I've been on a few more radio shows, talking about mistakes (“My Favorite Mistake” themes) and entrepreneurship. I've also been the guest on two podcasts recently, so I'll share those here in this post.
The Uncommon Leader
Lean consultant turned executive coach, John Gallagher (formerly of Simpler Consulting), has a new podcast with a slightly broader theme called The Uncommon Leader.
Here's a short 20-second clip about change:
And here is the full audio:
He was also recently my guest on Episode 426 of my Lean Blog Interviews series.
Better Call Daddy
Reena Friedman Watts is the host of a podcast where she interviews guests and then calls her father to get his thoughts, reactions, and input.
Reena was my guest on the My Favorite Mistake podcast:
Reena turned the tables and interviewed me, with a discussion that was slightly more personal (in a good way) rather than being just about Lean leadership concepts. Reena's a great interviewer who draws out more than other hosts would.
Here is a short clip:
You can listen to the full episode here:
WGN Radio Chicago
I was interviewed by host Lisa Dent on a WGN radio morning news show in Chicago last week. My interview was interrupted by the “breaking news” of William Shatner going up into space on the Blue Origin rocket.
In these interviews, I talk about the need to test your business ideas, and rockets are certainly tested over and over again, with the intent of learning from any failures, before you put a human on board.
You can find the audio on their website or use the player below:
Scroll down for a full transcript.
KXL Radio Portland (Oregon)
You can listen to any or all of the audio tracks using the player below:
Also scroll further down for the transcript
WGN Full Transcript
Lisa Dent: Mark Graban is on the phone. How are you today, Mark?
Mark Graban: I'm great, Lisa. How are you?
Lisa: Good. You've written books about the “Measures of Success” is a name of one and “Practicing Lean.” You know something about launching businesses during the pandemic. Were you stunned at how many small businesses launched? Was it because there was a necessity for so many things we hadn't needed prior to the pandemic?
Mark: Some of it might be necessity because of people's job situations, and the economic challenges, and things changing. I think a lot of it is people looking for a greater sense of fulfillment. I've been involved in two startup software companies. I think of writing a book as being like a startup on its own.
There's that need that sometimes isn't met in regular workplaces. There are risks to starting a business. One of the keys is making mistakes on a small scale and learning from them as a way of preventing big catastrophic mistakes.
Lisa: I would think when most people were stuck at home and they had a lot of time on their hands to think about what they need, or what parents need, or how people are coping with a hybrid working situation, that is the mother of invention, right?
Mark: That's one of the best drivers for a business. It's not so much about what I want to do or the service that I could create. It's best to start from that sense of need. One of my guests on “My Favorite Mistake” was an emergency room physician who had a need in his workplace.
The doctors and the nurses had ideas for improvement. They didn't have a place to track those ideas, so he ended up creating software that he eventually then launched as a software company called Kinexus. Knowing the problem first-hand and being passionate about solving it often leads to good startup ideas.
Lisa: I talked to somebody who volunteers often at PAWS Chicago and they said, “Hey, I started up a gluten-free bakery.” I said, “During a pandemic?” [laughs] They said, “Yeah, I had time on my hands. There was a need and I thought, ‘Why not?' “
I guess I would be a timid entrepreneur, where I'd question whether people would have access to my product, and could I make money, and what am I going to do when the job market seems so uncertain? I guess that is what separates me from real entrepreneurs is they dive in and take that opportunity, right?
Mark: No, the questions you're asking, Lisa, are good ones. Being timid and taking small steps helps us test our business idea. There's a lesson from entrepreneurship circles that says, if it turns out your business is going to fail because something is off between the product, and the service, and the market, you can create something.
You could create an app. That doesn't mean people are going to pay for it. If that business is going to fail, you'd rather discover that sooner than later. Small tests have changed.
Taking baby steps to test an idea before you've sunk years into something, that can be helpful, because then, maybe you move on to the next idea instead of continuing to double down on something that might not have potential.
Lisa: This is Mark Graban. He's a business consultant and host of My Favorite Mistake and went to Northwestern. Are you based in Chicago now?
Mark: No, I'm out in Los Angeles, but I'm flying back in. It's homecoming this weekend and I'll be there at the football game. People can listen to that on WGN, of course.
Lisa: Look, you know how this works.
Lisa: I appreciate it. It's a fun day for kids who grew up watching “Star Trek.” Again, we put my guest on hold. [laughs] How are you? Are you still with me, Mark?
Mark: [laughs] I am, Lisa. It's exciting for William Shatner.
Lisa: Is it something that you were intrigued by or concerned about?
Mark: You watch these launches and regular people are going up into space, but if you look at what happens with these rockets, because there is a huge risk that something could go wrong, so what do they do? They test, they test, they test. They send up unmanned rockets.
There's a lesson there for entrepreneurs. Again, if you've got an idea, it might not be a matter of life and death if something goes wrong. Test the idea, test the idea, test the idea again.
Lisa: Mark Graban is a business consultant and host of My Favorite Mistake. I was reading an article about how many businesses were launched during the pandemic. People were inspired to become an entrepreneur.
Everything from doctors, lawyers, down to someone who might actually do janitorial services for a living. He's a Northwestern guy coming home for homecoming. Like everybody else, he was watching and intrigued by Bill Shatner. What is your suggestion for people who it's not too late?
Like we said, even space tourism is going to boost opportunity for entrepreneurs to create something new in some way, whether that's even photography. When there's something new, there's options to make money off of it.
What is your word of inspiration? How do you inspire someone who's listening right now to WGN to take that jump and launch that business?
Mark: It starts with having a dream. It starts with having a vision. Again, there's the very practical matter of trying to figure out sooner than later, will people pay for the product or the service that I want to startup? Will they pay enough to make that a worthwhile business for me?
Again, there's two lessons I've learned along the way with startups. There's two important questions. One is, can I create the service? Can I create the app? Can I write the book? The second question is, is there a good business model around that?
One tip would be to be careful surveying people. If you ask friends and family, they might tell you what you want to hear, and then when you move forward with the business for real, you might learn the market feels differently.
Trying to test and do something online that gets people to make even a small purchase with your service, that helps test or hopefully validate the business idea.
Lisa: Can you launch a small business today without social media?
Mark: It depends on the business. Part of the business model is thinking through, how am I going to acquire customers? How are people going to learn about me? How are people going to ask questions about my service? How are they going to pay for it?
I imagine there are some businesses that if they are very local, might not rely on social media. We saw one of the risks, hopefully this doesn't happen often, with Facebook and Instagram being down for hours the other day.
There are some businesses that are very dependent on social media. That might be a mistake to have too many eggs in one basket. That might be something entrepreneurs start rethinking of. “Well, what is my backup plan if social media goes down? Are there other ways to also reach people and have them do business with me?”
Lisa: I would imagine when you deal with entrepreneurs and you inspire them, you find that even though it's incredibly difficult work, it's overall fulfilling.
Mark: It is. It's challenging. There are times it'll make you want to pull your hair out. I started my career in a corporate setting. I was in cubicles. I made some mistakes. It took me a while, but I learned personally, I do better in a smaller company setting.
I've had the chance to do some entrepreneurial things. There are ways for people to test their ideas before, let's say, they quit a full-time job. That's one idea that goes with testing your business model, taking some baby steps.
Sometimes, people start their business. I've interviewed people who started their business as, some people call it a side hustle, and then you test the idea, you validate it, you realize, “Yeah, people will pay for this.” Then, maybe you feel more comfortable taking that leap to go full-time with your startup.
Lisa: Maybe you've inspired some people today. You know we're cheering on your team when you come home for the homecoming. There's no doubt about it. Thank you so much. Mark Graban, business consultant and host of My Favorite Mistake. I appreciate you calling the show today.
Mark: Thanks for having me, Lisa.
Mark Graban: How are you?
Brett Reckamp: Doing well. I must say, I'm channeling my inner Sheryl Crow. Did that ever come to mind, as we get into it, “My Favorite Mistake” and everything else? [laughs]
Mark: Mistakes and learning from mistakes is something I've written about and thought about a lot, but last year, I heard the song, and that was one thing that clicked and I said, “I'm going to do a podcast. I'm going to use that name.”
Brett: I love it. We're going to talk about that. Necessity is certainly the mother of invention, and the COVID pandemic has stripped a lot of us down professionally. Some of us are doing better. Some, not so much. What do you think some of the biggest reasons are people have been able to use this time to reinvent themselves professionally?
Mark: A lot of entrepreneurship is a choice, where people want to reinvent themselves or they feel driven to go and build something or accomplish something that they can't do maybe in a regular job. You're right, the pandemic has forced a lot of people, including myself, to pivot.
I'm not traveling and going on-site with healthcare organizations, so I've tried to figure out, as other people have, how to work remotely with people and in some cases, doing some new things instead of first doing the same thing in a virtual way.
Brett: Indeed. What are some of the things that maybe keep people from going after their dreams of being a business owner, inventor, or whatever it is that makes their heart pound?
Mark: A lot of times, there is fear, and it's reasonable fear. People fear losing the steady paycheck. In a lot of cases, this is uniquely American dynamic, they don't want to lose their health insurance. That's something that's certainly a drag on entrepreneurship. In the last 10, 15 years, there's been a shift.
There's an author out of Northern California, Eric Ries, who wrote a book called “The Lean Startup.” That's been influential on me and others, where the lesson learned is you're not going to have it all figured out before you quit the job or launch the business. That you need to do small tests of change.
You try to test your idea for a business, whether that's software, or an app, or some sort of company. Test that on a small scale, and then build from there. We can develop confidence or prove out or disprove our business idea by taking baby steps instead of taking a big, huge leap.
Brett: Baby steps, I haven't heard that when it comes to entrepreneurship, or business startups, or anything like that. Do you have an example? Do you test it on your friends and family, or how does that work?
Mark: The risk of testing things with friends or family is that they're going to be more polite than honest, and that's true when it comes to a business. The last book I wrote, I treated it like a startup. The idea there is try to get real feedback from real customers.
There's risk in surveying people. Even if they're not friends and family, if you're surveying people that would potentially be customers, what people say they will do is sometimes different than their behavior of getting their wallet out, putting their credit card [laughs] into a website, or signing a purchase order.
We can minimize some of the risk by taking small steps and, again, either trying to validate our idea and realize, “Yeah, I should move forward with that,” or better to learn at a small scale. “Something's off about this idea. I need to tweak the idea based on the feedback that I'm getting.”
Brett: Let's say you have an epiphany business idea and maybe you have “tested it,” [laughs] whether you're getting good feedback, honest feedback or not, from friends, or family, or other. Are there additional steps beyond googling and making sure that the name you want is not taken or something like that?
Mark: There are all sorts of mistakes that people could make. When I launched the “My Favorite Mistake” podcast, I'm not a lawyer, I didn't consult with a lawyer, but I did some Google searches. There are even sometimes multiple songs with the same title. A song title can't be copyrighted.
There are different mistakes that we might make. There's a time and a place of seeking out expert advice, but more often than not, we're going to learn by doing. If we make small mistakes, it's a learning opportunity.
There's a software company I've been involved in in different ways the last 10 years called KaiNexus. It was started by an emergency room physician. He started it. People often call their side hustle a night job. His side hustle was a day job, because he was an ER doctor at night.
The company, as it's grown, there are certain assumptions that you make and sometimes, you learn those assumptions were incorrect, like the assumption that we were going to solve software only to healthcare organizations.
That was going fine, but then we learned people in other industries want to buy the software. In fact, there is one funny email where somebody was angry at, “Why wouldn't you sell this software?” “I've run a healthcare organization. Why would…”
He thought, “No, we can learn from that. We can adjust. We can tweak our marketing message to be more inclusive.” That's an example of learning as you go. It doesn't mean we were wrong. It just meant we learned and it's better to adapt and change your direction a little bit based on the learning instead of being stubborn and doubling down and being so locked into your idea.
A lot of times, we don't know if we're right. We can only figure that out through real action.
Brett: That leads me right into my next question as we visit with Mark Graban, author, business consultant, and host of the podcast My Favorite Mistake. What are some good examples of great ideas for business? I'm guessing it should be something from the heart, something that you love, and something that you're passionate about.
How do you transition that into an actual business model where you can support yourself and make money?
Mark: You bring up a good point. There are two dimensions. Again, I'm thinking of Eric Ries and the book The Lean Startup, to give him credit again. Two questions of, can I build something? Then, there's the question of, should I build something?
Is this thing that I want to build? Let's say it's an app. Technically, you can build it. That doesn't mean, to your point, Brett, is there a business model? There are a lot of products or ideas that aren't necessarily a business. We need to test those ideas.
You bring up another good point of the founding of KaiNexus and a lot of other startups come from somebody solving a problem that they're facing in their own daily work. That's an important way of avoiding some startup mistakes.
Don't be so fixated on your solution. Make sure you understand the problem that's being solved, but then you've got to go and test and try to validate your assumption that, A, other people have that problem, B, they care enough about it to try to fix it, and C, they're willing to buy my product or service as a way of addressing that.
That does drive a lot of passion when it's a solution to a problem that means something to you. It means you understand, at least, what some other customers are facing. We need to avoid the mistake of assuming what I think is what everybody else is going to think.
Brett: How many new businesses fail right out of the gate, and in what kind of timeframe are we talking about so that we can all be realistic?
Mark: That's a good question. I don't have numbers right in front of me, but to guests that I've had on My Favorite Mistake, a number of guests have articulated the idea if you look at really successful people, it's not that they've never made a mistake or that they've never failed, it's more a matter of learning from those mistakes and preventing the repeated failures.
There's an old Japanese proverb that says, “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.” It's important. Emotionally, we tend to get upset and we want to avoid beating ourselves up when we make a mistake.
I had a guest I interviewed yesterday, a very successful businessman in different fields. He made the point he's always learned from his mistakes, but he doesn't dwell on them.
There's a balance between recognizing, “I had a small failure. If I can recognize that, and learn from it, and adjust, that reduces the risk of the big failure,” meaning shutting down the business or having something catastrophic like that. Being resilient towards failure means recognizing it, being honest about yourself, reflecting, but not being too hard on yourself.
Brett: That makes me think of the sports world a little bit, almost like a cornerback in the game of football. You have to have a very short memory, because if you get burned for a long touchdown, you had better be ready for the next play.
As we talk about people transitioning their professional lives, not necessarily opening up a new business, a lot of people flat out made pivots during the pandemic and changed careers, whether or not they're working for themselves or not. Any advice there for someone who's going after something totally different?
Mark: There's two different positions people might be in. One is entrepreneur by choice and one is like, “Ugh, I'm forced into that,” because sadly, people have lost their jobs. There's different approaches.
There are some who advocate for the idea, “Hey, if you're going to start a business, you had better be all in. You had better be committed. You had better rise and grind,” as some people say. There's always this question of, what can I do versus what should I do? Do I have one idea that I'm locked in on? OK, if so, go and pursue it.
Again, there are good lessons from entrepreneurship circles of if your business is going to be a failure, you'd rather know it's failing sooner than later. That's where the small tests of change are helpful.
If you realize, “OK, I've learned I can't build what I thought I was going to build, or there is no business model,” it's better to learn that maybe after a couple of months, and then move on to something else than to invest years and years and years of building something, and then learning, “Nobody wants this software that I bought.”
Brett: That's a great point.
Mark: I wanted to jump in real quick. It's funny that you mentioned cornerbacks. One of my guests on the My Favorite Mistake podcast, Lenny Walls, is a retired NFL cornerback.
We talked about that exact same point in his episode of having the short memory and going back and reflecting and learning. You've got to jump right into that next play. Let's say you get burned and there's a long completion, it's first and goal and you got to stay out there.
Then, when you come to the bench, or during halftime, or during the game film session the next morning, that's the chance to then dig in, figure out what went wrong, what do we do differently next time, without letting it distract you in the moment. Athletes have a really interesting perspective on that.
Brett: Indeed. A lot has changed, and a lot still is changing on the landscape, thanks to the pandemic. This terrific stuff. We're speaking with Mark Graban of markgraban.com. A lot of insight there.
Is there anything else you want to make sure and say about making a serious pivot financially during this particular moment in time, which is very unique?
Mark: As we validate a business model, there are other ways of starting companies. I was involved in a startup back in the year 2000. The model there was you better put together a business plan, go pitch venture capitalists, and try to raise $10 million or more.
There are models where you may self-fund the start of your business. You may find friends and family, angel investors. Again, at a small scale, with small resources, go and test the idea. Then, hopefully, ideally, bootstrap the business from cash flow from actual customers can help drive a lot of growth as opposed to taking the big risky plunge on taking a big investment.
There are a lot of ways of, again, getting started on a small scale and seeing what works and adjusting accordingly. That can be a little bit less risky. Maybe not cashing out your 401K and putting all of your eggs in that basket. That would maybe create a lot of stress that distracts from the work at hand of starting and building and growing a business.
Brett: Before we let you go, Mark, we have to ask you about “Shark Tank,” because a lot of what you're talking about, if you've seen the show Shark Tank, a lot of people enjoy watching that, where people pitch their ideas to people with money and try to basically get some of them and bring them in as partners.
Mark: Kevin was great. He was part of the inspiration for starting the podcast. The fact that he was willing to be the guest in the first episode set such a powerful tone. He shared a story from earlier in his days of launching his infomercial business.
If there could be a direct lesson from the story of not putting all your eggs into one credit card processing account basket, you could learn, “OK, if I'm starting an infomercial business, I won't make that exact same mistake.”
That's maybe a value to a handful of people. What's more valuable is his willingness, the vulnerability to say, “Here's a huge mistake I made.” He learned from it and he restructured how he did business accordingly.
Sharing that example reemphasizes the point, as other guests have emphasized, it's not that successful people don't fail, it's that they learn from their failures, and that moves them forward into what we then see as being wildly successful.
Sometimes, people might only want to tell the stories that put them in a positive light, the brilliant decision. Sharing mistakes and being willing to talk about it sets a good example for others in a lot of ways.
To me, that puts somebody like Kevin Harrington or other guests in a positive light. They made a mistake, they didn't blame others, and they didn't throw anyone under the bus. He didn't make excuses, he owned up to it, he realized it was a mistake, he learned from it, he didn't repeat it. That's a great example for anybody.
Brett: Definitely not a mistake having a visit with you, Mark. That's terrific stuff. I enjoyed it very much. Is there anything else you want to make sure and say?
Mark: If people are interested in this topic of learning from mistakes, again, the podcast is My Favorite Mistake podcast. As you mentioned, the Sheryl Crow song, if you're going to search in your favorite music/podcast app, if you're going to search My Favorite Mistake, you probably do need to tack on podcast at the end. Enjoy the Sheryl Crow song, too, but…
Mark: …then maybe listen to a podcast afterward. Myfavoritemistakepodcast.com is the website.
Brett: Very good. Markgraban.com is where you can go to get a lot more info about you.
Mark, congrats on your success and good luck in the future in 2021 and beyond.
Mark: Thanks, Brett. I'm going to keep making mistakes. [laughs] It happens too often, but I'm going to keep learning, try to be positive about it, and not repeat those mistakes.
Brett: Hear, hear. Mark, thanks again.
Mark: Thanks, Brett.
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