Defining a problem is the first step to bringing a new idea to life. I look for problems that may be getting overlooked, and then consider the solutions available.
Clarence Bethea is a business entrepreneur, consumer advocate, community leader, coach, mentor and father. Over the years, Clarence has worked with businesses from startup to Fortune 500, and accrued incredible business knowledge and acumen along the way.
Clarence played an integral part in the launch of several companies, including 43 Hoops, a premier basketball training academy, as well as Gravelick, a local trucking startup that served clients such as Menards and Stockbuilders. In 2010, Clarence founded 2nd Chance Staffing, which provided a new model for the staffing industry. 2nd Chance Staffing offered businesses a substantial tax credit for hiring qualified, motivated employees, who are low-risk offenders and could use a second chance. The company successfully bridged the gap between corporate America and low-risk offenders, rehabilitating lives and bringing jobs to thousands of people.
Since then, Clarence has immersed himself in a new industry that could use a fresh perspective. The warranty industry’s checkered reputation has included huge price markups, high-pressure sales techniques, and murky terms and conditions. Clarence imagined a renewed experience, one that is consumer-friendly, transparent and educational, and cuts out the huge middleman price jacks, similar to the successful models employed by brands like Uber and Airbnb.
Clarence launched Upsie (www.upsie.com) in November 2014, a new mobile technology that reinvents and demystifies the warranty experience, so consumers can protect the products they love at warranty prices they can actually afford.
Since its launch, Upsie has garnered attention from CNBC, New England Cable News Network, The Chicago Tribune and Star Tribune. Upsie is soon expanding into auto warranties, and Clarence has been praised by top CEOs for his consumer advocacy and innovative business planning.
Clarence lives in Minneapolis, Minn. with his wife, daughter, and dog. He attended Bemidji State University, where he played college basketball and studied secondary education. Today, Clarence remains an active coach in the local basketball community and a committed mentor to young people who are seeking a career path in business and entrepreneurship.
Where did the idea for Upsie come from?
Upsie came from a terribly frustrating experience with a laptop warranty. I didn’t know how long my warranty lasted, I couldn’t find the paperwork, and I wasn’t even sure what it covered. It made me think about the warranty industry and how technology is simplifying a lot of complicated markets. Why not this one? I started investigating how we could bring warranty pricing, coverage information and education back to people.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My day always starts by spending time with my beautiful daughter. I cherish every second I get to spend with her! After that, I’m usually checking and responding to emails and texts for 30 minutes. Most days are filled with meetings and working with my team. I make my days productive by taking the time to step back and consider how we can make improvements. That, and staying out of my team’s way. I hired them all because they’re people I trust to do their jobs well and to the best of their abilities. I remind myself to just stand back and let them do their thing.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Defining a problem is the first step to bringing a new idea to life. I look for problems that may be getting overlooked, and then consider the solutions available. I speak with the people directly impacted by the problem or issue, and I consider what they have to say. Then, I look for emerging technology or inspirational projects with which I can draw parallels to the issue I’m reviewing. Often there is a new approach or tool that can be repurposed to help us advance a solution—and therein lives the real idea to develop and take shape.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
The Internet of Things (IoT) really excites me. The connected home will create interesting opportunities for our industry, and it will allow us to predict problems with appliances, TVs or other home electronics before they even occur. Many possibilities there!
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I guess I have an interesting habit of looking at problems and thinking first from the consumers’ perspective, and how we could help them. I’m solutions-oriented, so I look less at the business application of it and more at how people could use it.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I don’t think I’ve had bad jobs, necessarily, but I do think I’ve experienced bad management in jobs, and that can make things seem bad. I learned some valuable lessons about leadership and how to treat people by watching those circumstances. Your employees are happier and bring a more passionate approach to their work when they are valued. I carry those lessons with me everyday and live by them. Everyone has value!
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
If I had to start again, I wouldn’t change anything. All the experiences have lead me to this point, and I’m proud of where Upsie is headed!
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I try to put myself in uncomfortable situations as much as possible, like public speaking or other meetings/events that can feel intimidating. I would recommend that every entrepreneur try those situations. It will force you to grow a lot faster, and people will respect you for asking for help when needed.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
Listening has been huge for us! We see a ton of companies that just don’t listen to their customers/employees. Listening allows you to improve both professionally and personally. We had early adopters of our app come to us with ideas for how to make the sign-up process easier, and we listened. They were right! Soon after, we launched an update and made an announcement to thank them for helping us make things better.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
The biggest failure I’ve had so far was having to shut down my first company. It was really hard because I worked my tail off. I’ve now come to accept it as a positive learning experience. I was able to look back on what I learned and see the positive in that, and I think that experience has helped make Upsie successful.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
A business that I’ve considered pursuing is a better solution for product financing in stores. These days, you buy something and they give you 18 months with 0% interest. But as soon as you pass the 18 months and if the product isn’t fully paid off, you are charged 18-25% interest on the remaining balance. That just doesn’t seem fair. There has to be a better solution that people would really jump on board.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Recently, the best $100 I spent was on grabbing pizza for our team. Without them, Upsie doesn’t exist, so any time I get the chance to say thank you, I do. Best $100 spent!
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
We built a ton of custom stuff for Upsie, but I really love using Micosoft Azure cloud computing platform. It gives us flexibility and manages our growth.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why.” If you are really trying to find the heart of your company, this book will help you get there.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
Guys like @hunterwalk, @semil & @jason have helped shape the way I think. Twitter is a free education every day, and I encourage everyone to follow these guys. They always have great stuff to say!
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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.