I always find that the best way to learn anything is to talk to the people who are doing it. That’s why the Fellows in Enterprise Development along with Dan Olszewski and Lisa Collins took to the road and headed to Chicago to visit some successful entrepreneurs. Each entrepreneur had advice for us on how to establish and grow a new enterprise.
We met the first entrepreneur, Ben Albert, at his new office within the downtown co-working space Assemble. Assemble provides a more private space for short-term endeavors rather than the traditional, very social co-working spaces I have seen in the past. Ben is a serial entrepreneur with a successful exit under his belt and is in the throes of his newest venture, Upfront Healthcare Services. Upfront uses patient and healthcare data to identify opportunities for large physician practices to improve patient health, access to healthcare, and more efficient staff. As we spoke to Ben about his past and present startups, he offered his three key thoughts on what to do when soliciting investors:
- Look at the investment firm’s portfolio to see which industries and specific companies they have invested in so you are aware of their expertise.
- Research whether the firm has led or supported rounds of investment to help you understand how the firm typically invests.
- Find out when the firm’s last investment was and how frequently they have invested. This will provide background on if the firm is actively investing.
After meeting with Ben, we walked to Review Trackers to hear from Founder and CEO, Chris Campbell. Review Trackers monitors their clients’ online reviews to measure the consumer experience. With the velocity of reviews increasing up to 10 times each year, monitoring them has become increasingly important. Many of Review Tracker’s clients have refined several aspects of their business based on customer comments and all have seen direct increases to revenue as a result. It is imperative that companies, especially start-ups, listen to their customers and our visit to Review Trackers reminded us of that.
Our next stop was at Spa Space, a nationally recognized spa that was opened in 2001 by Natalie Tessler. After a short time practicing tax law in New York, Natalie discovered that she wanted to be in a business that allows her to conceive and create experiences. Much like Review Trackers, Natalie reiterated that your reputation, specifically your digital reputation, is everything. She rarely spends significant funds on marketing campaigns, but instead does her own PR and attends events to organically spread the word of Spa Space. However, the most important takeaway from our meeting with Natalie is how essential it is to know your brand and understand what matters most to your employees. For example, Spa Space could have added a Botox service like many other spas, but Natalie knows that her employees value holistic and natural health and beauty services. By keeping her core brand and employee values in mind, Natalie has maintained a successful business.
After a short walk in the rain, we arrived at our last stop, EZLinks. Laura Dihel, CMO, discussed some of the most interesting facets of this 20-year-old business. My favorite learning surrounded the story of how EZLinks started TeeOff.com. One of EZLinks’ clients wanted to pay them with tee-times rather than cash. The relationship with the client was very important to EZLinks, so they took the tee-time payments and made a major pivot within the company. They started TeeOff.com to re-sell the tee-times to consumers throughout the U.S. The success of TeeOff.com teaches us the importance of finding solutions in potential problems and turning those solutions into sustainable revenue drivers.
Each of the visits in Chicago inspired our group to be thoughtful about the decisions we make as we build enterprises or progress in our careers. We are so thankful to Ben, Chris, Natalie, and Laura who all took the time out of their incredibly busy schedules to meet with us.