Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Innovation on Tap #6: Brent Grinna: Quietly Building an Amazing Network

This is the sixth excerpt from Innovation on Tap: Stories of Entrepreneurship From the Cotton Gin to Broadway's "Hamilton" © Eric B. Schultz, available now for preorder at AmazonBarnes & Noble, and in quantity from Baker & Taylor or Greenleaf Book Group at 800-932-5420.

Excerpt #1, about Buddy Bolden and the birth of jazz, is here.  Excerpt #2, about Jason Jacobs and the growth of Runkeeper, is here.  Excerpt #3, about Jean Brownhill and Sweeten, is here.  Excerpt #4, about Elizabeth Arden and "the right to be beautiful," is here.  Excerpt #5, about GM's Alfred Sloan (the most successful American entrepreneur ever?), is here.

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Author's note: Sometimes, stuff happens to entrepreneurs and they just have to be ready.  Such is the case with Brent Grinna as he prepared to launch a technology company designed to bring educational fundraising into the 21st century.  Today, EverTrue has more than 300 education partners and is the leading advancement automation platform.  And Brent remains one of the best networkers and community-builders I have ever met.  But, not so long ago, EverTrue was just an idea and Brent was just figuring it all out.  I appreciate him letting me include this story in the book; it says great things about the Boston venture community, and it made me laugh out loud when I interviewed him. Read on: 
At this point Grinna had an idea, a mock-up, interest, an apartment, and a skeptical but supportive wife. That’s when he heard about an event called the Venture Summit East, a very large gathering of leading venture capitalists and entrepreneurs. “I’m living across the Charles River at the time,” he says, “and I see that the ticket is going to be $2,000 to go to that event. There’s no way I’m paying $2,000, but I reach out to the organizer, explain my situation—I’m an aspiring entrepreneur, just graduated from Harvard, I’m living right across the river—and asked if he needed any volunteers. He said sure, come work the registration desk.” 
By helping with registration, Grinna could attend some of the sessions and the luncheon presentation. He found as he handed out name tags that he knew almost nobody except for local venture capitalist Jeff Bussgang (HBS ’95) from Flybridge Capital Partners. “He’d been an entrepreneur-in-residence at Harvard Business School during my time there, and I’d been bouncing ideas off him along the way. So I see Jeff at lunch and I go and sit down. And Jeff says, ‘Brent, I’m so glad that you’re here. I’ve got to introduce you to these guys. This is Walt Doyle; he’s got a very cool company called WHERE doing some interesting work around mobile. You guys should definitely meet. I want you to hear his story and tell him your story. And I want you to meet Scott here, as well.’” 
Grinna explains, “Walt is this super-high-energy guy, and he says, ‘Tell me about what you’re doing! What’s your story?’ I start telling him about the Brown experience and the reunion, and he says, ‘I totally get it. I’m really involved with Middlesex, which is where I went to high school. I see the challenges. Where are you working out of?’ I tell him my apartment in Cambridge (and my wife is questioning that!)—but that’s where I am.” Doyle tells Grinna that he’s just moved into new space and invites him to visit.   
As Grinna and Doyle are talking, Brent notices that Scott is taking notes. Grinna decides, “That’s probably OK; we’re at a conference, and I guess you take notes. So I shoot these guys thank-you emails that night, and Scott writes back with this whole set of questions. It seemed cool he was so interested in my business, so I replied with all these answers. I wake up the next day, and I find out that Scott [Kirsner] is the technology reporter for The Boston Globe. And he writes an article, ‘New Start-up EverTrue Revolutionizing Alumni Development.’ And he has all these quotes. I don’t think I even knew he was a reporter—and I’m so oblivious I’m confirming comments and quotes in an email exchange. So this article hits,” Grinna adds. “It’s got screen shots, it’s got my story, and all of a sudden, all day, I’m getting emails from people wanting jobs—my inbox is flooded. EverTrue is not a real company, but now The Boston Globe thinks it’s a real company. So, it’s a real company.”
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Innovation on Tap: Stories of Entrepreneurship From the Cotton Gin to Broadway’s “Hamilton” is the story of 300 years of innovation in America told through the eyes of 25 entrepreneurs--living and departed--who have gathered to "talk shop" in an imaginary barroom under the watchful eye of economist-turned-bouncer, Joseph Schumpeter. 

From Eli Whitney and his cotton gin to the Broadway smash, Hamilton, their stories capture the essential themes of entrepreneurship, highlight the rules for success, and celebrate the expansive sweep of innovations that have transformed our world.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Innovation on Tap # 5: Alfred Sloan: America's Most Successful Entrepreneur?

This is the fifth excerpt from Innovation on Tap: Stories of Entrepreneurship From the Cotton Gin to Broadway's "Hamilton" © Eric B. Schultz, available now for preorder at AmazonBarnes & Noble, and in quantity from Baker & Taylor or Greenleaf Book Group at 800-932-5420.

Excerpt #1, about Buddy Bolden and the birth of jazz, is here.  Excerpt #2, about Jason Jacobs and the growth of Runkeeper, is here.  Excerpt #3, about Jean Brownhill and Sweeten, is here.  Excerpt #4, about Elizabeth Arden and "the right to be beautiful," is here.

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Author's note: Dimaggio or Williams, Aaron or Ruth?  Beethoven or Mozart--or Bach? Coke or Pepsi? How 'bout Moxie?!  Who was America's most successful entrepreneur ever?  It's an impossible question, of course, perfect for a barroom argument.  Which is why I took my shot at it in "Innovation on Tap."  My vote goes to Alfred Sloan, who seems (in baseball terms) like Stan Musial--faded more than he should be.  And, for those of you who are introverts--the brilliant "Silent Sloan" once wrote, "Asking favors and pushing myself into places where I am a stranger always did go against my grain."  It's a good reminder that there is no prototypical entrepreneur, only lots of articles on the web saying there is.  Read on: 
Alfred Sloan built the largest, most innovative, and arguably most important company in the world—one that fundamentally transformed the twentieth century. In 1918, he joined a General Motors that was disjointed and nearly bankrupt, with just 12.7 percent market share behind Ford’s 55 percent. He faced America’s greatest industrialist at the top of his game in a fluid and hypercompetitive market.

By 1929, when nearly 4.6 million vehicles were sold, GM’s 32.3 percent share topped Ford’s 31.3 percent. When Sloan retired as chairman in 1956, GM held a 52 percent market share and was one of the world’s most profitable, admired, and best-run companies. Its annual revenues surpassed the GNP of half the world’s countries.

Alfred Sloan (public domain)
Sloan is credited with not just saving General Motors, but with being the father of the modern corporation, a genius of consumer marketing, and the most effective CEO ever. An internal memo he wrote became a sought-after best seller in the 1920s, and his book, My Years with General Motors (1963), was the bible for a generation of managers who aspired to lead like America’s most famous CEO.

Sloan is known for creating effective public relations, implementing long-term forecasting, hiring professional designers to spearhead GM’s parade of annual models, and funding both a series of technological breakthroughs and long-term, visionary research and development. Historian Daniel Boorstin writes that when Sloan asked his staff to look out five years into the future to envision something new and better, he helped invent the modern world.

Sloan is known for other accomplishments as well. He encouraged his best friend, Walter P. Chrysler, to launch his own company when Ford was failing in the 1920s. “GM, in its own interest,” Sloan believed (unlike many of America’s most famous entrepreneurs bent on monopoly), “needed a strong competitor”. . . .

Above all, Alfred Sloan innovated in two essential areas: the effective organization of a complex institution (what he would call “centralized administration with decentralized operations”), and the brilliant segmentation of consumer brands designed to create endless demand. The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860) wrote that talent achieves what others cannot achieve, a fitting tribute to the legendary work of Henry Ford. But, Schopenhauer added, genius achieves what others cannot imagine. That was the contribution of Alfred Sloan.
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Innovation on Tap: Stories of Entrepreneurship From the Cotton Gin to Broadway’s “Hamilton” is the story of 300 years of innovation in America told through the eyes of 25 entrepreneurs--living and departed--who have gathered to "talk shop" in an imaginary barroom under the watchful eye of economist-turned-bouncer, Joseph Schumpeter. 

From Eli Whitney and his cotton gin to the Broadway smash, Hamilton, their stories capture the essential themes of entrepreneurship, highlight the rules for success, and celebrate the expansive sweep of innovations that have transformed our world.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Innovation on Tap # 4: Elizabeth Arden: A Right To Be Beautiful

This is the fourth excerpt from Innovation on Tap: Stories of Entrepreneurship From the Cotton Gin to Broadway's "Hamilton" © Eric B. Schultz, available now for preorder at AmazonBarnes & Noble, and in quantity from Baker & Taylor or Greenleaf Book Group at 800-932-5420.

Excerpt #1, about Buddy Bolden and the birth of jazz, is here.  Excerpt #2, about Jason Jacobs and the growth of Runkeeper, is here.  Excerpt #3, about Jean Brownhill and Sweeten, is here.

Author's note: Elizabeth Arden, whose real name was Florence Nightingale Graham, immigrated to the United States from Canada in 1908 and made her fortune, riding (and guiding) a fundamental transformation in how Americans thought about beauty.  Although this brilliant entrepreneur was slender and stood just a little over 5 feet tall, one reporter noted, “she was about as fragile as a football tackle; and anyone who mistook her wispiness for indecision quickly discovered that she had a will of steel and the power to execute it.” Arden might remind modern readers of Steve Jobs: gifted, driven, and just a wee bit scary.  Read on: 
. . . Her business grossed a phenomenal $2 million a week in 1925. Arden rejected a $15 million offer to sell at the start of the Depression and continued her expansion . . .  
Elizabeth Arden
Source: New York World-Telegram and the
Sun staff photographer:
Fisher, Alan, photographer.
[Public domain]
If loyal and generous with good performers, Arden was also a tough and demanding boss, saying, “I only want people around me who can do the impossible.” With employees, she could be mercurial, as journalist Margaret Case Harriman wrote: "She is tyrannical and exacting or affectionate and lavish, by turns. Her employees, seldom knowing from one hour to the next whether to expect a calling down or a champagne party, have learned to take what comes with a good deal of serenity" . . .  
A true innovator, Arden launched a steady stream of new products. When told that production of a “fluffy” face cream was impossible, she vehemently disagreed until she found a chemist who would create Cream Amoretta. She launched the “Vienna Youth Mask” of papier-mâché and tinfoil, which applied heat via an electric current. She created cosmetics to complement clothing, not just skin color, and encouraged the everyday use of mascara and eye shadow. In her first twenty-five years, Arden developed more than a hundred items. She tried each new cosmetic on herself—and often on her staff—and had the final say on all product development decisions, brand names, and advertising . . .  
Arden retained a lifelong passion for improving women’s looks, sometimes noting the flaws of a visitor to her company and recommending lotions and creams on the spot.
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Innovation on Tap: Stories of Entrepreneurship From the Cotton Gin to Broadway’s “Hamilton” is the story of 300 years of innovation in America told through the eyes of 25 entrepreneurs--living and departed--who have gathered to "talk shop" in an imaginary barroom under the watchful eye of economist-turned-bouncer, Joseph Schumpeter. 

From Eli Whitney and his cotton gin to the Broadway smash, Hamilton, their stories capture the essential themes of entrepreneurship, highlight the rules for success, and celebrate the expansive sweep of innovations that have transformed our world.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

“Innovation on Tap" # 3: Jean Brownhill: A Community of Trust

This is the third excerpt from Innovation on Tap: Stories of Entrepreneurship From the Cotton Gin to Broadway's "Hamilton" © Eric B. Schultz, available now for preorder at AmazonBarnes & Noble, and in quantity from Baker & Taylor or Greenleaf Book Group at 800-932-5420.

Excerpt #1, about Buddy Bolden and the birth of jazz, is here.  Excerpt #2, about Jason Jacobs and the growth of Runkeeper, is here.

Author's note: Jean Brownhill, a trained architect, founder and CEO of Sweeten, is one of the few African-American female entrepreneurs in the US to raise more than $1 million in venture capital and has been named “The Contractor Whisperer” by New York Magazine.  Jean’s amazing entrepreneurial story includes several moments of "epiphany" when she suddenly saw the world in an entirely new way.  Jean has a neat shorthand for these moments, saying her “brain rewired."  Read on:
Then came the terrorist attack on 9/11. “It really freaked me out, which is the understatement of my life. It was another moment when my brain rewired,” Brownhill recalls. “I was coming across the Manhattan Bridge on the train, and we could see the first building on fire. Then we watched the second plane hit. And we just sat there on the bridge. Someone had a beeper. They said, ‘I think it’s a terrorist attack.’ And I’m sitting in a steel tube that I can’t get out of, on a bridge. It was so frightening.” 
At a loss for what to do, Brownhill went through the motions of going to work, sitting at her desk, and then having the surreal experience of walking home over the bridge, alongside people covered in ash.
“Over the course of the next few months,” she says, “I started thinking to myself, ‘Oh my God, you just spent five years of your life completely focused on learning how to build buildings. You have no idea why anybody would want to take them down. You have no idea the kind of economics or political conditions that brought this attack about.’ And so, I decided that I needed to understand about money and power.” This quest would mean reading every book she could find about money, trying to understand economic and social drivers. It was a self-education that would eventually lead her away from a traditional career path in architecture . . . 
The next year, as part of her ongoing self-education in economics, Brownhill read Roger Lowenstein’s Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist. “I was so inspired by Warren Buffett and the example he set that I wrote him a letter,” she says. “When I got a response from him, that was the next moment my brain rewired again. Impossible things might be possible. This incredibly important person wrote me back.” She adds, “The letter back from Warren Buffett was the moment that ignited the belief in my entrepreneurial vision, that I could shape my own life. It all clicked in.”

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Innovation on Tap: Stories of Entrepreneurship From the Cotton Gin to Broadway’s “Hamilton” is the story of 300 years of innovation in America told through the eyes of 25 entrepreneurs--living and departed--who have gathered to "talk shop" in an imaginary barroom under the watchful eye of economist-turned-bouncer, Joseph Schumpeter. 

From Eli Whitney and his cotton gin to the Broadway smash, Hamilton, their stories capture the essential themes of entrepreneurship, highlight the rules for success, and celebrate the expansive sweep of innovations that have transformed our world.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

"Innovation on Tap" #2: Jason Jacobs: A Cheerleader For Community

This is the second excerpt from Innovation on Tap: Stories of Entrepreneurship From the Cotton Gin to Broadway's "Hamilton" © Eric B. Schultz, available now for preorder at AmazonBarnes & Noble, and in quantity from Baker & Taylor or Greenleaf Book Group at 800-932-5420.

Excerpt #1, about Buddy Bolden, is here.


Author's note: Jason Jacobs launched Runkeeper in August 2008, making it one of the first apps in the Apple Store. Three years later, Runkeeper had six million users, a close-knit and enthusiastic running community, and $1.5 million tucked away in a rainy-day fund.  What could go wrong?  Read on: 
Your author is a long-time user.
By 2011, the venture capital world had emerged from the Great Recession of 2008 and markets were frenzied. The entrepreneurial ecosystem had also become infatuated with scale and pedigree. “The tech media really cared about sizes of [funding] rounds,” Jacobs says, “and who they were from. If you wanted to get the credibility and the megaphone of the media—when it came to things like hiring the best people or getting strategic partners interested—there was no better way to do it than to raise a big round. Whoever raised the biggest round was perceived as winning.”
Such a plan required a big idea, and in 2011, Runkeeper launched the Health Graph. It was a strategic direction that would nearly sink the company. 
Runkeeper’s Health Graph began by integrating third-party devices, such as sleep monitors and Fitbits. It seemed an impressive idea; there were so many health and fitness devices coming to market, and nobody was emerging as a hub. Google Health had just shut down, Microsoft HealthVault was struggling, and bottom-up, direct-to-consumer relationships were the future. “There was a moment in time when nobody owned this space,” Jacobs says, “and here we were with the biggest audience. We had momentum and a passionate community. Why not us?” 
When Jacobs went out to raise his big round, however, there was pushback. “How big could running really be?” investors asked. He was determined to prove the doubters wrong. “If you take some narcissistic twenty-something with a megaphone, all hopped-up on energy drinks, with a big audience, and the press talking about him all day long,” Jacobs says, smiling, “in this emergent field that nobody knows anything about, but everyone thinks is the next big wave, and he just lays it out there with fervor—in that moment of heat maybe you can make a lot of things happen that couldn’t otherwise. . . .”
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I just love that quote, which perfectly captures the crazy excesses of the startup world of 2011.  Jason would push Runkeeper to the brink and then--spoiler alert--pull it back, exiting successfully and moving on to chapter 2.  You can read more about Jason's next chapter here and here; it turns out that not only is @jjacobs22 a great interview, but he's also an excellent interviewer.

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Innovation on Tap: Stories of Entrepreneurship From the Cotton Gin to Broadway’s “Hamilton” is the story of 300 years of innovation in America told through the eyes of 25 entrepreneurs--living and departed--who have gathered to "talk shop" in an imaginary barroom under the watchful eye of economist-turned-bouncer, Joseph Schumpeter. 

From Eli Whitney and his cotton gin to the Broadway smash, Hamilton, their stories capture the essential themes of entrepreneurship, highlight the rules for success, and celebrate the expansive sweep of innovations that have transformed our world.