Life Changing Conversations for Entrepreneurs

Jim Dolan, Founder, The Dolan Company: Give Your Kid Entrepreneurs an Early Start!

Jim Dolan, Founder, The Dolan Company: Give Your Kid Entrepreneurs an Early Start!

Jim Dolan, founder and CEO of The Dolan Company, started his entrepreneurial life early, having had an epiphany as a young lad. He had bought firecrackers for 25 cents in the summer and had some leftovers come Christmas time. He was about to do the normal thing boys do and set them off, when a friend said he’d pay $1. With a 300% profit locked in, an entrepreneur was born.

Other founders had similar experiences growing up. Howard Tullman was a professional magician by age 8. One of the Groupon co-founders set up a company to sell rugs while in college.

Maybe there is something here? The summer job mowing lawns or the early lemonade stand by the side of the road may be a stepping stone to greatness. It led to big things for Jim, and in this video interview, he makes some great points:

  • It may appear that public companies can at times rest on their laurels, but Jim is adamant that is false. You have to keep growing. It is a never-ending process.
  • Jim’s company is an expression of who he is – it is a calling, not a temporary thing where he has an exit point. He specifically acknowledges that he has different goals from his investors. Before taking someone’s money, he is upfront that he’s in it for the long haul, because he knows investors always have a time horizon, a due date when they want to sell and move on.
  • The quality of great entrepreneurs is restless curiosity, and its opposite is not cynicism. Cynics have filters, and Jim doesn’t discount both qualities playing together simultaneously.


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How to Hit a Viral Home Run

How to Hit a Viral Home Run

Newsweek called Grand Rapids, Michigan, a dying town. Rob Bliss, local entrepreneur and event planner, was not pleased. Nor was the town of Grand Rapids. What he did in response went viral and was far more powerful than Newsweek‘s criticism. Rob led production of this 10 minute video, done in one take, thanks to the whole town of Grand Rapids. Yep, the whole town!

What can entrepreneurs learn from Rob’s daring, ambitious video response to Newsweek?

1. Get in the Game. Get active, get mad, whatever it takes, but get going. That’s what Rob did. Rob wasn’t afraid of failing – and that’s how he launched a massive project.

2. Tell Your Friends. Rob had the support and creativity of his partners, and that led to 3,000 volunteers ready to help out. Tell other people your idea, enlist their help, and be willing to share credit.

3. Delegate. You cannot do it all yourself. Rob was not the athletic cameraman who did the Grand Rapids shoot in ONE take! You have to see the camerawork to believe it, from standing on a rolling platform to trotting in front of a moving crowd to a smooth transition to a helicopter liftoff at the end. Likewise in business, the biggest mistake rookie entrepreneurs make is attempting to do it all alone, being that lone cowboy or cowgirl out on the range, handling all problems, stoic to the end.

4. Choose Your Ground. Rob couldn’t dispute Michigan’s high unemployment. He didn’t engage in an academic debate. He focused on Grand Rapids taking action and creating a powerful emotional response that is meant to move people to further action.

5. Use the Tools at Hand. Rob did not start a magazine to take on Newsweek, he didn’t write a letter to the editor, and he certainly didn’t do what most of us do, which is to uselessly bitch and complain about how unfair things are. He got on YouTube, and look at the results! 4.3 million views so far.

Did Rob’s effort really change anything? I don’t know. But now I know who he is – and so do you. Next up comes…you! Show us the parade you are going to lead.

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One Thing Done Right: PRICELESS

One Thing Done Right: PRICELESS

Visiting New York City recently, I stopped into Rice to Riches. If you’re hungry for the best rice pudding on the planet, you’re at the right place. If you’re looking for anything else, like burgers – you’re out of luck.

The metallic exterior of the building was sleek and trendy, seamlessly fitting into its SoHo neighborhood. Meantime, the interior was inviting, like my outstanding Hazelnut Chocolate Bear Hug rice pudding.

I could have had Fluent in French Toast, Almond Shmalmond, or Sex Drugs and Rocky Road, because transforming rice pudding is what they do.

So good at it that they can have a sign out front that says “Dozens of Delicious Flavors and 3 Shitty Ones.” Not something IBM would do.

One of the company founders I interviewed in my book, How They Did It: Billion Dollar Insights from the Heart of America was Mike Domek, founder of TicketsNow, an online service connecting buyers and sellers of event tickets. Mike did one thing very well and it paid off. The entertainment business was a passion Mike had since childhood when he was inspired by Wrigley Field in Chicago, walking in and looking out over the perfect green field awaiting. That inspiration ultimately led to the creation of a company that hit $300 million in gross ticket sales by the time Mike sold to Ticketmaster in 2008.

Also in New York with me for the Entrepreneurial Bash, my colleague Olivia popped into another specialty shop called Pommes Frites. Customer can order fries, fries, or more fries along with loads of dipping sauces including flavors like sweet chili, curry ketchup, and roasted garlic mayo.  Olivia tried six of the sauces, and gives the place two thumbs up.

It’s easy to think specialization dead-ends you, but I think it’s actually the opposite. Look at Twitter that only tweets and Groupon that only offers daily deals. Zero in, focus – and see how your market actually expands.

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Mid-Atlantic Entrepreneurial Bash Panel

Mid-Atlantic Entrepreneurial Bash Panel

On October 17, 2011 top business leaders, executives, company owners, and aspiring entrepreneurs attended the Mid-Atlantic Entrepreneurial Bash at the Comcast Center at the University of Maryland to celebrate outstanding entrepreneurship.

A panel of world class company founders spoke including: Troy Henikoff (SurePayroll, Excelerate Labs), Howard Tullman (Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy), Ted Leonsis (Monumental Sports & Entertainment, AOL), Ara H. Bagdasarian (Omnilert), and Mark Walsh (Genius Rocket). The event was made possible by 17 co-hosts and sponsors including CBIZ, Cbeyond, and Maryland Entrepreneur Quarterly.

Watch the 2011 Mid-Atlantic Entrepreneurial Bash panel here.


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The Top 10 Movies for Entrepreneurs

The Top 10 Movies for Entrepreneurs

Be sure to see Moneyball, the movie about Oakland A’s general manager, Billy Beane’s inspired rejiggering of major league baseball’s thinking about player recruitment and how to form a winning team. I couldn’t help but think that Beane, showed good entrepreneurial drive and it got me thinking of other inspiring movies for entrepreneurs. Here’s my list of the best movies of all time for you intrepid company builders.

  1. The Blues Brothers. Aside from sheer good humor, Blues Brothers has to be on every entrepreneur’s list because Jake and Elroy are on a mission from on high. And if you truly believe in your startup when everyone else thinks you’re nuts, you are on a mission and you have a purpose, regardless of what is inspiring you. The best companies and causes have big, inspiring missions.
  2. Apollo 13. Even though we know the outcome upfront, there is a scene in Apollo 13 so quintessentially entrepreneurial that it will gladden the heart of the steeliest company founder. When some of the oxygen tanks exploded on the command module, the CO2 recycling system failed and had to be repaired using spare parts and odds and ends – anything the astronauts could find. Back on planet earth in Houston a team of engineers dumped a box of items onto a big table to figure out how the astronauts could use the materials at hand in a cramped space capsule to repair the failing CO2 filter. Available items included a printed manual and duct tape. You want to talk about figuring out a solution in real time, on the fly, with only minutes of air left to breathe? See this movie and drill this scene into your head and into your team’s thinking. You and I don’t face limitations like that, not ever.
  3. Raiders of the Lost Ark. Spielberg’s Indiana Jones character is a classic entrepreneur, highly trained and yet also a bold explorer willing to take risks for huge gains. Lots of folks view entrepreneurs and wish they would have taken the same leap…but they didn’t. Instead they have a long list of excuses as to why, or why not. Here’s my prescription for you budding entrepreneur or established company veteran: listen to John Williams’ musical score for Raiders the next time you feel even a twinge of hesitation about anything.
  4. Twelve O’Clock High. Anyone who manages a staff has to see Twelve O’Clock High. Aside from the fact that it’s a great way to see Gregory Peck in a movie other than To Kill a Mockingbird, this is the best flick for learning: 1) how to manage people; 2) how to oversee other managers; and 3) how to stay on the sane side of the fine line separating highly stressful work from obsession/workaholic fixation leading to total breakdown. Yes, I know, I could have cited better war movies and leadership stories like Patton. But this is not a list of best war movies – it’s about self-generating entrepreneurship.
  5. Spartacus. I love CG effects and animation in movies like Avatar, Matrix, and Terminator. But there are some movies made before the world became so fast-twitch that we couldn’t stand five minutes of dialog before another earth-destroying end-of-days battle. Kirk Douglas in Spartacus is the personification of Margaret Mead’s line about a few individuals being able to change the world. If you think Spartacus’ example of leading a slave revolt against the Roman empire is no longer relevant, just think how much harder it was to be viral and to create a brand and message that would cause all your fellow slaves (er, sorry, cubicle dwellers) to join you – without benefit of tweets, email or status updates. When Crassus, the Roman senator, general and Forbes 400 billionaire of his day finally put down the slave rebellion, he crucified thousands of recaptured slaves along the Roman road. Lucky for us, modern entrepreneurial efforts are a lot easier, even if your pet project takes on the powers that be. Let me put it this way. If Sean Parker, founder of Napster, is a modern day version of Spartacus, Sean’s revolt was against the autocratic music industry, and he lost – Napster was shut down, end of story. But he wasn’t crucified, instead he went on to glory helping birth Facebook. So the modern world isn’t all bad, yes?
  6. Slumdog Millionaire. The Mumbai teen hero of Slumdog wins an opportunity to compete on the Indian TV version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” He seizes the opportunity and despite arrest and torture, he pursues his dreams. Relentlessly! He wins the game, the money, and the girl. Being opportunistic is one of the key qualities of founders interviewed in How They Did It: Billion Dollar Insights from the Heart of America. Curiosity fueled their passion and they pursued opportunity tirelessly.
  7. Casablanca. What endears Humphrey Bogart’s character, Rick, to everyone who’s ever watched this classic is the moment when Rick sacrifices himself for something bigger than his own pain, desires or needs. Despite the ache he feels from a lost love, he puts his rival’s noble cause first.  How does this apply to you? Because your company, your baby, your business that you’ve sacrificed for – it’s not about you. It really isn’t. I know, you are the founder. But the true measure of success for any business is the point when it becomes bigger than you, when it becomes self sustaining and when customers, vendors, managers and employees will also live and die for it.
  8. The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. Buck’s the classic entrepreneur. And if you look at his team, the Hong Kong Cavaliers, think about how powerful you could be if your startup team had that level of dedication. I am not sure if he was more adventurer, scientist, surgeon or rock musician, but it really doesn’t matter. Pursue your passions. Peter Weller was good playing Buck, but John Lithgow and Ellen Barkin steal the show.
  9. The World’s Fastest Indian. Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of New Zealand motorcycle enthusiast Burt Munro should give hope and inspiration not just to rookie entrepreneurs, but to anyone who decides to launch something when they are 40. Or 50. Or 60. WFI documents Munro’s dream – tinkering with a 1920 Indian motorcycle, a bike that helped him set the land-speed world record at Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats in 1967 when Burt was 67 years old. 200 mph, no flame-retardant suit, not much between Burt and a lot of baked salt zipping by. Flat broke, sleeping in his car – this is a must-see for entrepreneurs.
  10. The Social Network. Yes, the movie is that good. Whether its 100% accurate or not – we are living in a Facebook world and you can thank Mark Zuckerberg for that.

So get cracking. I’ll throw in two bonus movies for good measure. See Lawrence of Arabia and finish up with The Adventures of Robin Hood. Peter O’Toole kills it in Lawrence – I mean if rounding up warring tribes to launch coordinated attacks on superior enemy forces isn’t entrepreneurial genius, what is? And then there’s Errol Flynn, the original Robin Hood. He takes on the Man (the evil Prince John), and he wins.

**Robert Jordan is a contributor. View the original posting of this article on

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What’s Your Titanium Story? Interview with Dane Miller, Founder, Biomet, Appearing at Great Lakes Entrep Bash on Nov. 17

What's Your Titanium Story?  Interview with Dane Miller, Founder, Biomet, Appearing at Great Lakes Entrep Bash on Nov. 17

When I interviewed the 45 founders featured in How They Did It: Billion Dollar Insights from the Heart of America, I tried to total up the amount of value each had brought to the world. They all started from zero. I am not sure of the exact number for their company valuations, but I can tell you that on publication day the number one name on the list was Dane Miller. He had just taken Biomet private for about $12 billion.

Dane founded his company in tiny Warsaw, IN, where Biomet still continues to produce things like artificial hips and knees sold worldwide.

I’m thrilled that we were able to sit down with Dane and catch up. I had to ask him more about the amazing story about implanting titanium in his arm to prove a point. The world thought stainless steel was the safest material for the human body, but Dane knew better. So he tested it out on his own body, by having a surgeon friend implant a small piece of titanium in his arm.

Would you do that? How far will you go to prove yourself?

Dane left the titanium in his arm for ten years to prove the point. Today, thirty years later, what’s the material used worldwide by everyone in the industry? Titanium.

Watch this video where Dane briefly talks about titanium, how to keep good people, and how to keep humble.

Better yet – join us in Chicago on November 17 at the Great Lakes Entrepreneurial Bash to hear Dane and four other amazing entrepreneurs live and in person.

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2011 New York Entrepreneurial Bash Highlight Video

On October 3, 2011 top business leaders, executives, company owners, and aspiring entrepreneurs attended the New York Entrepreneurial Bash at the NYSE to celebrate outstanding entrepreneurship. Watch this two minute video with event highlights from five amazing company founders: Bonnie Baskin (AppTec Labs), Glen Tullman (co-founder, ECIN; now CEO, Allscripts (Nasdaq: MDRX)), Jim Dolan (The Dolan Company, NYSE: DM), Mark Tebbe (Lante Corp;, and Al Berning (co-founder, Pemstar; now CEO, Hardcore Computer).

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Managers: If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say, Broadcast It

Managers: If You Don't Have Anything Nice to Say, Broadcast It

A lot of how-to business books have high praise for, well, praise. But is there a place in your company, and mine, for some brutal—and very public—criticism?

Fair warning, you won’t find this technique in namby-pamby guides like The One Minute Manager, which recommends:Help people reach their full potential…catch them doing something right.” I’m not saying to give up on praise. And I’m definitely not recommending you try this at home. My wife and teenage daughters might have certain negative feedback for me. And that’s not public enough for this approach.

Some CEOs are sure that criticism is an under-appreciated educational tool. So are you robbing your employees of an opportunity to reach greater productivity by favoring the softer, more polite touch when it comes to feedback on a job not so well done?

What I learned from Allscripts CEO Glen Tullman is that public feedback is necessary and sometimes vital. Consider this specific tactic he shared with me: “When somebody does something wrong, you correct him or her individually and then one person learns that lesson. Or you can send an email to the whole company and the whole company learns that lesson.”

The advantage for both manager and employee, says Glen, is that “to survive in that environment, you have to develop a soft shell but a very hard core. You have to be able to take those hits…If you make it through, you’re unbelievably strong.”

Glen and his older brother Howard Tullman, both champion entrepreneurs interviewed in How They Did It: Billion Dollar Insights from the Heart of America, had a leg up with blunt feedback from an early age. They both acknowledge growing up in a hyper-competitive house. As Glen said, “My mother always promoted high standards and was honest when you didn’t achieve them.”

I was brought up with the wuss style, praise in public and criticize in private, but I think Glen has a point. Better for all employees to learn from one mistake, he told me, rather than to wait for it to be repeated.

Worried about what your employees will think? Will it create an environment of fear? If the corporate culture embraces learning and truth seeking, then you get collective improvement. Another useful by-product of that approach, according to Glen, is skin thickening, if you will, that bodes well for future communication and survival in the competitive environment that lurks outside your company doors. Finally, the act of taking criticism and the expectation that you need to bounce back creates a resilient body of employees who can change course on a dime.

This idea has been adopted by other managers as well, most notably superstar CEO Andrew Grove. Intel uses an aggressive approach with a formal name: constructive confrontation. No holding back, whether you’re the CEO or a new rookie engineer. The approach was designed to motivate people to solve problems through highly assertive exchanges.

Would you—could you—do this as a manager? It’s definitely food for thought. Public criticism, if delivered in the spirit of creating greater good for all, may be a management tool that’s underused.

Glen Tullman shared his thoughts on management and entrepreneurship at the New York Entrepreneurial Bash on Oct. 3. Visit for more information.

**Robert Jordan is a contributor. View the original posting of this article on

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What’s Your Entrepreneurial DNA?

What’s Your Entrepreneurial DNA?

I just heard about something brilliant. It is a quick test for entrepreneurs. Not all of us are wired the same, but what does that mean for the type of business you should run, how you should run it and who’s on the team?

Joe Abraham spent three years developing BOSI based on answers from thousands of entrepreneurs. BOSI (Builder/Opportunist/Specialist/Innovator) segments entrepreneurs into four groups. The BOSI Assessment is a tool that lets you figure out your type, your  predisposed strengths, weaknesses and best practices.

Are you a Specialist, Builder, Opportunist or Innovator? The test is free. Email me your results and I’ll share mine with you. My thought is this could help me structure my team and figure out how better to partner with other company founders…

Click here to take the BOSI Assessment

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Steve Jobs and Immortal American Entrepreneurs

Steve Jobs and Immortal American Entrepreneurs

Steve Jobs passed away yesterday, October 6, 2011. He joins a small group of immortals – one of the greatest American entrepreneurs of all time. Here’s my list, and it is American because there’s never been another country and system that supported innovation and creativity like American capitalism. The list of immortals:

Benjamin Franklin
Thomas Edison
Henry Ford
Walt Disney
Steve Jobs

This is a focus on world-changing innovation. The creative genius that can conceive is wonderful and produces great works of art. Steve was able to not only create but accomplish revolutions in technology, design, media, music and commerce. He will be missed.


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