If I were to start again, I would spend more time using the theory of “fail fast.” I would have tried more ideas, built more businesses, and taken more risks.
B.J. Schone is the founder of Awesome Boss, which provides managers with simple tools to help them focus on employee engagement, employee recognition, and employee retention. In his career, B.J. has had a steady focus on helping people and organizations work better, smarter, and faster – and Awesome Boss is his latest project with this continued focus.
B.J. has 10+ years’ experience in the learning and development field, where he has managed global teams, implemented learning management systems, designed enterprise-wide learning programs, built a corporate university, and much more. B.J. is a frequent speaker at conferences, and he has written dozens of articles and eBooks on topics related to education, technology, and management.
B.J. earned his Bachelor of Arts in Computer Science and his Masters of Education in Information Science & Learning Technologies from the University of Missouri-Columbia.
Where did the idea for Awesome Boss come from?
Being a manager is a tough job on its own. I came up with the idea for Awesome Boss after leading several teams and noticing a pattern: I cared for my team members, but I always seemed to forget the “little” things, such as their birthdays, work anniversaries, details about their family, interests, hobbies, etc. Having a technical background, I started thinking about ways to have technology remind me about important events and keep track of these details. At the same time, I realized I could also use technology to prompt myself to pay attention to coaching, mentoring, and other related activities. So, I pretty much created Awesome Boss to help me become an Awesome Boss!
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I start each morning with a cup of coffee and a quick scan of my email and social media sites, responding where necessary. Next, I plan the rest of my day, which usually is an even mix of product design, development, and testing. Add in a review of Google Analytics and some email from my users (to get their feedback and bounce ideas off of them), and that’s my day! I stay productive by setting goals for myself and my developers in Asana, and we re-prioritize every few days as needed.
How do you bring ideas to life?
My developers rock, they really help me bring my ideas to life. I will often sketch something in Photoshop and send it to them. We’ll have a 10-15 minute Skype conversation and they usually have a prototype to me in a few days. I’m very lucky that we have a fluid, consistent, and easy process. And the best part is that they often make suggestions to improve the idea beyond what I envisioned!
What’s one trend that really excites you?
I read an article in WSJ recently that referred to companies who have built a “coordinating mechanism.” For example Uber, AirBnB, Instacart, and several other companies didn’t build the infrastructure to start their companies; they took advantage of existing infrastructure and built a coordinating mechanism – a layer to bring value to consumers. That is so intriguing! I can’t wait to see other ways in which this model can be used – I think we’ve only scratched the surface. I’d love to see if/how this can be applied to education, professional services, consulting, and other areas – maybe even with Awesome Boss!
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I communicate with my developers almost every day to see how things are coming with the Awesome Boss site. We have quick, 2-5 minute conversations on regular basis to see how things are coming along, discuss issues, and brainstorm new ideas. This helps me form a stronger bond with the team, shows my genuine interest, and keeps my finger on the pulse of the product.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I worked at a car wash when I was in high school, where a majority of my earnings relied on tips from customers. I learned the value of putting in effort in order to get results. It wasn’t always the most fun job in the world, but it taught me to work hard – a great lesson to learn at that age!
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
If I were to start again, I would spend more time using the theory of “fail fast.” I would have tried more ideas, built more businesses, and taken more risks. I used to spend 6 months or a year on an idea before truly validating it with potential customers. Now I know how build a minimum viable product and get feedback within a MUCH shorter period of time.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Exercise! I get some of my best ideas and inspiration when I step away from my digital devices and work out, so I make time for exercise several times each week. Whether it’s a run in the park or a half-hour in the gym, the time is well-spent for the mind and body.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
I finally realized that I can’t be shy if I want to grow my business. Now I regularly reach out to business leaders, bloggers, authors, publicists, etc., to promote Awesome Boss – via email, phone, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
In the past, I would fully implement an idea before getting any real customer feedback. This is dangerous because you can totally miss the mark, spending lots of time and money along the way. I launched a site called HelpMeShine, which was aimed at helping people get feedback from their manager, co-workers, vendors, etc. I still think it’s a good idea, but I didn’t get enough input from users and I had a really difficult time gaining user adoption. After several years of work, I decided to quit pursuing the site. Lessons learned!
I finally learned to ask lots of questions, solve a real problem, and validate it with potential users before you get too far. Gather feedback, improve the idea, gather more feedback, and repeat. This creates a tighter feedback loop that yields more useful, relevant, and actionable information.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I would pay handsomely for hand-written Thank You cards! Let me elaborate… I’m about to get married, and the idea of hand-writing dozens of Thank You cards makes me almost nauseous! 🙂 I would love it if I could fill out a spreadsheet containing the names of family/friends along with any gifts they give to us. A service that writes and sends the cards using nice, legible writing would be amazing! (After writing this answer, I found out that there are a few companies that can do this!! I would still consider doing it, focusing on weddings specifically – this is probably a HUGE market, if marketed correctly.)
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Amazon Prime! I live in San Francisco and I’ll do almost anything to avoid sitting in traffic and paying for parking.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
Here are my favorite applications/services:
Asana helps me stay tightly connected with my developers by tracking all the details of our project tasks. Great mobile app, too!
Evernote keeps my thoughts organized, allowing me to store, organize, and retrieve nearly any type of information using a simple interface.
Google Analytics gives me tons of insight into the people who visit Awesome Boss. How do they use the site? What features are popular? What geographies and demographics are represented? This is all fascinating and useful data at the same time.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I have 2!
- Entrepreneur Revolution: How to develop your entrepreneurial mindset and start a business that works
- The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future
Both books are ‘quick-and-dirty’ in their approach, meaning you can take action immediately without having to wait on anyone or anything. Both books encourage agility and innovation without introducing the reader to too much risk. You can read each book in less than a day, and both act as a good reference guide later on as well.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
John Spence is one of my favorite business authors. His writing is concise, effective, and grounded in solid research. More info about John here: http://www.amazon.com/John-Spence/e/B001K8UI0S
His Twitter profile is: @awesomelysimple (No relation to Awesome Boss. Great minds just think alike!)