Peter Murphy – Co-founder and CEO of Pocket Prep

If you want to be respected as a leader, you’ve got to pull your weight. No one trusts a leader who never lifts a finger other than to point and delegate.

Peter Murphy is co-founder and CEO of Pocket Prep, Inc. In addition to providing the overall vision of the company, he also serves as Chief UX designer and marketing director. Peter has led the creation of more than 80 apps and positioned the company to become the global leader in mobile test prep.

Before launching Pocket Prep, Peter held several integral management positions at Lockheed Martin, a global security and aerospace company. In his role as Senior Manufacturing Planner, Peter spearheaded production planning and led his team in reaching aggressive productivity and cost-saving goals.

Peter holds a Master of Science in Management, Aerospace and Industrial Management from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University-Worldwide. He pursued his undergraduate studies at the University of North Florida, where he earned a Bachelor of Business Administration in Operations Management.

Where did the idea for Pocket Prep come from?

In 2009, I was studying to earn my CPIM certification with a cohort of production operations personnel at Lockheed Martin. This certification is designed to increase your understanding of manufacturing and inventory and consists of five separate exams. We were on the fast track to completion and Lockheed was footing the considerable bill towards our higher education. The thirty-plus employees all wanted this credential badly; it was a competitive edge that we believed would catapult our careers in manufacturing. Unfortunately for us, the exam prep out there was either ridiculously expensive or simply unavailable.

We muscled through the certification’s five exams, some of us falling off the wagon along the way. Only about half of the group crossed the finish line after the grueling ten-month venture. To aid in our studies, I had created mock questions to quiz the group and even went as far as to document each answer’s explanation. I was fortunate enough to earn my CPIM in December that same year.

When future cohorts began preparing for the exams, word got around about my homemade CPIM prep questions. Numerous requests to purchase my material poured in and I knew I had the start of a business, I just wasn’t sure on the specifics at that time. We all had smartphones, so I eventually decided to jump into the app world and create a user-friendly quizzer that everyone could use on the go. After a few weeks of design and feedback from coworkers, we set off to build what was then Pocket Prep 1.0.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Co-leading a virtual company with my business partner, Ken, is far from the normal nine-to-five gig we were accustomed to. Our hours vary widely and are dictated to us by the needs of the business. Customer support tickets coming in at midnight after a night out with friends? We jump on them. Planning a big app launch but have visiting family in town? We hide away in our home offices and see it through. We have more flexibility overall, but when it’s crunch time we kick it into high gear. We keep productivity high by limiting our overhead expenses and spending our time and energy wisely.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I think a lot of people have amazing ideas. My little brother, Phil, is a perfect example. He dreams up solutions to niche problems that could really take off with a little elbow grease. Sadly, his ideas don’t fly out of his head and magically manifest as a finished product, so they remain ideas locked away for some undetermined future date. I bring my ideas to life simply by taking them from idea to reality one step at a time. A little planning and pre-work go a long way.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

Business Intelligence. The entire concept of finding customers based on their interests, social media activity, past purchases, and other pertinent characteristics is the next big thing. It’s only a matter of time before these leading analytics companies are able to guarantee customers to paying businesses based on the intel they’ve gathered about us. The concept may seem a little “big brother-ish” now, but it will revolutionize advertising and product discovery.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Coming from the world of Aerospace and Defense, being able to grab a beer at three-o-clock while burning down your task list is my ultimate productivity booster. It’s something we weren’t exactly permitted to do in our past careers. There’ve been a host of studies on BAC and creativity, which is why so many next-gen companies are providing employees with free access to booze at work (in moderation, of course).

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

My worst job started when I accepted a transfer to an aerospace company in California to work in the wafer fabrication business. Production Control, my self-proclaimed specialty, was under-appreciated and undervalued as a department. We were required to uphold schedule at all costs, yet we weren’t empowered or trusted to take the necessary steps towards improvement. Our leadership didn’t quite understand the difference between leading and managing, so there was a lot of finger-pointing and delegation. It felt like I was working in a real-life Dilbert comic or maybe a bad rendition of Office Space.

This experience taught me the value of getting your hands dirty with the team. If you want to be respected as a leader, you’ve got to pull your weight. No one trusts a leader who never lifts a finger other than to point and delegate.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

There were times early on when we’d regret turning a profit. Earning revenue immediately puts a value on your business. If you’re not earning millions of dollars of revenue each year, you’re worth less than the guys who don’t charge anything for theirs. It’s that whole “unicorn” concept; step one: get millions of users, step two: sell the business for a gazillion dollars. It’s somewhat counter-logical in how a business is supposed to work, but it would have definitely made things interesting if we had gone down that path.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I treat others the way I’d want to be treated, as cliche as that may sound. I respect the opinions of others, even when they’re dissenting. Most importantly, I treat people like people and refrain from using lofty “business-speak” in normal dialogue. If a customer is being a jerk, I tell them to knock it off. If I’m explaining an idea to a potential investor, I talk to them like I would an old friend. Everyone can appreciate authenticity, so be real with people and it’ll open all sorts of doors.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

Standardization is our key to success! We use it in every aspect of the business. It’s what we learned in operations management; the more things you can standardize and eventually automate, the less work everyone has to do overall.

For example, our apps originate from one shared set of code. We’re able to smartly merge our exam prep content with our app platform to quickly create a new product. We standardized our CMS inputs to be compatible with most high-stakes exams. We use the same approach to content creation for each new undertaking, and we refine and reiterate as needed. This methodology has enabled us to launch, on average, 5 new apps per month.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Pocket Prep was a part-time effort for most of its existence. Ken and I juggled full time jobs, family life, and growing a business pretty well, but we quickly learned that no one cares more about your own business than you do.

In April of 2014, we hired a part-time project manager through a popular freelancing website to help handle the day to day operations. She started off great and really seemed to help balance the scales between our careers and Pocket Prep. For almost five months she oversaw the creation of content and hired contractors based on guidelines we had established. The wheels fell off when we realized she had been hiring unqualified friends and family members for a lot of the work. She even fudged her timecard more than once, which ultimately lead to her termination. We basically paid A LOT of money for terrible exam prep content and had to completely redo nearly 8,000 practice questions across various exams.

It was a good learning experience, albeit a costly one. Never assume someone cares about your business just because you’re paying them well; some people will always just do the minimum. We overcame this setback by slowing our writers down and reevaluating our quality standards, which at the time was just what we needed.

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

Create an app or web tool that enables business owners to scan through patents more efficiently. If you’ve ever tried to figure out if something’s been patented before, you’ll realize there’s a huge opportunity for improvement when it comes to the current government search engine.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I recently purchased a third-generation Moto G Android smartphone to serve as a test bed for our upcoming Android overhaul. I’m an iPhone guy, so I really needed to understand our app’s flow from our customer’s perspective. For those who are familiar the crazy world of Android development, you know that user experience can vary quite widely between the 12,000 unique devices currently in circulation. This recent purchase was fairly inexpensive but will allow our team to hone in on some key differences between Android 4.0 and the latest build, Android Lollipop (5.0).

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

We use a variety of software services, but my absolute favorites are UserVoice, AppFigures, and ZenPayroll. UserVoice helps us manage incoming tickets across our 80 apps, which previously was done through direct email. We’d get all sorts of gibberish from people butt-dialing their phones and it was a nightmare trying to diagnose issues through email. AppFigures aggregates all of our sales activity across the various app marketplaces, making it an invaluable analytics tool. ZenPayroll is a venture-backed startup out in San Francisco. They’ve revolutionized small business payroll and are definitely worth checking out.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Read ‘Rework’ by David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried of 37Signals. It was recommended to me by a business acquaintance. I remember reading it and weighing the dramatic differences between working for a Fortune 500 company and leading our own startup. Entrepreneurialism is a roller-coaster of good and bad times, and there are so many snippets of wisdom in ‘Rework’ that I’d consider it a must-read for anyone bold enough to challenge set norms.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

Pat Flynn inspired Ken and I to really go for it. We actually had the opportunity to work with Pat and advertise one of our apps to his audience. He’s an awesomely genuine entrepreneur who has a ton of wisdom to share. Check out Tim Ferriss is another great entrepreneur to follow.