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Entries in Entrepreneurship (28)

Monday
Jun152015

The Upside of Impracticality: Or Why I Left Congress for Brooklyn 

Caitie Whelan recently gave up the prestigious job of a Senior Foreign Policy Advisor in Congress to move to Brooklyn, NJ and write. Ayup! (Yes, she hails from the great state of Maine).  Why? She wanted to make a dent in the universe (something she's done before). Read on.  Be inspired. Think, ponder... and go make a dent.
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This is not a practical story.

Three months ago, I had a great job as a Senior Foreign Policy Advisor in Congress. I had a great boss, a great dental plan, and a great city to call home. But something wasn’t great. And it came down to three words:

Doubt. Fear. Convention.

I saw too many people deflated by doubt, fear, and convention. Qualitative data was everywhere: deferring dreams for safe jobs, working for the weekend, resisting risk and reinvention. In short, too many of us felt too stuck, too small to  - as Steve Jobs said - “put a dent in the universe.” It was as present in DC as it was in Delhi or Detroit.

I know what it’s like to feel trapped and tiny. I also know that with the big challenges our world holds, we can't afford for people to play it small.  

I believe in many things: public libraries, underdogs, finding blue lobsters. Above all, I believe in the power of one person to make a dent. I’d seen that power undercut; I couldn’t respect my beliefs and not do something about it.

Policy’s one way to effect change, but I knew it wasn’t where I could be most effective. I liked writing and storytelling. I hadn’t done much of either. But I figured raw passion was a pretty good foundation to build from

I also figured since I had a lot to learn, I should surround myself with masterclass writers and creators. So, in March, I left my great job, my great dental plan, and my great city and I moved to Brooklyn to write, build a website, and make my dent in the universe.

In April, I launched The Lightning Notes, a short daily post to help us move the world forward. It features striking stories and great ideas from all over to remind us that we matter and that improving the world is our matter. All in a two-minute read.

I’m 30. I’ve never written for a living, managed a website, or lived in Brooklyn. Noah Webster would have good reason to put this under the definition of ‘impractical.’

Why ditch practicality? Three reasons.

1.  I believe in it.

Our world is shot through with pain.

Chad is short on food. The Middle East is short on stability. California is short on water. We’re in an all-hands-on-deck situation. But we don’t have all hands

Many of our hands are tied up, doubting that we matter, fearing that we’ll fall short, or convention telling us to stay on script. It’s deflating enough to make us forget what we’re capable of.

The Lightning Notes is my reminder that doubt, fear, and convention may be big, but we are bigger. And we are made of tougher, more impactful stuff.

I believe in that.

2. Respect.

I’m a white belt again.

I could fall on my face, which would hurt. But not as much as never going in the ring. My gut was hollering, “Go for it.” When our gut hollers, that deserves respect.

And so do the people we serve

As Deb says, put yourself in your customer’s shoes. The Lightning Notes has no ads or paywalls. I wouldn’t want that as a reader; it doesn’t feel respectful for me to force it on another reader. Instead, I ask people to donate.

There’s plenty of free content out there. Why should people donate

They don’t have to. Yet, some already have. If 1,000 people give $8 a month, after Paypal fees and taxes, The Lightning Notes is financially viable. I’m giving myself one year to make it happen; I’ve got my work cut out for me.

Is there a faster way to make money? Yup. But I’m not doing this to be fast.

I’m doing this to respect that untamed part of myself that - despite doubt, fear, and convention -  hollered, “Go for it.”

And I’m doing this out of respect for the untamed part in each of us that’s hungry to contribute, to be a part of something bigger than we are, to put a dent in the universe.

3. Risk.

When I watched the Kentucky Derby, there was a moment where American Pharoah and Firing Line were neck and neck. And I thought to myself, “I know that feeling: it’s exactly where my excitement and fear are.” Such is the experience of risk.

But life’s inherently risky. Why not fill it with the risks, as Deb says, we believe in? I don’t want to take a bunch of dreams to my grave. So, I’m taking this one to the streets.

This is not a practical story. But neither is a world where doubt, fear, and convention are writing the narrative.

Let’s rewrite the narrative. Let’s live all the life we have in us to live. Let’s make our dent.

Caitie Whelan is the Founder/Noter-in-Chief of The Lightning Notes, a short daily post to help us move the world forward. Prior to the Lightning Notes, she was a Senior Foreign Policy Advisor in Congress, co-founded a school in India for lower caste musicians, and raised pigs in Italy. She is a graduate of Brown University, the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies, and is co-founder/chair of the Salt Alumni Board. She is a 2007 Truman Scholar from the Great State of Maine. Follow The Lightening Notes on twitter.

Wednesday
Oct222014

No Compelling Value Proposition? No Business Needed!

Alex Osterwalder & team have created the definitive easy-to/must-uses guide on how to create a compelling value proposition - Value Proposition Design.  Yes, definitive.   Any business is first and foremost about the customer, even though it seems so many have forgotten that.  If you don’t have a compelling value proposition, you don’t need a business model because you won’t have a business. 

Value Proposition Design (#VPDesign) clearly teaches how to discover customers’ real needs – the needs they have for and by themselves, not the needs we want them to have or the needs we want to solve…even if they aren’t really the customers’.  The VPDesign toolkit – which is easy to follow, use and adopt – makes it difficult to retain your own biases and see reality.

It’s not just the words. The fabulous visual and symbolic style of the book makes it easy to follow, to use as a handbook and daily tool for prototyping, testing, iterating and creating meaningful and valuable solutions for customers. The icons are memorable and can become part of your team’s lexicon for thinking about customers. Just as in Business Model Generation, this book is a tool to use daily to think about your business – internally and externally. I’ve used the VPDesign extensively with entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs and for customers outside the organization and inside the organization.

So, you MUST get this book (and Business Model Generation) and start using it.  It will change how you view your business, your customers – for the better, in ways you can’t even begin to imagine.

In full disclosure, I helped co-create Alex & Yves’ first book, Business Model Generation, was a pre-reader for Value Proposition Design book and is a friend of Alex's.  And that's why I know, first-hand, how incredible and necessary these books are! Get them!!

 

Sunday
Sep212014

What do the Classic Virtues Have to Do With Design?

Thank you Better World by Design for inviting me to share to a wonderfully crowded session! Very special thanks to Hanna McPhee for designing a gorgeous presentation and Sidney Kushner (Founder, CCChampions) and Faisal Khurshid (MED International) for powerful stories about the impact of the virtues on explicit aspects of 

Tuesday
Aug052014

Why Higher Ed Needs Flying Lessons

Anita Verna Crofts is a Flight Instructor at the University of Washington.  © Tony Asgari PhotographyYes, you read that correctly. She wrote this post last year and it's only appropriate to repost as we start the new academic year.  Anita is one amazing lady who is taking education to new heights - Flying Lessons. There is hope for higher-ed!  Thank you Anita! Come meet her at BIF-10!!

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The University of Washington Announces Flying Lessons

I have never flown a plane or sat in a flight simulator, but I’ve been teaching people how to fly for years. This spring the Department of Communication at the University of Washington made it official by naming me their Flight Instructor.

Everyone has wings. Sometimes you need to be reminded to use them.

Choosing to be named the Flight Instructor reflected my approach to teaching, which encourages students to lead and soar higher than they ever imagined possible, inside and outside of the classroom. In addition to the classes I teach, my punch card includes:

  • Encouraging students to see their education as an opportunity to build knowledge and relationships that spread their wings. A degree isn’t just about making the grade, it’s about making a network that lasts a lifetime.
  • Reminding students, faculty, and staff to seek the perspective that comes with altitude gain. The broader landscape looks different and reveals patterns that are invisible from the ground.
  • Supporting faculty efforts to move students from co-piloting planes to taking over the controls themselves. Everyone has the ability to pilot their own plane.
  • Championing opportunities for students to lead in class, on campus, and in the community. The sky’s the limit.

© Tony Asgari PhotographyThe vision for my role reflects the entrepreneurial instincts of the Communication Leadership graduate program, where I teach and serve as Associate Director, and the department as a whole. Our program houses two unique degrees in digital media and community/networks, both aimed at creatives who are on the frontlines of shaping superb communication strategies through story-driven content, audience engagement, and insightful analytics. The freedom faculty, staff, and students enjoy to dream, build, and grow is my fuel.

As the Flight Instructor, I help students navigate takeoffs, weather turbulence, and stick their landings. Last week an incoming student tweeted to me, “I would love to talk to you about my flight plan.”

Buckle up. It’s time for takeoff.

Fly the friendly skies with Anita on TwitterFacebookInstagram, and avcrofts.com.

Sunday
Apr272014

Create Your Own Luck

You know how much I believe in serendipity & random collisions (a la Saul Kaplan!).  Meet Samir Rath (bio below).  I met Samir when he was in the 2nd cohort of the IE-Brown E-MBA while simultaneously investing and starting companies all over the world, including Chile, because, doesn't everyone? Read Samir's thoughts on serendipity, luck and entrepreneurship - and join in!

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Innovation is serendipity, so you don't know what people will make.- Tim Berners-Lee, Inventor of the World Wide Web.

How often do we hear our friends and family say “Oh! She is so lucky. She moves in the right circles”. Or “He is so lucky. He is always at the right place at the right time”. Beyond the tinge of jealousy that such messages communicate, also hides a subtle ring of despair. May people feel that no matter how hard they work or how capable they are, their spate of bad luck just keeps messing things up.

Luck is nothing but an attitude. Richard Wiseman, the author of “The Luck Factor: The Scientific Study of the Lucky Mind”, defines luck as the outcome of how we deal with chance and that some people are just much better at it. ‘Unlucky’ people tend to be very apprehensive of the future, uncomfortable with change and want to control their circumstances. They tend to have set pre-defined expectations of how a situation should play out, often leading to disappointment. This is inevitable given how bad we are at predicting the future. ‘Lucky’ people, on the other hand, embrace the randomness of life with open arms and accept that change is the only constant in the equation of life. Serendipity becomes a way of life, with happenstance encounters evolving into friendships and business relationships. The ‘lucky’ ones make it much more likely that they will stumble on incredible events and be at the right place at the right time with the right people. Sometimes things work out.

Todd Kashdan, a psychologist at George Mason University, observes that getting lucky gets much harder as we get older and wiser, not because the game of life has changed but rather because how we play the game has. We get wiser with age and armed with experience, we form very strong convictions on how the world works. This applies to companies too. AT&T, which traces its origins to original Bell Telephone Company, could not anticipate a change in behavior, blinded in part by its domain expertise in telecom infrastructure. A young startup, Whatsapp, figured out that we have changed the way we communicate and want to share images, video and audio media over the internet across multiple platforms. At the start of the year, Whatsapp had more than 450 million users, all built and supported with a team of just 32 engineers.

We will be engineering some serendipity for the launch of our forthcoming book No Startup Hipsters. With the common thread of building technology companies that focus on real problems, we will be connecting tens of thousands of entrepreneurs, investors and enablers. Each person would login through a social network and a twitter style 140 characters description of what they are working on. Curated profiles from across the globe will quickly zip by in a “hot or not” style and when both sides choose to connect - Boom!. So, come create some luck by signing up at ThunderClap and get the book for free too.

SAMIR RATH is a financial technology entrepreneur and angel investor working with technology startups globally from over 20 countries. He helped build the Asian operations of GETCO LLC, one of the worlds largest trading technology firms, listed on New York Stock Exchange today as KCG. He began his career as a Macroeconomist for the Monetary Authority of Singapore. He is the co-author of a forthcoming book titled "No Startup Hipsters - Build Scalable Technology Companies”. [www.nostartuphipsters.com]. Twitter: @Samir_Rath