John Funk – Entrepreneur Addicted To Great Products and People

John Funk is both a Principal and the Chief Product Scout at Evergreen Innovation Partners . John also is President and co-founder of TrashCo Inc.  and founder and President of Long Tail Pet Products (makers of the DogPause Healthy Dog Bowl).

John has been involved with new product development, innovation, licensing and entrepreneurship for over 15 years. John raised over $40m in capital across the 6 companies he launched over the past 15 years, and 3 companies had successful exits via IPO or M&A transactions (over $500m in value creation for shareholders). The other 3 companies are still pending outcomes…

In prior lives, John has worked for Bell Atlantic and the law firm of Skadden Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. John Funk has been a guest lecturer on marketing and Open Innovation at Harvard, University of Chicago Booth School of Business and Kellogg School of Management.

John received his MBA from the Kellogg School of Management, graduated cum laude from Northwestern School of Law (concentration in IP law), and received his Bachelor of Arts from Northwestern University. John tries to read over 100 books a year and keep up with his family on the ski slopes, tennis court and golf course. He rides a road bike over Vail Pass every summer just to see if he can.

John’s name appears on various issued and pending patents, he’s on the Board of Greenhouse Scholars as well as Mopion Inc (makers of Sand-Off ), and he is diligently working on deciding what he wants to be when he grows up.

What are you working on right now?

Exploring how to use technology and Open Innovation to both source new product ideas and how to leverage that into new successful businesses. The world of atoms is different from the world of electrons, but there are some fascinating ways to cross-pollinate the two.

110% of my time is spent on Flings bins, a major disruptive innovation in the very sleepy category of trash & recycling bags and bins.

Another 10% of my time is spent on Evergreen Innovation Partners, where we just announced a really innovative partnership with Clorox.

And then I spend the nights and weekends working on a really useful pet product for dogs that eat too fast. This is a labor of love where an inventor came up with something that really is better than anything else out there today in the market. But how do you spread the word? How do you raise awareness for a physical good online? Some fascinating opportunities and questions…

3 Trends that excite you?

1: Faster clock speeds. My business partner, Dave Bayless, did a fascinating presentation on how the reality of business “clock speeds” means you have to run faster and faster just to stay in place. Check it out.  The net effect of this is incredibly powerful for those that can create new products, new ideas, and do it for others… Faster…

2) Open Innovation. The smartest and most successful companies of the 21st century will figure out how to leverage folks outside their organization. It stuns me how powerful this trend is.

3) Email. I started my first company around email. I remain convinced (and excited) that a simple email to a stranger can open door, start a conversation, and deepen a relationship with a 3rd party. And, at the same time, it can be so misunderstood and under-leveraged. Those who understand how to use email have a huge competitive advantage.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Iterate, iterate, iterate… I have a huge believer in trial and error. I believe you can generally test and learn much faster than you expect, and I also believe you’ll end up with the right answer faster (primarily because a feedback loop is more powerful and open to serendipity). Too often I see people stuck in analysis-paralysis, and then they take forever and still get it wrong. By running experiments, by trying things, by talking to potential customers and LISTENING, I think I can bring ideas to life faster and more effectively.

What is one mistake that you’ve made that our readers can learn from?

I tend to over-estimate capacity. While I still commit that mistake even today, I commit it less. You need to learn how to let go of things and how to say “no”. If you can’t regulate your capacity, you end up burning out because you’re over-stressed and over-worked. Same thing happens if you don’t regulate capacity from your staff — if you overtask them, or push them too far, they will get over-stressed and over-worked… You tend to lose the important in the urgent, and you find that you’re living too much of a tactical existence instead of clicking up a layer and looking at the big picture.

What is one book and one tool (i.e., piece of software) that helps you bring ideas to life?

Read Atlas Shrugged. It doesn’t get any better, or any clearer, than that.

Use a whiteboard. It’s the only collaborative tool I can use in real-time that can keep up with the conversation and ensure everyone in the room has a shared understanding. Don’t get me wrong – I love computers, web 2.0, email, jotforms, social media, etc. But nothing is worse than being in a meeting and watching someone trying to illustrate a point via some digital tool. It’s just not fast enough yet…

What is one idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Data-driven retail – re-defining “profitability”. Most retailers make decisions based on gross profit margin on a unit basis. In-store staff is generally minimum wage, and buyers are low-level staff members. Slow-moving product clogs up the shelf, and things need to go “onsale” in order to move, which makes the going-in profit margin question a joke. There is now enough data available on inventory turns to start to calculate profit dollars per linear foot and to use market research to anchor new product decisions (vs. “gut” and brokers). Amazon has made a name for itself with the “long tail” – brick and mortar retail needs to counter-punch by being smarter about what to stock and how to lay out the shelf. And it needs to bring the best new products into store vs. just re-stocking same-old, same-old.

Why did you go to law school?

I found law school to be incredibly useful in terms of teaching me how to think. As the pace of business continues to accelerate, being able to think clearly and to focus on what’s important will separate winners from losers. I see many people losing sight of the key issues and getting distracted with “noise” – that’s a recipe for disaster. Law school doesn’t have to be just about the law; it’s about how to synthesize data and how to issue spot.

How do you find time to read 100 books a year?

I read to give my brain some “off-time” – generally 30-60 minutes before bed and anytime I’m on an airplane. I also read a ton on vacations. I’ve been blessed to be a very fast reader (a page or two a minute), which helps. I love NYT bestsellers and am biased towards thrillers and mysteries.

I’ve got a blog I periodically update here:


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