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Why I’m Thankful For “For Profit Education”

August 11, 2010 4 comments

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A decade ago I started my first job. While I cannot recall all of the two week training, I vividly remember the President and Chief Operating Officer coming in and making a speech. Andrew Rosen, now CEO of Kaplan Inc. said, “Congratulations on working in a company that changes lives. Neither myself nor anyone else in this organization will ever ask you to do anything that you cannot go home and brag to your grandparents about. You will go home everyday proud of the job that you do – because what you are doing is changing people’s lives”.

Over my six years with the Kaplan Inc. conglomerate – he was right. My initial training was engrained in me and still is; “Enroll the right student, in the right program, at the right time.” Those of us in the for profit education industry that live and work by that Kaplan motto go home everyday and say to ourselves, “I changed a life today.”

With all of the negative light shining on the for profit education industry, recently I’ve been feeling angry and a bit jaded. Certainly, there are one or two ‘bad apples’ and everyone makes mistakes; but what was not shown are the thousands of lives that have been changed for the better because of for profit education. The government chooses to neglect to mention that for profit education came about based on a need. There were (and still are) thousands of people who were unable to get into a community college or state universities because the classes were too small, not offered at the right time, and sometimes – too expensive. The pioneers in the for profit education industry have helped better hundreds of lives and supplied thousands of degrees to those who would have otherwise not had an option.

Certainly, I am against any fraudulent behavior, and I don’t think setting regulations is a negative. However, the public slamming of an industry is not just hurting the businessmen; more importantly, it degrades the names of the institutions and devalues its education; this affects the students. Graduates of these programs not only took courses that met the same academic standards as any other regionally accredited institution, but they were also extremely disciplined and determined. They should be applauded for their degree; not meant to feel bad about it.

I go back to the statement Andrew Rosen made eight years ago and look at what he, as well as some of the other leaders in the for profit industry have said and done; and I’m proud to be a part of bettering people’s lives. I’m thankful that educators were innovative enough to allow for the growth in the for profit and non profit education world; and I hope that we remember, as we are reviewing and revising the regulations, that these men are brilliant businessmen. The CEOs in these companies could have gone anywhere and done anything; but they chose to help people. They did not choose to short stocks or to bet against the mortgage industry; they chose to better people’s lives. The government needs to remember that before defaming these schools and their names.

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Bill Gates: Proponent of Higher Education Online

August 8, 2010 2 comments

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At the recent Technonomy Conference, Bill Gates talks about the need for more online education. He states there “will be” five times more college courses online and that this is the only way for the schools to provide education to everyone who wants and needs it. The first minute of the video speaks more to the younger scholar; K-9, however the other 2 minutes of the video show his support for bringing our traditional schools online.

While very short, what I like about what Bill Gates stated, is that he obviously knows that online education is NOT for everyone and makes this clear. He states that college courses online are for the ‘self motivated’ learner.’ This is an important point that many of those outside of the online higher education industry miss; in order to succeed online, students must be self motivated and certainly disciplined.

Bill Gates said what everyone is saying and only a handful of state schools are acting on: We need to take tuition that’s $50,000 / year and figure out how to provide it to everyone who wants it at a lesser price – even stating that placed based activity will be five times less important than it is today.

Not only do I agree with Mr. Gates in his projection, but also in his open admittance that online education is not for everyone.

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Are All Failure’s Purposeful?

August 7, 2010 4 comments

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An old boss / mentor of mine told me that everything is purposeful. I remember the first time I heard him say this; I was 24 years old, we were in month two of a start up, and I had worked on all the mappings in our database. Based on the way I had mapped something, we were $200,000 more “in the red” than projected and only saw this once the end of month P&L came out. He was so angry, I thought he would fire me…but he called me into his office and asked one questions, “what did you learn from this?” I told him what I had learned and he explained he was not angry because “everything is purposeful” and “it was purposeful that it happened at such an early stage of the business and not 6 months later when we were driving 20 times as much traffic to our website”.

I’ve never really forgotten that conversation and as the years have gone on, every time something negative in my life occurs, I think to myself, “this is purposeful”. While this has helped me through a lot of hard times, I also sometimes wonder if this is just an ‘excuse’ when I make a mistake.

I was watching the video below and it brought me back to the ‘benefits’ of failing. Certainly, we all fail; and certainly if we listen to anyone successful, we hear how they have grown so much more from their failures than their successes. This made me wonder if every time we ‘fail’ at something, it’s purposeful – there is a reason involved. I can go through my life, or at least the past 7 or 8 years and track back everything I “considered” a failure. Certainly, something positive has come out of each failure, but is this because it was “purposeful” or because I have a tenacious personality and ‘made something positive happen’? I’m interested in your thoughts on the video as well as examples of times a ‘failure’ in one thing has NOT led you to something positive in another. Please do share as I cannot come up with anything at this time and I’m still thinking, thinking, thinking. Everything I think about, I’m able to “spin” into a positive; but am I “spinning” or are things really purposeful?

This video, the Harvard 2008 commencement speech by JK Rowlings, is not only an entertaining speech; but certainly talks about how ‘failing’ leads you learn things about yourself you wouldn’t otherwise have learned. It’s a sense of empowerment. I’ve failed numerous times, but unsure if I’ve ever had a revelation as big as JK Rowlings.

Part 1 of 2

Part 2 of 2

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Reality Check – Are You a Hypocrite? I think I am!

July 20, 2010 13 comments

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After five years of success in what I termed to be a “large” corporation (about 10,000 employees) and then four successful start up ventures, I thought I had learned a lot. In my experiences, I had learned far more in any start up than my friends or family that worked for REALLY large companies; 50,000 employees +. Hence, I’ve spent the last few years training management teams on my experiences; specifically, how to quickly become successful in the start up world. Once again – very successful. I unconsciously made the decision that there was one way to do things – the “start up” way. By making this decision, I had unknowingly turned my back on the “large” corporations as I always incorrectly assumed that “their way” was corporate; ideas needed sign off, plans took too long to be written, there was politics to deal with, and frankly, corporations seemed to move to ‘slowly’ for me.

At the same time, whenever someone has asked me what has made me successful, my response has always been, “I’m open minded. I know what I don’t know. But mostly, I just love to learn; every person I meet is like a commodity and if I stay in contact with them, it’s because I believe they are a commodity that will allow my knowledge portfolio to grow”.

I’m a hypocrite. If I was so open minded, I’d be willing to work with / for these 50K + employee companies. I wouldn’t only work with start ups, but would also look to learn from high level executives in HUGE businesses. I would learn to relinquish control and learn how to play in a different sandbox.

I frequently meet with executives from all companies, small to large, to get their feedback / advice on how I’m doing in my business. I ask for suggestions as to how I can better myself. Thus far, everyone I’ve met with has said to me one of the following things: 1) “You’re an entrepreneur. You’d be wasting your talent if you don’t start your own business” 2) Continue consulting; you have a wide range of skill sets that are transferable over most sales and lead generation industries. 3) Continue working with start ups and imparting your knowledge there. You have the visions and know how to execute and bring a company to profitability quickly”.

While all of this is ‘nice’ to hear, I still always felt like I was ‘missing’ something. The advice given above is nice to hear and certainly from a monetary standpoint works very well. But again, I still felt the “fire” was missing – the passion was not there as it had once been when I had connected myself to one brand or company.

I had dinner with a brilliant executive last night who finally made me realize what I was missing. I had turned into the one type of person I hated. I was the one that was being closed minded. I had been so successful and enjoy the start up world so much, that I had closed myself off to the thousands of other possibilities to learn. I put all “large corporations” into the same ‘box’ and in doing so, had missed what could have been some phenomenal learning experiences.

For those of you successful entrepreneurs and ‘start up’ junkies who read my blog, I’m wondering…has this happened to any of you? Have you ‘turned yourself off’ so much to the “corporate world” that you think you may be missing out on learnings? I’m trying to decide where to go from here. It’s interesting, because I always said, “If you’re comfortable, you’re dead”…and what I realized last evening is that I AM comfortable in the start up world. While every start up is different, different product, different strategy, etc. the pattern is the same. I’m comfortable with that pattern. In order for me to grow, learn, and get out of my comfort zone – I would need to go to a large company and ‘learn’ how to play the game, learn some patience with slower processes, learn how to NOT always have to be in control. Or I could continue doing what I’m doing, make great money in start ups and enjoy them – but would likely not learn as much. It’s a catch 22, but I’m wondering what any of my readers thoughts are on this and if anyone has been through a similar point in their life? If so, seeking your opinion / advice!

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Does 10,000 Hours Make the Best Businessman?

July 9, 2010 2 comments

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, he talks about the rule of 10,000 hours. He cites researchers agreement that “10,000 hours of practice is the optimum time needed to gain expertise”. He goes on to demonstrate in a myriad of industries that all experts in a field have a minimum of 10,000 hours working or practicing in that field. He cites The Beatles, violin players, Bill Gates and software programming, and numerous other examples.

He does not, however, tie this into any sales, marketing, or other businessmen. Does this ‘rule’ hold true when applied to business? If yes, it would certainly show that “experience” is the #1 factor in determining job hires an success rates; but we know experience is not the #1 factor. I believe that the 10,000 rule can translate to business, however past the point of 10K hours, there is likely little difference in someone who has worked 100K hours vs. 50K hours. At that point, it would be more about innate ability and ambition.

In going back to Gladwell’s book, his examples all talk about “practice”. The Beatles “played” for 10K hours, Bill Gates “coded” for 10K hours…so I’m wondering, how do we “do” 10K hours of business? Does this mean 10K hours of work in 1 area? 10K hours of work researching? I look at myself and executives tell me my ‘best’ skillset is sales. Well, I started to sell when I was 18 and had my own business in college; is that why I’m more successful now than the majority of people my age? Did I hit that 10K hour mark sooner?

I’m not sure about me; but I am sure that I would like to figure out how to go about getting 10,000 hours in each business area – so this will be my next conquest.

What Good is a Start Up Company if You Run it Like a Corporation?

June 16, 2010 8 comments

It’s not good. period. I should probably start by telling you what I think of as a corporation: 1) Sign offs 2) “strategic plans” that cannot be altered in a moment’s notice 3) High level executives who want to ‘stick with what they know’.

In my first start up, we went completely outside the box and did things that had never been done before. We didn’t listen to other people’s opinions, but like the book BLINK says, we went with our gut…and we got it right. We had belief in our product (leads), we were able to sell our product, and our CEO / COO that ran the marketing component of our business were not limited by norms. To be more precise, they went against the norms. We ended up with two things: 1) Profitability in under one year 2) A new business model for our industry. If we had been running our business trying to stick with what we knew, not changing or testing things on the ‘fly’, and not listening to the younger / less experienced folks in our organization, none of this would have occurred.

Taking “C” level executives from the corporate world and throwing them into a start up business is not a good thing unless there is balance. If you have 3 “C” level or “VP” level employees from ‘corporate’, they should be balanced by those of us who have succeeded in the ‘start up’ world. There is a reason the same people are successful in start ups again and again and again; they have great business instincts, have no fear, and are tenacious. When they try something that is “outside of the box”, they’re going to do whatever it takes to make it work. They’re out to prove their model. In many companies, they would likely be defined as “rebels” as they may be superstars, but many of their ideas are viewed as outrageous.

Start up people need freedom. They need freedom to make decisions and freedom to act on decisions within a short time frame. Not everything must be laid out in a “plan”. If something works, SCALE IT…and scale it immediately before your competitor does.

Where did this come from? Many companies I work with have solid products…not disruptive technology and neither are all business models different, but the products can certainly beat out that of their competitors. Most have high level executives who come from ‘corporate’ backgrounds; certainly brilliant and experienced in their respective areas, but ‘corporate’ nonetheless. At times, I’m hired to consult in one area that I’ve had immense success in; marketing for higher education. Under the marketing umbrella, many times I’m hired to execute on ONE aspect of that strategic marketing plan. I attempted to remain focused on that specific ‘goal’ and as I’m was executing, it becomes apparent that there are secondary strategies needed to supplement what I was doing. It’s low risk / low cost. I put it out there for the companies to evaluate. Response, “We’ll think about it”…and you could tell the companies weren’t ‘really’ going to think about it. Think about it? 1) Who thinks about anything in a start up? Think about it for 5-10 minutes maybe…and get back to me with an answer. It would be less than a $2K test. I wanted to say, “if it doesn’t work, take it off my paycheck…” but surprisingly keep my mouth shut. 2) DATA. Past data from the same exact type of campaign shows that my ‘gut’ instinct was correct. I guess I should have sat down and made a formal “business case” for what I wanted to do, but it’s a start up – who has the time?

Anyways, as a consultant – even if hired to focus on 1 area of the business…I consider it my “job” to advise on other parts as well. I don’t mind being told, “No”, if there’s a good reason…but for a cheap test, that’s 100% scalable, and historical data proves it works…I don’t want a “No” or an “I’ll think about it”. I want a “Go for it” – like a start up company with a “start up” executive team would do.

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10 Days in Europe: No “Work”, But Much To Learn – Any Suggestions?

April 29, 2010 7 comments

I leave today for Europe for 10 days. No sales, no marketing, no business. Ok, who am I kidding? I will definitely be on the computer a couple times the first few days I’m in Barcelona and on the 11 hour flight, but WILL NOT be on during the Mediterranean cruise.

I’ve realized over the past several months that it’s not only “work” or “driving revenue” that I love, but more so, it’s learning. Learning different ways to work with people, different ways to make money, creative / outside of the box / innovative ways to market on the internet that has not been done before.

I take this zest for learning and bring it with me to Europe. I’m certainly interested in the history, the sites, and the cultures. While I’ve been before, that was 8 years ago and I’m guessing my view will be a bit different now.

I look forward to immersing myself in the culture to really ‘see’ how the global marketplace responds to different types of online advertising. I’m interested to hear how many folks in different areas are using social networks. I’m looking forward to bringing back new / different ideas that I pick up that have not yet been executed on in the United States.

I’ll be in Madrid, Barcelona, Sorrento / Naples, Rome, FLorence, Nice, Cannes, and Monte Carlo.

If anyone has suggestions for sights, I’m all ears…if anyone has suggestions for areas I can learn about the culture and possibly the global economy, I’m all ears. Please feel free to comment or shoot me an email.

Boredom; and what to do with it

April 22, 2010 8 comments

I’m bored. Most people’s response would be, “you work, you make good money, you can work whenever you’d like, you have the life!”…but not for me. I’ve gone from 7 years of working 80 + hours / week to working maybe 20 hours / week. While I understand this is ‘supposed’ to be something I’m appreciative of; the “American Dream”, right? Making more than enough money while doing what you love WHEN YOU want to do it. BUT, something is missing.

I don’t know if I’m missing structure; if I’m missing the “buzz” of hundreds of sales reps and marketing managers; the ‘team’ or social aspect of work; or it may even be the stimulation of being surrounded by highly intelligent people, but I’m bored. I’ve read books, read blogs all day (which has been a fantastic way to learn / broaden my horizons, etc), I start my Six Sigma course next week, but….I think I need to get something going. I need more of a long term goal.

So, I’ve defined my professional goals as follows:

1. Sign 6 month contract / consulting retainer with lead gen marketing company
2. Broker 2 new deals per month
3. Complete Six Sigma Course
4. Seek out new mentor

My personal goals:

1. Continue to work out daily, overall be healthy
2. Travel once / month
3. Seriously talk about getting PG
4. Make Mark happy

Ok, so I thought I would lay out these goals and it would give me something to do…NOPE. Any suggestions?

Best / Smartest Online Business I’ve Ever Seen

April 16, 2010 1 comment

Tooling around FB the other day, I came across an ad for “women that like expensive purses” (or something along those lines). While I usually don’t click the ads, for some odd reason, I decided to click this one and MAN am I glad I did. I was introduced to a brilliant business model that had been equally executed. The site is www.oohilove.com and the business model plays on human emotions. To simplify the process / numbers for you, I’ve attempted to outline below.

1. Consumer goes to http://www.oohilove.com
2. Consumer can see items that will be auctioned off (similar to Ebay, but much ‘cleaner’ site)
3. Consumer registers (free) and needs to ‘purchase’ bids to be able to bid on products. Each bid costs $1 and is sold in quantity packs. Example; to start, I purchased 100 bids (or spent $100).
4. I then have 100 ‘tries’ to bid out different items.
5. As the clock winds down on each product, bidding begins. When someone bids, 2 actions happen; 1) 6 seconds is added BACK to the clock 2) Price goes up by $.02.
6. Brilliance; can you figure out why yet? Here’s my simple numeric / financial breakdown…

Let’s look at ‘original product’ – PRADA bag. And let’s assume the ‘company’ purchased this bag resale for $600.00. Bidding begins and bag is sold for $28.00. You’re looking at the website and saying, “WHAT? NOT FAIR? How is it so inexpensive?” Well, what sounds like inexpensive is REALLY the sound of the owners of this site driving revenue.

If we take $28.00 and divide it by $.02, we get 1400 bids. This means the consumers have paid $1400 in bids. Do if we forget to add in the $28.00, and we only look at the variable cost, the margin here is ridiculous. You can see, the company nets about $800 for this bag. The model is scalable and will grow virally, so investment really only needs to be on the tech. side of the business as well as purchasing.

As this site becomes more popular, prices will go up (more people bidding = higher prices) as the larger pool of people you have bidding, the higher the chance is that someone who is willing to spend more money will be bidding. I’ve watched them climb a little bit each day, it’s uncanny.

As prices go up for the consumer, more bidding will happen for the site and more money will be made.

This business is not only brilliant, but it’s a “win, win, win” (provided bidders are not compulsive gamblers). If used correctly, this site is a “win” for the original company (PRADA, in example above) as the product can be bought at normal prices, a “win” for the consumer who ‘wins’ the product; and even for those who lose, if they lose ‘strategically’ they probably only bid a few dollars, and a ‘win’ for the owners of the website. Brilliant. Capitalizing on the old human weakness of greed and gambling. I love it.

Why START UP companies are KEY to Work For!

April 13, 2010 8 comments

Two things I look for in every company I work with:

1. Do they executives believe in continuous learning as well as personal / professional growth AND will they aide you in your journey…
2. Is their business model, or product, something new, innovative, and / or something that the market has not seen before.

If the answer to these two questions is not “YES”, than I know this start up business is not for me. However, if the answer IS “yes”, I know that I will do anything in my power to work with, and learn from, these individuals. Even if it means working for free for a while; just to prove myself.

When I was 22 yrs old, I began working at Kaplan University, online higher education giant. However when I entered the working world, Kaplan University was called “Kaplan College”; they only offered 4 degree programs (now offer over 100 if we include specializations); and more importantly, only had 60 admissions advisors or ‘sales reps’. While it wasn’t a “pure” start up in the sense of the word, it did grow immensely over the next two years and when I moved to a ‘real’ start up, had over 1500 admissions advisors, and had grown the student base over 1000%. It was a rush to be a part of. We purchased new buildings, there was a lot of room for advancement and learning. We had access to the C level business executives, ideas were listened to; and while sure – there were bumps along the road, it was still fun to come to work everyday. Not only were we doing jobs we believed in, but there was always something “new” and “innovative” to look forward to.

About five years ago, original owner and SVP of Sales and Marketing for Kaplan University, Richard Capezzali, developed a business concept with a young man named Todd Zipper. They wanted to prove that they could execute on numerous strategies that had never been ‘done’ before. The two innovators founded Education Connection, which was at first a lead generation company, and became the first lead generation company to 1) Be agnostic 2) Develop commercials – not school specific, for themselves, 3) Develop a lead that converts at over 10% 4) Build out an advising call center. I basically stalked Richard and Todd until they brought me on as their ‘first’ employee. I was in heaven. I was working with two men; one – an expert in education sales and marketing and the other – an Ivy league MBA who taught me operations, finance, etc. and both believed that it was POSSIBLE to make the impossible possible. I learned more over the four years with these men than I could have in any MBA program.

After four years with Education Connection, my husband and I were recruited to another start up higher education company out in Dallas. While the answers to the questions above were “Yes” and the interviews were fantastic, there was a difference in this company, yet I couldn’t put my finger on it. As soon as I came aboard, I was back in the “start up” mode; building and executing quickly, driving revenue, and having fun doing what I love to do: build businesses. What I realized while I was working for this company was that although they were a ‘start up’ company in that the idea was new, we were just reaching profitability, etc. all of the C level executives or business partners had worked together for 15 years. And in that 15 years, they had already developed a culture; one that was unlike a “typical” start up business; it was more like a 10 year old corporation. Not for me. That being said, because I believed (and still do) strongly believe in the mission, I stayed onboard and did what I do best: drive revenue and cut costs…

Until a few months ago.

For the past few months, I’ve been consulting with numerous marketing and education companies. Some are start ups, some are trying to devise new revenue streams, some I’m working with to build out new products…but here is what I know. I love consulting. Every ‘project’ is basically a small start up company AND I get to choose who I work with. If I don’t like a project, I “just say no” and move to the next. I’m only working with companies I believe in, working with people who are innovators and allow me to be innovative, and I’m building my skill set with every project I take on.

The first three companies I worked for, while only over a seven year time span, all played integral parts in allowing me to do what I’m doing now.

So, for those of you who are going to be out of college soon, looking for internships, a career path, a job, etc. my advice to you is to look for a start up company. You will learn and blossom quickly and it will give you the skills you need to go anywhere. You will be adaptable, wear many different hats, and know what a true “team” environment is. There are several solid sites you can check out, a great one being Start Up Digest, that will send you jobs from all over the world with start ups.

Be innovative. Work for a start up.

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