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Success Requires a Team

Success Requires a Team

Thanks to Scott Keffer for sending me coach John Wooden’s book Inch and Miles: The Journey to Success. John Wooden, a paragon of basketball and admired well beyond the sports world, did an outstanding job combining a kid’s book with an instruction set for adults. The book is based on John’s pyramid of success and is a great reminder of an exceptional approach toward life.

One block in his pyramid that I think is often key to a successful entrepreneurial venture is the element of team spirit.  John says “The team comes first… the team’s the star.”

The problem with so many solo professionals is that they think they have to do it alone because no one else would be a fit working with them at their high level or they’re just too busy taking care of clients to figure out how to form a team. But if you take a lesson from champions, team is one of your greatest assets.

Al Berning and Mark Tebbe, two entrepreneurs who shared their stories in my book, How They Did It: Billion Dollar Insights from the Heart of America know the importance of a team all too well.

Al’s inspiration for his company Pemstar came when his former employer, IBM, decided to move disk drive operations to Asia in a major restructuring. Al was not in the market to go to Asia so he and 6 other senior managers started looking at ways they could keep the team intact and pursue new opportunities.

The team actually mapped out their individual skillsets and concluded that together they could create a new company that focused on outsourced design and manufacturing services. Al’s decision to combine forces ultimately led to landing their former employer IBM as one of the new company’s first three customers.

Al had the vision to see his greatest asset was the brainpower of his team. He recognized that asset and went on to grow Pemstar to an IPO, then later selling the company to Benchmark for $300 million.

Another one of Coach Wooden’s steps came into play here as well — the elements of hard work and preparation. “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail,” Wooden says.  Al and his partners prepared for entrepreneurial success by identifying specific areas where their business could provide a competitive advantage, and sticking to just that.

Mark Tebbe, founder of Lante Corporation and Answers.com also credits his success to having a good team. Seeing promise in microcomputers, Mark quit his first job at Arthur Andersen & Co. to pursue this new territory. He was young, and valued experience, so partnered up with a 38-year-old named Andy Langer. The two created the consulting practice Langer, Tebbe and Associates, which eventually became Lante.

Mark said Andy Langer was the perfect partner for his younger self. He would always consider not just what happened but why it had happened. “Don’t underestimate the value of experience,” Tebbe says.

I realize we’re all savvy and would never consider reading a children’s book to get inspiration. Make an exception for Coach Wooden, and after you finish reading it pass it along to a youngster in your life.

(Hear from Al Berning and Mark Tebbe who are featured speakers at the upcoming New York Entrepreneurial Bash at the New York Stock Exchange on Oct. 3. Register at www.entrepbash.com)

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Acting with Integrity

As I interviewed the founders for How They Did It, one of the things that stood out for me about this group of people was that time and time again they chose to do the right thing. There were moments when they could have cut corners, but instead I found examples of acting with integrity. Phil Soran, co-founder of Compellent, talked about recalibrating his earliest investors’ equity interest when it became clear they would not get as good a deal as later investors. Phil didn’t have to give early investors anything else, but he knew it was the right thing to do.

In January, The New York Times ran a story on Major League Baseball pitcher Gil Meche and his recent decision to walk away from millions of dollars.

Meche’s contract with the Kansas City Royals guaranteed him a $12 million salary this year, regardless of whether he played or not. With a shoulder injury derailing his career, Meche made the decision to retire and forgo his entire $12 million pay day. “When I signed my contract, my main goal was to earn it…I was making a crazy amount of money for not even pitching. Honestly, I didn’t feel like I deserved it.”

In a world where sports figures are grossly overpaid and guaranteed contracts are the norm, Gil’s decision to do the right thing is inspiring, and well, just plain unreasonable. In a way it reminds me of the kind of mindset a successful entrepreneur needs to have to succeed – not in a small way – but to succeed big time.

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Founders Share Advice at Entrepreneur Bash

Seven founders featured in How They Did It gave great advice at the Great Lakes Entrepreneur Bash on November 16th in Chicago. Take a look at these videos from the panel that included:

Bill DeVille, Health Personnel Options, Ohio
Jim Dolan, The Dolan Company, Minnesota
Tim Krauskopf, Spyglass, Illinois
Vince Pettinelli, PeopleServe, Ohio
Chris Moffitt, Rubicon Technology, Illinois
Michael Polsky, SkyGen, Illinois
Mark Tebbe, Lante Corporation, Illinois

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Win 2 Signed Copies of How They Did It

Here’s your chance to win 2 holiday gifts: signed copies of How They Did It – one for you and one for an entrepreneur friend.

On December 17 we will be announcing 10 winners who will each receive 2 copies of How They Did It. To enter, all you have to do is tell us:

–          Why should we send you a copy?

–          How will your friend be inspired?

We look forward to reading your thoughts and comments* and sharing inspiration with you this holiday season!

* Submissions must be received by 6pm cst on December 15. Post here or email erin@howtheydiditbook.com. Winners will be announced at 12pm cst on December 17.

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Great Lakes Entrepreneur Bash Recap Video

November 16, 2010 marked the launch of  How They Did It: Billion Dollar Insights from the Heart of America and the first ever Great Lakes Entrepreneur Bash. The evening was a HUGE success — with almost 350 people joining us in Chicago to celebrate entrepreneurship. Here is a short video recapping the event.

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How They Did It Featured in Chicago Tribune

How They Did It and some of the company founders featured in the book appeared on November 18 in a Chicago Tribune article written by Melissa Harris.

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Liftoff!

Tuesday marked the launch of How They Did It: Billion Dollar Insights from the Heart of America and the first ever Great Lakes Entrepreneur Bash! The evening was a HUGE success – with almost 350 people joining us in celebration of entrepreneurship and for the panel discussion with seven of the HTDI founders: Bill DeVille, Jim Dolan, Tim Krauskopf, Mark Tebbe, Vince Pettinelli, Chris Moffitt and Michael Polsky.

We couldn’t have done this on our own. Kudos to all of our sponsors, presenting organizations and co-hosts for their support and for the amazing job they did helping us spread the word and pack the room.

Special thanks to our sponsors: IBM, Grant Thornton and SurePayroll. In particular, Dave Carlquist, Anthony Dudek, Michael Emerick, Kathy Watts, Mary Lyons, Laura Mumper, Jim Huisel and Ronnie Todd at IBM; Anthony Bonaguro, Steve Siemborksi, Mike Schamberger, Kristin Ehrhardt and David Heinke at Grant Thornton; and Michael Alter, Francesca Zelasko, Tracy Toth and Scott Brandt at SurePayroll.

To our presenters – TechAmerica, Illinois Technology Association and MIT Enterprise Forum – thank you for organizing the event and spreading the word! We surpassed our goal and you made that happen.  Many thanks to Fred Hoch and Sarah Habansky at ITA; Terry Flannagan, Nancy Munro and Ted Wallhaus at MIT Enterprise Forum; and Ed Longanecker at TechAmerica.

Thanks to our co-hosts:   Craig Miller at ACG; Dana Damyen at Chicago Booth Business Book Roundtable; John Roberson and Caity Moran at the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center; Raman Chadha and Stephanie Furlan at DePaul University’s Coleman Entrepreneurship Center; Kelly Cutler at Entrepreneurs’ Organization; Kapil Chadhary at I2A; Maura O’Hara at the Illinios Venture Capital Association; Anne Gilberg at Global Entrepreneurship Week; Mary Paskell at Kellogg Alumni Club of Chicago; Brad Lehrman at MOJO Minnesota; Linda Darragh and Tracey Keller at the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship; John Hanak at Purdue Technology Centers; Jim Jay at TechPoint; Maria Katris at TiE Midwest; Spencer Stern and David Guttman at Wharton Club of Chicago; and Gaye van den Hombergh at Winning Workplaces.

We got great video last night and will be sharing that with you soon – so stay tuned!

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The Deadly Phrase for an Entrepreneur – “In Order To”

We were in a meeting yesterday for one of our companies, interimCEOinterimCFO, discussing various steps in a new initiative, when I had the feeling of falling into a trap. Every so often I fall into the same trap when we are working on plans and budgets and assigning projects.  The trap is that I start thinking – and waiting – for the next great thing. What we have is good, but it will be so much better when we do just one more site redesign. And the search function on the site is good, but it will be great when we get it notched up just a bit more, so we should wait on a full rollout ‘til its even better. And we better not tell anyone yet because its not, well, perfect.

See what I mean? This is an extension of what Wayne Dyer has been writing about for years. “When I get out of high school everything will be great.” “When I get out of college life really starts.” “When I get married things will be better.” And so on.

We are goal setting and goal achieving machines by nature. All well and good. But when we put goals before goals before goals, well it can get endless and counterproductive.  The evolution of software is actually a successful example of iterations of imperfect but better efforts finally leading to good and then great products.

As entrepreneurs it’s easy to want to do a hundred and one things before we think we are ready to put our product or service out into the world. It’s easy to enter the danger zone of saying “in order to”.

-IN ORDER TO acquire a hundred more customers, we need a flashier website
-IN ORDER TO start making sales calls we need to add more product offerings
-IN ORDER TO _______ (fill in the blank)

Howard A. Tullman, founder of  Certified Collateral Corporation and about a dozen other companies said it right in How They Did It: “A lot of people wait for a perfect solution to come along and never get their businesses going. The idea of just getting going and assuming that the right tools, the right systems, and the right people will come along is crucial to the entrepreneurial process.”

Dan Sullivan, founder of The Strategic Coach program, has what he calls “The 80% Approach,” which means to work to solve 80% of a problem on the first go-round. Then take another 80% out of the problem the next time (this means working on the remaining unsolved 20%) so that the second generation solution will be at 96%. And so on.

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Stories From the Book: Lesson #1: Loyalty

Thanks to Professor Verinder Syal, I was recently guest lecturer for a portion of the Principles of Entrepreneurship class at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Sophomore Lisa Guo emailed afterwards to ask which interview from the book impacted me most.

I had to  think about it, because I learned something with each interview. But thinking more about her question, the first person who came to mind was Raj Soin. Raj was CEO and founder of MTC in Ohio, a consulting company that he and his wife took from a startup with $1700 in funding, to an eventual sale to BAE for $425 million. The money is not what was most impressive.  I asked Raj if he had ever faced a crisis, and he chuckled and said, yes, of course. One day his wife, who was the company bookkeeper, walked into his office, and it was payday, and she was crying. She told Raj there was not enough money to meet payroll. He tried to wave her off, telling her to just use their credit cards to get cash, to which she cried even harder, telling him there wasn’t any credit left on their cards. His response was to tell her to go home. I didn’t see how that solved the problem, but the interview moved on. A couple minutes later we were talking about loyalty, and Raj said it’s a two way street. He said one day he walked into a manager’s office, and while they were chatting he looked into an open desk drawer, and in the drawer were uncashed paychecks. Raj asked the manager, Mike, why he hadn’t cashed them? Mike said “I saw your wife crying that day. I knew it was payday. And my wife has a job, so I figured the company would make good later.” Mike had not told Raj, and Raj hadn’t known, and Raj had not yet figured out why his previous payroll hadn’t bounced.

That’s a definition of loyalty that hit home.

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Congratulations to Capella, InnerWorkings, Allscripts, & Morningstar for Making Forbes’ list of America’s 100 Best Small Companies

Forbes’ just released its list of America’s 100 Best Small Companies. Four companies stemming from founders interviewed in How They Did It made the list. The criteria for candidates include being publicly traded for at least a year, have between $5 million and $1 billion of annual revenue, and have a stock price of no lower than $5 a share. The rankings are based on sales growth, return on equity, and earnings growth in the past 12 months and over 5 years. See how the How They Did It portfolio companies measured up:

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