Break rules…when the world needs your solution don’t let norms and red tape stop you.
Bill Balderaz is the president and founder of Futurety, a data-driven marketing consulting firm. As president and founder, Bill helps organizations derive insights from data to predict customer behavior and deliver smarter, faster marketing programs.
Previously, Bill was founder and president of Webbed Marketing which went from a one-man consultancy to one of the fastest growing interactive marketing agencies in the Midwest. Through the evolution of Bill’s career, he’s always found himself working in industries in their very earliest stages. Starting in 1998 (the same year Google was founded) he worked in search engine optimization, online advertising and eCommerce. In 1999, he worked for one of the first companies developing HTML based online learning. In 2005, five years before the iPad was invented, Bill worked on a concept for a tablet-based electronic health records software. He also worked in social media and viral marketing in 2006 (the same year YouTube and Twitter were founded).
Bill has spoken at more than 150 conferences from New York to California on topics related to public relations, sales, innovation, marketing, healthcare, search engine optimization, data mining, social media and more. He’s also been featured in more than 100 media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, Money Magazine and NPR.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
I’ve been an entrepreneur most of my career.
Before Futurety, I had sold my equity in my current company and was looking for the next big thing. I spoke with people in my network and asked what they needed or what was missing in their businesses.
Overwhelming, the answer was “help us make sense of our data.” I took statistics pass fail in college so I knew I needed to build a team of great data people around me. A few years later, here we are!
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I focus on 1 day, 30 day, 90 day and 1 year plans. Everything I do, I look through those lenses.
That means not living out of email or overbooking meetings. I try to start each day with a workout to clear my head. Then before checking email, I hit the biggest priorities for the day. I focus first on what our team members need for support. Then I focus on the guts of the business, processes, financials, logistics. Then finally I look at the day-to-day stuff.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Test. Validate. Optimize.
We take the simplest version of an idea we can, we take it to market and we see if anyone writes us a check. If not, it’s a bad idea. Simply put, the market is always right.
For example, I was so sure co-working space was an overdone market in the Columbus, OH area. Then, I decided to buy some real estate and tenants starting calling asking if we would consider providing them co-working space. I said, sure, why not? Once we had that validation we went full bore and sold out the space in less than two weeks after our remodel.
On the other hand, here is how to NOT bring ideas to life: Assume you are smarter than everyone else. Lock yourself in a room and create what you think is perfect. Build a perfect logo and brand and what you consider a perfect product. Then, go see if anyone cares.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I love the movement of machine learning and AI to help solve society’s most complex problems. At Futurety, we think machine learning and AI can help fight health access inequity, mobility, malnutrition and other issues.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Relentless forward momentum. Every day, wake up and move forward. Lose a sale? Have a product fail? Market shaky? Just keep moving forward. Never stop moving. Don’t look backward, you’re not going that way.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t play it safe. You win some. You lose some, but you can always learn. Don’t spend time thinking about being comfortable. In fact, if you’re comfortable, you aren’t growing. Push yourself beyond comfort. Be the kind of leader that inspires people to push themselves.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Sell something before you make it. Aspiring entrepreneurs come to me almost weekly saying the same thing: “I can’t make a product if I don’t know people will buy it, but I can’t sell something I don’t have.”
Nonsense. Go out and sell it. Then go build it. There are a million beliefs I have that you can sway me on, but I won’t back off that.
It’s just a hobby until someone writes you a check. When someone says they will buy that thing from you, go make it. I’m not saying to go sell snake oil, be a person of your word, but when that person writes you a check, you have an obligation to deliver.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Look six months ahead. I care very much about what we are doing today and tomorrow. But not thinking six months ahead is a great path to bankruptcy.
Is there a hot shot competitor gaining ground? Is there an established competitor on the ropes? Is a new federal law going to create opportunity? Is the housing market in a bubble? A business should move to where the market will be in six months, just like how hockey players don’t go to where the puck is, they go to where the puck will be.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Move to chaos. Zig when others zag.
When the healthcare reform hit in 2010, HIPAA policies, readmission penalties and patient satisfaction changed an already complicated industry into chaos, a lot of agencies and consultants got out of healthcare. I chose to pivot and run a company focused only on hospitals.
When the scandals around privacy violations were in the news and GDPR policies were created, we doubled down on running a data business.
When other co-working spaces focused on building locations in the “cool parts of town”, having wine-bars and social events, we built a co-working space in the suburbs and made it a “get stuff done” space.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I started an online textbook company in 2005. Unfortunately, the use of tablets was just about non-existent and no one wanted to read a textbook on a 2005 desktop or laptop computer. I learned so much from that experience. First, I had a name I loved but no one could spell. Our team was all virtual with day jobs. I was a terrible leader unable to paint a vision. I had no network to lean on. I created a product the market didn’t understand.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Everyone is into easy, at your own pace, online courses. Rather than make a course to compete with the others, offer a service to help other people build, market and sell courses. Make it a turnkey solution and work off a retainer plus revenue share model. Make it a repeatable process you can teach others and then train a team to run the business.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
On a personal level, my daughter and I are really into magic tricks and recently went to see Michael Carbonaro.
Professionally, we use a legal chat bot to do our 90% of our legal documents. It costs less than $100 a month and saves us thousands while providing peace of mind.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
So cliche, but QuickBooks. It allows me to think about big picture financial and business strategy by making data very accessible.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
The Godfather. I’ve read many business books and it’s the best of the best. It’s not a story of murder and greed. It’s a story of entrepreneurship, networking, product development and succession planning. I always wanted to be an entrepreneur but fully committed to it after reading The Godfather.
What is your favorite quote?
The best way to predict the future is to create it.
- The market is always right. You’re smart, I believe that. And you may even be in the target demographic of your product. You may have a deep burning passion to make that thing. But the market is always right. Find out what the market wants and fill that need. I know great entrepreneurs who just knew they wanted to run a business, but had no idea what that business should be. You know what they did? They talked to potential customers and said “What problem could I solve for you today that would result in you writing me a check?” Then they made that thing.
- Make that thing. Today I am CEO of a data analytics company. I took statistics pass fail in college and can’t help my kids with anything past fifth grade math. But I went out and found great data scientists and mathematicians and built a company around them. If your market wants a product, go source that product. If they want a service, find people who can provide that service. The number one reason companies fail is lack of market fit, i.e. companies didn’t follow principles one and two.
- Work harder. The other day I told my wife I had coffee with a young aspiring entrepreneur we both knew. She asked what he wanted. I said he wanted to hear my story and look for why his business wasn’t successful. She said “Did you tell him to start working 12 hour days?” I understand the concepts of three and four day work weeks and four hour work days. In my experience, if I took every entrepreneur I knew and split the successful from the not successful and then averaged the number of hours worked every day, the successful work a whole lot more. As one of my best friends often says “An entrepreneur will work 80 hours so they don’t have to work 40.”
- Be kinder. First, I want to state that I think you should be nice because quite simply, that’s the right thing to do. I also truly believe the more you give in life the more you get. If you are out to win every single business negotiation, if you think every interaction has a winner and a loser, if you think your success depends upon someone else’s failure, my philosophy is not for you. Give your time freely. Pay your invoices fast. Provide more value than is expected. I think it’s time society stops demonizes capitalist as greedy and heartless. I personally believe no one can change the world, not a church, not a nonprofit, not a politician, as much as a good capitalist can.
- Break rules. Some rules are written. You can’t have scooters downtown, you can’t have an unlicensed taxi, you can’t run a hotel out of your house. Other rules are unwritten. You can’t do that job because you’re too old, too young, a woman, a man, from a small town. Entrepreneurs don’t care. They don’t need permission to fix things. I am not saying it’s okay to cheat on taxes, pollute the environment or hurt others while breaking rules, but when the world needs your solution don’t let norms and red tape stop you.