Tag Archives: Entrepreneurship

What’s Your Titanium Story? Interview with Dane Miller, Founder, Biomet, Appearing at Great Lakes Entrep Bash on Nov. 17

What's Your Titanium Story?  Interview with Dane Miller, Founder, Biomet, Appearing at Great Lakes Entrep Bash on Nov. 17

When I interviewed the 45 founders featured in How They Did It: Billion Dollar Insights from the Heart of America, I tried to total up the amount of value each had brought to the world. They all started from zero. I am not sure of the exact number for their company valuations, but I can tell you that on publication day the number one name on the list was Dane Miller. He had just taken Biomet private for about $12 billion.

Dane founded his company in tiny Warsaw, IN, where Biomet still continues to produce things like artificial hips and knees sold worldwide.

I’m thrilled that we were able to sit down with Dane and catch up. I had to ask him more about the amazing story about implanting titanium in his arm to prove a point. The world thought stainless steel was the safest material for the human body, but Dane knew better. So he tested it out on his own body, by having a surgeon friend implant a small piece of titanium in his arm.

Would you do that? How far will you go to prove yourself?

Dane left the titanium in his arm for ten years to prove the point. Today, thirty years later, what’s the material used worldwide by everyone in the industry? Titanium.

Watch this video where Dane briefly talks about titanium, how to keep good people, and how to keep humble.

Better yet – join us in Chicago on November 17 at the Great Lakes Entrepreneurial Bash to hear Dane and four other amazing entrepreneurs live and in person.

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Success Requires a Team

Success Requires a Team

Thanks to Scott Keffer for sending me coach John Wooden’s book Inch and Miles: The Journey to Success. John Wooden, a paragon of basketball and admired well beyond the sports world, did an outstanding job combining a kid’s book with an instruction set for adults. The book is based on John’s pyramid of success and is a great reminder of an exceptional approach toward life.

One block in his pyramid that I think is often key to a successful entrepreneurial venture is the element of team spirit.  John says “The team comes first… the team’s the star.”

The problem with so many solo professionals is that they think they have to do it alone because no one else would be a fit working with them at their high level or they’re just too busy taking care of clients to figure out how to form a team. But if you take a lesson from champions, team is one of your greatest assets.

Al Berning and Mark Tebbe, two entrepreneurs who shared their stories in my book, How They Did It: Billion Dollar Insights from the Heart of America know the importance of a team all too well.

Al’s inspiration for his company Pemstar came when his former employer, IBM, decided to move disk drive operations to Asia in a major restructuring. Al was not in the market to go to Asia so he and 6 other senior managers started looking at ways they could keep the team intact and pursue new opportunities.

The team actually mapped out their individual skillsets and concluded that together they could create a new company that focused on outsourced design and manufacturing services. Al’s decision to combine forces ultimately led to landing their former employer IBM as one of the new company’s first three customers.

Al had the vision to see his greatest asset was the brainpower of his team. He recognized that asset and went on to grow Pemstar to an IPO, then later selling the company to Benchmark for $300 million.

Another one of Coach Wooden’s steps came into play here as well — the elements of hard work and preparation. “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail,” Wooden says.  Al and his partners prepared for entrepreneurial success by identifying specific areas where their business could provide a competitive advantage, and sticking to just that.

Mark Tebbe, founder of Lante Corporation and also credits his success to having a good team. Seeing promise in microcomputers, Mark quit his first job at Arthur Andersen & Co. to pursue this new territory. He was young, and valued experience, so partnered up with a 38-year-old named Andy Langer. The two created the consulting practice Langer, Tebbe and Associates, which eventually became Lante.

Mark said Andy Langer was the perfect partner for his younger self. He would always consider not just what happened but why it had happened. “Don’t underestimate the value of experience,” Tebbe says.

I realize we’re all savvy and would never consider reading a children’s book to get inspiration. Make an exception for Coach Wooden, and after you finish reading it pass it along to a youngster in your life.

(Hear from Al Berning and Mark Tebbe who are featured speakers at the upcoming New York Entrepreneurial Bash at the New York Stock Exchange on Oct. 3. Register at

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From Jason Fried of 37Signals: Avoid These Four Letter Words!

From Jason Fried of 37Signals: Avoid These Four Letter Words!

Jason Fried’s book Rework has a great riff on four letter words you shouldn’t use. We entrepreneurs have to be careful with our language because our enthusiasm sometimes carries us away with our passions.  Here’s Jason’s list:


Jason thinks these words get in the way of good communication, and he has a point. These are words that create a black and white situation, when in fact things are usually shades of gray. In the end, these extremes cause tension, problems, and conflict. Here’s his specific take:

Need. Very few things need to get done. Negotiation coach and author Jim Camp distinguishes between need and want this way: we need oxygen. But that deal you are working on? You want it, you don’t need it. Try asking a question instead of making a needy demand. “What do you think about this?” or “How does this sound?”

Can’t. I love what Jason wrote: “when you say can’t you probably can. Sometimes there are even opposing can’ts. We can’t launch it like that because it’s not quite right, vs. we can’t spend any more time on this because we have to launch. Both of those statement can’t be true. Or wait a minute, can they?”

Easy. It’s always easy for the other guy. For us, well, maybe its easy but no one’s going to say that. Jason writes: “For you its ‘let me look into it’ but for others it’s ‘get it done.’”

Got any pet words you hate? Love to hear ‘em, especially not the common ones like always and never…


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World Record Holder Gerald “Solutionman” Haman Takes Over the World: Video Interview

World Record Holder Gerald “Solutionman” Haman Takes Over the World: Video Interview

My good friend Gerald “Solutionman” Haman of recently sat down with me at the Thinkubator here in Chicago to share how he is taking over the world one brainstorming session at a time. I don’t know anyone who can say that they are:

(1)    The world record holder for leading the biggest brainstorming session. Gerald brought together 8,000 great minds in a Singapore stadium, generating 454,000 ideas in one hour.

(2)    The 7th Most connected person on LinkedIn with over 30,000 contacts.

(3)    Got stuck in an airport for two days and put up a sign for “free ideas”, holding mini 5-15 minute brainstorming sessions with a line of people.

Gerald is fascinating and I think that there is something to learn from his many experiences. Take a look.

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Rookie Entrepreneurs: Learn How to Change Gears Fast, Get Publicity Super Fast

Rookie Entrepreneurs: Learn How to Change Gears Fast, Get Publicity Super Fast

One of the things I found most fascinating from the champion entrepreneurs I interviewed for How They Did It: Billion Dollar Insights from the Heart of America was their ability to seize on Plan B, that is, to realize when their initial idea wasn’t a home run, and to focus on a better idea. Scott Jones, inventor of voice mail as we know it – now used by billions of people all over the world — was faced with this choice when he decided to kill a good business that didn’t have the potential for a home run. He went for the huge home run and he won.

In this podcast I interviewed new entrepreneur Limor Elkayam and we talked about her first company,, a news aggregator. When didn’t get traction she thought up the idea to create a daily deal aggregator to help make money, called Limor quickly realized that the second idea was the winner. Dealery is kind of like Groupon or Living Social, but doesn’t employ sales folks to sell to local merchants. Instead it picks up deals from a bunch of different deal sites and rebroadcasts them, earning a commission on each sale.

Not only did Dealery feel like a stronger concept to Limor, but validation wasn’t long in coming. She launched and started getting publicity within 30 minutes of flipping the switch “on” for her site. How did that happen? By cultivating the same journalists who’d ignored her the first time around! Limor said Spotery publicity “was like pulling teeth” but the same bloggers and journalists who ignored the first company readily picked up and reported on Dealery, including the New York Times and USA Today. Rookie Limor learned two great things:

First: get ready to turn on a dime. Defend your first idea, but not to the death. If things aren’t working, get ready to shift, move, change gears when you see the better idea.

Second: be upfront with your new idea. Just because you got rejected the first time doesn’t mean you won’t be embraced – quickly! – the second time around.


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There’s Corruption, and Then There’s Corruption

There’s Corruption, and Then There’s Corruption

Illinois or Russia, hmm, there’s the dilemma – which is more corrupt?

I was thinking about this after Larry Robert Olson interviewed me for KABL radio in San Francisco. I had to get in a gentle tweak, because I’ll admit it – How They Did It is a straight up talk about the power of the Heartland.

I love San Francisco, and California, but I had to point out to Larry on air that not all great technology originates from Silicon Valley. If it did, then how do you explain Dane Miller quietly building Biomet in tiny Warsaw, Indiana – achieving 30,000% growth over 25 years? Better than Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway performance over the same 25 years by far (sorry Warren, I love you, but you only hit 19,600%, and that’s just not gonna do). And the miracles of the valley, like eBay? They only returned a lousy 1,000x early investors’ money (I heard Benchmark got back $5B on a $5M investment). Dane Miller’s first investor, a family in Indiana, invested $500k and that turned into $2.5B. That’s with a “B” like billion. Hoosiers. Go figure.

But I can’t exactly crow about everything in my home state of Illinois. The Land of Lincoln is in the worst fiscal shape of any state in the Union. I don’t need to prove the case. Just take a look at the Illinois is Broke website, which explains in excruciating detail what’s going on. What makes this worse is the state of Illinois government, which from all appearances is corrupt, venal and unlikely to change in the near future. The only reaction thus far to massive debt has been to raise taxes, and I’m not sure how that’s going to make the state more appealing for companies to choose to locate in Illinois.

Then I saw Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s Feb 7 report on Russia, in which even President Dmitry Medvedev admits his country is steeped in corruption. BusinessWeek continued: “the nation is the world’s most corrupt major economy, according to Transparency International’s 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index.” That’s all a given. But here’s the astounding thing. President Medvedev says he wants Russian entrepreneurs to lead the way, to create new transformational technologies as powerful as Apple. Huh? How do you match utter corruption with the creative and free expression of entrepreneurship? If you knew as an entrepreneur, that with your slightest success, thugs would come knocking on your door, asking for their piece, how do you proceed?

Illinois may be bad, but I’m pretty sure that before Archipelago’s IPO, or Morningstar’s, or Groupon’s upcoming IPO – no one from Illinois state government showed up with their hand out. So I’ll take Illinois over Russia –  not as corrupt. Good job Illinois!

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How Entrepreneurs Can Hit a Home Run on LinkedIn – Interview with JD Gershbein

How Entrepreneurs Can Hit a Home Run on LinkedIn – Interview with JD Gershbein

JD Gershbein, President of Owlish Communications and LinkedIn expert sat down with me to talk about how entrepreneurs can best use LinkedIn. It’s not just a matter of dutifully putting your name, rank and serial number on a profile. JD suggests using LI as a way for people to learn about you in a completely different sense than what they might see on your website or from a friend’s casual reference. Not only is LI highly searchable by Google, but it is a great way to brand yourself and generate referrals very specific to your expertise. Take a look/listen. This video will get you thinking of ways you can optimize your LinkedIn profile to bring you more business.

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In Memory of Ken Olsen, a Phenomenal Entrepreneur

Ken Olsen, the father of what has been called the second generation of computing and “America’s most successful entrepreneur” (Fortune magazine, 1986), recently passed away. Ken’s company, Digital Equipment Corporation was at one time the world’s second-largest computer company with more than 120,000 people at operations in more than 95 countries – surpassed in size only by IBM.

Ken Olsen was a phenomenal entrepreneur. His one wrong call was the personal computer. He believed the PC would “fall flat on its face in business” – a stance that moved Digital’s board to force him to resign in 1992.

This is an exercise in balance for all of us entrepreneurs: you have to be passionately committed to your vision – and yet still flexible enough to read the marketplace and take advice. Maybe this is like learning how to ride a bicycle. You can’t study it in a book. You have to try it and get in action to learn and feel what works and what doesn’t.

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Acting with Integrity

As I interviewed the founders for How They Did It, one of the things that stood out for me about this group of people was that time and time again they chose to do the right thing. There were moments when they could have cut corners, but instead I found examples of acting with integrity. Phil Soran, co-founder of Compellent, talked about recalibrating his earliest investors’ equity interest when it became clear they would not get as good a deal as later investors. Phil didn’t have to give early investors anything else, but he knew it was the right thing to do.

In January, The New York Times ran a story on Major League Baseball pitcher Gil Meche and his recent decision to walk away from millions of dollars.

Meche’s contract with the Kansas City Royals guaranteed him a $12 million salary this year, regardless of whether he played or not. With a shoulder injury derailing his career, Meche made the decision to retire and forgo his entire $12 million pay day. “When I signed my contract, my main goal was to earn it…I was making a crazy amount of money for not even pitching. Honestly, I didn’t feel like I deserved it.”

In a world where sports figures are grossly overpaid and guaranteed contracts are the norm, Gil’s decision to do the right thing is inspiring, and well, just plain unreasonable. In a way it reminds me of the kind of mindset a successful entrepreneur needs to have to succeed – not in a small way – but to succeed big time.

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Your Favorite Entrepreneur Cartoon?

Here’s mine, thanks to the brilliant cartoonist Jeff Wiley.

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