Ten top colleges for entrepreneurs – March 1, 2006

FORTUNE Small Business: Ten top colleges for entrepreneurs – March 1, 2006

I heard recently that in the 70s there were something like 10 universities that offered entrepreneurship courses. But currently it’s over 1,700. So entrepreneurship education is booming.

But what is interesting to me is that the most successful business people of all time come to lecture at business schools, and the people in the audience are the students, some of whom actually run a business, but most do not.

That seems like a major waste to me, a disconnect, because the people who need to hear the keys to success aren’t even listening.

Meanwhile, the millions of entrepreneurs trying to run successful businesses don’t go to the business school lectures, where they could learn so much. One lecture could change their future. Like the branding talk I heard in Philadelphia in 1996 that led us to spin Ancestry.com out from under the Infobases umbrella and try to turn it into the world’s leading genealogy brand. That was all inspired by a lecture I heard on branding. I don’t even remember who the speaker was!

I don’t know why the real business world and academia can’t somehow get mixed in with each other in very significant ways.

Business schools should/could reach out to the local business community and invite scores of entrepreneurs to learn from the great guest lecturers that come regularly.

I personally like to maximize the results from the time I spend doing anything.

I have found the greatest satisfaction in teaching entrepreneurship when they are actual business owners in the group I’m teaching.

I probably won’t do many lectures to high school students, for example, or get involved with young kids who may be in business someday, because by the time they are in business they probably won’t remember a single thing that I taught.

I get much more satisfaction from teaching people that are running a business, can run right home and try something new and immediate that I’ve taught them like search engine marketing for example, or using Google Alerts to monitor their competitors, or how to increase their web site conversion rate.

On the other hand, I don’t like seeing or hearing myself talk, so I find myself saying no when people want to video tape or do podcasts of my lectures. In reality, if I were willing to be recorded when I’m teaching and allow that content to be freely distributed online, I could really maximize my impact and better use my time.

I need to get over that hangup and be willing to be video and audio-taped more often, so that I can help more people.

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Google Base starts taking cash – vnunet.com

Google Base starts taking cash – vnunet.com

If you try using Google Base to take payments from customers, let me (and my readers) know how well it works.

It seems improbably that Google Base will take any users away from PayPal which is so standard now. At least, it will take a long time to make a dent, unless somehow the user experience is better with Google Base.

(I personally have had tons of usability problems with PayPal. I only use it rarely, and I always seem to have problems with passwords and with the data entry screens. If Google Base uses the same login as most of my other features, then that might endear me to them.)

So let me know if you try it out.

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A highly educational day

Today I heard Kevin Rollins speak in Salt Lake City at a BYU Management Society meeting. My good friend Dave Bryce (Wharton Ph.D. and professor at BYU) got to conduct an interview with him. It was really interesting.

Next, I got to meet with a vice president of a major internet company, several local marketing experts, and a professor and some gradudate students at the University of Utah. We had some fascinating discussions, which I can’t write about.

Finally, I was invited to participate in a discussion about the future of teaching and education — and why it matters so much — with a dozen or so people at the BYU College of Education. The college is named for David O. McKay, a lifelong educator and president of the LDS Church from 1951-1970.

He said, “… the noblest of all professions is that of teaching, and that upon the effectiveness of that teaching hangs the destiny of nations.” (David O. McKay, 1934)

I believe that.

Utah just raised its education budget by 10.9%, the largest increase in a long time. I wish all of it could go to teacher’s salaries. I hope a lot of it does.

I heard once that Finland has one of the best educational systems in the world, with Finnish students ranking first in the world in reading literacy and science and second in mathematics.

I also heard that their teachers all have Master’s Degrees and that the profession is highly regarded and highly compensated.

In the US, a recent study (2004) shows that 73% of the nation’s eighth graders tested below “proficient” in mathematics. The same study shows no connection between standardized achievement test scores and any of the following: 1) teacher to pupil ratios 2) spending per pupil and 3) teachers salaries.

This study makes no sense to me. Maybe it was funded by state legislators who wanted ammunition to argue with teachers who want higher pay. It seems obvious that paying teachers more would attract more qualified candidates and result in less turnover and better teaching.

But my main point is that teaching is a noble profession and ought to be highly compensated in this country so that more talented people can “afford” to become teachers.

Passionate teachers change lives. I owe a lot to some of my AP teachers at Orem High like Dee Allred, Tess Morris, and Marty Monson. Many of my life interests (and much of what I studied in college) were influenced by them.

But as much as I want to see teachers paid more, I also believe in parental choice in education, and I am greatly disappointed that the vouchers legislation didn’t even make it to the house floor during the recent Utah legislative session.

One of the most ingenious ideas I have heard for improving education and raising teacher’s salaries comes from Overstock.com’s Patrick Byrne. His idea is that 65% of every dollar allocated to education should be spent in the classroom (which includes teacher’s salaries).

Does anyone know how many states have passed the 65% legislation that he proposed?

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Getting out of the current and into pools

This week I spent two days at the Corporate Alliance Summit with 50 business leaders and managers. We learned about the powerful relationship-building principles that Corporate Alliance teaches, and had a lot of time to make personal connections with each other.

My first Summit was last September. It was incredible.

Corporate Alliances teaches that almost all of us swim each day in the “business current,” where we are very busy and focused on day to day business. While we are in that current, we rarely form deep relationships with people. We are focusing on transactions and operations.

Where lasting relationships are formed is in “pools,” which are places where you connect with other people in a non-business setting, and where you really get to know one another. A lot of business people golf because it is a great pool for connecting. Some of the pools that I belong to are the Utah Valley Entrepreneurial Forum, a few non profits, including the Academy for Creating Enterprise, and various groups at BYU and within my church. Geek dinners and Entrepreneur breakfasts are also good pools, as our Phil Windley’s CTO Breakfasts (I keep planning to go to those) and Genus Breakfasts, the Business Ignitor Series from Connect Magazine, and other local networking events.

But some pools are much better than others for forming relationships.

My favorite pool of all is the Corporate Alliance Summit itself, where the entire focus is on learning about each others needs (both business and personal), serving each other (as we share possible answers to each others problems) and then developing lasting relationships with each other.

I’ve never experienced anything else where I connected so deeply and so quickly with so many other wonderful people. And now it has happened twice.

I’m a huge fan of Jared Stewart, the visionary behind Corporate Alliance, and his wonderful team. I have joined the board of directors and am now an investor in the company (through Provo Labs.)

I am paying full price to send key people from all the Provo Labs companies to Summit. We all need to learn this culture and these principles. They are very similar to the wonderful concepts found in the book, “Love is the Killer App,” my all-time favorite business book by Tim Sanders.

I think Corporate Alliance has the potential to be the next generation Covey Leadership center, teaching millions of business leaders around the world how to recognize that relationships matter most in business and that there are powerful ways to develop lasting relationships with others, both within and without your company.

So here is a question for my readers: what seminar or conference is the best one you’ve ever attended and why?

I go to conferences all the time and would really love to know which ones you like the most.

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Why Do Most Companies Fail?

I was asked Tuesday at the Corporate Alliance summit why most companies fail.

My guess is that most companies fail primarily because they don’t have the right team of people. The CEO might not be right, or the CEO hasn’t chosen the right people in the right positions, because most CEOs don’t know the talent level required at each position and the teamwork needed to build a successful company.

This is especially true of young CEOs, who haven’t been around the block, who haven’t seen great talent in action, in all the roles necessary to build a successful company.

The more I think about what CEOs do, the more I seem to think a comparison to a basketball coach is appropriate. To have a successful company, most businesses need key people in several categories including research & development, manufacturing, IT, finance, marketing, sales, and HR. Many CEOs may have personally succeeded in one of these areas. For example, most Inc 500 CEOs say they are personally strong in sales and marketing. I think the number was 80% last time I saw a survey.

But CEOs of struggling companies most likely have strong employees in areas where they know what talent is, but mediocre employees in all the other areas that they’ve never coached before.

If a CEO has never worked for a company with a great finance person, how can they be expected to hire someone that is great? Same with every position in the company.

I have observed that technical CEOs often hire a lot of great technologists. It’s great to have good technologists in a company, but what if you don’t have great sales and marketing people? Or what if you have good traditional marketers, but no great skill in internet marketing? It is hard to succeed today without leveraging the web.

A technical CEO that staffs a company with a bunch of great developers but overlooks PR, marketing, and sales is like a basketball coach that starts five centers. An NBA team that started five centers would get killed by a well-rounded team with skill in every position. A team with all centers would have no point guard to dribble and pass the ball and no shooting guard to put up three pointers. The balanced team would be way too quick for them.

Every team (company) needs a point guard (marketing guru) to do pass the ball (lead generation), a shooting guard (sales force) to score, and of course solid rebounding and defense and teamwork (manufacturing, finance, operations, etc.).

Without sales and marketing roles being filled by very capable people, a company won’t stay in business for long.

But how does a technical or finance CEO hire a truly great sales or marketing person? It seems almost impossible.

It’s like asking me, as a marketing-type CEO, to hire a great computer programmer. How can I do that unless I’ve worked with someone before and know they are great? I can’t look at someone’s code and understand it. I can’t even ask good interview questions if I’m not a programmer myself.

Since a technologist CEO most likely has never done sales and may not know any great sales people, it is very likely that he/she will hire poorly for that position. And same with marketing, and finance, and on and on.

I believe that several things can help CEOs hire great people for every area of their company.

First, build a diverse advisory board of successful people who represent all the different skills sets you need help with. (You might not be able to judge if your chosen advisory board members are really all that great in their fields, but ask around and get references and assemble a team of successful people that probably can tell talent from fluff.) Silent Whistle (now Allegiance) had one of the best advisory boards I’ve ever seen. And I think it made a significant difference in helping the company get great people in key positions like product development, sales and marketing. And now it is really paying off.

Second, do group interviews. We have started doing this at Provo Labs and it makes a big difference. We get multiple candidates for each position and then we conduct group interviews, so that several of us are able to ask questions together. We all hear answers to questions that we might not have thought of asking. This prevents the interviewer from doing all the talking, which has always been one of my biggest problems in interviewing. (I have what Business 2.0 calls “Babbling Interviewer Disease.”) I sell the vision of the company during the whole interview and by the end find myself completely pumped up–“that was a GREAT interview!” (“Wait, I did all the talking.”)

Third, have a mastermind group of successful CEOs with different skills sets who are willing to interview candidates for each other.

I have no idea if this has ever been tried or if it would work, but I just thought of it, so I decided to throw it out. (Besides, you can’t make a list of ideas and end up with only two.)

One thing Provo Labs will do to make sure that our team members all stay great (assuming they were great when we hired them) is that we will ask every one to join (or start) a local networking event for professionals in their exact field.

For example, when we hire an affiliate marketer, we will ask him/her to join a group that I think is called the Utah Affiliate Marketers Network, or something like that. I’ve never attended it, but I know it exists.

Our email marketer will probably need to start a local group where email marketers share best practices. Our SEM marketer may have to do the same. And our content acquisition and business development teams will most likely have to form local groups as well, because I’ve never heard of networking events for these areas.

And our developers will actively participate in Geek dinners, but they may also be asked to form a smaller network of 10-12 people who are really focused on the same kinds of programming, who will meet regularly to share their best ideas with each other.

The other thing we are considering is a bit more radical. We are considering hiring a full time employee in Asia to directly work with/for each full time employee at Provo Labs. This is partly driven by time to market issues and to put time zone differences to work in our favor, and partly because of our desire to be international in both our work force and our understanding of international markets.

I heard a key Procter & Gamble executive last fall talk about how many research teams they have within P&G where three teams exist in various locations around the world, all working on the same project, so that as the US team wraps up their workday here they hand things off to an overseas team, who in turn hand their work off eight hours later to another overseas team in a location eight time zones away. So that you get 24 hours of actually work on every project each day.

If the hand offs go well, you can cut your time to market by 2/3rds.

I like this idea. I like the idea of our employees in the US thinking that if they do good handoffs that their projects will make significant progress while they sleep. I think it will also help them thinking globally in everything they do.

Like I said at the beginning, I believe that most companies fail because they have the wrong people on the bus, like most basketball teams fail not because of game-time coaching, but because of recruiting. It’s hard to win with the wrong people.

If CEOs can find ways to learn what real talent is in every position they need to fill, and if they will learn to help everyone work as a team, then the team they build will lead the company to success.

Investors almost always say they invest in the team more than in the idea. (There are a couple exceptions among VCs.)

So if that is true, all of us who start companies better focus most of our energy on building the right team.

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