As a linear thinker, I start with the why (“what problem am I solving”) and the how (“the strategy”). Then I establish the goals and objectives. As a next step, I plan the actions needed to bring the idea to life.
Michel Koopman is the CEO of getAbstract, Inc. getAbstract’s mission is to find, expertly compress, and provide universal access to critical business knowledge in a format that learners can absorb quickly and easily. This allows customers to stay current and competitive, and to become leaders who can make better decisions. Today, our solutions include a library of thousands of business book summaries, in text and audio format, which more than 10 million subscribers use, including 20 percent of Fortune 500 companies.
What are you working on right now?
I am eating a KIND dark chocolate nuts and sea salt bar for lunch – this combination of flavors is surprisingly addictive. I’m skipping lunch again, because this time of year is very busy at getAbstract. Since we’re offering subscriptions, and most of our clients prefer to renew them at the end of the year, it can get very hectic and stressful in November and December. Ninety percent of our clients renew their subscriptions every year, and the number of new customers has increased 100 percent over last year, so everyone at getAbstract is working harder than ever. I’m busy making client calls, submitting proposals, closing contracts, and much more.
Where did the idea for getAbstract come from?
The idea came from our three founders, and it is even more relevant today than it was 13 years ago. Books are critical sources of valuable knowledge, but we live in a world of information overload that needs efficiency. Staying ahead of the competition and keeping up with fast-changing marketing dynamics requires ongoing learning and quick access to relevant knowledge. Basically, we have to do more with less. So how do we leverage books to help us develop, stay current, and make the right business decisions? This need for quickly available relevant knowledge started getAbstract’s mission to bring together the best compressed business knowledge on the market, available at the point of need. Our library now includes more than 9,000 business book summaries.
What does your typical day look like?
In chronological order: family, work, workout, then back to family. When traveling, replace family with flying on a plane and workout with trying to get over my jetlag. Whenever I have a few minutes, I use this time for learning. I catch up on news, read books, or check out some blog entries. Meals are important to my wife and me, so we make sure they are both delicious and healthy. Whenever possible we make time to eat together as a family.
How do you bring ideas to life?
An idea becomes reality when I can formulate it in one sentence. Once achieved, I pitch it to someone I respect to figure out if the idea “sticks” and could become feasible. At this point, the idea generally becomes operational, and a plan starts to become reality. As a linear thinker, I start with the why (“what problem am I solving”) and the how (“the strategy”). Then I establish the goals and objectives. As a next step, I plan the actions needed to bring the idea to life. First, I visualize the desired outcome, and then I work out all the steps that are necessary to reach the goal. This way, I’m breaking down the complexity of the idea, which allows me to find an answer to the simple question, “What do I do next?” Since I do not like using pen and paper, I use a whiteboard to outline the idea and my strategy – I am a visual person.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
Socially responsible entrepreneurship: It’s the blend between noble purpose and profitable and sustainable business growth. Look at how Athos (now Starbucks) brings clean water to Africa through selling profitable bottles of water. Organizations like Kairos and Ashoka are bringing entrepreneurs together to help solve world challenges.
I believe that we are doing something similar here at getAbstract. We democratize business knowledge. By making relevant knowledge, which otherwise might have gone unnoticed by a majority of professionals, available, we help people make more-informed decisions in both their professional and personal lives. We provide them with the tools to help their companies and economies thrive.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I did some interesting and challenging jobs earlier in my career. I drove a forklift, loaded up containers, made cold calls, was a dive master assistant, kitchen helper, served as a sailing instructor, and more. Each of these jobs allowed me to gain valuable experience. The hardest job was working as a dishwasher. Although I found it horrible, this job taught me to be thankful for the great education I received, the opportunities I now have due to the knowledge I was able to acquire, and the value of money and time. The hourly wage of a dishwasher puts things into perspective.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I would not change much. Life has a way of falling into place and making sure that things happen when they need to, even when you are in the driver’s seat. After working in corporate America and learning from my time at getAbstract, I sometimes wonder where I would be now if I had started as an entrepreneur sooner.
As a business leader, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do the same?
Declaring intent and explaining what success looks like for the team, the company, and the stakeholders. This will align your team to march in the same direction. Along the way, I manage the team by asking questions and making suggestions, but I also allow for a team member to take the lead and use his or her own innovative approaches to determine the right course of action. Only sometimes do I need to take a hard stance.
What is one failure you had as a business leader, and how did you overcome it?
Finding the balance between using your heart and using your brain is often quite difficult. For example, I hired people who seemed to be a perfect fit, based on their experience, résumé, past results, and other factors, but something was “off.” We had no personal connection, or I felt they had no passion for their work. When your gut tells you something, but you want to make a logical decision, ask an experienced professional who you trust for a second opinion.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to your readers?
Lately it seems that whenever I have new business ideas, someone else has come up with the same or a similar idea already. In addition, many ideas are improvements of existing ones. So I am pretty sure that no matter which one from my top-10 list I share already exists. Here is a simple and cute one. At my house, bandages are called “Boo-Boo Stickers.” I think a lot more kids would wear those, no?
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?
Make education accessible to each and every individual on Earth. Knowledge can solve so many problems: How to protect your child from diseases; how to relate to someone from an opposing political party; or how to combine the latest advancements in networking with remote medicine. Education isn’t all about grades. It’s about acquiring critical thinking skills that will help you tackle anything the universe throws your way.
Tell us a secret.
You can learn all you need to know about a person by listening to him or her discuss their passions.
What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?
What is the one book that you recommend your community should read and why?
“Abundance: The Future Is Better than You Think,” by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler. Given today’s remarkable technological and scientific breakthroughs, the world is in better shape than you might think. Medical doctor Peter H. Diamandis and journalist Steven Kotler insist that nothing is wrong that people can’t fix. They argue that society stands poised to solve its most fundamental problems – famine, disease, and energy depletion – in the coming decades.
Can you name three people we should follow on Twitter and why?
Richard Branson, (@richardbranson), chairman and founder of Virgin Group. Branson is one of the world’s most successful serial entrepreneurs, he’s a positive character, and a forward thinker.
Jeff Weiner, (@jeffweiner), CEO of LinkedIn, and Reid Hoffman, (@quixotic), chairman and co-founder of LinkedIn. Together they stand at the epicenter of the new networked world. I gladly take any advice from them.
Guy Kawasaki, (@guykawasaki), former chief evangelist of Apple and author of “Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions.” He understands human behavior and explains how to leverage it in business.
Seth Godin, (@ThisIsSethsBlog), entrepreneur, author and public speaker. Following Seth’s Twitter and blog is a must for an entrepreneur or business professional. He’s a forward-thinking entrepreneur and author.
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
I laugh out loud several times a day. I always encourage people to make practical jokes. You cannot take things too seriously and having fun is crucial when you’re working hard. Never lose your sense of humor or else the world becomes a dark and dreary place.
Who is your hero?
I know many people I admire, but those who make a true and lasting impact on me are the children of the Make-a-Wish Foundation. As board member and member of a large volunteer team at the Southern Florida Chapter, I meet these little heroes often. The mission of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Southern Florida is to help families of children with life-threatening medical conditions by granting wishes to the kids to give them hope, strength, and joy. What makes our children heroes is the light, the hope, the happiness in their eyes, and the gratitude they express for every present they receive. Every time I have the honor to personally grant a wish, these kids remind me of how blessed I am. They make me a better person.
Being in the business of knowledge and learning, what is the most important trait one should have to be a lifelong learner?
What distinguishes a great company from a good company?
I had the pleasure of meeting people from about half of the Fortune 500 companies, and other organizations. Through these encounters I came to realize that the companies that stand out were the ones where the leadership team and its members are passionately connected to a higher purpose.