Top 4 Mistakes Student Entrepreneurs Make

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Top 4 Mistakes Student Entrepreneurs Make

By David Noble, Director of the Peter J. Werth Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and

UConn School of Business Associate Professor in-Residence in Management

Student entrepreneurs are outstanding sources of new concepts, and they are full of energy. Often times, people make severe misjudgments as to the real value of student entrepreneurship. The mythology of a student working day and night in their dorm room, then dropping out of college, is the dominant narrative. I would say that this is an almost impossible route to success, and undervalues all the contributions of others. 

In this blog post, I wanted to set out a piece specifically aimed at those who advise and teach students, while giving those students a few things to watch out for as they begin their journey.

  1. Students Overvalue the Idea, and Undervalue the Team

I get multiple emails a month asking for 30 minutes of my time to provide an evaluation on a student’s idea. In most cases, I have heard the idea within the last 12 months from another student or entrepreneur. Also, it has often been invested in 3 times by venture capitalists.

Now, if you are so early that you have never spoken with a potential customer, I can 100% guarantee that your idea will change dramatically before a product ever even sees the light of day. Now with that said, there is probably a kernel of greatness and a million reasons why your idea will never succeed. A million reasons why you will fail, is no reason not to try. As a student, you will learn more about business, product development, and communication by chasing a terrible idea than you will about doing nothing about it. Furthermore, that kernel of greatness in your idea has little bearing on your future success with this venture. 

So if the idea is not as important as you think, what is important? Tenacity, work ethic, hunger, etc…

All of those things describe the entrepreneur, and if the first founder lacks any of them, the project will likely have a poor ending. Regardless, the founding team is the most important aspect of a student entrepreneurial attempt. Finding 2-3 complimentary and committed co-founders tells me more about the likelihood of success than any other aspect of a student venture. The ability to build a core team committed to something larger than them, spells LEADER.

Rule of Thumb: Build a team of 2-3 cofounders that you are willing to marry.

      2. Overly Worry About Equity Before It Is Time.

Student ventures should not divide up the equity of a team until such time as it is appropriate. When is that time? It depends. What does it depend on? Everything. There is no straight formula to building the proper equity distribution amongst founders. 

What I do know is that student ventures generally skew towards a governance structure that is overly democratic. The strong social norm is to split equity and governance rights equally. I strongly disagree with this approach, except in very limited circumstances. I believe that someone needs to be the CEO or the boss, if you will.

A successful venture will require someone that is accountable and responsible for that success, and that person will be required to make difficult decisions that affect the founding team. Specifically, as the team gains traction, oftentimes the business will go beyond the ability of a particular founder. The vesting of any equity award must rely upon the successful performance of transparent duties and delivery of KPIs. The CEO, in conjunction with the Board, will have to determine if these requirements were met. 

Finally, please do not make these decisions without the company lawyer at the table. If something seems really weird, consult a personal attorney. Do not forego legal counsel because it will cost you a few hundred dollars, this is the point where legal counsel is absolutely necessary. 

Rule of Thumb: If you do not have a company lawyer yet, well it is too early to discuss equity. 

      3. Students (and Faculty) Move Too Slowly.

All emphasis is placed on product development (in a lab, developing code, etc.), and students want to have a perfect product before going into the market. Customer discovery should commence on day 1, and one of the co-founders should take the absolute lead on this aspect of the development of the startup. As Scott Case said in the first Werth Institute blog, “Customer or Die!” Why would a student or faculty startup be any different? You either have customers or you do not. If you have customers, you have a business…well, the corollary is true as well. 

Day 1, find the customers. If you tell me you want to launch on campus or you interviewed a bunch of students, I know you are afraid. If your product has a target customer over the age of 21, then you need to be talking with people in that demographic about how they currently solve that problem. This is how you convince me and an investor that you have what it takes to understand the problem on a visceral level. Subject matter experts are great, but they do not replace the people that use or buy the product. Remember, just because you use a product does not mean that you buy it, and vice versa. 

You as a student need to understand what a Minimally Viable Product actually is, and that depends upon knowing the customer. Move with all due speed towards that MVP launch. It will take roughly 10x longer than you think to get there, so when you move slowly that has an exponential impact. I have no doubt that this is the number one reason that student entrepreneurial ventures never see the first customer. Based upon listening to interviews of Zuckerberg, he intuitively got this. Customers’ insight come from customers using the project, and the faster you get to that, the faster you can get to a high quality product. 

Rule of Thumb: If you are not sacrificing in other areas, you are not committed enough to the venture

      4. Students Take Too Much Advice as Gospel

Mentorship is essential for a successful student venture. Early on, many people are eager to tell you all the ways that you are great and can be greater. The entrepreneur’s job is to determine what is good advice and what is not. That is hard when you are 20 years old and everyone looks successful to you. 

Some questions to ask yourself depending upon the particular advice that is being given to you:

  • Has the mentor sold into or built product for that market? Or have they done so in a similar market? 
  • Has the mentor raised their own funding rounds? Or have they successfully bootstrapped a company to high growth?
  • How much time has passed since that mentor has been active in the startup world? 
  • Hardware? Software? Service? Where is the mentor coming from? 
  • Does the mentor serve on company’s board of directors post Series A? 
  • Will the mentor actually make the introductions necessary for you to raise money? 

Essentially, I see a lot of mentorship happening where the mentor does not have skin in the game. Let me tell you that the level of advice, introductions, and interest skyrockets when the mentor has $25,000 or more of their own money invested in your company. If they want to be an advisor of a company that has not raised a dollar and receive equity for that role, that means they know once the deal gets real they will be blocked out. 

Consider a mentor a data point. Some data points tell you more or less relevant information. You then weigh each data point based upon perceived experience, knowledge, and relevance to your situation. Any mentor that says it is their way or the highway, well you should show them the highway. They provide advice. You will need to do a lot of self-exploration, and determine where you need coaching. Then find people whom are willing to coach you. This is an efficient mechanism for finding excellent mentors. 

For instance, if you are an engineer that has no idea about finance and accounting, you need to get online…find a class/tutorial etc…then ask an expert if you can call them three times for 20 minute conversations to make sure that you understand what you are learning.  If you do this work thoroughly, you will have a mentor for life.

You should never ever promise advisor shares without talking to your firm’s attorney about when and where it is appropriate. A Board of Advisors is different from an “advisor.” An advisor does it out of the goodness of their heart, but a Board of Advisor member actually has significantly responsibilities to earn those shares. Generally speaking, they will agree to work for a few hours a week in a defined capacity. Sometimes they will invest their own money, but sometimes they will not. They will always introduce you to potential investors that have the actual ability to invest or they will make significant introductions in the manufacture or sale of your product. An advisor that is unwilling to open their rolodex is generally overpaid. 

Rule of Thumb: Really learn a lot about your mentors’ strengths and weaknesses. This will make weighing their advice easier. 

David Noble is the Director of the Werth Institute, and you can connect with him on LinkedIn. Connect with him if you would like to learn more about Entrepreneurship at UConn or you will be needing a keynote speaker for your event.

Entrepreneurship at UConn is Ranked 46th by Princeton Review

Entrepreneurship at UConn is Ranked 46th by Princeton Review

 

By David Noble, Director of the Peter J. Werth Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and

UConn School of Business Associate Professor in-Residence in Management

 

Today, UConn undergraduate entrepreneurship is ranked 46 in the Princeton Review/Entrepreneur Magazine rankings. This measures the course output, number of students in programs and classes, as well as the success of UConn alumni and their ventures. Many different factors played into this ranking, but the members of the Werth Institute that made this ranking real.

What Does the Werth Institute Do?

People ask us this question all of the time. The snarky answer is: What day and time is it?

The true answer is that we are an umbrella institute that has over 45 different members that focus on or support entrepreneurship at UConn. We support these members in the achievement of their goals. For instance, Innovation Quest is the student idea competition that helps prepare to students to go from an idea to starting a venture. The Werth Institute does not run this program, but we provide support to help make it a better program than it would be without University level support.

A core function of that support are activities that benefit all of our members, but no one member has a reason to burden itself with the cost of that activity. A classic tragedy of commons issue that is present in most of the interesting cross-disciplinary areas of study and practice at the University. Through that line of activity, we have growing responsibility for the communication of UConn’s entrepreneurial efforts and programs. This includes the preparation of the Princeton Review Entrepreneurship Survey.

Four Pillars of Werth Members

We categorize the Werth Institute members into four categories.

  • Learn
  • Connect
  • Create
  • Explore

This allows us to consider how we interact and engage with each other and with students. If you visit the Experience Innovation Expo, you will feel the difference through the different colors.

The Princeton Review Entrepreneurship rankings primarily focuses on the Learn component through the academic majors, minors, and classes. Secondarily, the Explore component is profiled through the programs that award cash prizes are measured and compared to those at other universities as well.

Therefore, today we will take a little closer look at these two pillars: Learn & Explore.

Learn

Academic offerings come from different schools, such as Business, Engineering, Fine Arts, and Agriculture. We had over 500 students at UConn taking courses in entrepreneurship, and we expect this number to continue to rise. We now have a number of different minors that allow students easier access to entrepreneurship offerings, while this summer UConn School of Business will launch an Entrepreneurial Fundamentals Summer Program for students that want to get many of the credits related to their minor completed without having to worry about if they will have access to the courses. There are also exciting developments around partnerships with Global Affairs and Study Abroad around technology entrepreneurship.

If you are an alum wondering how you can help deliver on this mission, I would suggest you consider double dipping. Scholarship money dedicated to entrepreneurship is extremely important to the sustainability of our academic offerings and our rankings such as the Princeton Review. Furthermore, you can support students with scholarships in any School or Major. Please reach out to the Werth Institute (werth.institute@uconn.edu) if this is of interest to you.

Explore

As part of the Explore pillar, we run numerous programs that de-risk entrepreneurial endeavors for students. Providing support, mentorship, and leadership opportunities to students that are trying to bring a product to market is an essential capability for UConn. Students have all manner of ideas and opportunities that they are trying to commercialize, whether developed in a class or on their own. As students move through these programs, they require increasing levels of commitment and attention.

Students can obtain tiny amounts of money to build an early stage prototype through GetSeeded, which is a large collaborations marshalled by CCEI (a Werth Institute Member). These small funds support taking a project from nothing to something. Often times, it is the absolute first step in a student’s entrepreneurial journey at UConn. All they need is an idea to build something and a few slides in a slide deck.

Whereas, we also provide significantly greater levels of support through a multitude of programs, including the School of Engineering’s 3rd Bridge grant program. 3rd Bridge supports engineering students with more advanced technologies that require initial funding for proof of concept and market discovery. Oftentimes, the student startup is connected to research from a School of Engineering laboratory. Recent 3rd Bridge grant winners have been through MassChallenge accelerator and won the Wolff Family Prize for the top entrepreneurship team at UConn.

The next stages of support will be built out with more advanced and directed matchmaking and mentoring for teams. As the Werth Institute expands its human capital, it will focus on providing our programs with access for their student entrepreneurs to the mentors that they need to be successful. Again, if this sounds interesting to you, please reach out to our office.

What Now?

Rankings are great. A lesson any entrepreneur reading this can learn is that you should not be lulled into trusting others statements about your product. You need to keep working on your customer relationships.

If we have 500 students in entrepreneurship classes, and we have 30,000+ students at the University of Connecticut, that means we have a ways to go! The Werth Institute needs to keep working on its partnerships and collaborations that provide greater access for students to the support and education that they need to be successful employees, entrepreneurs, and grad students.

This spring we will spend a great deal of time meeting with more diverse groups on how we can help them achieve their goals. We look forward to showing up in new places, and we look forward to giving voice to underrepresented students in the entrepreneurship population. Greater inclusion and representation are key elements to the improvement of all outcomes with regard to Werth Institute members. Everything is circular, as inclusion is one of those things that makes every program better, but no one program owns inclusion.

Therefore, it is clear that there is no shortage of opportunities for growth in Entrepreneurship at UConn, but today we have the first public validation of the excellent work that Werth Institute members are doing. Excellence should be celebrated, but remember that it is a constantly moving target.

 

David Noble is the Director of the Werth Institute, and you can connect with him on LinkedIn. Connect with him if you would like to learn more about Entrepreneurship at UConn or you will be needing a keynote speaker for your event.

If you are going to do it, be great.

Frame of quote "aim high, fly higher."

 

If you are going to do it, be great. 

   

By David Noble, Director of the Peter J. Werth Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and

UConn School of Business Associate Professor in-Residence in Management

 

Developing engaging content is no easy task. Repeatedly, we are asked “why don’t you do this or do that?” More than once, social media has been the subject to of that question. My answer is that we do not have the capacity and capability to deliver extremely high content on a consistent manner. I think this should be the goal of all social media projects.

Over the last month, we have launched our first foray into social media with the Werth Institute’s LinkedIn page – Please Follow US!

Key to that effort was the creation of this blog, and it was kicked off with UConn School of Engineering alum and CEO of Upside Business Travel Scott Case’s first two pieces. We are confident that we can obtain thought leadership of very high quality from our collection of student, faculty, and alumni that will contribute through a process designed to capture each blog piece with a 2 hour contribution of time and knowledge. Why did we do this?

Why?

Why are we doing a blog? I always think it is important to know why you do things. Often overlooked or forgotten when organizations make decisions is the why. As a rule for any entrepreneur, knowing the why is essential. The why carries you through when you do not want to do something.

  • Engagement: We are looking for ways to engage alumni in the Werth Institute process that is both enjoyable and valuable for them. Allowing alum, students, and faculty to share their          expertise in an easy platform that lives beyond the initial point achieves this goal.
  • Consistent Content: An editorial calendar that allows us to publish an article every two weeks guarantees that we can sustain interest in our LinkedIn page.
  • Audience Generation: Every blog, podcast, website, etc. relies on audience generation from one of two sources: organic or paid. Having different authors that engage with me to create this content not only increases the touch points, but it also increases the number of shares…people are generally proud of what they contributed and will want to share that material
  • Knowledge Curation: Our faculty, students, and alum have a great deal of knowledge around technology, entrepreneurship, and finance. Curation and sharing of that knowledge benefits the readers of today, but also the most ambitious of students in the future.

The Werth Institute Thought Leader’s Blog

There is no rush to contribute, but please consider following and recommending. When you are ready to contribute a few hours over a month long time, please reach out and offer to contribute. The initial audience is UConn alum and students whom are interested in entrepreneurial activities. Proper topics include the role of entrepreneurial mindset in your career journey, subject matter expertise relevant to technology, entrepreneurship, and finance.

The process will include a recorded interview with someone (most likely me) that includes probes. We hope each interview results in 2 or 3 blog posts that can be completed over a year or two. After the recorded interview, we will have it transcribed so the author will begin to outline the particular blog piece that was unearthed. Finally, it will be completed with the help of staff on proofreading and final copy.

Anything worth doing is worth doing well. Unfortunately, we do not have the capacity to do things well. If we put Werth Institute resources to work on something, we need to be outstanding. We are not afraid to take chances and fail, we just want to prioritize things that have impact on students AND we can deliver a level of excellence that equates to the Werth Institute brand.

The Werth Institute is very excited for the opportunity to engage along these goals and parameters. As we build audience, we believe that will open future content creation options.

Advice for Entrepreneurs

There is no easy way to success. Social media requires a strategy and a commitment of resources to do well. If it is a core part of your business strategy, you will need to contribute the resources, both time and money, to do it at a level of excellence that breaks through the noise. Please discuss this with an expert as you begin to launch your campaigns!

David Noble is the Director of the Werth Institute, and you can connect with him on LinkedIn. Connect with him if you would like to learn more about Entrepreneurship at UConn or you will be needing a keynote speaker for your event.

I Just Hired Your Best Employee

I Just Hired Your Best Employee 

The war for talent is impacting everyone. How you retain top talent is your game to lose. Are you prepared?   

By Scott Case, CEO Upside Business Travel & Founding CTO Priceline.com

 

Retaining employees is hard. Retaining great employees is even harder—seemingly impossible in tight job markets. With unemployment rates at the lowest they’ve been in 50 years, you have to assume that everyone on your team is being recruited by someone else.

No matter your company’s size or stage, you’re in a battle for talent. Which means you’ll need to do what it takes to keep top employees feeling great about working on your team. Here’s how to consistently retain your workforce so that you can achieve your objectives.

Advice for startup executives 

Other companies are actively attempting to woo your top employees away from your company. You need to get ahead of the challenge. 

If you’re leading a startup, you need a consistent strategy to retain employees. Resources are tight, and workloads are robust—everyone is already wearing multiple hats, so making a conscious effort to make sure high performing employees are feeling good about their jobs may seem like an unnecessary burden. It’s not. It’s critical that you stay in touch with your team. Without your high performers, you’ll never be able to create momentum, grow, and scale. 

If you want high performers to stick around for more than a cup of coffee, figure out what fuel they need and “feed” them. Overfeed them, in fact. Traditional perks aren’t the answer—free lunch Fridays and video game rooms or competitive health care, 401k, stock ownership plans, and competitive compensation are expected.

The truly most important thing you can do to keep top talent is to trust your people. Trust equals light speed—operate with a lean set of policies, approvals, rules, and procedures because top-down mandates hamper momentum and agility. 

Your highest performing employees—your leaders—will stick around for the long haul if they feel they have the responsibility and authority to make decisions. 

Here’s the short list of what they’re looking for:

  • Transparency—a leader wants visibility into the entire operation. How does the P&L look this month? What positions should we be recruiting for? When employees step out of their lane, in terms of responsibility, remember to see this as a sign of investment in your company—they want to make sure you’re successful. 
  • Ownership—a leader admits mistakes as fast as an average employee takes credit for something they did. Celebrate when employees are honest, open, and constructive in the face of adversity. They will gain confidence and experience. Everyone will benefit. 
  • Challenged—a leader takes on more than they are comfortable with doing. They may not be perfect at it, but it’s better that you have employees trying harder than expected. When they mess up, help them see it as a lesson in growth. The minute you chastise a high performer, is the minute they start to wonder if there’s another job out there that’s better suited for them. 

At Upside Business Travel, we strive to be transparent, treat everyone like owners, and challenge our team every day. But we still struggle to retain top talent from time to time because there are so many opportunities out there. A person having one bad week can see greener grass on the other side of the fence and jump before you know it. 

Recently, I was reflecting on some retention issues from the early days of our company. I realized that I failed to reinforce our vision and our mission consistently. I let it coast. As a founder, I now know that I need to constantly put that fuel in the tank for everyone on the team. I won’t make that mistake again, and hopefully you can learn from me and avoid it for yourself.

Advice for executives at larger companies

All of the challenges facing startups apply to more established companies, and then some. To an outsider, your company may be seen as “getting old.” By that I mean the perception is that, as a larger company, you have more rules and processes in place compared to a start up. 

While this may seem restrictive to some enterprising candidates, it’s important to remind them that you operate from a position of strength—you have more resources at your disposal and a broader range of opportunities within your organization for them to advance. They can literally see the career in front of them because job families are better defined than at a startup. Plus, you have brand equity, customer relationships, and products or services that are profitable.

To keep top talent at a larger, established organization, it’s your job to keep employees motivated and growing. Don’t let the stability that your proven organization provides become your Achilles’ heel. On an individual level, make sure your managers are meeting regularly with their teams, setting quarterly goals, and holding people accountable. Gradually layer on more responsibility to ensure your employees are learning and enhancing their skill-sets.

If people need tools or resources to acquire the skills needed for the next level in their career, do whatever it takes to provide them. It’s far less expensive and less disruptive to have people stay at your company than to leave. 

Advice for every leader

Whether you’re a successful entrepreneur leading a startup or an executive running a company with a predictable pipeline of customers, coaching and development of talent should be viewed as an important part of everybody’s job. 

Start by building a group of people around you that you trust to communicate and demonstrate your company culture—colleagues who will provide mentoring, coaching, and development for your teams. 

Then, listen to your team’s feedback—just like you listen to your customers.  

At Upside, we’ve doubled down on communicating our core values and reinforcing them on a daily basis: 

  • Trust
    • Find people who can handle extreme ownership and authority to make decisions. We hire brilliant people to make decisions for the company. We trust them to run a lean operation and I get out of the way.
  • Development
    • Set aside a budget for each employee to be used for professional development. Let them define how it should be used. Subscriptions, online courses, hosting events and meetups within the active startup network—all are viable options. The goal is to establish constant feedback loops outside of the office.
  • Resiliency
    • Invest in the people who are energized by constant change—not folks who would rather move on when faced with unexpected challenges. No matter your industry or company stage, change is inevitable.
  • Transparency
    • At Upside, we share the status of company-wide OKRs (objectives and key results) to keep us on track, and host an “Ask Me Anything” forum every month to get after the questions on the team’s mind. Further, we share achievements with everyone. I send a bi-weekly internal newsletter to the team to celebrate our wins and focus on our future objectives. When the team sees the forward progress we’re making, they understand what they’re working toward. 

Most of your employees aren’t going to work for you forever. However, you can build and scale a company with the right approach to taking care of your people. It starts with creating a culture that attracts, challenges, and rewards hard workers. Once you establish a critical mass and everyone is consistently living your core values, you can retain more people and easily manage the occasional teammate leaving for their next opportunity. But don’t take that for granted. Keep putting energy into communicating those values day in and day out.

Scott Case regularly shares his leadership experiences on LinkedIn. Connect with him if you’re ready to level up your leadership style, or if you have best practices to share. 

Innovation is Bullsh*t

 Innovation is Bullsh**t

Innovation is Bullsh*t

Innovation isn’t the goal of your business, it’s a side effect. Stop innovating and start talking to customers.   

By Scott Case, CEO Upside Business Travel & Founding CTO Priceline.com

 

The one word you should remove from your vocabulary immediately is innovation.

Yeah, that’s right. I said it. 

Why? 

Innovation is overused. Nobody knows what it means anymore, yet everybody’s after it. Innovation has become a facade for, frankly, pretending to make change. 

Therefore, I declare that innovation is BS. 

Now, before you get all twisted up with my stance, know this—I’m not against inventing new solutions to solve problems or exploit opportunities. Far from it. I’ve spent a career sparking change and turning convention on its head by any means necessary to make this world a better place. I just don’t think most people are talking about innovation in the right way. I’m here to set the record straight. 

The conventional idea of ‘innovation’ isn’t working. You can’t just make an incremental change to an existing product and call it innovation. That is not a path to real progress. You can’t reliably or consistently develop new services from scratch without having a basis for the ideas in the first place. If you feel like it’s time to do something different but you don’t know where to start, here’s how to think differently, and truly innovate. 

Customer or Die

Day-to-day use of digital technologies and smart software have led to a profound power shift from the companies that sell products and services to the customers that buy them. If your company’s strategy isn’t centered around the customer, your company will eventually fail or be absorbed.

Companies like Amazon, Google, Apple, Baidu, Alibaba, and others keep raising the bar for customer expectations – even if you don’t directly compete with those companies. In the end, customer experience is the hill that companies will live or die on. This shift is shaking up every industry, producing a new and different set of winners and losers. Longtime incumbents will be knocked from leadership positions, and new companies will emerge with modern tech stacks and new business models that can quickly adapt to changing customer expectations. 

No matter your industry, I believe that shifting the customer to the center of everything you do is what it means to truly innovate. 

Further, for those of you thinking, “but what about creating something that is entirely new that the customer doesn’t know they want/need?” I am skeptical of this possibility. It is nearly impossible to invent something truly and completely novel that isn’t built on some category of challenge customers have. Almost everything is either an extension or expansion of some job the customer already needs or wants done. .

I challenge you to comment below with any example you believe is truly a new product that didn’t have a customer problem behind it. 

Ask the Right Question

What problem are you solving for your customer?

Not what solutions do you have that you can try to market to them.

It’s remarkable how many CEOs and leaders of organizations have no idea what customer problem they are solving for. This should be the first and easiest question for them to answer. However, I’ve learned it’s not only universally the hardest—it’s also the most important. 

My challenge to you: take out a piece of paper and write down what problem you are solving for your customer. If you can’t do that in 60 seconds with real clarity, go back and do your homework on the “who” and “why” behind your business.  

Make It a Habit

Whether you sell directly to consumers or to enterprises, 100% of these “users” have new and changing expectations for how the products they use should work.

Embrace that reality. 

At Upside, we’ve built our company around a constant customer “curiousness.” Here are some of the tactics we use:

  • In-Depth Interviews

Every quarter we speak with a handful of prospects and customers about who they are, what business they’re in, and why they do what they do. This helps us keep a regular pulse on who our clients are individually and the context that they operate in. We’re intentional about focusing exclusively on understanding the individual and their expectations, leaving Upside out of the conversation as much as possible as to not bias our takeaways and stick to our goal: understand the customer.

  • Feedback Loops 

Every few weeks, we send prototypes of our newest features to customers. Things they’ve never heard of or experienced. We get direct feedback from the people who use our products, and we improve before we roll out changes to the masses. We also have a team whose entire job is to make sure our clients are more successful as a result of using our services. Upside’s Client Success Managers regularly check-in with clients, and serve as advocates to our product teams as well as amplifiers to our clients.

  • Future is at a desk near you

We know the future is iminent, so we place value on the trends and insights unearthed by team members earlier in their careers. They have grown up with more seamless technology than we have. They are the future generation of decision makers for all products, and are being influenced by the trends we are unaware of and expectations we can’t even begin to fathom. Frequent communication with the next generations within and outside of our organization helps us future-proof the customer expectations of tomorrow.

It’s impossible to drive innovation if you don’t know who your customer is or what the future holds for them. Period. Here’s how your organization—no matter the size or industry—can get after it. 

Advice for Startup Executives

Feedback loops should be a founding principle of every business. They exist to organically feed “innovation.” With an ever-changing landscape, it is time to adapt by building an organizational culture around customer expectations. Here are some ways you can do it and be successful:

  1. Get out of the building. Talk to prospects and customers as often as you can and at least once a quarter.
  2. Pay attention to the “dog that didn’t bark.” Focus on your detractors, not just your promoters. Try to understand the context of their struggle by getting to know who they are and what they’re trying to achieve.
  3. Become your own customer. Eat your own dog food, then eat your competitors’ dog food, too. In other words: be a customer of your service and your competitors to experience the “value” for yourself. 

Advice for Executives at Larger Companies

  1. Revisit your own expectations. Your $1,000 phone updates itself and gets better over time. You tap a button to hail a ride. Your car breaks for you when it senses danger. Robotic vacuums clean your floors. Next-day delivery of everything from diapers to diamonds is the status quo. Your customers have the same “on-demand” expectations when it comes to you. 
  2. Take a look inside your own enterprise. The SaaS tools your employees use aim to gain efficiency and leverage over the parts of your organization that aren’t strategic. Those SaaS tools are changing the expectations of your employees, too. If you’re not adopting new technologies internally to reduce risk and complexity, how can you lead the charge externally to your own customer base? 
  3. “Interview” your current employees. Understand how they are engaging with Amazon, Apple, Google and others that are setting the bar. Learn from them on how to apply those expectations to your company. 

The Bottom Line

Getting closer to your customers will change the culture of your organization. And, as a result, spur real innovation.

“Good leaders organize and align people around what the team needs to do. Great leaders motivate and inspire people with why they’re doing it. That’s purpose. And that’s the key to achieving something truly transformational.”  Marilyn Hewson, CEO Lockheed Martin

I believe the “why” for any team should be centered around the customer. So, you tell me — what do your customers want and what are you doing about it?

Scott Case regularly shares bold ideas like these on LinkedIn. Connect with him if you’re working to make a dent in the universe. 

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If you are interested in attending the speaker event by Scott Case on Tuesday, October 1st, 2019 at 7pm at the Student Union Theater, please visit here for more information.