If you operate from a place of fear or resistance to change, you become blind to the most exciting opportunities and growth. Celebrating the adventure of uncertainty, while staying focused on vision and measurable goals, makes me more productive.
As the CEO of SheerID, Inc., Jake has advanced the company to its position as the proven leader and pioneer of instant, seamless eligibility verification and omnichannel customer validation services. He spends much of his time and energy on the strategic direction, growth and development of SheerID. When he is not concentrating on channel expansion, strategic partnerships, and product strategy, Jake is consistently pushing to achieve company milestones ahead of time and under budget.
During his years prior to co-founding SheerID, Jake focused his career on fostering entrepreneurship and economic growth in the small business sector. He traveled the world teaching business and marketing planning to small business leaders, enterprise organizations, consultants, NGOs and government agencies. Jake co-authored the province of Alberta, Canada’s Tourism Marketing education program, developed Pearson Education’s Business Feasibility Analysis software and established their Integrated Marketing Communications software curricula. While serving as an executive for a leading software company Jake worked with global powerhouses including Intel, Avaya, and SAP to develop and implement strategic planning that generated explosive growth in their reseller and partner sales channels.
Jake is a devoted husband and father with three young sons, including identical twins. A fearless backcountry skier, bat-out-of-hell mountain biker, global trekker, and rare car collector and aficionado, Jake doesn’t do anything part way, and is one of those people who seems to have 28-hour days and 8-day weeks.
Where did the idea for SheerID come from?
I began my career in the consumer boxed software space in 1996, and, with the rise of ecommerce, I saw our revenue quickly shift from physical product sales at big box channels to selling 70% of our software directly to customers online. Sometime later in my career, I ran sponsorships and partnerships for a highly sought-after membership group. By default, I was the membership verification solution for our sponsors, who wanted to ensure their exclusive offers were going to real members. The pain point in member verification was the same as what I saw years before with academic, corporate, and non-profit versions and pricing for software – proving eligibility for exclusive offers online, via mobile, and over the phone was way too difficult. The problem was clear; people could not show ID when they shopped online. Retailers were trying to verify their customers using convoluted processes that decreased sales, lead to abandoned carts, and put brand equity in jeopardy with very important customer segments. Many were even using fax machines and customer service representatives who took as long as seven days to check eligibility and green-light special purchases. We started SheerID to create an instant solution that asks authoritative databases to verify eligibility at any point of purchase. We check current enrollment status, ask member databases for verification, and check military service records in a fraction of a second. SheerID protects retailers from fraud while presenting consumers with a seamless, simple, and secure experience.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I have three small children at home, and mornings and evenings are magical as a dad. My neighbors frequently spot me in front of the house as I take early morning calls with SheerID partners and employees on the East Coast. I like to be there when my children first open their eyes each morning, and, after they start the day, I make my four-minute commute into my office in the south hills of Eugene, Oregon. Eugene is an amazing place to grow a business that reaches out to the world, because you don’t have to waste your time – no traffic, healthy living, and an easy flight or two gets me anywhere in the country. My days in the office are primarily focused on strategic partnerships, leading the SheerID team to achieve our objectives, and developing relationships with key clients. Finding the right balance between focusing on our long-term goals and supporting operations, marketing, and sales keeps me productive. I trust the team we have assembled at SheerID implicitly, so I am comfortable empowering others, knowing they make great decisions. I position myself as a resource and encourage leadership rather than promoting any kind of micromanaging.
How do you bring ideas to life?
My approach has always been deeply rooted in problem solving. I think visually, leverage multiple perspectives, and speak the language of cause and effect. Throughout my career, I have played a facilitator and translator role between business objectives, technology, and user experience. I am not a designer, and I am not a programmer, but I have surrounded myself with the best of the best, and I take my time to analyze and visualize what will work well for each of the roles and personas represented in each potential solution. Bringing ideas to life is about distilling down the problem set, understanding the variables, and then analyzing the feasibility and level of effort required for potential solutions. It’s really about finding flow by working from a perspective of abundance, bringing together seemingly unrelated individuals, technologies, and objectives, and testing and measuring while crafting a solution together. When done right, a feeling of accomplishment can be celebrated every step of the way, because, by working in concert, people can truly create something novel with measurable value out of ideas, perspective, and vision.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
In the last 12 months, it’s become more apparent in our meetings and conversations that a shift to authenticity, customer experience, and transparency is upon us. What I mean is that in the past, companies pushed generic messages, products, and services broadly to consumers. Products were sometimes available in store, sometime online, sometimes over the phone, and generally at all different prices. Despite billions of dollars invested in marketing and operations, nothing worked elegantly, and channels certainly did not perform in-concert. We are now in the beginnings of a shift from channel conflict to omni-channel harmony. Utilizing customer-managed relationships and marketing messages in a way that is unique to a group, a market segment, a geographical area, a persona, and even to an individual was once viewed as impossible. With technology in place today like eligibility verification, recommendation engines, dynamic pricing and offers, and support online, via mobile, in-store, and over the telephone, retailers can now encourage loyalty and evangelism by offering transparency and convenience. We face a new reality that leverages all of the research in psychographics, demographics, branding, and consumer behavior of the past with trust-based, authentic human interaction that is invited by consumers. I am very excited to see customers connecting with brands on a more personal level, without the companies coming across as creepy, invasive, or careless.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I embrace change. Enthusiasm and natural curiosity lead to personal and business breakthroughs. If you operate from a place of fear or resistance to change, you become blind to the most exciting opportunities and growth. Celebrating the adventure of uncertainty, while staying focused on vision and measurable goals, makes me more productive.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I interned in the shipping and receiving dock at an automobile supplier outside of Detroit one long, humid summer during high school. This was a chemical mixing plant, and it was very clearly an unhealthy environment on multiple levels. I learned that many people are robbed of wellness, growth and a sense of importance through their jobs. To this day, I continue to strive to create a healthy, stimulating, and exciting environment at work and at home.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I would start younger. I love the serial entrepreneurs I meet who have rinsed and repeated their methods and strategies so many times by their mid-thirties that they have become experts at analyzing ideas, making them into reality, and then growing them into mature, valuable organizations.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Follow up with new people you meet and make connections and referrals. Always follow up, and always listen intently so that you are ready to connect people, products, and organizations you know with one another. Connections are the underlying source of the exchange of value, and mastering the art of communicating and relationship building will mean you always have a lot to give.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
Start with a big vision and fundamental concept, and then build each aspect with that concept at the core. For SheerID, our core is instant, authoritative eligibility verification. We knew from the beginning that the concept of proving eligibility is broad – membership, status, history, employment, location, and the list goes on and on. We started by solving one of the most complex problems we saw, by building a service that lets college students verify their enrollment to companies who want to give college student exclusive offers or academic pricing online. College student verification involves covering over 21 million students at more than 3,700 schools, and new students are constantly enrolling while others graduate or withdraw from school every day. We nailed that service, and that created the core for all of the eligibility verification services we offer now. There is so much opportunity when you start with a core concept- it’s like constantly building the business again and again with the main risks removed.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
We trusted an individual in our start-up stage to develop the sales culture, and he proved us very wrong. I tend to think that someone with the right skills can accomplish the task at hand, but I did not appreciate two things: 1. How critical this position was to the foundation of our organization. 2. How little this person valued loyalty, honesty, and hard work. We fired fast – not as fast as we should have, but we corrected the course and increased our speed after the decision was made.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
PLEASE – will someone create an app or feature that will remove me from a group text? So many group texts start out relevant to all involved, but then go off on a tangent with just a couple the parties interacting. I feel like my phone’s been hijacked when the group texts persist. Everyone I know would use this feature or app.
Tell us something about you that very few people know?
I moved in 2006, and I never unpacked my TV or ordered cable television. I’m not the kind of person who brags about not having a TV, so not many people know this about me. I certainly watch some streaming content, but when conversation goes to TV shows or commercials, I often find myself just smiling and nodding along.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
When I’m traveling for business, I am a big fan of apps and services like TripIt, Hotel Tonight, Uber, and Silvercar. These app-based services make traveling much more convenient, comfortable, and hassle-free.
I’m still an Excel junkie; I appreciate the power and flexibility of pivot tables for data analysis and financial projections.
The CRM we use at SheerID is Sugar, but SFdc is awesome, too.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I read a lot, but one book stands out because of its practical applications throughout life and business. There are not many books that provide real guidance to life’s challenges, and this book covers it all. It is beyond old-school, and that’s another reason I love it. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius is truly timeless.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
- Elon Musk – @elonmusk
- Jay Mohr’s podcasts – http://www.jaymohr.com/
- Richard Branson – @richardbranson, http://www.virgin.com/richard-branson
- Alfred North Whitehead – an English mathematician and philosopher http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_North_Whitehead
- Seneca – He is a stoic worth researching, and Letters from a Stoic is another great read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seneca_the_Younger
- Marcus Aurelius – author of Meditations http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcus_Aurelius
- Tim Ferriss – @tferriss and http://fourhourworkweek.com/2014/04/22/tim-ferriss-podcast/
- Jack (John) Bienko – @Bienko and http://www.jackbienko.com/ and the US SBA in general