Life Changing Conversations for Entrepreneurs

Phil Soran, Founder and CEO of Compellent, Shares How He Founded Xiotech

Phil Soran, Founder and CEO of Compellent, recently sat down with Casey Allen of TECHdotMN. In this interview, Phil shares how his journey from middle school math teacher to IBM storage expert led to the founding of Xiotech in his Minnesota basement with his two partners. Phil discusses their strategies for securing investors, acquiring their first customers and their eventual sale of Xiotech to Seagate for $360 million.

Executable #1: Phil Soran, CEO, Compellent from TECHdotMN on Vimeo.

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SoCore Energy Receives a Chicago Innovation Award

Congratulations to Glen Tullman, featured in How They Did It, whose company SoCore Energy was one of ten out of 332 nominees to receive a Chicago Innovation Award this past Monday. SoCore Energy is revolutionizing the way that commercial buildings are able to harness solar power and was chosen for its “game-changing approaches to making solar energy systems financially viable for corporations.”

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Stories From the Book: Lesson #1: Loyalty

Thanks to Professor Verinder Syal, I was recently guest lecturer for a portion of the Principles of Entrepreneurship class at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Sophomore Lisa Guo emailed afterwards to ask which interview from the book impacted me most.

I had to  think about it, because I learned something with each interview. But thinking more about her question, the first person who came to mind was Raj Soin. Raj was CEO and founder of MTC in Ohio, a consulting company that he and his wife took from a startup with $1700 in funding, to an eventual sale to BAE for $425 million. The money is not what was most impressive.  I asked Raj if he had ever faced a crisis, and he chuckled and said, yes, of course. One day his wife, who was the company bookkeeper, walked into his office, and it was payday, and she was crying. She told Raj there was not enough money to meet payroll. He tried to wave her off, telling her to just use their credit cards to get cash, to which she cried even harder, telling him there wasn’t any credit left on their cards. His response was to tell her to go home. I didn’t see how that solved the problem, but the interview moved on. A couple minutes later we were talking about loyalty, and Raj said it’s a two way street. He said one day he walked into a manager’s office, and while they were chatting he looked into an open desk drawer, and in the drawer were uncashed paychecks. Raj asked the manager, Mike, why he hadn’t cashed them? Mike said “I saw your wife crying that day. I knew it was payday. And my wife has a job, so I figured the company would make good later.” Mike had not told Raj, and Raj hadn’t known, and Raj had not yet figured out why his previous payroll hadn’t bounced.

That’s a definition of loyalty that hit home.

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Are Smart Phones Making Phone Calls Obsolete?

Smart phones are becoming increasingly well equipped to handle the onslaught of social media activity we face daily. Facebook. Twitter. Foursquare. Here are a few quick stats from the WSJ article: Y U Luv Texts, H8 Calls

  • 2/3 of adults sleep with their phones next to their bed
  • 84% of text-messaging adults say they send any receive texts “just to say hello”
  • 17% of cell-phone owning adults say they have physically bumped into a person or object while talking or texting
  • 23% of Americas have only a cellphone — and NO land line for making calls
  • The length of the average cellphone call FELL to 3.8 minutes, from just over 4 minutes a year ago.
  • Teens send and receive a total of 3,339 texts on average, per month
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Malcolm Gladwell: “The Revolution will not be tweeted.”

Malcolm Gladwell has a superb ability to reflect and distill trends and find relevance from bygone generations. He has done it again in his New Yorker piece on October 4, 2010. If you have any interest in understanding social networks, “Small Change: Why the Revolution will not be tweeted” is a must read and I mean right now.

The key point is that social networks are built around weak ties, not strong ones. There’s nothing wrong with this, its just different, and the example of the sit-ins that began in the early sixties and engulfed the south in a civil rights war had little to do with technology and much to do with mission, strategy, heirarchy and leadership.

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Congratulations to Capella, InnerWorkings, Allscripts, & Morningstar for Making Forbes’ list of America’s 100 Best Small Companies

Forbes’ just released its list of America’s 100 Best Small Companies. Four companies stemming from founders interviewed in How They Did It made the list. The criteria for candidates include being publicly traded for at least a year, have between $5 million and $1 billion of annual revenue, and have a stock price of no lower than $5 a share. The rankings are based on sales growth, return on equity, and earnings growth in the past 12 months and over 5 years. See how the How They Did It portfolio companies measured up:

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Sales Coaching – the Advanced Lesson: Podcast

Philippe Lavie, President of KeyRoad Enterprises, is not only an outstanding sales team coach – he’s also the sales coach’s coach. Much thanks to Philippe for sharing advice and insights earned from years of growing sales teams, sales professionals and sales management. Listen to the coach here for three great insights:

  • The game changes through company stages, from startup to young growing company to large company. Very different sales challenges.
  • Beware: if you don’t understand the processes that you need to automate sales tasks, the only thing you do is automate non-existing processes and get to chaos much faster
  • There are seven specific elements that go into evaluating whether someone is a leader

Listen here.


Entrepreneur Mentoring

Talking with Kristine Kerr at Inc. magazine reminded me of attending the Inc. 500 conference in 2008 and hearing a great presentation on mentoring featuring Jay Goltz of Artist Frame Service, who acted as mentor to Rich Dennis and his company Nubian Heritage.

Inc. magazine and the Clinton Foundation’s Economic Opportunity Initiative (CEO) have joined forces in support of the Entrepreneur Mentoring Program (EMP). EMP facilitates “structured, high-impact mentoring relationships between some of the nation’s most successful business leaders and entrepreneurs running emerging growth companies in America’s inner cities.”

Over a nine month period, mentors work with entrepreneurs to help them develop a better understanding of their business and industry, become better leaders and make better decisions about the critical issues that face their company.

If there were 10,000 Jay Goltzes fueling the next generation of 10,000 entrepreneurs – I wonder what the results would be?

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Entrepreneurship and the Higgins Boat

The process of identifying and interviewing the founders for How They Did It really got me thinking about all of the contributions, both big and small, made by entrepreneurs. Contributions that have not only advanced science or technology, but have helped to shape the world. A perfect example – Andrew Jackson Higgins. A single individual, credited with winning World War II by General Dwight Eisenhower. Owner of a lumber-importing firm in New Orleans, Higgins’ production of LCVP’s – Higgins boats – allowed for open-beach landings, and were integral to the winning war strategy.

Who are the entrepreneurs that have inspired you? What contributions have they made? Better yet…what contributions are you making right now?

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7 Minute Voyage You Will Not Forget

Proof positive my friends of endless ingenuity:

Take 7 minutes and give yourself a thrilling ride inside a takeout container that Luke Geissbuhler rigged to a weather balloon. The video camera and iPhone hit 19 miles up, about 100,000 feet and at bursting point for the weather balloon, at which point the container parachuted back to earth, remarkably just 30 miles away from launch point in Newburgh New York.

There’s a great story at NYT but really just watch this video.

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