If I could push the reset button on my career, I’d take more risk when was younger and had less to lose.
Casey Williams is the co-founder and CEO of linkedü, an online sharing community for K-12 teachers. He taught English for three years at one of the highest performing high schools in Kentucky before studying electronic media at the University of Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music. It was at UC where Casey developed a passion for the convergence of art and technology to create amazing experiences, and to solve real world problems. Casey combined his experience in education, technology, and the arts as an educational content creator at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. While there, he earned his MBA with a focus in digital marketing from Xavier University as he took on more leadership responsibilities.
Casey founded linkedü with Adam Helbig and Josh Hays in 2014 to help teachers share great ideas by connecting with each other. As technology continues to rapidly evolve while educational standards simultaneously change, teachers are more stressed than ever. He leads the linkedü team with the single purpose of empowering teachers to support each other. Casey is responsible for customer advocacy and experience, company vision, product design, and marketing.
Casey is married to an amazing fourth grade teacher and has two smart, hilarious, and adorable young children. He lives in northern Kentucky where linkedü is headquartered.
Where did the idea for linkedü come from?
Quite literally, the idea for linkedü originated on my living room couch. My wife is a fourth grade teacher. I can’t fully describe how difficult her job is and I had been searching for a while for a way to make her professional life easier. At the time, I was a partner in a motion graphics and videography shop, so one evening as we lounged on the couch, I pitched an idea for a classroom video series that came with off-the-shelf lesson plans. Her big pain point was that she often lost her planning time due to meetings and other obligations. I knew I couldn’t keep her from having to go to meetings, but I had a feeling that I could save her time in the lesson planning process.
As we talked through the idea, she pointed to a lot of things that I hadn’t considered. She also pointed me to several of the resources that she already uses while discussing both the positives and shortcomings of each. By the end of that evening, I knew that teachers like my wife don’t necessarily need more content, they need a better way to access and identify the quality content that is already available to them. I’m a former teacher myself, so my assumption at the end of that conversation was that if I could solve a significant problem for my wife, then many other teachers could also benefit.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
There really is no typical day. That’s one of the things I simultaneously love and hate about being an entrepreneur. My company is still very young and there are lots of things we’re still trying to figure out, including how to be productive in the face of many demands on our time. I’m a big believer in daily rhythms. For example, I could spend most of my day on email, but once I identified that as a time-suck, I started doing email at four points in the day: first thing in the morning, lunch time, close of business, and last thing at night.
I also try to be sure to spend about half of my time each week on product and customers. Without product, there are no customers…without customers, there is no product. There are lots of other things like legal, finance, etc. that keep me up at night, but I have really smart teammates that I can trust with that stuff so I can work where I provide the most value to the company.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I have to start with pencil and paper or white boarding. There’s something about physically moving and touching materials that helps me to develop ideas. Bringing an idea to life is rarely the work of one person, so I typically start with a general idea and then start working with someone who can talk through the details with me and punch holes in an idea. I think it helps that I’m not a developer. I can speak their language and I know enough to be dangerous, but I don’t know a lot about technical limitations, so it really frees me up to just dream.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
The explosion of education technology companies this year along with angels and VCs who believe in the industry is very encouraging for several reasons. Maybe some of these companies will be direct competitors to linkedü, but I believe that success does not necessarily have to come at the expense of others. Our product is actually intended to drive traffic to many of these emerging companies, so this expansion in the industry only helps us. I believe that the growth in the education technology sector is actually just a symptom that shows that the education system in the United States really is poised for change. Many say that education will change more in the next 20 years than it has in the past 1,000 years. That’s pretty exciting.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I do my best to draw a line between meeting times and work times. Currently, we are part of the UpTech business accelerator program, so 9-5 hours are often filled with amazing education and networking opportunities, so I do my best to take advantage of that as much as possible. As I’ve made this adjustment to the entrepreneur life, I’ve found that my most productive work time is actually late at night. This is new for me. I’ve never been a night owl, but the work is so energizing that I often can’t put it down.
Also, a 20-minute walk every morning with my dog gives me time to think about the day ahead, identify the one most important thing to accomplish, and make a plan to achieve that goal. I spend about half that time thinking about the day ahead, and the other half sort of free-thinking about the future of linkedü. An advisor once told me to imagine what linkedü would look like as a $100MM company, and do the things necessary to achieve that vision.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
The worst job I’ve ever had was actually a lot of fun. I just had a terrible manager. I was working in a video control room doing live broadcasts and occasional scripted video production projects. This would have been a great gig for a twenty something year old, but I worked for a serious micromanager. It totally ruined the experience for me.
Now that I’m leading a company of my own, the take away from that job is to trust people. The people I’ve surrounded myself with are really smart and they’re on the linkedü team for a reason. They’re all smarter than me, so I trust them to do what they do.
For the record, working for a lousy boss in an otherwise cool environment is worse than bussing tables at a cheap restaurant. Trust me.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
If I could push the reset button on my career, I’d take more risk when was younger and had less to lose. I’ve always been sort of a late bloomer, so it follows that I wouldn’t build up the courage to start my own venture until I was married with two kids, a dog, and a mortgage. It means that I’m not always able to go as fast as I want to go because I have my family to think about. I surely missed out on some great opportunities because I was too cautious as a youngster.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I spend a lot of time networking. Lots of happy hours, coffee meetings, learning sessions, etc. An entrepreneur should never be caught without a handful of business cards, because you never know when you’ll run into someone to connect with.
When networking, I highly recommend seeking out not only people who can help you, but also those that you can help. It’s the right thing to do, but the side effect is, that by giving, you’ll begin to attract people to you who want to help without having to seek them out.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
linkedü is only 11 months old, and we’re still pre-product, but in that short time we’ve gone from a good idea to a funded company in the midst of a business accelerator program. If there’s a single thing to which that growth can be attributed, it’s that I’ve surrounded myself with great people with complementary skills. I’m certain that the idea for linkedü would have died on the vine without bringing Adam Helbig on board to drive our vision into reality. We brought Josh Hays on board, not just to develop our product, but because we were confident that he could lead the technical vision of our company. Even our interns were hired because they are amazing and ambitious people who can do just about anything. So if you have a good idea and great people, you’re halfway there.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Before linkedü, I was a partner in a business with a long-time friend. We always knew that we wanted to work together but we weren’t sure how. It was exciting when we finally found an opportunity to work together, but it never really got off the ground. Our first problem was that we were unequally invested in the company. I was trying to hold onto my day job while he was working full time on our partnership. Our second problem was that we were too much alike. We definitely each had our niche, but at our core we’re both creatives.
Ultimately, we made a decision to part ways in order to preserve our friendship. Neither of us had much money sunk into the venture, just our time. So the positive takeaway is that we failed fast. Sometimes that’s the best possible outcome, and in this case I think it was.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Somebody should solve the problem of what a pain in the butt that grocery shopping is. I know some big grocers are experimenting with delivery of non-perishables, but I want to be able to build a list of items that I need every week that automatically populate my shopping cart, and then a smart interface that allows me to build the rest of my order and then have an option to either pick it up or have it delivered to my house. Maybe load recipes and then the ingredients are added to my cart too. I see maybe an Uber style network of people willing to be your personal shoppers.
If anybody takes this idea and runs with it, all I ask is a 49% equity share.
Tell us something about you that very few people know?
I talk to myself. Out loud. All the time. It’s sort of a positive self-talk thing. My neighbors probably think I’m crazy when they see me mowing the lawn.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
linkedü is a Microsoft BizSpark member, so our platform is built on that technology stack. I’m no developer so I can’t say much about that, other than it’s awesome that Microsoft has a program like BizSpark that is so supportive of startups. For design, I use the Adobe Creative Suite, especially Photoshop, Illustrator, After Effects, and Premiere Pro. I love the level of integration that each of the programs in the suite has. I can import a Photoshop file into After Effects, make a change in the PSD and it updates automatically in AE.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Read Cool Hunting by Peter Gloor. Gloor is experts in analyzing the way people communicate with each other. He describes lots of ways to identify “the next big thing.” The idea is that if you know how to identify trends and know how to spot cool things, then you should also be able to create “the next big thing.” Even if you’re not building an online community, you can look at your own team to see if you are behaving as a CoIN (Collaborative Innovation Network). In other words, are you being as creative as possible, or is there a bottleneck that’s slowing you down.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
linkedü on Twitter: @linkedu
linkedü on Pinterest: pinterest.com/linkeduK12
Casey Williams on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/tcaseywilliams
Casey Williams on Twitter: @casey_williams
Email Casey Williams: [email protected]