Don’t chase the money, chase your customer’s satisfaction.
Bryan Wetzel manages the “content” side of Skubes.com. Bryan has over 20 years of experience running his own company in broadcast media, editing and production industries. Bryan got his start in the entertainment and production business in the late 1980s as a Director of Photography and production manager on a variety of 3D films and special effects projects. He later traveled the country as a photographer and videographer for Estee Lauder. After starting his own production company in the early 1990’s, he worked with many well-known celebrities such as Davis Love III, Elijah Wood, Steve Young, Ruby Dee, Santana, The Beach Boys, Don Rickles and many more. Bryan has also won national recognition for his work with 14 separate awards for cinematography, editing, live production and overall excellence in the field of production and post-production.
Bryan is a father of 2 teenagers and the step-father to 2 more. His wife Carrie is a teacher and the first teacher for Skubes.com. He loves fitness and is an avid baseball fan. He also enjoys just about anything outdoors, especially if its with his family.
Where did the idea for Skubes come from?
In the spring of 2009 my daughter’s 5th grade teacher contacted me for a conference. Her concern was that my daughter might not pass the math portion of the CRCT, which was a test that every 5th grader had to pass to move onto 6th grade. For the next 10 days and through spring break I spent 2 hours a day reviewing 5th grade math. The school had recommended some sites that tested comprehension but did very little teaching. I spent a lot of time searching the internet to find resources that I could use to help me teach. While I found tons of resources scattered all over cyberspace, none of it was much better than what was in her book. Some of it my daughter would tell me wasn’t how she was taught or I couldn’t vet who was teaching the lesson. There didn’t seem to be a one-stop shop location for educational resources. At the time I was using a site called Lynda.com to brush up on software I used in my business. Lynda.com, which teaches software, uses videos to teach all of the lessons. It made me wonder why there wasn’t a similar website for K-12 education.
At the same time this was going on my business partner was hiring tutors for his daughters to help them transition from Montessori school to public school. Both of us were shocked at how many kids are now being tutored on a regular basis and the increasing cost associated. My background is video/film production and I knew that I could create a Lynda.com type of site with top quality videos for K-12 education. Not just any site but a content library that used the experience of real teachers to create the lessons. Now the customer would be assured of who was teaching the lesson and that the teacher knew how it was suppose to be taught.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
We’re still very small, which means the partners in our business wear many hats, which also means no day is typical. My day consist of working on lessons that my teachers have submitted and getting them ready to be taught live in our studio. Conference calls with our partners who are creating our website assets are common as are meetings about budget and company direction. In the evenings and weekends we will have our teachers in the studio who have lessons ready to be shot to video.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Ideas in our company spring up often. I have two business partners and we will go over ideas together and talk about the pros, cons, and costs of bring an idea to life. If we decide its worth pursing now or in the future it gets put on a list of future additions to our company. We work on a budget and so the list is often prioritized based on what is feasible under the current budget. Some ideas cost more than others to bring to life, so its important for the partners to determine which ideas make sense immediately as appose to ideas that we should act on at a later date.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
In K-12 education there is a new trend called “flipping” or “flipped classroom”. The idea is not really new, it use to be called “previewing” but the new methods have put a spin on the idea using technology. Flipping is nothing more than changing the order of how a teacher teaches. For instance, the more common method is for a teacher to teach a lesson and then use resources such as ours for the students to review the lesson or study later to prepare for test. Flipping literally turns that method around. The teacher assigns resources such as our videos for the students to learn from, then the teacher uses classroom time for review and to answer questions. Instead of the students seeing the teacher with zero knowledge they are seeing the teacher with some understanding of the lesson and the teacher only needs to fill in the gaps in knowledge. Several of our teachers are putting this method to work using our video resources.
The first time I heard about this idea was in the book about Steve Jobs. Bill Gates comes to visit him at the end of his life. They discussed many things but both were frustrated by how slowly education had adapted to using technology. The quote from the book is as follows: “They talked about what their vision of education in the future would be. Gates sketched out his vision of what schools in the future would be like, with students watching lectures and video lessons on their own while using classroom time for discussion and problem solving.”
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I’m a list maker. I make list about what has to be done today, this week, this year. It’s important. It helps keep those things on the list in the forefront of your mind. If you are as busy as I am its easy to be constantly sidetracked. Reading my list keeps me on task. I don’t just limit the todo list to work related things. I put reminders about my family and other personal situations as well. When I was younger I balked at the list idea believing that I was too smart for that. I learned over time that if you can keep everything in your head moving in a forward direction without getting off track, then you aren’t that busy. Everyone should add the simple idea of making todo list. You’ll be shocked at how much more productive you become.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
When my business partner and I decided to move forward with the idea of skubes.com, we wrote a business plan and began shopping for investors. We shopped for investors for about 8 months or more. We had many meetings but with an idea that was only on paper we found no luck for the terms we would accept. If I was starting this process today, knowing what I know now, I would have begun creating content and getting the business underway while we searched for investors. We wasted 8 months and while it was tough going on our own we made it work and it is paying off for us now.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Check our direction. Many people set out knowing the direction of their business and they rarely stop and see if they are heading in the best direction until they see a problem and it’s too late. Even a pilot flying a long distance will constantly check the direction the plane is heading and make minor corrections. Even the autopilot in a plane makes constant course corrections. Entrepreneurs have a lot of people coming at them with ideas or differing opinions on what ideas to try and you often want to try them all. That’s not practical or even good for your business. Stay your course and make changes only if needed. If you see you are getting off course, make a correction. Master your businesses niche and then begin to expand. I’ve watched many entrepreneur friends crash their startups because they were chasing too many targets.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
It sounds cliché but don’t chase the money, chase your customer’s satisfaction. When you provide value for your target market they will reward you with income as a result. But if you only make decisions based on immediate income or bigger income it leads you to shape your decisions in a way that will bring you down. You will cut corners to save or you will drop portions of your product/service offering to reduce cost. If you are loosing money then you might have to make those tough decisions. But if you are doing it to make a larger profit, you may find that you make less. I’m a consumer as well as a business owner and I can tell you instantly which companies give me consistently great customer service and who’s products/services never let me down. In a nutshell, think of yourself as a customer to your own business. Would your business meet your expectations as a customer?
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I had another startup in 2006 that never quite got off the ground and later several other online businesses doing exactly what we were offering came along and did well. I had tried starting that business by making all the people and pieces of the business partners in the business. So the ad copy person, the web developer and programmer, and so on were not paid for their work but would be given stock in the company and would ultimately be owners. I learned that people are motivated by short-term compensation not long-term possibilities. We crashed because it was too hard to motivate people and it took too long to get things done.
Tell us something about you that very few people know?
I use to do stand up comedy. I loved it and did well for a short time. I got demolished at a college show for sorority sisters and it shook my confidence. That led me to write for others and apply my comedic skills to writing ads and tv shows.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
We use a lot of software. From Adobe to Apple, it would be a long list. Our streaming server is through Vzaar.com. They are one of our favorite service providers because the customer service and support is great.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I’ve read all the books about businesses and the habits of successful people and those books are great, and people should read them. The one book I would point entrepreneurs to is “They Made America”. Ironically written by a British gentleman. It’s a book that describes the struggles and failures all the great inventors/innovators went through. We see the end result today and many of the great inventors are famous but the back story on how often they failed or the doubt they faced is the most inspiring part of the book.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
Many people have influenced me. Steve Jobs comes to mind. But one person who influenced me very early on was a man named Dick Yost. I was 21 and he was in his late 60’s at the time. He was the vice-president of an R&D firm that hired me to my first big job. The company eventually went into bankruptcy after frivolously blowing through millions of dollars. Mr. Yost had retired from Kodak and had been in charge of several city blocks of film emulsion production at Kodak. He was hired to the company that I was now working for because of his expertise in this area. The upper management for the company was textbook disconnected with what was going on at the ground level of the company. They often made promises that were unrealistic. Mr. Yost was always the voice of reason in what turned out to be a very stressful situation and was often at odds with the decisions being made above him. What impressed me the most and made a big impression on how I manage was his willingness to be at the level of the people doing the work and to understand what was happening on the ground floors. He wasn’t an executive who sat perched in a big chair cracking a whip. One particular week we were slammed working day and night trying to get a project out the door. At 9 o’clock at night I found Mr. Yost mopping up a spill in our photo lab so that we wouldn’t have to do it. He didn’t want the people doing the work to concern themselves with it. We had more important things to do that week. He was always willing to roll up his sleeves and offer help if we were short on time or resources. I can speak for every employee who worked at this R&D firm; we all had the utmost respect for him. As a young man I learned exactly how I wanted to manage from him and I’ve never forgotten it.
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Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.