Thomas Emmons – Co-Founder and CEO of Bloxi

I have recently adopted Dude’s law, a simple equation that defines value. The equation is: Value = Why/How. It’s a very effective, and productive way to make a decision. It also forces you to think more critically.

Thomas Emmons is the co-founder and CEO of Emberex, Inc. and Bloxi. He graduated with a degree in Accounting from Northwest Christian University. Thomas is incredibly passionate about startups, college football and just about any activity that involves being outside.

Where did the idea for Bloxi come from?

A few years ago, Nate (my business partner) and I attended the Web 2.0 Expo in New York City. One evening we were drinking whiskey at a bar in midtown Manhattan, and we started talking about how you can share all kinds of things online – photos, videos, even PowerPoint presentations.

But, there was no good way to create and share quizzes. We got excited about the idea of being able to create and share quizzes just for fun – not for academic reasons. We’ve done a lot of work in educational technology, and we have a lot of experience making software for creating and delivering homework, tests, etc. for educational purposes. A lot of the same concepts apply, but without such a focus on due dates, class lists, cheating, etc

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

I don’t know what a typical day is anymore. I haven’t had one of those jobs in a long time. I do partake in a morning routine that includes a power walk/hike before I leave my house. After that, I check my calendar and put together a list of priorities for the day.
Productivity for me is directly correlated with how I treat my body. If I eat small meals throughout the day, get some kind of exercise and sleep for at least 7 hours I usually end up with the requisite brain horsepower to be incredibly productive.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Ideas come alive when you bounce them off a group of smart, creative individuals that you trust. For me, that’s the Bloxi team.

What is the one trend that really excites you?

The trend towards easy access to educational materials has been incredible, and I think it will only get better. For example, today’s aspiring hackers have incredible tools like Treehouse, Codecademy and Codeschool that are very reasonably priced. You can also find a large amount of free (though perhaps less organized) classes, tutorials, etc. all over the Web. Millennials don’t realize how lucky they are to have this kind of knowledge within their reach.

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

I have recently adopted Dude’s law, a simple equation that defines value. The equation is: Value = Why/How. It’s a very effective, and productive way to make a decision. It also forces you to think more critically.

Here’s a really obvious example: Lets say you’ve had a long day at work. You arrive home and crack a bottle of wine immediately and say “ahhhh” as you fall into the couch. A few glasses later, you realize that you forgot to pick up a few things at the store you need for tomorrow morning. You contemplate driving to the store. In this case the “why” is the stuff you need from the store and the “how” is a potential DUI (or worse). You have a small numerator and a large denominator; hence your value is low.

Next time you’re thinking about that new feature you’ve been contemplating, apply this law and see what you come up with. I think you’ll find you can weed out bad ideas pretty quickly.

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

When I was 18 years old I sold cars for a few months. I got really lucky the first month by being aggressive. After that, I was just another mediocre guy in a suit. I remember the sales managers telling me over and over “it’s a numbers game”. Well if that was the case, how come there were a couple of non-aggressive salespeople that continuously outsold everyone else? Most of them weren’t pounding the pavement near as much as I was. It’s obvious to me now. Those individuals were able to establish trust with their clients, and they knew their product really well. They got referrals, and they are probably still selling cars today and doing quite well.

Building trusting relationships with customers, coworkers and partners is priceless.

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

I would apply lean startup methodologies from day one.

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

Anyone that has been around me long enough will eventually hear me preach about the value of critical thinking. It’s an incredibly powerful skill that is essential for management, yet a lot of managers don’t use it effectively. Open-minded, rational and informed individuals will consistently make better decisions; and those attributes are a by-product of critical thinking.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Without a doubt, hiring the right people.

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

A few years back, my business partner and I built a low-stakes online learning platform geared toward K-12 educators, tutors and study groups. We could probably write a novel about all the mistakes we made, though perhaps the biggest one was not recognizing how difficult it was going to be to try and sell the product to schools.

Being an entrepreneur is all about learning from your mistakes, bouncing back and continuing to learn. Just about everything in our current venture has been done differently. We started our current application by creating a user story map, and we have released early and often ever since. We are currently trying to adapt and incorporate lean startup methodologies into our process.

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

I’d sure appreciate it if someone would create an elegant and intuitive online grocery shopping delivery service.

Tell us something about you that very few people know?

I’m a pretty outgoing guy, but I really dislike networking events.

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

I’m a spreadsheet junkie, and Excel has been my go-to tool for years. It’s robust, intuitive and very easy to use.

I’m also very fond of my Google calendar. The application is easy to navigate, and syncs to my mobile devices well.

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

This is a no brainer: The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. The lean startup principles introduced in this book provide a roadmap that can be applied to virtually any business.

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

I heard Steve Blank speak at a conference and discuss his Investment Readiness Level model and I was fascinated. His website is a wealth of information to entrepreneurs:

I read Peter Lynch’s Beating the Street when I was 21 years old. I changed majors (Engineering to Business) because of it. It will be very boring unless you have a passion for the stock market.

Robert Kiyosaki made me rethink my future after reading one of his early books, Rich Dad, Poor Dad, while I was in college.

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