Focus and flexibility might sound like contradictions, but most successful entrepreneurs are able to balance both. You have to possess the unique ability to focus on the big picture while staying tuned in and responsive to the details that matter.
Laura Henderson is a successful technology executive who first made her mark in the industry as the General Manager of TEKLYNX Americas, Inc., the leading global provider of barcode and label software. As a strategic, results-oriented leader with a keen ability to create high-performing operating cultures, Laura has consistently achieved double-digit top and bottom-line growth at TEKLYNX Americas, Inc.
After nearly two decades of success leveraging technological advancements for the betterment of businesses across a variety of industries, her marriage to a special education teacher, and being the mother of five children, Laura began to recognize a need for technological advancements in an entirely different area of the economy – education.
With firsthand knowledge of the challenges facing the education system, the gap between education and 21st century skills became painfully obvious to Laura. Leveraging both her professional and personal background, Laura set out to close the gap with the creation of a personalized learning software application. Countless hours of research, programming and devotion resulted in the 2014 launch of Epiphany Learning.
Laura Henderson holds a Management of Computer Services degree from Ottawa University. She is involved in her community and serves as the stewardship director for her parish. She actively participates in CEO roundtable groups. In 2012, she was awarded the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Women of Influence Award. Laura has been written up in numerous business articles and was recently a panelist speaker for the Milwaukee Future 50 award ceremony.
Where did the idea for Epiphany Learning come from?
My husband is a special education teacher in Wisconsin. While attending training about Personalized Learning theories and success stories, he and several other educators inquired about what tools are available for practical application in a real classroom and the answer was that there wasn’t really a solution available. So, most schools and districts were relaying on physical paper or standard forms to implement Personalized Learning. At that moment, my husband knew there had to be a better, simpler way to implement Personalized Learning in the classroom – and we have been developing Epiphany Learning ever since…
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Given the nature of running a start-up technology business, I rarely have a typical day! In any given day, I can go from doing wide-scale market and competitive research to detailed product testing. I begin most days with a very early call with my CTO, he is fantastic and takes our requirements (given to us from research, schools and districts) and translates them into a very secure, easy to use product. I also spend time with our team to ensure our implementations are going well as we strive for continuous product improvement. Last but not least, I invest my time building meaningful partnerships and developing marketing strategies to ensure the market has a clear understanding of Epiphany Learning.
How do you bring ideas to life?
My ten years of experience leading an international software company and bringing products to market that today serve many Fortune 500 companies has certainly taught me how to take a conceptual idea and turn it into a fantastic product. It takes two key things to successfully take an idea from concept to execution: process and people. Epiphany Learning uses best practice processes to create market requirements, data security architecture, technical specifications, testing documentation and implementation processes. Of course, to do this you must have the right people who are passionate about both the product and the customers who are using it.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
Everything about education transformation excites me, but I am most passionate about the profound impact Personalized Learning will have on creating more productive, creative, skilled talent for our future generations. I find the process of looking at the needs of the future economy – which includes backward engineering our schools so graduating students can meet these future demands – extremely exciting. Education is in a state of constant change and it’s no longer widely accepted that students should simply memorize information so they can pass a test. The standard is much higher. It’s about equipping students with the right skills to meet the needs of 21st Century job market. I am excited about how Personalized Learning strategies allow us to bring out the very best in every learner.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I am curious about everything. I see intersections everywhere and want to leverage them to make a marked impact in the marketplace.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
This is a very tough question as I have really enjoyed every job I’ve had. From scooping ice cream cones to managing a restaurant, from leading a global IT support center to running an international software company, I’ve always learned and experienced so much. I did clean laser printers in college, and even though it was a very messy job, it let me experience what it was like to work on a trading floor. Ultimately, every single job I’ve had has added to my experience and left me well equipped to deal with everyday challenges ranging from overcoming conflict to creating five year business plans.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
If we were given the opportunity to start Epiphany Learning again today, I would add a few more features to our first product release. Then again, the reality is you have to start somewhere. We are incredibly open and receptive to feedback because we know in the end this will benefit our product and our customers. Frankly, this is what makes managing a startup business so fun and what helps to differentiate Epiphany Learning. Every day is challenging and there’s always something new and exciting to take on. And, being open to these suggestions and changes will fuel Epiphany Learning’s growth.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I stay focused, flexible and passionate. Focus and flexibility might sound like contradictions, but most successful entrepreneurs are able to balance both. You have to possess the unique ability to focus on the big picture while staying tuned in and responsive to the details that matter. The passionate piece creates the energy and momentum needed to keep everyone working together and focused as you navigate through the early stages of a business.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
I lead a marketing driven organization which means customer leads and demands are driven by marketing versus pushed by a sales organization. This allows us to manage and measure all the work through systems and processes while allowing us to make more data-driven, objective-based business decisions.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Early in my career I tended to act too quickly. At one point early in my career I was managing a tough business, and quickly recognized there were too many salespeople for a business and product line that had very little innovation. After implementing a sizable restructuring, I realized I hadn’t thought through all the consequences of my decisions and it left the business exposed and vulnerable. We were able to overcome these challenges by staying focused, flexible and passionate, but that experience taught me to carefully think through all decisions.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I always wanted to design a coffee shop specifically for adults with children. The idea is to provide a safe, convenient area for people to gather for playdates. Next time you are at a Barnes & Noble, stop by the Thomas the Train & Friends area. You’ll find approximately 45 adults squished in this little area visiting with one another while their kids quietly play with trains. If you could design a trendy, quite, clean and safe area with seating and several play areas (i.e. trains, dress-up, housekeeping) and maybe a raised platform for older kids or a place where parents could watch their children, it would provide the perfect backdrop for a playdate!
Tell us something about you that very few people know?
I can be quite shy until I get to know people. I have to mentally prepare myself before heading to trade shows, meetings and engagements.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I am a huge reader and often recommend different books for different situations, but I think all leaders should read the book Leadership and Self-Deception by The Arbinger Institute. Unlike many leadership books, this book makes you look deeply into yourself and challenges you to make some real and very impactful changes in your style. While the impact in your office will be significant, the overall impact is unexplainable. You have to read it. We did a book club and mentorship program in our office and the results have been…again, unexplainable. It’s a must read!
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
Jeffrey (Allen) Taege, Personalized Learning Advisor, FLIGHT Academy
Jeffrey’s passion and excitement for making a real difference in education is contagious. Learn more about FLIGHT Academy at: https://sites.google.com/a/waukesha.k12.wi.us/flight-academy/home
Dr. James Rickabaugh, Director of the Institute @ CESA #1
Dr. Rickabaugh has played an influential role in the development of Personalized Learning. Learn more about Dr. Rickabaugh at: https://cesa1transformation.wordpress.com/who-are-we/from-jim-rickabaugh/
Patrick Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is more than a book, it is a recipe for building the best team, people, product and business. I’ve used Patrick’s philosophies for years. Learn more about his book at: http://www.tablegroup.com/books/dysfunctions
Paul Decker, Co-founder and Executive Director, Maverick Innovation Lab
Paul has played a key role in taking Epiphany Learning to the next level. Learn more about Maverick Innovation Lab at: http://www.maverick-lab.com/
Company Twitter: @EpiphanyLearn