of behaving extremely well …

Steve: They have to be better citizens than the citizens just to prove that you deserve to be a citizen?

Guido: Yeah.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

The Hawken School entrepreneurship program is modeled on the Lean LaunchPad curriculum, and has been adopted by high schools across the country. Doris explained how it works and why it’s effective:

I find real businesses with real and urgent startup problems around Cleveland who are willing to let a bunch of high school kids work on those problems.

The students get out of the building to talk with customers. They learn creative problem solving. They learn collaboration.

We run the class like a startup. The students are on four different teams working on real problems with real deadlines. They learn critical thinking. They read more and write more. We can’t imagine how much. They learn quantitative analysis. They learn statistics.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

She also discussed why the education system is ripe for an overhaul:

Doris:  The school system that we have now was created at a time when what mattered most was that everybody learn pretty specific content and it worked. It worked for a long time.

Steve:  What do you mean, like math and history?

Doris:  Yeah,  if you’re going to take a math class, these are the exact things you need to know and this is out of all of what’s happened in history, you need to graduate high school having learned the following things, etc.

What the world needs is not a bunch of people who’ve graduated high school and can recite the quadratic formula from memory, but people who can be smart about knowing what questions to ask and how to solve really complicated problems that the world has never seen yet. 

There was a time when having the information gave you the power. That’s no longer the key. The problem isn’t getting information or data; it’s knowing what to do with it.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

Listen to my full interviews with Guido and Doris by downloading them from SoundCloud here and here. (And download any of the past shows here.)

Next on Entrepreneurs are Everywhere: Congressmen Daniel Lipinski and Seth Moulton discuss how the government’s innovation efforts are now Lean.

Tune in Thursday at 1 pm PT, 4 pm ET on Sirius XM Channel 111.

Want to be a guest on the show? Entrepreneurship stretches from Main Street to Silicon Valley, from startups to big companies. Send an email to terri@kandsranch.com describing your entrepreneurial journey.

Entrepreneurs are Everywhere Show No. 29: Ajay Kshatriya and Steven Cohn

Entrepreneurs see opportunity where others see obstacles and why hubris is an entrepreneur’s worst enemy, were two topics of discussion on my SiriusXM radio show, Entrepreneurs are Everywhere.

The show airs on SiriusXM Channel 111 (weekly Thursdays at 1 pm Pacific, 4 pm Eastern). It follows the journeys of innovators sharing what it takes to build a startup – from restaurants to rocket scientists, to online gifts to online groceries and more. The program examines the DNA of entrepreneurs: what makes them tick, how they came up with their ideas; and explores the habits that make them successful, and the highs and lows that pushed them forward.

Ajay Kshatriya

Ajay Kshatriya

Joining me in the Stanford University studio were

  • Ajay Kshatriya, co-founder and CEO of Biota Technology, which applies DNA sequencing technology to the energy industry
  • Steven Cohn, founder and CEO of Validately, which helps user researchers, product managers and others validate demand or usability for prototypes and live sites.
Steven Cohn

Steven Cohn

Listen to the full interviews with Ajay and Steven by downloading them from SoundCloud here and here.

(And download any of the past shows here.)

Clips from their interview are below.

Ajay Kshatriya has 15 years of experience in biotechnology in energy, healthcare, and software. Before co-founding Biota Technology, he was an investor and entrepreneur-in-residence at Seed Capital, a investing in science-based innovation. Prior, he was a senior manager at Genentech in operations and project management.

Switching from venture capital to startup founder required a different mindset, Ajay said:

All day in a VC firm, you’re saying ‘no’. That’s how your brain’s oriented. You’re constantly critically analyze the gaps in someone’s business plan.

When you’re an entrepreneur, yeah, there’s 100 gaps. But you go figure out how to solve them. It’s kind of a brain switch that you have to make in order to be successful as an entrepreneur.

You really have to take that optimistic lens and say, “This can work, and here’s how we can do it.”

If you can’t hear the clip, click here. 

Before becoming a founder at Validately Steven Cohn was an executive at Quantcast and DoubleClick and had started and sold two companies. The first, Buy Your Friend a Drink, was a success and Steven was eager to start up again.

However, his second venture, Irrive, quickly failed. Here’s why:

Steven: We did everything wrong. We built before testing. We over-designed the product, overbuilt the product, and we built something really beautiful that no one wanted. … 

Steve:  Was it that you didn’t know what you got right the first time?

Steven: Nope, hubris. … Once I had a success in my first company with my second I raised $2 million of seed capital with just a PowerPoint presentation. I didn’t even have a team or anything. People were like, “Wow, you just hit a home run with your exit to LivingSocial. … “You must be a genius. It must be you.”

I’d drunk my own Kool-Aid, I believed it, and so I did everything wrong from a product perspective. …

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

Biota, Ajay explained, is using DNA sequencing of microbes found underground to help oil companies optimize production when hydraulic fracturing.

Here’s how his team validated whether there was a need to increase efficiency in the energy market and how he found Biota’s target market: 

Ajay: We had  done some customer discovery to validate that there was a need in the American energy market to become dramatically more efficient with hydraulic fracturing. They’re wasting a million dollars an oil well, and they’d like to lower that direct cost. Oh, and by the way, if they could, there’s a huge environmental benefit, too. There’s a double bottom line, so we knew that was the case.

Steve:  What’s the environmental benefit?

Ajay: If you know where to fracture, you also know where not to fracture, so you could save 3 million gallons of fresh water a well. There’s 125,000 wells, so that’s billions of gallons of water that you can save.

We started by doing customer discovery –  talking to 75 people in the oil industry over the first four months which was extremely helpful. I mean, what does a guy who’s been in biotech for 15 years applying DNA and software know about the oil industry that’s been around for about 120 years? 

Steve:  Hopefully after 75 people, you know a bit more. Right?

Ajay: (Nods.) I have the world’s biggest hammer looking for a nail. So how do I articulate that value proposition in a way that the customer gets? That was one of the biggest challenges that we had. They hear exactly what you heard. ‘DNA sequencing in the oil?”, what the hell does that mean?

Steve: You needed to translate that to a real customer problem? It took you a while to understand the problem.

Ajay: You got it.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

Business comes down to relationships and building trust, said Ajay, who is the son of Indian immigrants and grew up in Texas. His early life taught him how to make personal connections:

Ajay: One day you’re eating ribs, the next day you’re eating chicken curry, and you know, you kind of wear two different hats. You have two faces: inside the home, and outside the home. You learn that pretty quickly. That was probably one of the most formative parts of growing up in a place like that, with that background. 

Steve:  How do you think that affected you?

Ajay: To relate you have to find commonalities between people. If I’m hanging out with a bunch of guys in Texas, how can I connect and relate to them? Then if I go hang out with all my dad’s friends who grew up in India, how do I connect and relate to them? It kind of creates a chameleon-like personality you develop in connecting with people in different ways. 

Learning how to connect helped me a lot as an entrepreneur  When you’re a founder you got to sell all the time – to a wide variety of people.  You got to convince people that you’re crazy idea can work, you got to hire people, you got to get investors to write you checks, customers to give you money to do what you say you can do. The most important part of sales is building trust, and you can’t build trust if you you’re not able to connect with people.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

Ajay also shared his recipe for success:

The three rules of a career that have helped me and I continue to follow:

  1.  find mentors who are 10, 20, 30 years your senior that you aspire to be when you get to that age. Ask them for advice and do what they tell you to do. …
  2. surround yourself with people way smarter than you. It’s not a sign that you’re dumb; it’s a sign that you have perspective and maturity.
  3. most importantly, out-work everybody. Look to the person to your left, look to the person to your right. The only way to guarantee your success is just to work harder than they do. 

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

Despite having a Harvard Business School education, Steven learned some of his biggest business lessons outside the classroom:

Steven: I went to business school at Harvard but when I graduated I said, “There’s a couple of things I want to learn before I start my own business.” I think I was hesitant because of the experience my father had where he tried a bunch of businesses that were unsuccessful.

So my first job out of business school I wanted to learn finance and I went to Merrill Lynch in investment banking. There I learned about how to raise capital.  I also learned how to sell a company — the process, the steps to sell a company. Both of those skills – raising capital and selling companies have helped me throughout my career because I’ve sold two companies of my own prior to starting my current company.

Working at Merrill Lynch I realized I’m not a big company guy. Even today when I’m interviewing people I say, “You know what? You’re great, and our company is great, but it’s just not a fit.” Sometimes when I interview people I think they’re very talented, I just don’t think they’re going to fit within our company culture, what we need to do. That’s just as important as their skills. I think there are some people who are builders, there are some people who are creators, and there are some people who are managers, they like to manage big organizations. I think those are very different skill sets.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

In starting his first company, Steven found himself talking to customers in an unlikely place:

Steven: I went into bars and I said, “My name is Steve Cohn, I’m thinking about starting a company called ‘Buy Your Friend a Drink,’ and the way my product would work is, people would walk in here with a gift certificate that’s pre-bought for a drink.”

I remember the first bar I went into — I didn’t have a website, I didn’t have anything … The bar manager said, “That sounds great. I’ll sign up. Where’s your contract?” I said, “Uh, contract? I’ll be back in two weeks!”

I found that the first thing I did — the bars and restaurants, and supply-side of the market — was very easy to do.

Steve:  That’s a big win, right? To figure that out – 

Steven: Yeah, a big win. … The first day … I just literally walked around. … I had nothing behind me besides me and what I could say to people.

I didn’t have business cards, I didn’t have anything (and) I was able to sign up a half-dozen bars in one day.

Steven also discussed one of the darkest times he encountered while building Buy Your Friend a Drink:

I can’t tell you how painful it was (during the financial crisis) in January of 2009, in December of 2008, when you see everything that you had built crumbling because of macro-factors you have no control of.

My wife was pregnant at the time, we were running out of cash. I hadn’t taken a salary in two years just from when I started the company and we were low on capital, our personal wealth. I was getting a tremendous amount of pressure.

Shareholders were yelling at me because I was running out of cash. I’m like, “Do you realize what’s going on in the world? CitiBank is trading at $2 a share. If we knew that, I would have put the cash in and shorted CitiBank, right?”  

No one knew what was going on but I persevered through and it turned out to be a very good outcome

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

Listen to my full interviews with Ajay and Steven by downloading them from SoundCloud here and here. (And download any of the past shows here.)

Next on Entrepreneurs are Everywhere: Guido Kovalskys, co-founder and CEO of Nearpod; and Doris Korda, associate head of school and director of entrepreneurial studies at the Hawken School.

Tune in Thursday at 1 pm PT, 4 pm ET on Sirius XM Channel 111. 

Want to be a guest on the show?  Entrepreneurship stretches from Main Street to Silicon Valley, from startups to big companies. Send an email to terri@kandsranch.com describing your entrepreneurial journey.

Entrepreneurs are Everywhere Show No. 28: Magdalena Yesil and Michael Mondavi

If I had spent less time on the business and more time with the family, we’d have been better off as a business and as a family.

Family must come first in a family business.

And if others don’t get your startup idea, it won’t matter how hard your team works to try to achieve it.

Balancing business and family, and ensuring demand for your product were key lessons shared by two veteran entrepreneurs on today’s Entrepreneurs are Everywhere radio show.

The show follows the journeys of founders who share what it takes to build a startup – from restaurants to rocket scientists, to online gifts to online groceries and more. The program examines the DNA of entrepreneurs: what makes them tick, how they came up with their ideas; and explores the habits that make them successful, and the highs and lows that pushed them forward.

Magdalena Yesil

Magdalena Yesil

Joining me in from the studio at Stanford University were

Michael Mondavi

Michael Mondavi

Listen to the full interviews with Magdalena and Michael by downloading them from SoundCloud here and here.

(And download any of the past shows here.)

Clips from their interview are below.

Magdalena Yesil is a founding board member and first investor of Salesforce. In Silicon Valley for three decades, spent eight years as a partner at US Venture Partners. Before she was an investor, Magdalena founded two electronic commerce companies, CyberCash – a pioneer in the secure electronic payment systems, and MarketPay, an embedded payments software company.

Magdalena was a pioneer in the commercialization of the Internet, helping move it out of the government and university domains and in establishing the infrastructure for e-commerce and financial transaction platforms.

Despite her later career success, Magdalena’s first venture failed. She explained why:

Magdalena:   … you can have a fantastic idea, you can have a great team, you can have what you believe is a great market opportunity but you can die at the end so none of those are sufficient.

Steve:  Why? What did you miss?

Magdalena:  What we missed was capital … We spent three years on developing and actually even structuring deals to buy Internet access companies out of Stanford and out of MIT, and no venture capitalist would give us a penny.

Steve: Because they didn’t get it?

Magdalena: (Nods)… They did not believe that taking a nonprofit from a university and turning it into a commercial entity made any sense. There was no demand in companies for using a wide area network like the Internet and they didn’t believe that the demand would ever be there so we got no funding. We had to fold after three years of not making a dollar. Basically, it was a very sad end.

We went and teamed up with a company called UUNET (one of the first Internet companies). UUNET ultimately ended up executing on the vision that we were trying to do and what was fantastic was that co-founder Dan Lynch and I as a team were able to make ourselves become part of UUNET and then we were able to realize our dreams through UUNET.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

Michael Mondavi is widely credited with helping to establish and build the Napa Valley wine industry as we know it. His career began in 1966 when he and his father Robert co-founded the Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa Valley.  

In 2004, he launched Folio Fine Wine Partners with his wife Isabel and their children, Rob, Jr. and Dina.

A successful family business is a balancing act, he said:

…If my father and if I, when I was younger and my children were growing, spent less time on the business and more time with the family, we’d have been better off as a business and as a family.

(When I running the company) I would do extra travel to enhance the personal relationship with our customers across the United States. To do that, I had to sacrifice time away from my son and daughter and wife as the kids were growing. I didn’t get to as many ball games or soccer or whatever as I would have like to. I got to probably ten times as many or a hundred times as many as my father got when I was growing up, but still not enough. 

One of the things we wanted to do for the next generation is have them have the entrepreneurial spirit, but understand more balance of family with business rather than business, business, business and then family. …

… you can drive your children away from the business if they are jealous of the time you spend in business rather than the time you spend with them.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

Magdalena shared one of the keys to her success:

Magdalena: Curiosity drove me more so than anything else. Technology is a fantastic field if you’re a curious person because there’s always something new to learn. My career pretty much mirrors Silicon Valley; because I always wanted to get on the next wave. I was always curious to find out what the next developments were. I moved from semiconductors to systems then from systems to software, then from software to online services.

Steve:  But you weren’t qualified, you didn’t have 15 years of experience in any of these things. How did you get those jobs if you know nothing about them?

Magdalena: But you’re never qualified in technology. Everyone’s a newbie because when there’s a new wave happening, no one knows really the depths. We all figure it out together. The key isn’t to know a lot, the key is to know more from the guys next to you.

Steve:  How did you that?

Magdalena: It’s really studying up. My skills as a student even today are in good use. Always studying up, always trying to figure out how you can learn as to where the research is, where the developments are, having a very good mind as to where the potential market opportunities might be.

Steve:  You kept reading past your current domain expertise, is that?

Magdalena:  I always did. I always have. curiosity drives most technologists. Let’s face it. When there’s a new technology that’s emerging, there’s very little information about it but the only thing you can do is speak or look at the research that’s going on. Today, it’s not just what’s happening here in Silicon Valley but internationally and then apply yourself and become a specialist.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

Founders don’t have to be in Silicon Valley to have a successful venture, she added:

Everyone who is bright, ambitious and willing to work hard now seems to find their way to Silicon Valley from around the world.

But coming to Silicon Valley is not nirvana. The truth is you can start your startups wherever you are. What you need to do is to learn from Silicon Valley but apply it to your own ecosystem. In fact, the chances of you being successful where you are is probably a lot higher than packing your bags and coming mid-career to another country.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

When Michael and his father started the Robert Mondavi Winery, few people were drinking California wines. Europe had the market cornered. Michael explained how some Stanford grad students helped establish the California brand:

Michael: We loved to take European wines – whether it was a great Burgundy or great Bordeaux – that would cost three to 10 times the price of ours and put them on the table next to our California wines and have people taste them blind. The question we asked was not, “Which wine is better?” We asked, “Do these wines belong to be on the same table complementing this meal?” The majority of the time people preferred drinking our California and Napa wines over the Bordeaux or Burgundy ones.

Before that, restaurateurs would never compare California with France. It was “France is great” and “California is jug wine.”  Time after time after time we had to take our wines and do tastings side by side against the first growth Bordeaux.

Steve:  It seems like there was a multisided market. You had to convince the wholesalers and the distribution channel, but you also had to convince the end users, right? How did you do that?

Michael: Back then, the average wine drinker had to be over 50 years of age because the people below 50 were into cocktails. They didn’t care about wine.

So our first targets were Wine & Food Society groups, Medical Friends of Wine. Back then, they were all at least 50 percent older than me.  At Stanford I would do all of these wine and food society groups, black tie events, and try to present our wines versus the French. Then I went to graduate schools, and I would conduct wine tastings for the graduate schools.

We began getting a group of young college graduates from Stanford, from Berkeley, from Harvard, from all of the key schools, who started following our wines. And we were the only people doing it.

I was tired of serving wine to penguins in tuxedos who were a lot older than me.

My thinking was graduate students are going to want to learn about wine. They’re going to be able to afford wine and who else to become your ambassador?

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

A customer crisis nearly destroyed the Robert Mondavi Winery in the mid-1970s. Some quick thinking saved the business:

This large customer, the Geyser Peak Winery, owned by the Schlitz Brewery at the time, cancelled a 5-year contract for bulk wine and said, “If you don’t like it, sue us.”

If we didn’t do something with that wine and convert the liquid to cash in a relatively short period of time, we would have gone bankrupt.

I went home and took all of these different cabernet, pinot noir grape varieties and I put all the red together in a blend and all the white together in a blend and I called it “red table wine” and “white table wine,” put it in a magnum bottle with a cork and was able to convert that wine into cash in a period of a year and a half. … No one had done that before.

in 1974 60% of all wine sold  was in half-gallon jugs with a screw cap and a handle called “Burgundy” and “Chablis.” I was the first one to put a quality wine in a magnum bottle with a cork and call it red table wine and white table wine.

It mainly sold through restaurants. …They were selling a glass of Chablis for $1.25 a glass, but the Chablis was kind of sweet and didn’t invite you to have a second glass. I convinced the restaurateurs to sell mine for $1.50 a glass. It would cost them a little more, but they’d sell 2 or 3 glasses because the wine was drinkable.

We went from 0 to 100,000 cases of wine in 1 year.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

One of the things that keeps Michael going at age 73 is his willingness to keep learning from others:

If I don’t learn something every day I’ve wasted the day. One of the beauties of working with different families in Europe and representing their wines here is that they have a different thought process. Take the Frescobaldi Family: before they’ll make a decision, on a strategic issue for the business, they ask, “Will this impact my great-great-grandchildren?”

Here in this country we say, “What will happen in the next 90 days?”

So dealing with different people and exchanging ideas with them it keeps you fresh, it keeps you young.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

Listen to my full interviews with Magdalena and Michael by downloading them from SoundCloud here and here. (And download any of the past shows here.)

Next on Entrepreneurs are Everywhere: Ajay Kshatriya, co-founder and CEO of Biota Technology; and Steven Cohn, founder and CEO of Validately.

Tune in Thursday at 1 pm PT, 4 pm ET on Sirius XM Channel 111.

Want to be a guest on the show?  Entrepreneurship stretches from Main Street to Silicon Valley, from startups to big companies. Send an email to terri@kandsranch.com describing your entrepreneurial journey.

Entrepreneurs are Everywhere Show No. 27: Brandon Bruce and Jack Sundell

When your customers are grabbing your Minimal Viable Product out of your hands, it’s time to launch the product.

The latest guests on Entrepreneurs are Everywhere explained why.

The radio show airs on SiriusXM Channel 111 (weekly Thursdays at 1 pm Pacific, 4 pm Eastern). It follows the journeys of founders who share what it takes to build a startup – from restaurants to rocket scientists, to online gifts to online groceries and more. The program examines the DNA of entrepreneurs: what makes them tick, how they came up with their ideas; and explores the habits that make them successful, and the highs and lows that pushed them forward.

Brandon Bruce headshot

Brandon Bruce

Joining me in SiriusXM’s studio in New York were

Jack Sundell

Jack Sundell

Listen to the full interviews with Brandon and Jack by downloading them from SoundCloud here and here.

(And download any of the past shows here.)

Clips from their interview are below.

Brandon Bruce is a co-founder of Cirrus Insight, a plugin for Gmail and Outlook that allows Salesforce apps to be used inside an inbox. Before starting Cirrus Insight, Brandon was director of gifts and grants at Maryville College, and operations manager of Rangefire Integrated Networks.

Brandon explained how he knew it was time to launch:

Brandon: … customers told us that it was ready. They said, “We know it needs more and we want more from it, but it’s ready enough and we find value from it.”

One customer found the website — they weren’t supposed to find it. … They put their credit card in and paid for the app. We said, “We’re not going to charge you yet. We’ll refund the money.” They said, “It’s OK, I’m going to buy it once it’s for sale so I’ll be your first customer.” That was a vote of confidence. We figured there’s a company behind the app.

Steve:  You tested with customers, you got customer feedback, you listened … Your thought, “We need to fill out our feature set because our plan said so” (but customers said) “No you don’t. Features 1,6, and 12 are good enough now.”

Brandon: That’s exactly what they said. I’m glad that they did because it got us to market first; we captured a lot of mind share. People said, “Well, if you want Gmail and Salesforce, then Cirrus Insight is the app for you.

They were telling us, “This is what we need and want. These are the features we need and want. This is a great product and is saving us a lot of time and it’s getting better data in Salesforce. We can run better reports and it’s elevating the whole business.”

We thought, “Well, that’s a big win for them. There’s value there in the marketplace, so we decided to get it out.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

Before opening The Root Café with his wife Corri in 2011, Jack Sundell was in the Peace Corps. Stationed in Morocco he taught English and organized activities at an after school youth center. When he returned home to Arkansas, he volunteered at the Heifer Ranch in Perryville and quickly fell in love with producing and cooking  fresh food.

The experience stoked a passion in him for opening his own café, but rather than jump in to the farm-to-table venture, Jack took three years to launch. He said it was time well spent:

Jack: We learned a lot about hard work, about the importance of working to build community, the importance of building capital on the front end and trying to stay out of debt. The real driver was that we wanted to fund the café without borrowing money, so we decided to spend these three years doing a capital campaign.

We would do things like fundraisers where we would just invite a lot of friends to come and they would donate to this project. We did canning and food preservation workshops. We did catering out of a church kitchen. We also did something we called the share campaign, which was a lot like a kick-starter or a crowd-funding campaign, where we basically pre-sold our food and promised that for every $10 that someone donated, we would pay them back with a meal once we opened.

Steve:  So while raising money, you were running a branding and a customer-acquisition campaign. People knew you were going open a restaurant for three years?

Jack: Right! It helped us build a great mailing list. It helped us get our brand out there. It helped raise awareness of local foods in general, so all of those things turned out to be really great.

It also helped us create a network of farmers, which was another one of those things that we didn’t realize was important, but through all the catering work we had done and the food preservation workshops, we had connected with lots and lots of the farmers that deliver to Little Rock.

Steve:  Those farmers are your supply chain?

Jack: Right. We purchase every week from 25 or 30 different farmers and producers and on an annual basis, maybe 50 or 60. There is no way that we would have had time to establish all those connections once we were in the trenches of actually opening a restaurant.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

Building a partner network was another crucial thing for Cirrus, Brandon said:

Brandon: People said a SAAS (Software as a Service) companies like ours, haven’t had a lot of success selling through partners. But it just made sense to us that partners could be like an extended sales team before we could afford to have one. We developed these relationships …

Steve:  These partners sold your product for you because it complemented some of the other products they sold?

Brandon: Yeah. Our partners are Salesforce consultants. They’re implementing Salesforce and would tell the client, “This is the way to boost Salesforce. “You’re using Gmail or Outlook, and you’re scheduling appointments with customers on the calendar. That’s where you live, and all that data really needs to go into Salesforce and vice versa so you need Cirrus Insight”. … and those folks help drive a lot of sales for us. So we use a partner channel, we do telesales and we do a lot of email.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

A crisis showed Brandon and his co-founder, Ryan Huff, that they had achieved success:

… Ryan and I … both have young kids and we decided well, so far, so good. We’re about a year into building the company and let’s take the kids to Disneyland and, of course, it’s while we’re at Disneyland that it’s one of the biggest power outages in history took our app down as well as Netflix and Instagram and Foursquare and other far better-known apps down. 

For 30 seconds or so, we thought maybe we’d have a breakout sales day because we had about 100 calls and then we figured, no, something’s actually wrong.

Meanwhile, our customers cared that Cirrus was down.

… We were at Disneyland on our phones with not a lot of ability to do anything. Not that we could have done anything back at the office either, because it was out of our control. That was a very challenging day. The silver lining to that was that the feedback that we got from the customers was stuff like “people have stopped working at the office because your site is down.” We thought, wait a second, Google is still up, Salesforce is still up. You can just work the way you did before but they said “no, it’s become such an ingrained part of our workflow and it’s so important, we won’t go back to the other way. Until the app comes back up, everyone’s going to kind of hang out.”  

We thought, it’s a must-have application now for companies.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

Jack went the hands-on route to learn about the restaurant business:

Once we had figured out that we were going to go forward with the idea of opening a café, I worked in a couple of places in Little Rock that were really similar. Kind of the fast, casual model where you order at the counter, find a seat, they bring you your food. I picked a couple of those places in Little Rock that I thought would be good for learning my way around.

… (It was) a lot of trying to learn how orders happen, how did they make sure they had the food they needed to produce the menu every day, how did they make the schedule so that employees knew when to come to work. 

… It was a huge learning experience…. Behind the veil of a restaurant there’s a lot of things that go on that once you see and you realize, “Gosh, that’s really a smart way.” It’s not that every restaurant reinvents the wheel. There’s almost never a situation where someone opens a restaurant without ever having had any contact. This is all knowledge that’s been passed down over generations.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

And he quickly learned that running an eatery is about far more than the food:

Jack: Really when we started there was this goal, and we did whatever felt right at each turn to reach it. If I had known, for example, when I was in college that I would be operating a restaurant some day, I would have loved to take some accounting and bookkeeping courses. It would be so helpful to know more about electrical and plumbing (because) anything that I have to pay someone $75 an hour to fix now, when it goes wrong, I’d love to be able to do that myself. 

… (Also) it never even occurred to me to go to culinary school when I was in college or going to college, or getting out of college, but it’s fascinating, and there’s so many culinary schools that offer a great education, so I could have done that instead of just bouncing around with an undecided major in college. Then, I think it also really would have been helpful to identify employee management …

Steve: How many people do you have?

Jack: When we started, there were about four. My wife and me, and two employees, and now we’re at about 18. … We have a front of house staff, we have a back of house staff, so it’s just a really steep learning curve, how to attract, how to motivate, how to maintain great relationships with employees because really, if you think about it, employees are your ambassadors.  

They’re your representatives all the time, and if you’re ever not going to be there, you have to trust that your employees are going to do the kind of job that you would do if you were there. Trying to teach that, trying to verbalize it, trying to instill it as a philosophy, we found it to be a really difficult thing.

It’s a challenge but it’s also really rewarding, and now we have really an incredible staff that we’ve built, it’s taken us four and a half years to get to this point. But we’re open today and I was able to come to New York to do this interview, so I think we’ve come a long way.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

Listen to my full interviews with Brandon and Jack by downloading them from SoundCloud here and here. (And download any of the past shows here.)

Next on Entrepreneurs are EverywhereMichael Mondavi, founder and coach of Folio Fine Wine Partners, and Magdalena Yesil, founding investor and board member of Salesforce.

Tune in Thursday at 1 pm PT, 4 pm ET on Sirius XM Channel 111. 

Want to be a guest on the show?  Entrepreneurship stretches from Main Street to Silicon Valley, from startups to big companies. Send an email to terri@kandsranch.com describing your entrepreneurial journey.

Entrepreneurs are Everywhere Show No. 26: Javier Saade and Hillary Hartley

The U.S. government is discovering that Lean innovation can help them serve the country better and faster.

The Small Business Administration and the digital services agency 18F are trying to help entrepreneurs build successful companies and the 21st century digital government.

The guests on today’s Entrepreneurs are Everywhere radio show explained how they’re working to do that.

The show follows the journeys of founders who share what it takes to build a startup – from restaurants to rocket scientists, to online gifts to online groceries and more. The program examines the DNA of entrepreneurs: what makes them tick, how they came up with their ideas; and explores the habits that make them successful, and the highs and lows that pushed them forward.

Javier Saade

Javier Saade

Joining me on the latest show were

Hillary Hartley

Hillary Hartley

Listen to the full interviews with Javier and Hillary by downloading them from SoundCloud here and here.

(And download any of the past shows here.)

Clips from their interview are below.

Javier Saade was the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Associate Administrator and chief of its investment and innovation programs.

Prior to his public service, Javier spent 20+ years in investing, management, entrepreneurial and public policy, starting as a strategy consultant at McKinsey and Booz, Allen and at Abbott Laboratories. He also co-founded three companies: a broadcasting network, Air America Media, a solar energy company, Atenergy and a branding agency, Brand Maestro.

Javier explained how the SBA helps drive entrepreneurship in the U.S.:

Javier: … the entrepreneurial engine of the United States is bar none  the most efficient wealth creation and job creation tool that has ever existed. … 

I headed up the programs that focused on high-growth businesses in the United States.

The U.S. government is the biggest spender and the biggest investor in research and development in the world. $140 billion this year, about half of it goes into very basic science research. (For example) we’re trying to discover the 111th periodic element, which you may not have a current application for. And some of it could be in development. For example, the department of defense saying, “We need a very thin plastic that stops bullets and we want it to be this thin.” So essentially, the government invests in both (research), and (development).”

Two of the entrepreneurial programs, which I managed is called the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR), and the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. Essentially the SBIR and STTR programs took ~2% of that $140 billion research and development budget and invested it in small businesses who want to commercialize this government investment in research and development. We give out between $2 and $3 billion a year for these startups as 5,000 and 7,000 grants to small businesses doing everything from advance composite materials, space exploration, to IT, mobile security, you name it. The goal is help these companies take their tech

…It is money extremely well spent. The way the program is structured is not dissimilar to how companies travel the capital formation path in the commercial world.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

Getting things done in Washington, he says, is a challenge:

Javier:  … For things to get done, the politics is something that was very difficult to get used to. …

Steve:  Was even the Small Business Administration politicized?

Javier:  Everything is politicized.

Steve:  I would have thought this was kind of neutral, good for the country.

Javier:  It’s neutral good for the country, but there’s always dissension, and that’s one of the things that, probably the only thing I did not like. … I loved the experience, I think it was an amazing experience to serve the country, to do things that are bigger than yourself.  However I had 535 bosses –  if you think about a company, the owners are represented by the board of directors. In the case of the company, it’s 320 million Americans that are represented by 535 (Congressmen). … so that was my board of directors.

Steve:  How about the organization itself? Did you encounter organizational inertia?

Javier:  Well … I was an appointee of the White House, and there’s always that rub … about … the professional managers of the government that at the end of the year you can’t incent them like in the private sector. … (and) you can’t fire them. You can’t … incent them with bonuses. You (are) very constrained as to what motivational tools you (have).

That said, again, just the experience I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. There’s 28 million small businesses in the United States. While I was there … I touched tens of thousands of companies.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

Hillary Hartley is co-founder and lead creative at 18F, a digital services agency inside the General Services Administration. She came to the GSA as a Presidential Innovation Fellow in 2013, where she worked on the development of MyUSA.gov. Hillary has been working to make government more accessible and available online for nearly two decades, starting as a web designer for Arkansas.gov in 1997.

Hillary pointed out that there’s plenty of innovation taking place within the government:

Hillary: We are here to help the folks in every government agency trying their hardest to get really awesome stuff done, and perhaps they’re blocked because of budget, perhaps they’re blocked because they don’t have the staff (or) any number of blockers.

They can come to us at 18F and we can help them try to get their awesome idea off the ground. That’s the attitude we take, that we are really just here to help get the amazing things that the agencies are already working that aren’t done.

Steve:  This notion of innovation and the U.S. government doesn’t typically come up in the same phrase.

Hillary: It has been referred to as an oxymoron (but) it’s not true at all. … Even if you think back to the first year of the presidential (innovation) fellowship, when this was just a hypothesis: could we get 15 to 20 folks from the private sector to come in and kick off some of these projects. Even then, the projects that agencies were pitching to that team were incredible. Folks across the federal government have incredible ideas and they’re trying to get some amazing things done. 

Like I said, they often just are blocked in some way, perhaps they don’t have the employees to get it done, they don’t have the resources to get it done, they aren’t sure where to start, so we are here to help them figure out how to start. 

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

Here’s how 18F works:

Hillary: 18F … is a consultancy. We are a team of digital services experts, about 160 currently to serve government agencies. … We’ve grown about 10x in a little over 18 months.

Essentially our work all starts about the same. Agencies approach us with an idea, with, perhaps, a product or a project that they’ve been kind of stewing on internally or maybe it’s just a big outside-of-the-box thing. …Our work takes primarily three directions: 1) Are we going to help them build the solution or 2) are we going to help them figure out how to buy it or 3) maybe get their current solution back on track?

… One of our most recent launches was with the FEC, the Federal Election CommissionIt was a pretty exciting project because it encapsulates what we really want to do and what we like to do and what our goals are for this team.

The FEC came to us and said, “We’ve got all this data. We’ve got an enormous amount of open data, it’s really cool data but nobody comes to us for that data. Other groups like the Sunlight Foundation or Open Secrets, other groups are coming and downloading it, because it’s open data, it’s available for the public, and then they do cool stuff with it.” They wanted people to be coming to the mother ship for this data. We said, well, OK, you’ve got probably two problems, you’ve got a website that needs some help but also we want to lay the plumbing, we want to lay the foundation. We are a data-first and API-first team, application programming interface. You know, really wanted to lay the infrastructure for other people, including us, to use that data more effectively. The first thing we did was we built an API, an application programming interface.

Steve:  So other people can suck out data from their site?

Hillary: That’s exactly right. There are something like 65,000 different end points within that data so everything we really were focusing on. … the FEC deals with campaign finance information, regulating and disclosing all that information.

Steve:  You help people get access to all this government data … that the people who ran the website just hadn’t done before, either because of a lack of skills or a lack of time or a lack of expertise that you brought.

Hillary: That’s exactly right. We launched the API first and allowed a bunch of different researchers and organizations like the Sunlight Foundation and Open Secrets to grab that data and start doing interesting things with it. Then we went to work on building a search website for the FEC, completely redoing their interface to the data (so people can actually search) from FEC.gov.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

Here’s how 18F fosters a culture of service:

Hillary: The culture has become so ingrained in me and it really is about service (and) community. The folks on the 18F  team are empowered. They feel like they are able to just get things done.

On our website you’ll see the phrase, “Delivery is the strategy.” The way we are making the cultural change inside all the industries we work with is by shipping — by shipping code, by delivering the things that we’re working on.

And by doing that, we’re also shipping culture, we’re giving the agencies an opportunity to do something in a brand-new way — (for example) to participate in a design studio. To get pencils out and sketch along with us. To go through a deep dive as some sort of daylong workshop that helps them break through a barrier.

It’s resetting their expectations for how all this can get done. It resets our team’s expectations, too.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

Listen to my full interviews with Javier and Hillary by downloading them from SoundCloud here and here. (And download any of the past shows here.)

Next on Entrepreneurs are EverywhereBrandon Bruce, co-founder of Cirrus Insight; and Jack Sundell, co-founder of The Root Café.

Tune in Thursday at 1 pm PT, 4 pm ET on Sirius XM Channel 111.

Want to be a guest on the show?  Entrepreneurship stretches from Main Street to Silicon Valley, from startups to big companies. Send an email to terri@kandsranch.com describing your entrepreneurial journey.

Entrepreneurs are Everywhere Show No. 25: Nigel and Vaughn Caldon and Kerry Frank

Tenacity and resilience. Getting people to buy in to your startup vision takes a thick skin, perseverance and willingness to learn. You’ll probably be laughed out of several boardrooms along the way.

Entrepreneurs refuse to take no for an answer.

The latest guests on Entrepreneurs are Everywhere shared what they learned from having their ideas rejected and how those lessons propelled their businesses forward.

The radio show airs on SiriusXM Channel 111 (weekly Thursdays at 1 pm Pacific, 4 pm Eastern). It follows the journeys of founders who share what it takes to build a startup – from restaurants to rocket scientists, to online gifts to online groceries and more. The program examines the DNA of entrepreneurs: what makes them tick, how they came up with their ideas; and explores the habits that make them successful, and the highs and lows that pushed them forward.

Nigel Caldon

Nigel Caldon

Joining me in SiriusXM’s studio in New York were

Vaughn Caldon

Vaughn Caldon

Listen to the full interviews with Nigel and Vaughn and with Kerry by downloading them from SoundCloud here and here.

(And download any of the past shows here.)

Kerry Frank

Kerry Frank

Clips from their interview are below.

Nigel and Vaughn Caldon are brothers who founded the startup The Street Academy for Financial Literacy and now BallStar togetherVaughn served as Associate Director of Alumni Affairs at Prep for PrepNigel spent five years working in investment management at Goldman Sachs and Citi Alternative Investments before going in to business with his brother. Nigel also teaches Data Analytics at General Assembly NYC.  

In building their companies, the Caldon brothers have found that when things get tough, there’s always a way to make it work.

Nigel: … We’ve done a pretty decent job … bootstrapping with limited resources — trying to figure out different ways to get work done and move the needle without actually spending any money. … There’s always a way and as long as you’re paying attention you’ll always be able to find some sort of resource that’s there to fill exactly what you need done.

Vaughn: You have to love learning… because some of the ‘no’s’ we’ve had have taught us more about the business than, you know, some of the, “Hey, I’d love to be a part of this.” 

Steve: Give me an example. Tell me about a ‘no’ that made you smarter.

Vaughn: You know, any ‘no’ from an investor that said, “traction” really meant, ‘I don’t understand your idea, but go ahead and try and prove it to us.’ … also someone who said, “You know, XYZ is this doing better,” or “We use this.” They put us onto a competitor that we didn’t know about. That wasn’t a ‘no’, that was a huge misstep on us not knowing this company was in our space.

Steve:  What happens when someone says, “Take a look at this competitor”? What do you do?

Vaughn: You’re in a better position when you know what it is because you don’t have anything and they’re stuck with what they have. That’s really inspiring me to go after what’s already out there.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

Kerry Frank co-founded Comply365 in 2007 with her husband. The company has transformed the aviation industry by replacing pilot flight bags with tons of manuals with digital tablets in cockpits.  

She struggled early on trying to get customers to see her vision for maintaining aviation manuals and other records on the cloud rather than on paper:

Kerry: Just a couple short months after that final testing (of Comply’s 365 product using a Kindle) the iPad came out and I looked at that. so I said, “Geez, I got to go with the iPad because look at this dynamic color and all of this.” I started running around to all the airlines with either a Kindle or an iPad and saying, “We’re going to change your business, we’re going to revolutionize the way you work, we’re going to take all the paper off the plane, we’re going to save you this much money.” I was laughed out of every boardroom.

… They said, “You’re way too innovative, we’re too risk adverse, we’ll never do this, you’re crazy, come back in a decade.” 

… I just continued to say, “No, you don’t have to be a legacy. You don’t have to have that “you can’t change” mentality; you guys can change. Anybody can change. You just have to believe it and we can revolutionize aviation. We can change the way we work and this will be safer. It will be the best for aviation in the long term.” I even went to top charting vendors in the world and said if you do electronic charting … 

Steve:  Like Jeppesen?

Kerry:  Yeah, laughed out of their boardroom. They said, “We’ll never do an iPad.”

Steve:  Are they on the iPad now? 

Kerry:  Yes they are.After a year of persevering, it was tough. We’re living on 50 bucks a week, a family of five (with the business) in the basement of our home. We have some employees, and we never missed payroll and we’re trying to change the world right? We’re trying to change industry. We got our first win and then our second win, and then within 16 months I had pretty much flipped the market.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

Focusing on your vision is critical, Vaughn Caldon said:

There’s so much that you want to do and then there’s what you have to do. I think the biggest learning curve is how to be in focused on that straight line. … because there’s something going on over here that you’d love to be involved and have your name next to it … may not be as important as another hour kind of vetting the design with someone you’ve been through it with a hundred times already.

It’s just really about focusing on what’s clearly the next step in front of you. That’s been the biggest lesson for us because … we were quick to bounce around.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

Being domain experts and having done one startup together gave the Caldon brothers confidence about starting Ballstar:

Vaughn: The confidence that we can start anything together , came from the fact that we had been the CEO and Director of Development of an organization that we created, and we started interacting on that level. …

The next step (in confidence) was knowing the space. We’re from Brooklyn, we play basketball, we know basketball players. …

… people got on Twitter because Shaquille O’Neal was there first … (Keeping that in mind) we … led with … aspirational leagues.

We went to sign up leagues like West Fourth Street, EVC at the Rucker, Dykeman, Tri-State Classic. These are all iconic leagues that people want to be involved and want to be affiliated with, so getting them on the platform first and catering to them, building that as our customer, and developing those customers was our focus. We knew we could do that.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

Here’s how they knew their idea could be a business

Nigel: It obviously started out as an absolute passion (for us).

We had to back-end our way into, figuring out, where is the business (model) in that? You could sell ads or you could sell the data. What we really found that our client was essentially the basketball league, and we could throw ourselves in the middle of the transaction.

There’s almost $2 billion spent in North America on paying to play basketball. If I’m providing a platform-as-a-service to amateur basketball leagues all over the world, now I have the opportunity to take a transaction commission the way Uber does. You can download Uber for free, but as soon as you hail a cab, you’re paying. Download BallStar for free, as soon as you want to play basketball, leave us some change.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

Customer discovery paid off for Kerry

Kerry: I listened and it was magic. Everyone started raising their hand and saying, “I have this problem, I have that problem.”

Steve:  Did you know you were doing customer discovery?

Kerry: I did. That was a key to my consulting business. … The beautiful thing is when you ask the customers, they’re in the space, they understand it, and they also then have buy in, right, because you’re going to solve their problem … 

Steve:  For our listeners, this is a brilliant insight. It sounds like you practiced it perfectly. They essentially taught you what the product should do.

Kerry: Right. I have 13 products today and everybody says, “How did you think of those?” I say, “I never thought of those, I was just a really good listener.”

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

Being self-taught, she said, gave her an edge:

I didn’t go to college. I just started working for people … in all kinds of different jobs. …. I was always really good at whatever I did, because I loved working so much, it was my passion. I’d always start getting promoted to another level, but I have this inner thing inside of me that I can’t describe, that as soon as I started to get promoted to management levels I would quit.

I would say, “No, I have a destiny to do something else, and I’m trying to find my way.” I always also struggled with this part that had to get back into help. I was always then also giving to charities, or working for charities, or working for churches, or youth groups. It was kind of this back and forth. It was this incredible path that people look back on and say that’s crazy.  

At the same time it gave me key foundational things that I look on today as a CEO I needed. … (Things) like accounting. I was a bookkeeper, and I managed properties for a long time. It taught me all the accounting principles. It taught me how to handle some of the basic general ledger things.

If you look at different steps in my path, and I’m like, “Wow, that was great,” because now as a CEO I know all these different tools that I needed. Traditionally, you might get that in college, but I didn’t go the college route, so there’s a lot of skills that I picked up along the way that enabled me to be who I am today as a CEO.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

Here’s the biggest thing Kerry’s learned from doing a startup:

Kerry: If you have passion and if you’re dedicated to this. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you came from, or what your education is. You can do anything. Everything is possible.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

Listen to my full interviews with Nigel and Vaughn and with Kerry by downloading them from SoundCloud here and here. (And download any of the past shows here.)

Next on Entrepreneurs are EverywhereJavier Saade, former associate administrator for the U.S. Small Business Administration, and Hillary Hartley, deputy executive director of 18F.

Tune in Thursday at 1 pm PT, 4 pm ET on Sirius XM Channel 111. 

Want to be a guest on the show?  Entrepreneurship stretches from Main Street to Silicon Valley, from startups to big companies. Send an email to terri@kandsranch.com describing your entrepreneurial journey.

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