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Interview with Scott Kitun, Co-Founder of Songfinch

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Interview with Scott Kitun, Co-Founder of Songfinch

Originally published on IdeaMensch. Source

Scott Kitun is a Chicago-based media entrepreneur and investor.

Scott is a co-founder of personalized music marketplace Songfinch that allows anyone to discover and collaborate with thousands of professional musicians to create custom, one-of-a-kind songs.

Prior to Songfinch, Scott co-founded Technori, a popular media platform featuring podcast interviews with startup founders and investor newsletters providing access to online private market data.

Scott is also an early investor in the nation’s leading equity crowdfunding platform Republic.com.

Where did the idea for Songfinch come from?

At a previous startup, my co-founders John Williamson, Rob Lindquist and Josh Kaplan built the largest B2B music catalog in the world by pairing musicians with commercial brands and while exiting that business the original idea of using similar marketplace effects to bring music creation to the masses came into form.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

As a founder your primary job is always to raise capital and recruit talent.

I’m very fortunate that I get to split time between some pretty exciting businesses that are forever changing their respective industry. Songfinch, for example, is disrupting how artists and creators monetize their musical talent – so I spend the bulk of my time working with our executive team to secure partnerships with investors and brands that help accelerate our growth.

Whereas at Technori, I’m working to democratize investing, so I spend most of my time interviewing some of the top founders and investors in the world and reviewing investment opportunities for an audience of nearly a million retail investors.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I’m a huge proponent of rapid deployment, rapid dismissal. What I mean is, I will napkin what I think is a great idea, I’ll quickly whiteboard how it could work then try to push out a beta or even a concept in the case of content like podcasts or a newsletter. Then, based on how it’s received I will iterate a few times to see if it has legs and if not, I feel no shame in killing it right there.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I think the ability to use new tech, whether that’s blockchain, tokenization or web3 (whatever you want to call it) to monetize assets, time and talent is the future. In the same way Cameo invented an entire economy (1-to-1 vs 1-to-many) for celebrity-types, web3 enables this for the mainstream. I am excited to see both the retail investor and the creator be able to profit in the same way only the top 5% has been able to do for year.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Eliminate distractions (personally & professionally). It helps me make fewer decisions which allows me to be a) more decisive and b) experience less mental fatigue. If you want to have both a family and a business (or in my case multiple) you have to be intentional about where your opinion and time matter most — a line I stumbled upon years ago (probably a Steve Jobs’ism); most people spend about 70% of their mental space on things that materially represent less than 10% of their output. So, I try to flip that and spend only 10% of my mental time on what most people spend 70% on… if that makes any sense at all.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Do not take advice from people you would not trade places with.

As a young founder you’re just reaching at straws so you gravitate towards anyone you think will get your there faster. I learned pretty early on, before you give away advisor shares, make sure the person you’re working with has actually successfully been to where it is you’re trying to go, first.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Having mentors is overrated. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve leaned on plenty of experienced people throughout my career — I don’t think throwing a few ideas at someone for quick feedback to help add alternative or affirming viewpoints is inherently bad. But, I do think an over-reliance on outside voices is distracting and it complicates your decision-making process.\

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Focus on the one thing you do better than anything else first. You can/will learn new skills as you advance and you’ll be forced to work outside your core strengths. But, the more time you spend focused on what you do best, the more successful you’ll become.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Follow the fastest path to revenue.

Obviously not all businesses are the same, so there are clear exceptions here. But, in general, sales cures all. If you know how to generate revenue (even if it’s not the core business or scalable), you know how to buy time and in the case of most successful startups, timing is everything.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

There have been plenty of misses. One that stands out is with Technori. Our bread and butter was always events and podcasts and towards the end of 2017, as the WeWorks of the world started popping up, literally anyone could access free space to host events (and similarly with tech, anyone that wanted to host a podcast did). It made it difficult to see how we could sustain; sponsorship became tougher, attendance was down and overall the market just became flooded with what we did best. So, rather than compete we built alternative revenue streams from referral to even selling technology as a service. It was against my better judgement, but I let it go on figuring better margins and bigger price tags.

I was wrong, and it nearly ended our business (and reputation). Once I got enough feedback, and against the wishes of investors, I pulled the plug and decided to listen to our audience and assess our competition. This enabled me to recognize something I couldn’t see before — people always come back to what they love or need. So, focus on making that and you’ll win regardless of the competition. Sure, we will take a hit in the short term as everyone flocks to the newcomers, but if you’re as good as you think you are then you have nothing to worry about.

So, I went back to the drawing board and completely retooled our content offering and focused on more niche, digital offerings that required less overhead but that could be more easily shared.

With the aid of a global pandemic, it worked perfectly, events went away and people had more time to pursue areas of interest — by creating more niche, digital experiences we were able to 10x our audience base and become something they would actually pay for again!

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I am very interested in sports trading cards. It’s fun, nostalgic and highly profitable. But, it is still massively low-tech even with cool companies like OnlyAlt.com and Rally emerging. There is a ton of fraud and the grading companies and authenticators are slow, expensive and inconsistent.

I would love to see a tech company automate, and digitally assess, grade, value and list cards so that we all were operating on a level playing field.

This business would be central to a near $50B market that is growing rapidly.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Speaking of cards, and not exactly recently, but 2 years ago, I spent $100 on a Bo Jackson rookie card — it was completely random. I hadn’t bought a card since I was about 12 years old. But, I did, and I’m not even sure why.

It was just fun, I guess. Then the value of that card went up and up and up… and before I knew it the card market had begun to explode. And, I found myself right in the thick of it. Before long I had rejoined the card community, now referred to socially as The Hobby and it has been the most fun I have had in I don’t even know how long. I’ve met tons of super smart and interesting collectors and it truly has had a crazy positive impact on all of the rest of my businesses.

I would argue I was a bit lost even when I made that fateful purchase. And, now I am found and have a renewed purpose and passion for why I do what I do.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

I really like Hey.com, it’s an email from the Basecamp team that has been insanely helpful for me to manage my inbox, eliminate spam and noise and comes with a lot of tools that are collaborative and secure.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I love autobiographies. For me, I like to read about people that have achieved great success — it gives perspective, even inspiration. So, I could list a lot, but I think for the younger crowd out there who only think of Arnold as some goofy 80’s action star — Total Recall, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s truly unbelievable life story is a MUST read.

What is your favorite quote?

“Don’t chase the night.” I got this advice from the famous World Wide Wes at a bar in Milwaukee as a kid. At the time, the point was nothing good ever happens after midnight. But, in life to me it applies everywhere — don’t chase! If by the time the clock runs out you haven’t accomplished what you came for, close up shop and work to set up another opportunity.

We make regrettable concessions when we chase opportunities too hard.

Key Learnings:

  • Practice patience and don’t chase.
  • Focus on what you do best.
  • Always bet on yourself.
  • Limit your distractions.
  • Always leave yourself an out

Interviews

Interview with Sara Sheehan, Founder of Sara Sheehan Consulting

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Interview with Sara Sheehan, Founder of Sara Sheehan Consulting

Sara Sheehan, PCC, is a consultant and Executive Coach who works with C-Level executive leaders in designing organizations, developing business strategies, managing change, optimizing talent and leadership development, and solving complex human performance problems. Through executive coaching, Sara helps leaders sprint their way up the corporate ladder and increase their performance.

During Sara’s 25+ years in business, she has worked with leaders, teams, and organizations in Fortune 100 companies and individuals. Sara specializes in change management, talent and leadership development, executive coaching, and organization design. As a collaborative, results-orientated coach, Sara provides support and practical feedback to help clients effectively navigate change and address business challenges. She also integrates coaching techniques, methods, and approaches to help her clients develop change capabilities and learn to apply them right away. With a servant leadership mindset, she supports her clients in building new skills and customizes frameworks to her client’s project needs. Sara works with clients based on her network, referrals, and appointment.

Sara has been featured both nationally and internationally on podcasts as an expert on topics of change management, talent and leadership development, executive coaching, and organization design.

Where did the idea for your career come from?

The idea for Sara Sheehan Consulting is based on almost 30 years in management consulting and executive coaching. Through business consulting, I help businesses through complex business transformations from a human capital perspective. Through executive coaching, I help busy executives sprint their way up the corporate ladder by setting goals, increasing their performance, resolving conflict, and setting up an advisory team so they are even more successful in their current role or their next one if they are in transition.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

It’s a combination of time blocking for specific purposes like business development, market research conversations, reaching out to ideal clients or close contacts that can refer me to ideal clients, scheduled current client meetings, a wide variety of marketing activities, and time for things that feed me like exercise, cooking, or other interests like spending time with friends and family. I am innately extremely productive so when I am at my best I am in a positive flow.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I have a lot of creative ideas so bringing them to life is not a chore. Typically, writing is the first step to bringing new ideas to life, then it may spread across my marketing mix into videos, presentations, new offerings, or marketing research conversations to test market viability. Once an idea has filtered through these touchpoints, I am able to put more structure around it. Two ideas that I am formalizing right now: a paid membership community on Mighty Networks called The Center for Change Leadership and a chapter in a collaborative book.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I love progression and innovation in technology that helps us be more productive at the least possible cost. To provide a little more context, I love the current trend in software that allows users to get started on a web platform at a low cost and you can increase your plan as you need to if the services fit your needs. These pay-as-you-go plans and the ability to play with new tools are fantastic. Specifically, I have a project team that uses Monday.com and it serves as a tremendous productivity hack.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I know that I am not supposed to do everything, nor should I if I want to scale a successful business. To this end, I am working with the best expert vendors that are aligned with me to amplify my business and my message.

What advice would you give your younger self?

The advice I would give my younger self is that it’s ok to start thinking about how you want to use your craft as an entrepreneur. I’d express to younger me that thinking about offerings and solutions that can be commercialized is going to benefit you. You can start planning now, frame it up, and test your assumptions in market research conversations. You may find that it manifests differently than you expect and that it’s important to be open to the gifts it brings.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

One of the offerings I have done a lot of market research conversations on is my Mastering Change Management Course. The course can be delivered live via Zoom to a cohort or through self-study via Kajabi. I have had no opposition to the course to date, and I have also not found the right pilot group yet. Based on the conversations I have had, the right pilot group is out there! I understand that this is such a different way to deliver consulting work that people may not be open to it just yet. People that disagree with my approach are more likely to engage a consultant based on the project timeline, although this option will require more time with the client and be more costly. The differentiator for the course is that I am seeking qualified education provider status with the Association of Change Management Professionals so that anyone that takes the course could apply the credits toward the Certified Change Management Professional (CCMP) exam or credential renewals.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

The one thing I would do time and time again would be market research conversations on programs, solutions, and offerings. This is the best way to validate that a new offering is viable in the market, and it provides opportunities to uncover ideal clients or get referred to your ideal clients.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

One strategy that has helped me grow my business significantly has been increasing my visibility through engaging a professional marketing agency and a publicist. I was already active on LinkedIn through posting, writing, and videos weekly, however, engaging a marketing agency to support me has allowed me to get strategic in planning on a quarterly basis, as well as executing a broader plan. They also created my branding and collaborated on my website design so everything I produce visually supports my message and purpose. Engaging a publicist that I am aligned with has magically connected me with the right opportunities for increased visibility. Both my marketing team and my publicist are trusted advisors and I am looking forward to seeing how these advisors will continue to grow my business.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

It took me longer to attract my ideal client than I’d hoped since I spent so many years working for other firms. It’s not surprising or unexpected, it’s just a fact that it takes time to be known for your expertise. Additionally, I should have engaged a marketing agency and publicist sooner than I did on both fronts. To be honest, it took a little bit of time to come into contact with the right people to work with. I also think the patience and time allowed me to work on my own mindset which is invaluable.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

When I see questions like this one I immediately think of Peanuts, Lucy, and Charlie Brown at an advice booth with a sign that reads “Advice 5 Cents” with a dixie cup next to it. What’s the quickest way to start a business that can serve a wide customer base? Marketing and business development are two things that every entrepreneur needs to focus on to scale. If you can fit in that space and speak directly to the pain points of a differentiated ideal client, things should manifest fairly quickly.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Definitely reconnecting with friends, family, and clients over a shared meal. You can’t replace being in person and truly connecting with others following such an isolating two-year period.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

The top three online tools and resources that I am currently using to grow my business are Google Workspace, Slack, QBO, and Quickbooks Online. All three tools make work easy, support me in what I am doing, streamline all of my efforts, and keep me focused on what’s most important.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Building a Story Brand by Donald Miller: I believe the Story Brand is absolutely essential for entrepreneurs to incorporate as they build their business.

What is your favorite quote?

I have so many favorite quotes! Here’s one that is on my mind and heart right now: “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” Jack Welch

Key Learnings:

  • If you want to grow and/or scale your business, it’s important to know that you can’t do everything alone
  • Working with the best expert vendors that are aligned with you and your business will amplify your business and message
  • Strategic partner progression and the right innovation in technology can help entrepreneurs and businesses be more productive at the least possible cost
Originally published on IdeaMensch.
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Interviews

Interview with Blake Kohler, CEO of Pulse For Good

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Interview with Blake Kohler, CEO of Pulse For Good

Blake is passionate about, well, everything! As the CEO of Pulse For Good, he uses that passion to help nonprofits worldwide gather feedback from vulnerable individuals more effectively. With his background in technology, Blake is helping to bring business-class survey tooling to organizations ran on shoe-string budgets.

As someone who likes to talk, he knows how hard it can be to listen, and along with the Pulse For Good team, he’s working towards building a more empathetic future.

Where did the idea for Pulse For Good come from?

Pulse For Good emerged from an early pilot of a partnership with the city of Seattle. The various city offices were trying to figure out how best to facilitate gathering feedback from the youth homeless population in Seattle, and our early solution, which was designed to gather employee feedback, was suggested. We quickly found that traditional survey methods left a lot to be desired when gathering feedback from vulnerable populations and set out to build something that better fits the unique concerns of serving vulnerable groups.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

As a small startup, our typical days are full of adventure. Some days are dedicated to sales, other days we spend doing support, some days we are working on marketing, and other days we’re trying to improve our operations.

We find that using an agile model works well for our team. We utilize Kanban boards and team standups to keep track of everything from development tasks to customer onboarding.

How do you bring ideas to life?

As a team, we tend to be very visual-focused, so often, our ideas begin to emerge onto whiteboards before they become something a little more tangible.

Once they’ve been thoroughly debated and diagramed on a whiteboard, they make it onto one of our tasks on our kanban boards.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Our team is excited about the combination of technology and social impact. More groups are looking to do good in the world instead of maximizing profit. It is fantastic to see people use their time and talents to help those around them.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

One of our core values is a default to action, which has proven time and time again to be the primary driver of our productivity. Too often, we spend hours debating something, and nothing gets done. By defaulting to act, we might at times cause some headaches, but those headaches are often quickly fixed, and the value we gain from the constant action greatly diminishes any headaches we’ve created.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Spend less time worrying about what others think of you and more time worrying about how you think of others.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Pain can be good for you. It’s a form of feedback, and the more you experience it, the more opportunities you have to make a change.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

We’ve had tremendous success posting on Linkedin. We try and do it every day, and it’s been an incredibly valuable part of our growth.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Very early on, we developed an advisory board of industry experts. This helped us gain a considerable amount of credibility and allowed us to develop tools, relationships, and techniques far beyond our abilities as just a founding team.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

One failure we had coming out of the pandemic was a communication breakdown amongst our founding team. Previously, we had conducted in-person meetings, but with the world changing, we switched to a more remote first attitude. Over time, our perceptions and goals changed without getting together.

We had to have some serious heart-to-heart conversations and institute more formality in our processes to help bridge the gaps that this lack of communication caused us.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

We’ve always thought there would be an opportunity for a crowd-sourced travel agency. We believe you could utilize people’s passion for planning vacations and natural competitiveness to offer tailored vacation plans to the masses without the expense of full-time travel agents.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

We recently conducted a series of case studies with our customers, and we paid each person who participated $100. These case studies are invaluable to us, and it is one thing for us to share how our system can help an organization. It’s entirely different for a peer of those organizations to share how we help. Case studies are worth their weight in gold.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Slack – we use it for all of our communication, and as a remote team, it helps us all stay connected and on the same page.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

The Outward Mindset – changing the way we think and feel about others helps all aspects of your life

What is your favorite quote?

“Listening is the first act of love.” – Paul Tilch

Key Learnings:

  • Defaulting towards action drives productivity
  • Pain can be good for you
  • The best $100 spent is the one that makes your next $1000
Originally published on IdeaMensch.
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Interviews

Interview with Dayana Doncheva, Founder of EcardForest Group Ecards

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Interview with Dayana Doncheva, Founder of EcardForest Group Ecards

Dayana Doncheva is the founder of EcardForest Group Ecards – a company for greeting cards that can be signed by many people online and sent digitally. Their ecard collection includes all key occasions and features birthday, farewell, baby, wedding and many more cards. EcardForest is highly invested in environmental protection and engages in tree planting around the world.

Where did the idea for EcardForest come from?

EcardForest was inspired by a personal use case. I was about to organize a leaving card for my colleague in early 2021 and looked for options online that would allow group signing so that the full team can share their goodbye wishes. I didn’t like the available options and realized that this could be a business idea. After doing my research and checking the competitors, I embraced my entrepreneurial spirit and thought I can give it a go.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

There is not a typical-day concept for us yet. We are growing fast and our routine changes very quickly, allowing us to navigate between new feature integrations, the creation and release of new greeting card designs, as well as support tasks. Of course, every team member has devoted tasks, but we work in an agile setup and adapt quickly based on the priorities.

How do you bring ideas to life?

The process is quite funny actually. We dare to dream and think out of the box. Most of our ideas come to life as funny suggestions. If some of those suggestions still keep us wondering a couple of days later, we put them to a sense-check and see what comes out. We do proper research and talk to a couple of external people to verify the idea before putting it into our backlog.

As a next step, we deep dive into the execution. Once we launch a new feature on EcardForest.com we make sure to monitor it closely. Is everything fine? Does it work as expected? Does it generate added value for our consumers and us? If not, we remove it.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Hybrid working. Naturally, that drives our business since our online greeting cards experience higher demand when people around the globe work in a hybrid setup.

Hybrid working is an interesting trend to us in general too. We experienced first-hand how easy working in a global model could be. Our team is spread around Europe and when needed we involve freelancers from around the world, which allows us to work with the best talents no matter the location.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

People often tell me that I appear to be very well organized. In fact, I am not, and I enjoy the creative mess to the fullest. It nurtures my imagination. It’s contra intuitive but working in a messy environment has proven to help me become more productive in the long run.

If I need to focus on a bigger analytical task though, I try to get a fresh mind by going on a short walk before I start. That helps a great deal.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Be braver! Today, I love to challenge myself, even though I know that some things won’t work out. I take it as a learning and grow from there. But a couple of years ago I was still quite hesitant and tended to lean towards safe bets.

Looking back, I am not sure when I changed to become braver, but I can’t help but wonder where I would have been today if I would have done it earlier.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

There is always more to learn. The schedule of an entrepreneur is usually terribly busy and that’s no different in the corporate world. Often times people feel quite comfortable after completing a task or a project and turning a new page to handle the next one. I see great value in reviewing decisions and processes based on new learnings. In my mind, the “good enough” solution can always become a better one, powered up by new learnings.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Do research. I trust in data and have learned to appreciate its value a lot. Doing your research not only saves a lot of potentially unnecessary work but also helps you focus on what’s important.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Investing in advertising has certainly helped us grow EcardForest. We make sure to capture the available demand as much as possible.

When starting a business, thinking about advertising costs might be scary but advertising is usually what kickstarts your business, once the product is ready. Being brave, spending some money but also monitoring the success closely can go a long way.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Before starting EcardForest I was working on another startup. It was focused on financial investment data and most importantly it was a B2B product. That turned out to be incredibly hard to market and required a lot of sales and support efforts. Soon afterward I discovered that the idea was not worth the effort, and it was not going to work out as expected.

I learned two valuable lessons: First, bringing a B2C product to life is easier. Second, holding on to an unsuccessful business idea for too long doesn’t bring you anywhere.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Circular economy products. I am a big fan of renting and reselling and it’s great for the environment. This is applicable to so many product types – from tools to equipment, mobility, etc. Just find a new niche.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

As part of our sustainability efforts, we donate some of our revenue to tree planting organizations around the globe. Just recently we onboarded a new partner – Ecologi that allows us to not only plant trees but also offset carbon emissions by contributing to additional projects like wind power development.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

We use Github for our backlog and task management. The project section is a perfect solution for agile teams like ours and keeps us focused on important and urgent tasks. It certainly increases our productivity, and I can’t recommend that enough.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Refactoring UI by Adam Wathan and Steve Schoger is a great resource for any digital business or any website for that matter. It provides an understanding and best practices of website design, UI, colors, fonts, visual hierarchies, etc.

What is your favorite quote?

A single tree doesn’t make a forest. I just came up with that one, but the key message is that even the best entrepreneur or the most knowledgeable person can only go so far on their own. Building a strong team around you is what will bring you further.

Key Learnings:

  • First, do your research before you invest too much time and resources in an idea
  • Be open to exploring and learning more
  • Invest in bringing a strong team together to drive your idea further
Originally published on IdeaMensch.
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