Be bold. Take risks. Constantly pivot.
Eric Lefkofsky is the co-founder and CEO at Tempus, a technology company that enables physicians to deliver personalized cancer care for patients through an interactive analytical and machine learning platform. He is the co-founder and Chairman of Groupon (NASDAQ: GRPN), a global e-commerce marketplace, and co-founder of Uptake Technologies, a leading predictive analytics platform for the world’s largest industries; Mediaocean, a leading provider of integrated media procurement technology; Echo Global Logistics (NASDAQ: ECHO), a technology-enabled transportation and logistics outsourcing firm; and InnerWorkings (NASDAQ: INWK), a global provider of managed print and promotional solutions. He is also a founding partner of Lightbank, a venture fund investing in disruptive technology businesses. He co-chairs the Lefkofsky Family Foundation with his wife Liz to advance high-impact initiatives that enhance lives in the communities served. Lefkofsky serves as a Trustee of Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, The Museum of Science and Industry and World Business Chicago. He is also Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Lefkofsky is an adjunct professor at the University of Chicago and author of Accelerated Disruption: Understanding the True Speed of Innovation. He graduated from the University of Michigan and received his Juris Doctor at University of Michigan Law School. For more information, visit lefkofsky.com.
Where did the idea for Tempus come from?
A few years ago, when a loved one was being treated for cancer, I was amazed that doctors didn’t have access to the same technology and data that has transformed so many other industries. The experience set me on this quest to try to figure out if there was a person or a company that was applying technology at scale to help cancer patients in a clinical setting. When the answer was no, I knew someone needed to build it.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I try not to have a typical day, but I do try to be one of the first people in the office so I can keep my head down and plow through work without a ton of distractions until the office fills in. I largely manage people and problems, which means that my entire day is often consumed by others. When you’re building a company, it’s not uncommon to run from meeting to meeting and at times it seems like everybody wants your time and input. While it can be exhilarating, it can also be hard to find time to be truly productive. A few years ago, I started working from home on Fridays and that has made a world of difference. Even though I tend to start later, end earlier and even manage to eat lunch somewhere other than my desk, it has become the most productive day of my entire week.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Ideas for me are often born out of trying to find solutions. Brad, my business partner, and I tend to be problem and solution oriented. We’re not coming up with ideas for idea’s sake. We’re actually searching for solutions to problems and when they don’t exist, or they don’t exist at scale, we might be compelled into action. We’ve started and run six companies in 20 years and the impetus has been the same each time: identify a problem, find a solution.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
I have lived through some of the most disruptive technology inventions in my lifetime: the microprocessor, pc, internet and mobile to name a few. However, I believe we are sitting on what could be one of the great technology paradigm shifts of all time. We have the ability to look inside the human body and begin to tackle some of the diseases that have plagued us for thousands of years, keeping people alive in ways we never thought were possible. I have never seen anything like what I see in biotech and life sciences today.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I’m good at prioritizing and delegating. Without those skills, I wouldn’t be able to manage the complexity of our world.
Every once in a while, someone asks me how I’ve been able to start companies over the past 20 years that have gone on to become meaningful in some way. My typical answer is that these businesses were all born out of trying to solve real problems. But, there’s another answer that is equally true. I’m a daydreamer – I always have been. When something doesn’t make sense to me, I often find myself lost in some imaginary world where the problem doesn’t exist or I’ve figured out the answer.
At the oddest of times – in my car, in the shower, when I’m working out – I find myself dreaming, and in those dreams, I’ve constructed an entire world where the problem has been solved by a product, service or company that I’ve conjured up. Down to the smallest detail, I construct an entire ecosystem in my mind. And at some point, the dream is so intoxicating that I’m compelled to do everything in my power to make the dream a reality.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t be afraid to fail!
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Be bold. Take risks. Constantly pivot.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
It goes back to what I said above: be bold, take risks and constantly pivot. And, that constantly pivot part is the key. I am constantly trying to evaluate whether our solution, idea, business model is resonating with our target audience. And, if it is not resonating and if we are not delivering the kind of value we want to deliver, we are consistently pivoting until we do.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Early in our career, we had a manufacturing business that ended up being a complete failure and the company ultimately closed down. It was a great learning lesson for us. I think for both Brad and me, having a company that you work hard at for three or four years that doesn’t work out, you learn a ton of lessons. When you are running a company, you make thousands of decisions and when something doesn’t work out you go back and try and ask yourself “if I was doing this again, would I do it the same way?” and when the answer is no, that becomes a roadmap for how you operate your next company. And so, I think failure is an invaluable tool for every entrepreneur.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
allbirds shoes! They are awesome.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
I use Dropbox, Gmail and Google Docs, little bit of Slack and they are all great. Most of the tools I use are workflow tools. I didn’t use Facebook a lot, but now I use it more. I initially used it more as a social connection tool, but I now find the feed to be really entertaining. They do an incredible job of sourcing short-form video content.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
These days I find books on biotech and cancer the most interesting. The Emperor of All Maladies is an incredible book about cancer and its effect on society that I would recommend everyone read. For entrepreneurs, there are a ton of good books out there, but I particularly liked Ben Horwitz’s book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things from a few years ago. I also wrote a book called Accelerated Disruption and so it would be hard to not recommend that.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
I am fortunate that most of my business thinking is influenced by the relationship I have with Brad. We go back and forth on different ideas and thoughts and rely on each other.
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