I’m a big believer in actions over talk. Lots of people have ideas, but very few act on them.
Chris Hopkinson is the vice president of strategy and business development at DubLabs, LLC, a leading turnkey mobile application solution provider for higher education institutions. In this role, Hopkinson is responsible for developing marketing strategies and managing partnerships as well as planning, defining and executing DubLabs’ strategic business development goals and initiatives. Under his direction, the team has helped more than 150 schools leverage mobility to drive student engagement, performance and retention.
With nearly 20 years of experience in emerging technology companies, Hopkinson is an expert in business development, strategic planning as well as developing partnerships and finding channels to sell breakthrough products in unfamiliar markets.
Prior to DubLabs, Hopkinson founded TaxScan Technologies, a software prototype that uses optical character recognition to read and recognize scanned tax forms and extract necessary data directly into professional tax preparation software. This innovative software system helped eliminate the task of manually inputting the data, saving valuable time. Hopkinson developed TaxScan while working at Frontier Tax & Accounting, an advisory, accounting, bookkeeping and payroll services firm.
Hopkinson was bitten by the startup bug in early 1997 while working at Riparius Ventures, a forward-thinking enterprise that specialized in computer connected handsets to make internet phone calls.
Chris received his bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Maryland College Park and was also selected for the University of Maryland Robert H. Smith Fellowship program. He currently lives in Annapolis, Maryland where he is developing a non-profit organization to raise scholarship funds for students in need.
Where did the idea for DubLabs come from?
We started as a mobile app platform company back in 2008 when Blackberry was the leading mobile device. We were working with a couple higher education student information system (SIS) and learning management system (LMS) vendors on mobilizing their product and grew the idea from there. Schools started contacting us directly to build and integrate more school branded apps. We thought it seemed like a great opportunity and in2012 switched our focus to an integrated mobile app platform for higher education. We’ve since helped over 150 schools launch integrated, school branded mobile apps.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I like to workout around 5:30 a.m. I started doing triathlons about the same time we started DubLabs. The training helps me reduce stress, clear my thoughts and gets me energized for the day ahead. I’ll usually start responding to emails first thing as well, but I don’t think that’s a good habit. I’m trying to get better at starting my day when I’m ready, usually between 7:30-8 a.m. I have a 90-minute drive to the office. I listen to Audible books or podcasts during my commute. My favorite Audible book is ‘The Hard Things About the Hard Things’ by Ben Horowitz. It’s the most realistic account of what it’s really like leading and working for a start-up. I try to rotate Podcasts as much as possible. James Altucher, Tim Ferriss and Andy Stanley are the ones I listen to the most. I have a collection of meetings, calls and demos with schools on most days. I work with our sales team, marketing team, our partners and talk to our schools to provide some input on product. Mostly I help provide feedback to our internal team on what I’m hearing from schools. I have three kids under 10 years old, so I’m with them from 6 p.m. to bedtime. I’ll either work a little more once they’re asleep or read a book. My wife labeled my Amazon wish list; ‘Chris Hopkinson is boring’ because all the books are on business, leadership, sales and faith. I haven’t read a non-fiction book in a while. I have a lot of areas in my life I need to improve and try to do that as much as possible during any downtime by learning from others that I think have done things the right way.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I think Emerson said, “Your actions speak so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.” I’m a big believer in actions over talk. Lots of people have ideas, but very few act on them. My plan is pretty simple: vision, strategy and execution. Everyone has a vision; the idea that keeps coming back to them. Take that idea, create a strategy to accomplish it and then start executing with the first item on your to-do list. I think the best way to act is through collaboration. Talk to people, network and find others who can help you. Just get started. You’ll be surprised how the path starts to open up. It will be a difficult path, but that is what makes it so rewarding. There’s no reward without lots of activity.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
I’m not sure whether it’s artificial intelligence, wearables or the Internet of Things, but I love smart data– especially when it benefits me as a consumer. I think we’re really just scratching the surface of what’s possible. Netflix and Spotify know a little about your TV and music habits. Your phone, watch or Fitbit are tracking some health and sleep patterns. Maps know where you are and where you’re going. I think more products are going to know more about you as a consumer than ever before and that’s going to benefit both the buyer and seller. It seems like such a waste to me that I sit through a dozen truck commercials just because I’m watching a football game. I drive a Prius. There will be a day when all marketing and advertising targeted to me will be smarter. And I think that will make me a better consumer.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I struggle leading and don’t really like managing people. I just try to work harder and I’m not afraid to do the little things to make our company better. Hopefully people see that and lean in more.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I started delivering newspapers when I was a 10-year-old boy and haven’t stopped working since. I’ve done everything from washing dishes in a hot warehouse, to valet parking cars, cutting lawns to selling ads in my college newspaper, radio sales and positions within several start-ups. There were great lessons learned in every job. The biggest of which was and still is the only way to truly control your own destiny is by creating your own business. You’re not in charge if you’re not the one signing the paychecks. My least favorite jobs were always the ones when someone else was calling all the shots.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I wish I would’ve started learning on my own sooner and had a little more focus earlier, like high school and college. I was an average student, often bored, but that shouldn’t have kept me from learning more about the things I was truly interested in. I should’ve started studying and reading about successful businesses and entrepreneurs earlier. My first boss out of college, Mike McCarthy, started Riparius Construction, Inc. and showed me the importance of learning from others. He never said anything. I just knew he was successful and noticed he got to the office between 7-7:30 a.m. to read business magazines and news articles (this was 1997). He would hand me a copy of all the articles for me to read. I do that now, almost every morning online.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I have two: workout and read the book of Psalms or Proverbs. I’m a big believer in healthy body, healthy mind. I need the energy to survive long days and the mental strength to fight through the tough ones.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
Patience. Your plan on your time almost never works out, so just be prepared to work harder and longer than expected.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I think entrepreneurship is made up of a series of failures. I don’t believe anyone gets it right the first time. I have weekly failures. I don’t win every deal. I don’t always say the right thing or manage people the best way. The failures are never as bad as you think and can always be overcome. Anticipating the failure and the fear of failure is usually worse than the actual result. ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.’ Proverbs 3:5
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I hate finding contractors for home projects; plumbers, roofers, painters, etc. Angie’s list and others are OK, but they’re not much different from Yelp and other review services. I prefer the recommendations of people I know and trust. Friends who have similar tastes or expectations. I’m constantly asking people for recommendations. There should be a Facebook plugin or something similar where your friends can list their recommended contractors, favorite books, products and even doctors. You could earn credits toward future work each time a contractor gets a new business lead based on your recommendation.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I took my three kids to an Orioles baseball game recently. It was my 6-year-olds first game and my 10-year-old daughter was pulled onto the dugout to dance with the mascot during the 7th inning stretch. She exuded pure joy. Dancing on a dugout in front of 20,000 people. None of them will ever forget it and neither will I. She’ll probably expect that at every game now.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
I love Evernote. I put any thought, idea or interesting online articles and quotes into categorized folders so I can go back to them. I listen to a lot of Audible books as well.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
The book of Psalms and Proverbs from the Bible. Proverbs and Psalms are all about having faith and dealing with fear in all areas of your life. Being an entrepreneur or working for a startup is filled with days of fear and finding faith in something with an unknown outcome. The YouVersion Bible app is a great place to start. If that doesn’t help, then read or listen to ‘The Hard Thing About Hard Thing’ by Ben Horowitz. Ben Horowitz shoots it straight. How to build a startup, scale and deal with everything that’s going to go wrong, deal with yourself and fight for a successful exit. It’s the bible for dealing with startup life. Every entrepreneur needs a guide along their passage. If God can’t help you, then maybe Ben will.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
I spend a lot of time listening to Zig Ziglar, Eric Thomas, Tony Robbins, Jim Rohn, Les Brown and Inky Johnson. Sometimes it’s for their message, sometimes I just need a reminder of someone who overcame great odds.
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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.