Get The Right People On The Bus

I’m a fan of Jim Collins, who has spent years studying and writing about great companies; his most recent book is Great By Choice. One of his enduring principles is to get the right people on the bus, which he describes in this video:

As an entrepreneur, you are always cash-strapped, so sometimes you think it’s better to focus on hiring lower cost people. I can tell from hard-earned experience that it is critical that you surround yourself by GREAT people, and then figure out how you can afford them. A few things I have learned:

  1. Don’t hire clones. One of you is enough. You need to surround yourself with people who think differently and who are going to challenge your thinking. It is also really important to foster diversity in your company—age, race, gender, etc.
  2. Hire people who want a challenge and aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and dig in. In a startup, every person has to pull more than their weight. You don’t have extra support people, so you need to hire people who are willing to wash the coffee mugs, then build a bullet-proof budget, and then meet with clients. Wow, that is a rare person. It takes resilience and a zest for trying new things.
  3. If someone isn’t working out, part quickly, and be fair about it.
  4. Beware of the pigpen effect. Over the years, I have hired a number of people with this effect: they spend an awful lot of time working (routing around in the muck), dust is swirling, but nothing ever seems to get done. Sometimes, they are hard to spot, because they are generally hard workers—so remember point number 3 above.
  5. Pedigree is less important than flexibility in a startup. I have seen a lot of entrepreneurs hire people with very impressive big corporate resumes who didn’t know the first thing about how to get things done in an unstructured startup environment. So, probe carefully to gauge someone’s ability to be flexible and agile.
  6. Hire people who are smarter and better than you are. You will never go wrong by hiring people who are GREAT in areas that you are weak! One of the first things an entrepreneur learns is that nobody is competent at everything, so you need to figure out what you aren’t good at and hire people who will fill in these gaps.

Finally, it’s important to have some fun in life. I like it best when some of the folks on my team are whacky, off-beat and just plain fun. Life is too short, and when the going gets tough, the tough get off the bus for an hour and have some fun.

Get Some Sleep!

I do some of my best thinking in the early morning. Sometimes, I wake up at 3 am, and these riffs play in my head. I worry about that difficult phone call coming up, or some stressful situation. Have you noticed that these worries are never as big as they seem in the wee hours?

Sometimes, I wake up with a great idea. I learned that the best thing to do is to grab the little notebook I keep nearby and write it down. This allows me to capture that great idea or to release that worry.  And, then I can go back to sleep!

Sleep is also really important for entrepreneurs. Starting a company is hard work. I am tired at the end of the day, and I need a good night of rest to prepare me for the next day.

So many of us entrepreneurs have trouble sleeping that I wanted to spend a little time on this.  Here is the Mayo Clinic’s good advice, Seven Steps To Better Sleep. And, this is a fun little Inc. magazine article, 11 Ways To Sleep Better At Night, on the things that entrepreneurs need to let go in order to sleep at night.

Years ago, I learned this little meditation for sleeping.  It it a little out there (in the yogic sense) but I promise it works:

  • Sit in a comfortable and warm place, on a mat or pillow, cross legged, with a straight spine.
  • Put your hands in your lap, right hand resting over the left, and make sure your shoulders and face and hands are relaxed
  • Breathe in through your nose deeply, in four parts, rather slowly. In your mind, as you take the four partial breaths, think SA-TA-NA-MA. Do this 4 times, so that you breathe in with 16 partial breaths.
  • Then you will hold the breath for 16 counts, at the same slowish pace you inhales the four-part breath, saying SA-TA-NA-MA to yourself 4x
  • As you exhale, say to yourself, WAHAY GURU.

The yogis tell you to do this for 3 or 6 or 11 or 31 minutes. To me, it doesn’t matter how long, just practice this for a bit each night as you are getting ready for bed, and you will sleep better!

What’s Hot? What’s Not?

This week, three leaders in higher education told me that my new company idea is incredibly timely.  Wow!  It sounds like I have landed on something that is hot!

Being in the hot zone is no accident.  You don’t get there because you sit around a conference table and come up with the next big idea.  And, you don’t get there by falling in love with your product.  It takes hard work and persistence to have the three conversations that I had this week.  I have been working on my business idea for over a year.  I have invested a lot of time and money in determining what’s hot, and what’s not.  In countless discussions with trusted advisors and potential customers, I shaped my concept to fit the incredibly timely need.  And, I haven’t even begun to build the product yet.

Some of the things that you can do to make sure you are in the hot zone with your new business…

  • Get involved in an industry association.  I joined SIIA, an organization that has a big focus on educational technology.  And, I got involved in the organization, attending local meetings, joining a committee, mentoring and judging for their ed tech incubator.  This gives me regular access to other start ups and to see what they are up to.
  • Attend conferences.  In the past two months, I went to LearnLaunch in Boston and SXSWEdu in Austin.  Next month, it’s the Arizona State GSV Education Innovation Summit and then the SIIA Ed Tech Industry Summit.  While expensive, conferences provide you with unique access to other entrepreneurs, legacy companies that are interested in innovation, potential customers and investors.  Where else can you get all that access packed into a 2 or 3 day experience?
  • Conduct interviews with potential customers.  This is critical.  Visit customers.  Get them on the phone.  Listen to their needs, their pain points, and their reactions to your solution.  Record the interviews so that you can capture it all in their words.
  • Secondary research.  And more secondary research.  I spend hours every week trying to keep abreast of the trends, industry reports, and following the money in my industry (who’s buying or investing in what and how much).  I try to get my hands on whatever reports and information that I can.  Some leading providers of reports and analysis include Outsell, Simba and Eduventures. Media to read: Inside Higher Ed and Chronicle of Higher Ed and Edsurge.  There are also a ton of reports and government sites, depending on what you are looking for. For example, I always read the National Study for Student Engagement. If you regularly scan the media, you will hear about them as they are published each year.  Finally, check out the sites of the big industry players.  They often publish studies or white papers that can help you. For instance, my company, O’Donnell Learn, just published a study with Blackboard on Faculty Progression to Digital.

Get ready to roll up your sleeves.  This is hard work.  But, you have to put in the time to be sure you are HOT!!

What Are Your Competencies?

I spent 4 days last week at SXSWEdu—lots of meetings and sessions seeped in all the education technology trends. Some of the words that I heard uttered over and again: MOOCs (massive online open courses—yes it seems to have become a word), education playlists, adaptive learning and OER (open education resources–that means free). Generally, the trends this year centered around digital content.

Next year, I predict, it’s going to be all about competencies. Schools are under fire for failing to prepare students for tomorrow’s workplace. Most schools—particularly post-secondary—are focused on getting students to KNOW things. But, the workplace needs us to teach our learners how to DO—how to think critically, solve complex problems, access the information needed to do this, collaborate, communicate, and the list goes on. These are competencies, not bits of knowing!

Industry innovators at Southern New Hampshire U are piloting a $10,000 four year college degree that is entirely competency-based (see article in New Hampshire Union Leader). This degree isn’t for everybody; it is a workplace-sponsored program for educating lower-payed employees.

But, I think that SNHU is onto something bigger than a degree. All of us, as we strive through our journey of life and work, or entrepreneurship, need to build our competencies. Do things that take you out of your comfort zone! Learn by doing. And, build your portfolio of competencies.

If you are interested in building entrepreneurial competency, and you are willing to put in the work that this takes, then check out My Entrepreneurial Journey, an immersive program developed at the Acton School of Business. MyEJ provides a wide range of activities and experiences that will help you to build your entrepreneurial competency.