[quote style=”boxed”]”You can’t be confident that you’re solving a problem that your customers have if you don’t actually talk to them and learn about their problems.”[/quote]
Don Broekelmann is the Executive Vice President at Influence & Co., a professional branding firm based out of Columbia, Missouri. Don works with Influence & Co.’s In-Residence program, which helps brands develop content marketing plans to create authentic engagement with specific customer segments. He currently resides in Columbia with his wife and daughter.
What are you working on right now?
I am working on ways to expand and deepen the impact of the services we at Influence & Co. offer some of our large partners. I’m looking at different tools and trying to identify ways that we can use them, along with our core services, to drive better engagement with the specific segments we’re trying to reach on behalf of our partners.
Where did the idea for Influence & Co. come from?
As we were talking to people about our core business model — helping industry experts grow their influence through content marketing — we were getting inbound interest from larger brands to see if we could work together. We realized that we had relationships and infrastructures that could be very beneficial to larger brands if we packaged them together and used high-quality content to engage specific niches of their customer base.
What does your typical day look like?
My day usually starts off with a little reading to get the brain working, and then I check email to make sure that everything that’s an immediate issue is dealt with before the day gets too far along. After that, I’m usually on calls with clients and potential partners or in discussions with team members about ways we can better help our partners.
How do you bring ideas to life?
In order to get started on an idea, I usually go to a whiteboard or a pad of paper. They let me lay out the different pieces of ideas and draw connections between them.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
The trend that I am most excited about is that anything now is really possible. Before, there were a lot of technical hurdles to doing “stuff,” but now, I assume that anything is possible — and if it’s not yet possible, it will likely be possible in the very near future. The pace at which advances are occurring is staggering, and that’s the trend I’m most excited about. That trend allows more interesting trends to occur.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I waited tables in college at a restaurant. No matter how good I was at my job, I was only as quick as the kitchen, and that was frustrating. I learned that even something as simple as getting food on a table took a group of people working on the same page.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Before I spend a lot of money or time on a new idea, I focus on identifying the quickest and cheapest way to make sure my potential customers like — and would pay for! — the new product or service. Without that validation from your customers, you’re taking a pretty substantial gamble that you have something they want. Once you have validation, you can move forward and spend more time building out the service or product.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I think there are a lot of interesting opportunities in the curation space. Flipboard is allowing people to essentially build their own magazines by curating articles and allowing others to follow their created magazines. I bet they’re not far from allowing some sort of premium subscription model for the new “magazines” people are creating. YouTube is also rolling out the ability to charge subscribers to view your channel. It will be interesting to see how both of these areas evolve over the next 12 to 18 months.
Tell us a secret.
I grew up in St. Louis, but I have never been up in the Arch. I attempted to go up when I was younger, but when I saw the elevator, I became extremely claustrophobic and decided against it. I have not seen the need to go back since.
What are your three favorite online tools and what do you love about them?
- Wufoo: Wufoo is an online form builder. It allows you to get something created really easily, but you can also learn a little about the system and do some pretty powerful things. It integrates well with other online tools.
- Zite/Flipboard: I use both of these to keep track of new features and make sure I don’t miss news. They are self-managing and learn as I give them more feedback. It allows me to consume more of the information I’m looking for, without a lot of work on my end.
- MailChimp: MailChimp is another great online tool for managing email lists. There are a lot of great tools that allow you to segment and speak to your audience or mailing list very granularly.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I’d recommend “Drive” by Daniel Pink. It’s an extremely interesting and eye-opening book about motivation and how the economy and skills necessary for success in that economy don’t align with traditional motivational techniques.
What’s on your playlist?
I have a wide selection of music that I listen to, depending on the type of mood I’m in and what I’m doing. I have everything from The Beastie Boys to The Doors to Dave Matthews Band.
If you weren’t working on Influence & Co., what would you be doing?
I would more than likely be filling some sort of technical or programming role. I know that this seems like a pretty different path than what Influence & Co. does, but it’s all about using the tools at your disposal to reach an end goal.
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?
@JuntaJoe: Joe Pulizzi is a leading author, speaker, and strategist in content marketing. He also founded the Content Marketing Institute.
@BrentBeshore: Brent Beshore is a Midwest entrepreneur. His recent startup, Brook, is a Twitter content aggregator that sends you a daily email of the five best tweets from people you select. (In full disclosure, he’s an investor in Influence & Co. as well.)
@ElonMusk: Elon Musk is the founder of SpaceX and Tesla, as well as a former member of the original PayPal team.
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
My 4-year-old daughter makes me laugh pretty much on a daily basis. She is constantly learning new words, and she’s always trying to use them. For example, everything today has been “spectacular,” according to her, including when she knocked her dinner plate off the table. She knocked it off and said, “That was pretty spectacular.” She immediately followed that comment by calling out to our dog, Bailey, so he could clean up the mess.
Who is your hero?
Elon Musk has been in the news a decent amount lately, and what he’s doing is pretty amazing. He is tackling big issues that could — and will — make a huge impact on the entire world. His ability to manage two large companies that are hugely technical is amazing.
Tell me about a time you failed and what did you learn?
I started a company that designed software to help middle-class Americans develop and implement their own financial plans. It didn’t work out the way I had hoped. I learned that you cannot build a business by spending six months designing something that you “know” people want. You can’t be confident that you’re solving a problem that your customers have if you don’t actually talk to them and learn about their problems. You have to understand them before you can actually help them.
What would you have done differently in your personal life?
I would make more of an effort to not be too focused on work and develop a wider breadth of interests. When I start to get involved in something, it tends to take over my entire life and I spend my waking moments trying to learn more. This focus sometimes makes it difficult to talk with others who may not be involved in entrepreneurship or the specific field I’m learning about.