Prioritize your life and time. Establish core values and live your life by them and assign time to those values accordingly.
Josh Folk is Co-Founder and Chief Revenue Officer at IdeaScale, the largest idea management platform in the world with more than 35,000 communities and 4.5 million users. IdeaScale empowers organizations to crowdsource ideas from their employees, customers, or citizens who then collaborate, evaluate, and further develop those ideas into products, processes, and new initiatives. IdeaScale’s client roster includes industry notables, such as Citrix, NASA, New York City Police Department, Princess Cruises, the United Way, US Coast Guard, and the White House. As Co-Founder, Folk was responsible for building IdeaScale’s original book of government business which now accounts for more than 40% of IdeaScale’s total client roster. Today, Folk helps architect ongoing innovation programs for IdeaScale prospects and customers for recurring success.
Prior to IdeaScale, Folk was Co-Founder of SportTechie an online publishing platform for sports technology news and content. He successfully exited the company in 2015.
He graduated from the University of Washington with a B.A. in business administration from the Michael G. Foster School of Business. and has a long history of making things happen by turning thoughts into action. He currently lives in Washington, DC.
Where did the idea for IdeaScale come from?
A couple of our co-founders were in the market research space and they kept hearing this request for a way to gather information on questions that their customers didn’t think to ask. We realized that companies wanted real time information (both quantitative and qualitative) in their blind spots to avoid risks, so we decided to launch ideation communities, where it was easier for people to share new ideas and for decision makers to validate and take action on those new ideas.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I try to start my day early (5:00am) because that’s when I have the least distractions. I spend an hour reading news on the WSJ app or my saved list, get out for a jog (while listening to the latest IdeaScale podcast) and then have breakfast with my daughter. Nanny comes to the house at 8am and I’m in the office by 9am. The workday is spent working on my important weekly goals, in meetings, and problem solving. For example, today I met with our leadership team to discuss end of year revenue targets, researched SaaS monetization strategies, helped one of our sales reps think through a problem, and spoke with a Fortune 500 healthcare client about an upcoming innovation initiative. I block off time at the end of the day to get to inbox zero and catch up on slack so I can go home with a free mind.
How do you bring ideas to life?
It starts with a commitment to the value of learning and follows with a culture of experimentation and doing. I try to read everything I can: newspapers, email newsletters, books, social media, etc. I also try to gain perspective from my employees and customers in places like Slack and IdeaScale. Next, I think it’s really important to find opportunities to unplug. Go for a walk, meditate – just think. The combination of learning plus thinking is what’s called the Warren Buffett Formula. I’ve always admired how he can spend 80% of his working day reading and thinking. Once you have some ideas percolating (quantity over quality at this stage) you need a network to share those ideas with. You need to realize you can’t do it all on your own. You need people willing to listen to your ideas and offer feedback or better yet offer help to start experimenting. You need doers. You need believers. This is why having an innovative culture at work (or even a supportive spouse) is probably the most essential ingredient for bringing ideas to life.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The less rigid and more free-form career that’s offered by the future of work… There’s no greater time to be an innovator than today. More and more companies are starting to measure employee engagement and want to involve anyone at an organization in succeeding in its mission. That’s exciting to think that no matter who you are… you could impact the future of a company. For people like Bill Gates with grand visions and resources, they can harness the the crowd to accelerate some of their ideas (like what he’s doing with the sewer system project OR nuclear project). There are also opportunities to participate at your work in developing the vision. Companies can get an edge over their competition by utilizing crowdsourcing to discover new product ideas. Governments can become more efficient by changing the way they procure to include prizes and challenges to solve huge tough problems. It’s inspiring to think that we don’t necessarily have to be defined by our job description anymore… but in the projects we can implement.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
The ability to not let negative events linger on. Being an entrepreneur is tough – you’re going to take some punches. The key for me is having a short memory. I try to move on especially quick from my losses. The sun will rise the next day and with that comes a fresh start. Take advantage of it!
What advice would you give your younger self?
Lose the ego and go learn from others. As an aspiring entrepreneur, I always valued learning by doing and learning from my mistakes. But I think there’s a lot to gain actually by taking a step back first and going to work for other successful entrepreneurs – even if the work isn’t as fulfilling. I’ve made a lot of mistakes that probably could have been avoided if I had spent more learning. Mentors are great too, but nothing beats actually seeing how someone successful operates on a daily basis. You will learn what to do and what not to do!
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I believe there’s meaning in everything and everyone if you have the right mindset. In high school I took a summer job in sports and entertainment that turned out to be door to door selling. It sucked and I thought about quitting. But then I realized that if I could learn how to start a conversation with a total stranger then I could talk to anyone. That skill led me to become student body president the following academic year. That leadership role is what got me accepted into college at the University of Washington. And that led me to the founding of my first company.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Maintain a strong desire to improve and learn. This is critical for your own mental health (it’s OK to make mistakes), for your relationships with others (empathy first), and on your own professional success (learning from mistakes). Life is a journey and you have to find ways to continuously learn about yourself. Some of the best opportunities for learning come on your worst days – that’s when reflecting on what is truly happening can result in positive change. Often times too you’ll discover it’s something you are doing and not how others are making you feel. For example, as a new dad I was feeling like I was failing in a lot of areas of my life while trying to balance running a startup, parenting, friendships, etc. It was extremely frustrating until I came across Stephen Covey’s book, the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Taking in his concept of “Putting first things first” allowed me to take back control of my life by beginning each week with listing down all of my roles in life (dad, CRO, son, etc.), writing down my goals, and then actually blocking off time to work on those things. This allowed me to feel good about what I was working on while also leaving room for those all too certain office distractions (or early wake up calls from my daughter!).
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Figure out an industry where have a unique advantage and keep investing in it. Maybe you are the first to market there. Or maybe your culture is a good fit. Invest there and keep building. Eventually you’ll build up a nice base of customers and that will fuel more growth and higher margins. For example, serving the government has always been a differentiator for IdeaScale. We were first to market and have built up a nice track record. Our business model (try before you buy), security features (only FedRAMP approved vendor), and mission-driven culture is a really nice fit with that community. Today we’re looking at similar opportunities to expand our footprint with our customers in other sectors where we see an advantage, like education, healthcare, financial services, and others.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
In early 2012 I was trying to start a sports media company while also co-founding IdeaScale. I was getting subpar results in both businesses and realized I had to focus on one if I really wanted to be successful. It was once of the most difficult decisions in my life to make but I’d say it’s worked out well for everyone involved.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Right now I’m actually exploring an idea with my barber to offer a subscription service. 70-80% of his customers are repeat. Getting a haircut is something most men will need at least once a month. It makes sense that some value could be unlocked there for customers in the form of a subscription. The barber benefits from having a predictable revenue stream and can leverage the model to build stronger relationships with customers for future upsells, etc.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
On a babysitter so that my wife and I could go out to dinner!
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I use Calendly to make scheduling meetings super easy. I also use Safari’s Reading List feature to save anything I’m interested in for reading later.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I just finished reading Benjamin Franklin by Edmund S. Morgan. For entrepreneurs, the book provides a crash course on dealing with human relations on a day-to-day basis as well as how to get things done. Franklin was incredibly effective in both his business and public ventures due to an insatiable curiosity and ability to listen and make the right suggestions to people at the right time. He also focused on problems that were directly in front of him – oftentimes local issues that led him to organize America’s first fire station, street-cleaning department, and an educational academy that is now the University of Pennsylvania. Sometimes as entrepreneurs we get stuck on “searching” for the next big thing when it was in front of us the entire time. Franklin serves as a great example of how you can make an impact without needing to look far.
What is your favorite quote?
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” Einstein
• The Future of Work is here. It’s real-time, transparent, and doesn’t require job descriptions. Collaboration will define us in this new era.
• Prioritize your life and time. Establish core values and live your life by them and assign time to those values accordingly.
• Curiosity is a key factor in success, but curiosity requires action: read and discover new ideas, take disappointing tasks and make them meaningful, approach things that confuse you instead of shying away from them.
• The ability to let things go might be a superpower – but it’s one that you can grow into. Nurture this skill in order to solve old problems with new energy.