AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Leadership, Life Lessons, Marketing Brilliance, Sprint Accelerator, Uncategorized

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    David Mandell

    I first met David Mandell while in NYC during the whirlwind recruiting tour for the Sprint Mobile Health Accelerator.  We had a relatively short conversation before jumping on stage for a panel discussion.  David’s balanced personality as a warm/friendly listener and honest/straightforward communicator is remarkable, something that serves him well as an entrepreneurial leader.  When I saw him walk into the Sprint Accelerator this afternoon, I knew our teams were in for a treat.

    Shortly after the mentoring sessions concluded for the day, David jumped up on stage to give his story as a Techstars Alum.  He covered a number of topics but I was excited to hear him address the topic of focus.  Startups (and for that matter, just about any early stage product/idea) often fail not because of a lack of talent or customer demand but because they can’t stay focused on basic marketing strategy.

    Brand and marketing (not to be confused with advertising) are often overlooked or considered way too late in the game.  David shared a fairly simple template can keep your team focused and executing on the right things for your business:

    For [fill in the target audience here] 
    Who [fill in the pain point your target audience is feeling] 
    My company [fill in what your company does] 
    As opposed to [know your competitors…not just direct competitors but substitutes as well] 
    We [tell the world how you’re better, different, worth paying attention to] 


    When read out-loud, this marketing template should sound a lot like a pitch…and it did when David filled in the blanks with details from his company Pivotdesk.  As you dig into that statement, it clearly states the vision of the company including who to target, the problem you’re solving, who you’re competing against and how you continue to differentiate.

    Put simply…with limited resources, focus is critical.  Make sure the priorities of your company match your pitch.


    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Innovation, Life Lessons, Marketing Brilliance, Tech Trek

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    After the long ride down the coastline, we ended the evening in one of LA’s oldest Mexican restaurants (El Cholo).  The cold margaritas and spicy fish tacos were a welcome treat after a long car ride.  It was nearing midnight so after one more beer at a bar around the corner we all headed for the hotel for a little rest.

    We spent the next day on the beach, finally feeling that California sun….many of us now with the red skin to prove it.  Of all the beaches in the LA area we decided to spend our time on Venice beach, hoping to catch some of the action on the board walk.  It didn’t disappoint.

    Among the street vendors, beach bums and tourists there were pockets of really interesting people doing things outside.  We took the opportunity to put Google Glass on the faces of people who were out and about get their point of view.

    So far, most of us agree that the “killer app” of Google Glass is definitely the photo and video capability, capturing a cool human eye perspective that only takes seconds to enable (and we’ve found the image quality to be amazing).  We interrupted a few people to try on Google Glass while they were going about their afternoon activities.  A street ball “dunker,” a boxing trainer who was working out with a client and a street performer on the boardwalk were all willing volunteers.  We had fun watching the point of view Google Glass afforded us (I don’t know about you, but my days of doing a 360 degree spinning dunk are long gone).

    More than the cool videos that we were able to capture, it was fascinating to see the general public react to seeing Google Glass in the open.  In San Francisco we got a few looks but for the most part, the novelty has worn off in a city where Googlers have been walking around with them on in public for months.  LA was far enough away from the bay area giving most of the residents and tourists their first look at it in the wild.

    It started out with in-conspicuous looks but soon enough people were gathering in a crowd around Chris to catch a glimpse and maybe even try them on.  You can instantly see the power in Google’s bleeding edge piece of hardware to capture people’s imagination.  Even more than that, you get a good understanding for Google’s strategy of “pre-releasing” this device before it’s ready for prime time.  Google may not know how Glass will be put to work, but what we’ve discovered is that everyone has an idea of how they would like to use it….and that’s exactly what Google’s hoping for.

    We wrapped up things in LA (stopping at Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles for a quick bite to eat) and headed into the desert for Las Vegas.  While Google Glass continues to capture the imagination of the general public we found at least one person who’s not interested in imagining the future…the head of security at the Luxor Hotel and Casino.  Chris was told to “take those off” within seconds of entering the hotel lobby.


    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Innovation, Life Lessons, Marketing Brilliance, Project Thank You

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    Today I was fortunate enough to sit on a stage with two extremely innovative leaders at Sprint.  Razia Moolla (director-Apps Development, Enterprise Testing Services), Kevin McGinnis (vice president-Product Platforms and Services) and I were given a platform to talk with Sprint employees about innovation.

    Razia had some really great insights from her corner of the company.  She’s the leader of an organization littered with process and run on billable hours, similar to a law firm.  She spoke about a leader’s need to recognize when THEY are impeding innovation.  We often see this with corporate politics and some of the ego pumping that large companies are famous for.  Razia had my favorite line of the day when she said innovators are able to maintain a “child-like” wonder without acting “childish.”

    Kevin is a leader that I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with at Sprint for a few years now and it was fun to hear his perspective on innovation.  He talked about getting away from your normal surroundings as much as possible when seeking creativity.  Taking walking meetings, attending events like 1 Million Cups here in KC and a crowd favorite anecdote related to a young Kevin McGinnis who’s career was changed by a showing of “Winnie the Pooh” in a Lawrence theater (HA!  Sorry Kevin…I couldn’t resist!!).

    Kevin also spoke to the importance of surrounding yourself with the right people, stating that you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time around.  Wise words…and something my Mom warned me about as a young kid.  Even more important in the professional world.

    I was up next and talked about innovation through the lens of launching “Thank You Thursday,” a program that has now delivered almost 1 Million handwritten notes to Sprint customers directly from the pens of employees (read more here).  I tried to codify my thoughts on innovation through the following 4 pillars:

    Problem/Solution Thinking – Innovators focus on the customer first and look for problems where they can imagine creative solutions

    Network of people who can DO what you can’t – Innovators are NOT lone wolfs…it’s a common misconception

    Rapid Prototyping – Innovators just get stuff done…they don’t talk about it, they act

    Failure is always an option – They recognize failure for what it is…a learning opportunity

    Innovation Slide

    I’ve noticed a problem over the last few years in the corporate world.  Wild and crazy ideas that have the potential to change our business could come from anywhere in our company.  We have really amazing employees who have the capability to build amazing stuff but yet, the risk of failure holds many of them back from taking the necessary steps.

    Progressive tech companies like Google encourage their employees to use 20% of their time to innovate on products unrelated to their current role (THAT’S 1 DAY A WEEK!!).  Yahoo! and Facebook have hack days where they put everyone together in a big room for 24 hours and shove pizza/beer under the doors until something cool is created.

    I took my 5 minutes in the spotlight to do something crazy….I announced #HackFriday, a new program that we’re going to start next Friday.  The idea is to bring employees from all corners of the campus into one area to innovate, or “Hack the Business.”  I fully believe that when given the chance, anyone in our company can be truly innovative.  #HackFriday is their opportunity to stop talking and start building.

    I have no idea what’s going to happen, but I see the problem, believe in a creative solution, have a VERY supportive network of people who can help me pull this off and have decided to just go do it.  I’m going to experience some failure…no doubt.  But hopefully everyone else around me will do the same and we can all work together to build a stronger culture of innovation at Sprint.

    If you’re a Sprint employee and you want information on #HackFriday, contact me and I’ll encourage you to show up!


    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Life Lessons, Marketing Brilliance


    Friday at 6pm, I walked into a building where I only knew 3 of the ~60 people there.  I got in a line with 30 of them, stood in front of the room and pitched an idea for a startup which I felt had a compelling business model.  Unfortunately, it was half-baked and the rest of the room didn’t vote mine into the top 12 so I joined a team who was selected.  Over the next 56 hours, we created a fully formed business, focusing in on the problem, solution, customer validation and business model.  Between two VERY talented coders and an AMAZING designer, we had a prototype to demonstrate in front of a crowded auditorium during the final round of the 2013 Kansas City Startup Weekend.

    What did you do this weekend?

    While I should have been at home fixing things on the house or getting my lawn mowed before a week of rain…I recognize how fortunate I am to have the freedom (AND EXTREMELY UNDERSTANDING WIFE) to take part in an event like this.  I’ve talked multiple times on the merits of hack-a-thons; KC Startup Weekend was no different, and my favorite one so far!!

    In addition to being the longest and most in-depth, I went into KC Startup Weekend with my eyes wide open giving me a better perspective.  I learned a lot…enough to fill this blog for a year.  Rather than make you wait, here is a rapid fire session of the bits of wisdom I took away:

    1. Take the opportunity to “scare the shit out of yourself”:  Startup Weekend is not a place to play it safe…  Pitch your idea, butt into conversations, talk to people you don’t know, ask dumb questions, work on something you don’t understand, take initiative.  You’re with a group of people who are trying to do the same thing and they’re going to celebrate failure with you (it’s ok here).  Don’t miss out on the fun!
    2. Don’t fall in love with your idea until someone else has:  You’re smart….but so is everyone else.  So if your pitch doesn’t make the cut…go find something that will stretch you to new limits.
    3. Dive in, get committed:  You have a pass for the weekend, use it.  Work 16 hours straight, go get a beer to talk about the day, take a nap, wake up thinking about your project, get back to work.  It’s a riot and it’s not something you get to do every day.
    4. Embrace the luxury of a deadline:  the VERY real pressure of getting something delivered by presentation time gives you the excuse to start cutting scope from your project.  If you’ve done your research on the problem and the target customer, what’s left is only the most essential features.  Your future customers will thank you.
    5. Connect with everyone:  Seriously, the people around you are the future leaders (or existing ones) of your community.  Don’t miss out on collecting business cards, following them on Twitter and building new relationships.
    6. Take free advice from people who have been there before:  We experienced “Mentor Madness” midway through Saturday…we had to take a walk, decompress and digest the feedback.  We marched back into our room with a renewed focus, fresh with insight from some very wise people who were nice enough to give us some tough feedback…it saved our project.
    7. Play to your audience:  First your customer, then your judges.  We had a sweet solution for our target customer….unfortunately none of them were sitting in the judge’s chairs.  Keep that in mind and tailor your presentation accordingly.  Find a way to make the judges care.
    8. Practice, Practice, Practice:  Your entire business is only as good as the final presentation…don’t fill it up with needless words or a busy PowerPoint.  You’ve been working 56 hours for this moment!


    We didn’t walk away with any awards (well…we did come in 3rd as “crowd favorite”) but I feel like a winner.  I have new friends, a better appreciation for GitHub/social coding, a new comprehension of design and an experience that I can’t erase.  Startup Weekend will be back in the Fall….who’s coming with me?!?!


    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Life Lessons, Marketing Brilliance, Mobile Tech

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    Many of you have read about my whirlwind week that culminated with a last-minute trip to the Nike Accelerator in Portland.  It was an amazing week my best week on record and I learned a lot about putting myself in the “way of opportunity” as a friend of mine put it.

    Aside from personal growth, I witnessed an amazing partnership between a huge multi-national corporation and a handful of small startups.  These two groups are typically juxtaposed but what I saw in Portland was a symbiotic relationship where everyone involved was walking away with more than what they brought into the relationship.

    First some context…The world has changed

    Seth Godin’s latest book, “The Icarus Deception,” chronicles the end of the industrial age due to the birth of the connected economy.  Rather than fumble through explaining this shift to you, I’ll let the master give you a 3 minute schooling:



    High Growth Startups were born in the Connected Economy

    The benefits of the Connected Economy are well-known among entrepreneurs and founders of high growth startups.  They grew up in the connected age and have defined it for themselves by creating a lot of the platforms and tools they use to be successful.  There are 4 principles that I believe set a successful high growth startup apart from a typical organization in the Connected Economy:

    They focus on a real customer problem/pain point:  with limited resources, they define a problem, prototype a solution, understand market size/competition, focus on differentiation and determine a business model…in that order.  As a side benefit, the founders are typically emotionally connected to their companies making it easier to define and adhere to a clear mission in the marketplace.

    They connect with a ridiculously large network of people who can help them:  Well documented in Brad Feld’s book “Startup Communities,” entrepreneurs build out a community that looks out for one another, favoring a “give before you get” mentality.  Jumping into something blind sucks, knowing that there are a number of people around who have been there before increases the likelihood of success.

    They move quickly:  They don’t tackle the entire solution right away, they instead target a Minimally Viable Product that will get them on base and use an iterative process to continually improve while growing their business.  Practices like the Lean Startup Movement, Agile Development and even Agile Marketing have been designed with speed to market at the center.

    They have no fear of failure:  Failure is always an option…as long as you’re learning something and improving the next time around.  This ability to silence the “lizard brain,” and find a way to get something done is a true competitive advantage.


    So are corporations just worthless and screwed?

    Absolutely NOT!  While corporations may have been born during the industrial age, almost all of them have amassed valuable assets that any young company would love to get their hands on…they just need to be shown the value in sharing:

    Meaty Business Problems:  Every organization out there has business problems in need of solutions.  Generally the lack of fresh thought the limitations of bandwidth or a lack of entrepreneurial skill-set make these problems fester.  By open-sourcing these challenges, corporations and startups could both benefit.

    Access to Intellectual Property:  The rate at which corporations file patents is amazing.  There’s so much IP floating around that a lot of it actually goes unused.  While the theory of “technology transfer” is something that’s been around the academic world for quite some time, exploring performance based IP licensing models where someone else could actually help enable that IP would benefit everyone.

    Talented “Domain Experts”:  I sit next to thousands of tenured professionals who have deep experience and extremely valuable skills.  Your startup most likely can’t afford a brand expert who has been working on large sports sponsorships or a pricing manager who crunches business models for a living.  Loaning this talent to a startup as a mentor not only helps a startup in need, but maybe some of that cultural magic will rub off on your corporate employee…

    Seed Capital:  This is typically cited as a key challenge for any startup community.  A large corporation should be playing the role of a hub in your entrepreneurial community.  This includes investing relatively small amounts of money that return a good portfolio of entrepreneurs working close to core business problems. At the end of the day, you want to ensure innovation happens around you, not to you.

    Large Customer Bases:  Ah yes…the holy grail.  Once that startup has a product in market they sure would love to have access to all of your paying customers.  As a corporation, if you’ve managed to surround yourself with a portfolio of relevant startups, chances are…you probably want your customers to know about them.  Everyone wins.


    Creating an Environment where everyone can win…right in your home town

    Large and small companies working together is not a new concept by any means…in fact, there are a number of companies doing something similar to Nike.  Technology companies immediately set their sights on Silicon Valley, I would opt to start as close to home as possible.  Startup communities are popping up in every city and they’re probably waiting for a large corporation to show a little interest.  When building a community close to your company, make sure things are close enough for you to keep tabs on what’s going on but far enough away from HQ to keep the heavy hands of the executives at bay.

    What Nike and TechStars have set up in Portland seems to be working and I’m excited to watch it grow.  They have laid the ground work for a healthy innovation pipeline that they can manage over a long period of time.  As I provided advice to each of the teams I met with, I received a number of thank you’s and genuine appreciation….but they ended up changing me for the better (whether they know it or not).


    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Life Lessons, Marketing Brilliance


    I am part of a panel on innovation in the workplace in a couple of weeks and the organizer (one of my best friends at work and personal life coach) needed some content as part of the teaser.  She sent me an email with a loaded question:

    “What are your keys to innovation?”

    I avoided the question….I didn’t have a good answer…yet


    Silicon Prairie news has done more for the midwest tech scene than any of us will ever be able to thank them for.  Their BIG KC event this week took things to a new level; locking the best and the brightest together in an airplane hangar at the downtown airport.  An amazing lineup of speakers shared their beliefs on innovation, entrepreneurship, success, failure and more to the hundreds who participated.

    It’s impossible to name a favorite speaker but there were plenty moments of passionate agreement, questioning, laughter and even tears (yes…a guy wearing a backwards hat got the best of my emotions when he talked about his toy robot ball being used by a special needs child in a wheelchair for the first time).


    My biggest take away was clarity on my thoughts around innovation.  While I may not be considered a traditional entrepreneur, I have a bit of a penchant for challenging traditional thinking, breaking stuff and finding new ways to do things.  After hearing 2 days of speeches and having 1-on-1 interactions with dozens of people, here’s how I replied to my friend Cari:

    1. Define the problem you’re trying to solve – this may sound simple (because it is), but it’s often ignored.  Every speaker on stage could easily rattle off their mission and had a clear identity behind their successful ventures.  Absence of a clear identity will result in the waste of [EXTREMELY] precious resources regardless of the size of your backing.
    2. Talk with people who have been there before – There are experts who have been in your situation and they want to help you out.  One of my idols (and master networker), Alana Muller knows just about everyone….she’s done it by scheduling meetings and sitting next to people she doesn’t know (it’s uncomfortable, but effective).
    3. Shut up and build something – I use the term “build” loosely because at the core, we are all makers.  Write it down, draw it out, collaborate, hack it together, hit the send button, pitch it, sell it.  Seriously…get off your butt, stop talking about it and just do it.  
    4. Become comfortable with the crash and burn – This is the MOST IMPORTANT step.  Be honest…what’s the WORST that could happen?  Set up environments where you can try really crazy stuff, diverge from conventional wisdom, fail purposefully and start over.


    Thank you to all of the speakers who flew in from far and wide to come talk with a bunch of motivated Midwesterners and thank you to Silicon Prairie news for pushing this community in the right direction.


    Keep up with the Midwest tech scene and follow Silicon Prairie News…they’ll keep you up to date on all of the latest happenings in Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and more.  There’s something happening here: 


    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Life Lessons, Marketing Brilliance

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    About 7 months ago I was enjoying the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art here in KC.  As we marveled at the various works of art, I often found myself exclaiming at how easy modern artists have it.  One of the people I was with quoted the following mathematical equation:

    Modern Art = I could have done that + Yeah, but you didn’t


    I laughed (probably a little too hard for a museum) but that statement really stuck with me…I find it translates well into my world of product development/marketing.

    1)  Modern Art Amazing products

    Most product success stories have a similar impact to that of a really great piece of modern art.  It’s obvious when you lay your eyes on it but like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

    2)  I could have done that Simplicity

    Modern art is typically made from stuff that’s extremely accessible to the average person.  More often than not, it is SO simple that it can be frustrating.  Over-thinking a solution will lead to something so complex that no one wants to bother learning about your product…or worse…they won’t consider using it.

    Focus on the problem that needs to be solved, look for new ways of solving the problem with existing resources….  Step away for a little perspective from someone closer to the problem than you (i.e. a sales rep or a customer) or further away (i.e. children, your parents or a spouse).

    3)  Yeah, but you didn’t Execution

    THIS is the most important factor…  Walk through a modern art museum and contemplate what sets you apart from the artist who made money selling THIS.  S/he went out and created something.  Coming up with a simple solution to a real problem can be difficult, but it’s all wasted if you don’t execute on it.

    So the new equation for success in the product space?  Focus on solving a real problem and take a page from modern art:

    Amazing Products = Simplicity + Execution


    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Life Lessons, Marketing Brilliance


    Status quo works for people who are comfortable with their current situation

    Diverging from your comfort zone takes GUTS


    Today, I had the privilege of watching someone with “guts” in person.  I met Cole Lindbergh a few months ago after hearing his inspiring story on NPR.  Cole worked for Worlds of Fun from the age of 14 and worked his way up to the leader of the entire games department in the last 12 years.

    This previous season was his last.  I’m not sure what told him that it was time to go, but like many of us…there can be a nagging feeling when it is time to move on.  As Cole laments in his interview with “This American Life” host Ira Glass:

    “I’m 25 now, I started here when I was 14, I’m getting older, everyone else is staying the same age.  10 years from now, I don’t think I can still be a goof ball I just think that would be creepy”

    So Cole did the unthinkable…he headed away from what had become his comfort zone over the last decade, looking for greener pastures.

    He’s taken on a lot in the last couple months between a new 40 hour/week job, a new part-time summer job (working outdoors where he’s truly happy), an entrepreneurial venture that’s taking off like wild-fire and potentially the most courageous step of all….sharing his inspiring story with others in the form of public speaking, like he did today at the Sprint World Headquarters.

    Cole showed me something about leadership over a couple tacos a few months ago….today he demonstrated that being successful “takes guts.”  Be like Cole, stick your neck out there, do what you love, do something.

    In another excerpt from his interview with Ira Glass, Cole reflected on his experience from Worlds of Fun:

    “well it’s an amusement park, I’m great at working at an amusement park”

    No way man….you’re a natural leader, an amazing public speaker and someone who inspired me today by reminding me that I can do anything.  It just takes guts.


    Keep up with Cole…he’s going places: (check back soon for updates and speaking requests…he has a great story to tell!)

    @colelindbergh (for fun tweets and random wisdom) (for those times when you need someone to write you a song)



    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Life Lessons, Marketing Brilliance, Mobile Tech


    As many of you know, I found a love for hack-a-thons after participating in a company sponsored event focused on mobile app development.  I learned a lot and found some useful tips in how the hack-a-thon concept can translate well into any field, not just the techie side of your business.

    Over the weekend I participated in another hack-a-thon: the Global Service Jam right here in Kansas City.  The event attracted around 15-20 young professionals from the area with a variety of skill sets, but one common goal:  “stop talking” and “start building”

    The Global Service Jam is a world-wide organization with participants in over 100 cities working toward a solution within a common theme.  This year’s theme was “Grow^” (which our group interpreted as “Grow Up”).  From there it was up to us to define a problem related to the “Grow Up” theme and begin building a solution.  My team focused in on increasing financial acumen among young children (helping them “Grow Up” financially).  We aimed to develop a service that would allow parents to include their children in real world financial decisions, not just abstract conversations about money or allowances.

    Over the next 48 hours we went to work; defining a target customer, thinking through a whole bunch of prototypes and eventually narrowing our focus to the grocery store and all of the teachable moments that live within that eco-system.  We built a prototype application that breaks shopping trips into three categories related to financial acumen, utilizing two cute monsters by the name of Eenie and Meenie to keep the child engaged:

    1)  Needs vs. Wants – Creating the grocery list adhering to a shopping budget

    2)  Cost & Value – Comparison shopping in store

    3)  Feedback & Reward – Total target to budget and savings

    We produced a VERY poorly acted video showcasing a shopping trip before and after our solution:



    Needless to say….I had a blast.  I went into this with a little apprehension, knowing that my precious weekend was basically shot.  I justified the trade-off hoping to push my skills to the limit, comfortable with the fact that I would be extremely aggressive and never worry about failure as an outcome (something most of us aren’t OK with in our day jobs).

    In addition, I made some connections that will last a lifetime with some EXTREMELY talented people from the KC area.  When you put a whole bunch of people in a room who are willing to gamble their weekend away to an opportunity like this…amazing things happen.

    What happens next is the key…  Hack-a-thons are a blast for rapid prototyping, product/service development and a little personal discovery.  You’re completely spent mentally and you walk away with something tangible to show people.  Turning that tangible thing into something commercially viable is the next bridge to cross…but that will be the subject of my next blog post :-)

    Thank you to the Global Service Jam organization, thank you to the local KC chapter,  and more than anything…thank you to the VERY talented people who decided to give up a weekend to come hack with me.  I’ll never forget it!

    Follow the Kansas City Global Service Jam organization for announcements on the Fall Jam…..I’ll be there.  If you want to DO SOMETHING, you should be too: