Time Flies!

In early May, I will be speaking at the SIIA Ed Tech Industry Summit about the opportunities and challenges that innovators and entrepreneurs face.  And, one of my topics will be that time flies!!  Bringing innovation into educational markets is hard work, and there is way more to do than there are hours in the day.

This past month, I have created pieces of my business plan, financial projections, a website, overviews of the company, and a concept video. I have traveled nearly half the time meeting customers, partners, advisors, investors, developers and my team. I have worn more hats than I can imagine.  I haven’t managed to cross everything off my list in months.  And, Carrieonfire.com has suffered from this flight of time!

Here is what I do when time is flying (and spinning out of control!):

  • Focus on the 2-3 critical success factors for your company today, and give yourself milestones with due dates for these priorities.  For me, it’s setting up pilots and seed funding.  I know what I need to accomplish and when.
  • Take things off your list.  You can’t do everything, but it is better to delegate or postpone than to regret that you failed to complete something critical. Jim Collins, one of my favorite leadership gurus, argues that we all need a “stop-doing” list, because we have too many projects and initiatives.  Isn’t that the truth!
  • Build a team that is GREAT and brings the expertise, skills and passion for things that aren’t your forte.  If you don’t have a lot of money to hire people (most of us don’t), your team can include partners, advisors, potential and current vendors, and friends and family.
  • Take a day off every week.  Starting a company is grueling work, and you need to get away from it or you will burn out. About 10 years ago, I learned this the hard way when I landed in the hospital and spent 3 months recovering my health.  Even when I am swamped, I try to take off one day a week.  And, I find time every day to clear my head.  I exercise or practice yoga nearly every day, and I take walks with my dog, Luna.
  • Give yourself a break when you fail or fall behind.  You are only human.  And, you know that every successful entrepreneur encounters many pitfalls along the way.  You will be a lot less stressed and more effective if you  acknowledge your failure to get something done or that big SNAFU and let it go so that you can move on.

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!!