A lot of people have good ideas, but few actually take action and follow through on those ideas.
Clint Coghill co-founded Backstop Solutions Group in 2003, and as the founding chairman, he has helped guide the company for the past 10 years. Clint now leads the Backstop executive team as the CEO.
Prior to joining Backstop, Clint was CIO of Coghill Capital Management, a successful Chicago-based hedge fund management company that he started in 1995. Among his other professional pursuits, Clint is the founding chairman of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship Chicago’s regional advisory board, an organization that provides entrepreneurship programs to young people from low-income communities. He also founded two charitable organizations: the Coghill Family Foundation and the Environmental Impact Initiative.
Clint received his bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Arizona and his master’s degree in business administration from the London Business School.
Where did the idea for Backstop Solutions Group come from?
I was running a hedge fund in Chicago and had a really small team. Each month, we would have a number of processes — subscriptions and redemptions, sending out the partner letter, etc. — and all of that was sucking up a lot of time.
I knew it was important to get that process right, but I also knew it was even more important for us to focus on making good investment decisions, so I wanted to streamline those activities. Initially, I set up a makeshift Internet site to communicate with my prime broker and our administrator. Then, I built a set of Microsoft Excel tools. Those ideas are what built the foundation for Backstop.
What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?
No two days are the same. A typical day is spent meeting with the different department heads, taking a look at the overall company strategy, communicating with internal employees, speaking with clients and prospective clients, and handling any curveballs that come my way.
When it comes to staying productive in spite of the curveballs, I have a general rule that if the task will take less than one minute, I get it off my plate immediately. If it requires more time or thought, I flag the task or email with certain colors and try to get to it within the next four hours. I also try to make the most of my time by using my morning commute or plane flights to catch up on emails and circle back with people on those less urgent tasks.
How do you bring ideas to life?
A lot of people have good ideas, but few actually take action and follow through on those ideas. When I look back at the beginnings of Backstop, I think about not only how it was a good idea, but also how we were able to put the framework into place to bring it to life.
This philosophy also translates into how I run the business today. When I meet with team members to talk about building out Backstop, they know that I like to talk around specific screens or slides to ensure we’re taking action on our ideas and everyone is on the same page.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
The move to the cloud is super exciting! I believe the trends behind the cloud are powerful. With the cloud, businesses can invest in one version of a software platform and put money behind maintaining that platform, building on it, and evolving it for the benefit of the clients. I’m also excited about mobility, which is another benefit of the cloud. Having actionable intelligence at your disposal — regardless of your location or device — is powerful.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I read a lot. I’m a member of a young professionals organization, and the other members are always laughing at me because I suggest at least four new books at every meeting.
What was the worst job you ever had, and what did you learn from it?
When I was 13, I worked in a golf course locker room and was responsible for handing out towels and other maintenance. But I took a lot of pride in providing the best possible service for the guests and making the locker room sparkle.
As an entrepreneur, what’s the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
It’s important to evaluate the overall market opportunity and the resources you have at your disposal to make sure the resources are properly aligned with the market opportunity. When doing this, it often requires high-level change, and sometimes, it means rebuilding other parts of the business entirely. Also, I never give up.
What’s one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I try to really understand our clients, their problems, and how those problems impact their businesses. We want to provide them with a solution!
What’s one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
When we first launched the hedge fund, we had a lot of success and were cranking out great performance year after year. But, as with a lot of hedge funds and businesses, we got hit hard when the market crashed in 2008. When that happened, we had to work our tails off to come out on the other end. We regularly communicated with our clients and provided them with high levels of transparency, and as a result, we were able to maintain generally good relationships with them. It’s not the event that defines you; it’s how you respond to the event.
What is the best $100 you recently spent and why?
Having a round of drinks with some of the senior people at Backstop. It’s important to get people out of the office to build personal and business relationships. Those personal relationships are important, and they become especially important during tough times, which every company goes through at some point.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
Business requires me to travel a lot, so I use a ton of travel apps to streamline the process. For example, I don’t always know how long meetings will take or when I’ll be able to leave, so I use HotelTonight to book last-minute hotel rooms and United Airlines’ app to book last-minute flights. Actually, I was in D.C. just this week, and I wasn’t sure what time my last meeting would end. When I finally figured it out, I was able to use United Airlines’ app to quickly book a flight and pull up my boarding pass right on my phone.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“Zero to One” by Peter Thiel is an amazing book about innovation.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
Zach Nelson, CEO of NetSuite, has been a valuable mentor for me. He’s built one of the best cloud-based businesses, and he’s been generous with his time and open about sharing things his business has done well and the mistakes it’s made.
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