It takes three to five years to create a sustainable business which is a long time to commit your life to something. If you don’t love what you’re doing, it can get very difficult to sustain it that is why understanding personal purpose should be tied to the kind of business that you’re going to do. Mike McCausland, CEO and founder of Leadership Institute for Entrepreneurs (LIFE), is focused on helping entrepreneurs all the way from what’s a good business idea through launch, growth, scaling, and exit, or what is called the entrepreneurship journey, from end to end. Mike also talks about another project they’re launching called local entrepreneurship ecosystems which are entrepreneurship networks or group endeavors trying to crack the code on how to cause economic engines to start growing and what ecosystems impact the whole community.
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Walking Through The Entrepreneurship Journey Successfully with Mike McCausland
We’re incredibly fortunate that we have Mike McCausland, Founder and CEO of Leadership Institute for Entrepreneurs. Mike, thanks for being on the show.
Thanks, Bob. I’m excited to be here.
Tell us a little bit about your business and who you serve.
The Leadership Institute for Entrepreneurs is really focused on helping entrepreneurs, all the way from what’s a good business idea through launch growth, scaling, exit, we call it the entrepreneurship journey from end to end. I’ve learned that 99% of the population has no understanding of their purpose. Understanding personal purpose should be tied to the kind of business that you’re going to do. If you don’t love what you’re doing, life can get very difficult in a business. Three to five years to create a sustainable business, that’s a long time to commit your life to something you don’t love doing.
We serve entrepreneurs on this end-to-end entrepreneurship journey. The other thing we’re doing and a lot more of is launching local entrepreneurship ecosystems. We live in Colorado Springs, I think is number nine. Denver’s number five, the Denver Boulder Corridor in entrepreneurship ecosystems in the US. Our market is international and so we’re launching ecosystems all over the world. We actually have seven this year. Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Indonesia, Kenya, Jordan and a relational ecosystem in Rome, Italy of a global network called Open.
I think about that. I would love to take and get an ecosystem in my area. How do they go about getting you to come?
It’s a lot of relational networks. We’ve been all over the world. I ran a nonprofit that was in 150 countries over fifteen years. We ended up shutting it down to move everything to for profit operations because we just believe it’s a better model. The relational aspect is how we figure out where to go and how to help people. Entrepreneurship ecosystems are a big focus worldwide. Some of the leading players in that space, Kauffman Foundation, which many are aware of, but Kauffman just does the United States. They’re in 180 cities. 1 Million Cups, maybe something you’re familiar with, that’s one of their programs or that they’ve produced. The Global Entrepreneurship Network works globally. The Endeavor Global Group is out there globally. The World Economic Forum is out there.
One of the big questions that people are trying to crack the code on is how do you create an entrepreneurship ecosystem and cause economic that engine to start growing? Every mayor in the world ever in every city is interested. Ecosystems are very local. You can’t do a US ecosystem. You can’t do a continental ecosystem. It’s very local. As an example of Colorado Springs, Denver and Boulder, almost three different ecosystems within 100 miles of each other. We go where we already have relational networks. There is some community that has the pieces but they’re just not connected and functional.
What journey did you go through to get to where you are now?
My background is I used to run nuclear power plants. I was a licensed reactor operator and a senior reactor operator, which focuses so much on integrated operations. In the control room you have 5,000 switches, dials, gauges, that all work together. I’m an operations person by heart, a visionary by love. I worked very well with visionaries because I’m a visionary, but I’m a very operational person by training.
Intimacy is the key to success.
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It makes you unusual.
It is unusual and I know that. I’m always looking at how does it work? Lift up the hood, what really makes this thing work? It led to doing a lot of large scale culture transformation and change management projects. I worked in the power utility industry to transform sites that had 1,000 people. I came from a union mentality to a competitive environment because the power utility was deregulating. I did companies up to 20,000 people, I did companies around the world. I’ve always had a heart to help people. We ended up going worldwide and doing a humanitarian organization. I like to say we found 1,000 ways not to help people.
I think we did everything wrong, but we finally landed on two things that were really sustainable. One was disaster preparedness and response, which is like business continuity of operations. The other was job creation and business development. We ended up doing about 3,000 businesses in 40 countries, achieved to 73% sustainability rate, but all micro small business. We learned that that doesn’t transform communities and societies. We went looking for a different a model that we could do fast grow, scalable businesses. That’s where I ended up going to MIT, getting to train their materials on a systematic approach to entrepreneurship. I’m a certified MITx Entrepreneurship Knowledge Partner. We get to use their logo when we’re doing training. That’s what brought us to ecosystems because we learned that the entrepreneurship journey has some core skill sets. The MIT approach is one of them.
I’m scaling up the Rockefeller Habits as an operational core competency or some of the training by Rockies Venture Club up in Denver as core competencies for understanding business valuation and equity and capital raise. The entrepreneurship journey had all these pieces to it, and I’m a very holistic thinker as well. That’s where we evolved the entrepreneurship journey process. It led to the ecosystem because the entrepreneur is the core foundation of the ecosystem. You can have individual entrepreneurs who are very successful, but not an ecosystem.
The ecosystem impacts the whole community. Referencing from our humanitarian days, we were always looking at how do we transform a whole community in the development process? How do we create sustainable solutions? How do we bring people out of poverty to allow them to have access to the things that you and I take for granted like healthcare, education and a good job? We know a number one need in the world is a good job. The entrepreneurship ecosystem is the foundation of that.
I think about Nepal or Afghanistan as a poster child. Perhaps there’s a language barrier. How do you go into a location like that and what’s the baseline that you start with? What’s the receivable for those guys?
In Afghanistan, it would be very different. Nepal would be very different than Nairobi. Kenya would be very different than Amman, Jordan. Each one is a little different of where we’re launching. What we look for as a template is what kind of a network already exists and who’s on the ground. We always work to empower locals. We never want them to be reliant upon us. It’s all about sustainability and the local ecosystem. You begin to look at things that are core like rule of law, contract negotiation and legal framework. If you don’t have some of these core things, you can’t build a community of collaboration, trust and cooperation. There are some key components upfront.
Language barrier is not necessarily a problem. The business language of the world in many cases is English. There are people everywhere that do speak English. If we need translation, we can get that. We’ll translate into Russian and Kazakhstan, we’ll translate it into Indonesian when we’re in Indonesia. The translation is not an issue. The value that we bring to the community is the training, certifying trainers so they can carry on the ground there without our support.
Our goal is to not only launch the ecosystem but move it forward. Just like a business startup, you can go to a class, but then how do you implement? We’ve done a lot of network development all over the world. This is our fifth global decentralized viral growth network. It always must be sustainable locally or you can’t build globally. We create framework, language, and structure for the local capability. The framework, language and structure are the same all over the world, that’s why everybody can connect and play together.
When I say language, I don’t mean local language. I mean language, like what does entrepreneur mean and what are the components of doing a business startup. If we learn those common terms and we all have the same language of discussing business all over the world, we can plug and play a global network.
On the framework establishment, what are the components of the framework?
The framework that we’ve used, a fairly common knowledge tool is the Business Model Canvas. We took the Business Model Canvas and modified it. We have a modified Business Model Canvas as the framework for all the components of not just launching and growing a business, but even other things. We added to it. The whole front-end component of who are you and what are your gifts, skills, talents, purpose and destiny. We call it Identity Driven Entrepreneurship. You launch a business that you love and it’s in line with who you are. Many people get to the top of the success ball wall and find out we hate what we’re doing. We added that Identity Driven piece to the Business Model Canvas.
We also added a whole component on operations. Just figuring out what kind of business you want to launch, is it viable, sustainable, profitable and scalable before you spend any money or commit your life to it? We teach that in the class. Once you launch, you have a whole different set of problems. We took all of that and there’s a lot of information there in the whole journey, and put it into a canvas that has ten blocks, like the typical Business Model Canvas. That framework gives a simplified overview of the end to end journey. When we start digging down into the actual blocks of the canvas, they can get very deep and have a lot of detail. You need to pull back and see that whole framework to keep everything in context. If you have that framework and everybody has that framework, we understand how to work together and how to contextualize.
There are many pieces that have to fit together in an integrated fashion for the entrepreneurship journey to be successful.
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What we very commonly find, both in entrepreneurship and in the ecosystem, is that a lot of people have a lot of pieces but they don’t know how they fit together. That’s very true in business. You could find somebody who’s an expert in marketing, an expert in podcasts, an expert in financials, but there’s many pieces that have to be fit together in an integrated fashion for the entrepreneurship journey to be successful. The same thing is true relative to an entrepreneurship ecosystem. We created a model that’s based on Daniel Isenberg’s work at Babson College. That is to look at six domains in the entrepreneurship ecosystem: leadership and policy, culture, finance, the markets, the human capital, and the support services.
Different people could be good in leadership or in policy or in governance. Some could be good in finances, some could be good in understanding markets and market access. Some people could be good in training, in human capital development like universities, or like what we do with the Leadership Institute for Entrepreneurs. There are other people that provide support services like incubators, accelerators and fractional CFO, professional support services like marketing. How do you connect all of those?
How do you create flow of talent and resources across that whole system? When you get the flow going, that’s where everybody starts benefiting. We can start taking the entrepreneurs which are the core of the ecosystem and helping them get the answers and the support they need at every stage of the entrepreneurship group journey. What’s a good business idea, to how do I launch, to how do I grow, to how do I scale and to how do exit? In different systems, I need different kinds of help.
It’s interesting when you look at personality types, some folks are visionary. I can see it, I just can’t do the details. Other folks are buried in the detail; they can’t see the vision. I’d rather become somewhat enamored with the notion of understanding your exit before entry. If you have the end point in mind, then it makes the journey a little more purposeful.
It’s true not just with your company, it’s true with you personally. That’s where 99% of the population breaks down. Less than 1% understand their purpose. Mark Twain, the two greatest days of your life, the two most important days of your life, the day you’re born and the day you find out why. Investors, the first question they ask is, “What’s your exit strategy?” We should be asking entrepreneurs, “What were you created to do?” before we go build and spend money and spend three to five years of our life
I have a friend that’s in one of the agencies and said we have a bunch of PhDs creating solutions and now they’re in search of a problem. I was just on the wheat harvest here the past couple of days and watching the dance. When the hoppers are full, you’ve got to stop the combine. When the combine doesn’t continue to operate, then you’re delayed in the field. How do you keep the dance going amidst all of the machinery and then what’s the point?
There's nothing worse than the right solution to the wrong problem.
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There’s nothing worse than the right solution to the wrong problem.
In any of the countries, you have a network from your previous experience in all the nonprofits. Is there a champion in the local country? I think we want to bring you folks in to create this infrastructure. How does that process start or occur?
When you asked if there’s a champion, yes. We’re always looking for who’s on the ground. You can go all over the world, you can land anywhere in the world, there’s only a handful of people that get stuff done. There are two kinds of people in that mix. One is catalytic visionaries that cast the vision and people respond. The other are operational architects that actually implement the vision. There are two types of people and typically we look for where are those wed together, where do we see both of them? Ideally, it’s a group that’s already functioning.
Like in Nepal, the Great Commission Companies. There’s a group there that just had been working together for five or six years. There’s about 30 organizations trying to figure out how to work together, bless the community, creates sustainable income, and really be a blessing. That’s a great group to work with. They’re hosting our event in Nepal. It’s being funded by the Maclellan Foundation and then being facilitated by the Leadership Institute for Entrepreneurs.
When your team arrives in the country, how many members are on your team when you arrive?
It varies, typically two to three. As the launch events are not that complex, they’re three days. Day one is an entrepreneurship ecosystem discussion. We run through the playbook that the Kauffman Foundation has built. Why are entrepreneurs important? What is an entrepreneurship ecosystem? How do we create an ecosystem? How do we get started? It’s really geared towards what we would call ecosystem builders. Anybody can be a builder, but who cares enough to want to do that for their community? We do two days of the Disciplined Entrepreneurship training, which is the MIT systematic approach. Not only do we provide a very practical training methodology, systematic approach to entrepreneurship for businesses, and we’re looking at 80 to 100 participants in that training, but we also give them tools to take that training with our videos and facilitation manual. We turn right around and train the next day locally with the facilitation manual and the videos.
We have a small team but the events are not that complex. The challenge is walking it out and implementing it. That’s why the support after the event is almost more important. Whenever you start a team project, you want to get that team as excited as possible. There’s a valley coming when you launch, it’s the same thing in entrepreneurship. It’s very up and down emotionally.
It starts as a sprint and ends up being a marathon. I think about the disparate skill sets in 80 people. I think about you guys coming in with the MIT process. How did MIT arrive at this process?
The author of the book, Disciplined Entrepreneurship: 24 Steps to a Successful Startup is Professor Bill Aulet. It comes off of 25 years and 25,000 startups at MIT. If you took their financial evaluation or revenues out of those 25,000 startups, they’d be the 11th most wealthy nation on the planet. They learned a lot of stuff. They saw it over and over again and then put that into the process.
Are they still teaching this?
Are they certified people like you?
They’re still doing their Global Entrepreneurship boot camps, but they’ve only ever run two instructor boot camps. I was at the second instructor boot camp in 2016. I think there are about 30 of us worldwide that have the label of certified MITx Entrepreneurship Knowledge Partner. I don’t know if they’ll do another one.
Academia has a checkered past in teaching people how to run businesses. MIT has derived theirs from experience.
One of the things I love about MIT, and I’m sure Harvard, Stanford, Yale and other universities have some great programs, but I love the practical application of what MIT has done. As a matter of fact, MIT is now doing these Global Startup Labs and there’s one being run in Kathmandu while I’m there in a couple weeks. We’ll be interfacing with the professor at Kathmandu University, some MIT instructors that are there. I love the fact that they do these boot camps to get into the very practical aspect of launching a business.
Our boot camp is modeled after the MIT’s boot camp. It’s a five-day experience. We go from seven in the morning to midnight every day, maybe longer. You pick a team, you pick an idea, you build out a whole business in one week and present to judges real investors in one week. We call it the closest experience to a real-life startup as you can get. The stress, the pressure, the long days, the long nights and the intensity. MIT has been doing these boot camps now for a while and they’re doing all kinds of them.
When you finish a boot camp and you have your students on the other side, the day after, what are the typical comments that come out of these folks?
If they’ve not been in business before, the typical comment is, “Now it seems doable, you’ve taken away the mystery. I really believe I could do this. I thought I would just go start a business and I never realized how many pieces there were.” About two-thirds of the people that go through our training, not just our boot camp, but even our two-day Disciplined Entrepreneurship course which is included in the boot camp, but it’s broken out as a separate class, are experienced entrepreneurs. We’re running five out of five-star rating across the board, 100%. Some of the common statement from them is, “I now see how the pieces fit together. There were pieces I understood well, but there were pieces I didn’t understand and now they all connect, make sense. I know if I have a problem, I know exactly what’s broken.” Most entrepreneurship is trial and error. Reading books, listening to people tell stories.
That that sounds like a simple statement. I think about the quantity of people. I talked to some folks trying to do a fundraiser the other day. They talked about the history, and they talked about this and that. The investigator says, “What’s my return?” I think there’s a real disconnect between the folks trying to raise the money and the folks trying to invest the money if they don’t know anything about it.
If you're not surprised by what you learn, you probably didn't do enough.
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When we launched the Leadership Institute for Entrepreneurs, we do everything we teach. We did a pretty big market segmentation, a primary market research process, and interviewed eight different segments of markets in the field. We’re looking at almost 100 people. What I found was a very interesting phenomenon, which I didn’t realize. When you do your primary market research, if you’re not surprised by what you learn, you probably didn’t do enough. We learned a very interesting thing and that was lack of deal flow across all segments.
We started saying, “Why is that true?” You’ve got all these people that have ideas. You’ve got to all these people that have money and there’s no deal flow or a lack of. What we found was as we started working with all the investors, Angels and VC, what are you looking for? We had a lot of statements like, “We’re looking for 1 million revenue.” That is the magical VC number in this market segment. That doesn’t tell us how to teach people to meet your expectation for a deal flow.
I struggled with investors trying to give me any guidance on what they were looking for in deal flow until I ran into Rockies Venture Club up in Denver. I can’t say enough good things about my friends, Peter Adams and Dave Harris who run that. What we learned was investors are looking for certain things. First question is, what’s your exit strategy? There are many issues dealing with investors.
The five things, especially upfront team, product, market, market access, and traction, where are you at in all that? Organizations are having a million ideas but not really understanding anything about how to make that idea a reality. How do you get to team, product, market, market access and most importantly, traction? Don’t even go looking for money if you don’t have a business idea that’s already making some money traction.
Most people think, “I’m going to go sell you an idea and you’re going to invest in it.” That’s never going to happen unless you’ve gotten VC money before and then they’ll throw it at you. If you’ve never gotten it before, you’ll never get angel investment and VC money until you actually prove people will buy your product.
There’s a big disconnect between what investors are looking for and what the startup is doing. It’s not about a business plan and an idea, it’s about a functional business that’s got some traction, and now there’s a level of interest. The growth rate of your traction, your year-on-year growth rate, all of those things will make a big difference between, what your company is worth and what investors are willing to invest.
In your experience in teaching all of this, do you find this is taught in academia very much?
It’s very rare. We used to jokingly say that once you’ve got a degree, you’ve got a license to learn. You get out in the real world and it just doesn’t work the way you think it does. I could give you so many examples of problems. I’ll give you one example of the biggest problem I see. An investor asks, “What’s your exit strategy?” My first question I ask in helping the businesses is, “Who is your customer?” Based on the response I get, I will know six to eight problems that they have just by the answer to that one question. I’ll say that 90% or more of the time, the biggest problem I see is people don’t know who their customer is. When you look at why companies fail, they run out of money because they can’t sell their product. They can’t sell their product because they don’t know their customer well enough. Lack of customer intimacy, lack of product market fit, lack of cashflow on selling your product. Most people just don’t know who their customer is.
That seems like such a simplistic approach but it’s not.
As a matter of fact, we hear the statement all the time, you need to know your customer better than anybody else, “What does that mean? Do I get on the phone? Do I talk to them every day? Do I drop in and say hi?” No, that’s about relationship building and that’s really critical to trust. In order to understand your customer, there are many very specific questions that you have to answer. We go through a whole process in the MIT approach on different ways to understand your customer at different stages of where they’re at. We do a primary market research just to validate we’re in the right market sector and the right end user profile before we ever do anything else.
Once we figure out that there’s a valid need and we’re solving a problem in this market, then we move on to things like the full life cycle use case wherein there are ten questions. How does the customer know they have a problem? How does the customer search for an answer? How does the customer find you? How does the customer analyze you against the competition? How do they make a decision to buy? How do they buy? How do they install? How do they use? How do they quantify the value they gained? How do they buy more? How do they tell others? All of these are very specific questions for every different customer.
It’s also simplistic. There’s a difference between simple and easy.
Entrepreneurship is hard, but failure is harder, so it's worth the work to ensure success.
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It’s not rocket science. It’s just a lot of work. One of the things I love to say is entrepreneurship is hard but failure is harder, so it’s worth the work to ensure success. That’s the other thing that I hear regularly is this is a lot of work. I’ll say, yes.
They’ll say, “I want to run my own business, so I’m a boss.” You haven’t run a business before.
No, you’re a servant to everybody.
For the folks who go, “What about if I want to get trained by you domestically?” How does that occur?
We do a lot of different kinds of training. We do live training, we have courses regularly here in Colorado Springs that are open courses and we’re willing to do them in other cities with partners. We also do a lot of in-house courses and we will come in and train your staff in-house. We have four courses that are up and running, we have more coming. The core is Disciplined Entrepreneurship. The second one is Identity Driven Entrepreneurship. We also do a course on Curating, Scaling and Managing Culture from 30 years of culture management at very large scales.
We also have one on the DISC: A Language for Behavior, which is the most widely used model in the world for behavioral styles. There are also online courses, self-paced. There’s also a field facilitation package that we’re building and we’ve already got the Disciplined Entrepreneurship done. It’s where you can download those videos, take them into your company or take them into the field with the facilitation manual and train them anywhere in the world. Those are some of the ways that we train.
In so much of business building, when you read a book you’ll go, “I get it but now what?”
We’re looking at different models right now. We do five basic things, content and we have a lot of free content and a lot more coming. We’re just content-rich. We’re also doing a premium level, what we call The Entrepreneur’s Club, which gives you access to all of our videos, all of our materials for a regular price. We’re looking at some different coaching models and we’re still evolving that. Capital and access to capital because we have a lot of people with money looking for the deals. Last is community.
This is where we’re launching the other community part, it’s called the Global Entrepreneurship Alliance, GEAlliance.org. We will not own that community. We will power it and the community will own it. That’s a new launch that will be coming up. That’s for the community to connect on these different domains in the ecosystem. There’s also creating groups and forums, like tech sector group, agriculture group or people that want to solve great big problems, they can be local and they can be global. All of that’s coming as another opportunity as well. Those are the five things we do: content, courses, coaching capital and community.
For the folks going, “How do I find you?” Where do they find you on social media?
We’re on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, the website and I know there are a couple of others. We have people running all of our social media stuff. On Facebook, the best one that we post with every day, three to five articles a day on Facebook is, LIFEntrepreneurs. We have a LinkedIn account, we have an Instagram account. The website is LifeStartups.com.
We’ll shift gears here a little bit. For this part, most recent book or most influential book that you’ve read that’s altered your perception about being the founder or CEO?
The Disciplined Entrepreneurship book by Bill Aulet, that’s probably the most significant book I’ve read, relative to if you’re going to start an organization. It has all the things that you need to think about. Once you launch, then the Scaling Up by Verne Harnish. Those are two phenomenal books on understanding that entrepreneurship journey.
Looking back over time, what failure or at the time and apparent failure has served you or your company best or set you up for future achievement and why?
We did about 3,000 businesses in 40 countries and learned a thousand ways not to help people and landed on job creation. We loved doing the micro loans, we had funds in eight countries and did a lot of micro loans in micro development. We found that we just couldn’t help the whole community. Our desire was really to see a larger scale change. As a side note, McKinsey Global Institute produced a study recently that said we could see 830 million jobs lost in the next twelve years by 2030. Another study showing that we’re looking at about 100 million startups per year. We’re looking at this major economic shift from big companies to human-centered companies.
What we learned was if we’re really going to help society, we need to get into businesses that hire people and create wealth so we can have social impact and philanthropy in a totally different way. It also has to become very sustainable. That was a big lesson for us. We were very successful, 73% sustainability and first-time startups is seven times the average. We still weren’t having a big impact. That’s where we started looking at fast growth, scalable companies all over the world.
Teach the teachers.
Teach those that are going to hire.
If you could put an ad on page one of maybe the local paper, when you go into a community like in Nepal sharing the company message or advice, what would it say and why?
People were created to be creative and that creative ability in each one of us has to be unleashed to help solve the problems of our world.
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I think about people in general, you were created to be creative. Society has a lot of problems. The creative ability that each one has, to unleash within us, to help solve the problems of our world, you too can be an entrepreneur. Everyone can be an entrepreneur. Not everybody can lead the entrepreneurship team but the creative capability that everybody has, everybody can be an entrepreneur. I think that’s a big message, you were created to be an entrepreneur, how can we unlock that?
You think about all the steps through your life that take that creative step out of you. Don’t cross the line and don’t speed. I can remember as a little kid be seen and not heard at the dinner table.
I think in education, because I do a lot on advanced learning skills and educational learning processes, especially for adults because I still train in power plants, it’s how to learn fast. I think one of the studies showed and I don’t remember the exact numbers, but the creativity in children before they go to school by second grade, they’ve lost something like 80% of it.
I understand mainstreaming, you have a lot of people to get through the hoop. You can’t have 30 individuals in one room going in 30 different directions. At the same time, I think about the simple thing of selling. Does anybody ever talk to selling at school? I don’t think so.
That’s why we’re such a proponent of taking entrepreneurship all the way down to kindergarten. You can do it. MIT is working with a group that’s going into schools and starting to look at processes on how to train down into elementary school. I think about the mind shift it as a kid. I mowed yards soon as I can see over with the handles. The reward for doing it is I had my own money to buy what I wanted to. I also had quality control. My father was an NCO. He would come behind me and check my work.
One of the big things that we learned internationally as we worked all over the world was the damage of giving people free stuff. It gave a hand to destroying dignity, stifling creativity, getting rid of any concept of personal responsibility and ownership. This concept of entitlement mentality is one that’s learned because of what people are given as free stuff. There are a lot of books on it, Toxic Charity, Do No Harm, those kinds of books that are out there. We see it in our everyday life with our children, in our society. We’re all created to be owners, we’re all created to be responsible and we’ve been trained to be otherwise. We want to unlock, unleash and move people back into that original design of how we were created.
I’ve heard many times, “I’m X years old and I shouldn’t have to deal with this anymore.” That’s an entitlement issue. Why do you think that you’re not supposed to do this? The part that I was really looking forward to chat with you about is people aren’t trained to build their business. I have a biology major. What did that qualify me to do? Nothing. If you could teach people how to build a business, start a business, to be an entrepreneur, sell, you have a function inside of business in the college. I don’t know if that’s still being done today.
Entrepreneurship too is a very different training process. Entrepreneurs are very hands on, they get stuff done. Sitting in a classroom is very difficult and almost antithetical to what they think and believe. As a matter of fact, if you are a successful entrepreneur and you don’t even have a high school education, you’re even more of a hero. The top startups today by a Kauffman Foundation study, age group 55 to 65, education less than high school.
What was the best allocation of either time or initiative that’s helped your company most?
Investing 10% of your time into the future is a survival skill today because if you're not learning fast, you're going to be in trouble.
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Part of our core values is being a learner. I think investing 10% of your time into the future is a survival skill. If you’re not learning fast, you’re going to be in trouble. The exponential rate of change today is so high that if you’re not learning, you’re already falling behind. I’ve heard a statement that knowledge on planet Earth today is doubling every 72 hours.
For you, what does that look like? If somebody says, “I want to emulate the learning process,” what do you do?
There’s a statistic out there that at 24 books a year, A-level players versus B-level players. A-level players read 24 or more books a year. Reading is a significant experience. I’m also a very rapid learner. Not only do I read a lot, I’ll listen to podcasts. I also scour the Internet on stuff I’m interested in and will regularly download articles and read a lot. It’s all about bringing in new information, new perspectives. I think the other thing is diversity. Engage people that don’t think like you do because if you don’t do that, you get to be very one-sided in your thought process. I think that’s true in male and female as well. We’re engaging a lot of women in what we do because we believe they have a different perception of what we do as men. I think that’s very critical. Those are some of the core things of diversity, constant learning and being around people that challenge you and make you think.
It’s that cross-pollination.
The same thing is true with cultures internationally.
What is your most unusual habit or what others may consider out of the ordinary that’s helped you or your company?
I’m a machine in many ways. I work at [5:00] AM to [10:00] PM every day, seven days a week. People will go, “How can you work that much?” My response is I’m not really working. If you love what you do, you’ll spend time doing the things that you love. My wife and I have a very good relationship. We just celebrated 41 years, but we work really well together. We understand each other really well. I take regular breaks, we do a lot of different things but I’m a workaholic in many ways. When you look at work-life balance, what works for one couple or one group may not work for another. I think that most people that know me think I’m crazy because of how much I work.
What I’m doing in the Leadership Institute for Entrepreneurs is a convergence of what I call the Ikigai model that we actually teach. Ikigai is a term out of Japan that talks about four things. What do you love to do? What are you good? What can you get paid for? What does the world need? That is a blend of profession, vocation, passion and mission. When they converge, you find out why you get up in the morning. We take people through that process and our Identity Driven Entrepreneurship course. I know mine, so I know why I get up. Everyday I’m thinking about these things because we want to serve people and entrepreneurs to make life better all over the world. I spend a lot of time focused on that.
Over the past three years, what belief or protocol have you established in the company that’s most impacted the success of your company?
We are very high on get it done and now and get it done right. The whole idea of fast, flexible, adaptable, pivot, learn, grow, fail, and keep moving. It comes back to that learning culture. We’re very action-oriented and very learning minded.
In that process, when you or anybody in the organization make a mistake, what do you guys do to say, if we’re going to have a mistake, what did we learn from it? How do we profit from it?
We celebrate failure. I show an article from WD-40 that company that gives two round the world trip tickets to the ones with the biggest failure in the company. What a different mindset. Mindset by Carol Dweck out of Stanford talks a lot about this mindset of antifragility in this world. It’s not about that there’s a high failure in entrepreneurship startups. The reality is failure is part of life, and failure is the price for learning.
We are constantly asking, “What did we learn from that? What are we going to do different? How are we going to try something else?” We view it as a very valuable thing. Not something to be shunned or something to have negative penalties. You’ve probably heard an old story about IBM where a guy made $1 million mistake. They went into his boss and said, “We lost $1 million because of this guy. We’re going to fire him.” The boss said, “I paid a $1 million for that lesson. Why would we fire him?”
It’s the repetitive same mistake. That’s the challenge.
That’s correct, not learning.
What advice would you offer to a new CEO or founder that’s assuming the role of CEO for the first time?
Read the book Disciplined Entrepreneurship or come to our course and understand if the business is viable, sustainable, profitable and scalable before you spend the next three to five years of your life working on it. If there are challenges, you’re taking over a business and there are problems, you’ll know exactly why those problems exist. You’ll focus on fixing specific solutions. Remember, the biggest problem is to know what the problem is.
When you think about the skillset differential inside of a family, there are going to be variations. How do you teach the family the core competency of business to celebrate the differentials between family members?
I come back to talking about the Disciplined Entrepreneurship book, which is core competencies. Let me say something about families right now because I’m a high proponent of hiring family, which you’ll hear people talk about, don’t do that at all. My response to that is you train them to the level of their capability and use them to their gifting and purpose. Find their place of fit and keep developing them. The friends that I have, the Herschend Family Entertainment, Peter Herschend out of Branson, Missouri. They made their children go through every facet of the organization before they became leaders of the organizations. They made them learn every part of the organization, but then put them in places where they were gifted and equipped.
They understand, “I’ve pushed a broom, I’ve cleaned.”
Peter did that. That was a wonderful thing just to watch them build the company that they have and pass it onto their family. I’m high proponent of doing family but spend a lot of time training them and put them in their place of gifting. Don’t promote them beyond their capabilities.
Don’t set them up for failure. That’s hard for the family to do and it’s hard for that family member. What if you’re the world’s best E-6 artillery guy? You’re not going to be the master sergeant. What’s the most common misconception about you or your role as CEO?
I think in our business it’s about the fact that we just do training programs. We do a whole lot more in this entrepreneurship journey in the ecosystem. I think the other thing I mentioned earlier, everyone’s an entrepreneur, but not everyone can lead and entrepreneurship initiative. The weight of leadership, being the final decision maker, and having the lives of people that work for you as part of your responsibility. I don’t think that’s something you can understand without doing it. It’s like having kids. You can babysit all you want but until you have your own, you do not understand what it takes to raise a child. I think the biggest misconception or lack of understanding is the pressure and the weight of the position. You don’t know that until you do that and then it’s overwhelming.
It's not about what do you want to do, it's about what problem are you passionate about solving.
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Over the past three years, what would or should you have said no to?
One of the things that’s common and it happens even with us is that when you go after a target market, the reason that you segment your market when you launch a business is because you have limited time and resources. Different markets require different solutions. The whole key in success of an early stage businesses is a customized solution to a very specific market, so you have 100% solution. People talk about an 80% solution, but they don’t buy it.
The biggest problem is to go after or service markets that are not in your market segment. It’s okay if they show up and you don’t have to do anything else to serve them, but it’s not okay to start building solution sets for different markets. That’s the number one reason you’re going to fail, is you’re going to dilute your focus on your primary market. I regularly work with companies that are already running because now we can just go right in and focus on what the problem is. Inside a company that had five different income streams and one income stream, brought in 66% of the revenue. Focus all your energy there.
You see it time and time again, it’s got to be human nature.
I think it’s human nature and most sales organizations and management cannot comprehend the idea of don’t just sell to everybody that wants to buy. You’re a sales-driven organization. The reality is to be successful, you have to focus on the segmented market with a customized solution, win market share, and then do market expansion of market penetration or product line expansion.
On the day-to-day operation of your company as CEO, what is your personal habit or self-talk that keeps you in the company focused?
There’s so much about entrepreneurship that is emotionally up and down in the rollercoaster. One day you suck, and the next day you’re taking on the world and everything’s rosy. The next day you look like you’re going to not make it. The thing that keeps me going is to come back to this Identity Driven Entrepreneurship. This concept of Ikigai, I know why I get up in the morning. When I have really tough days and you have them as a leader, my response to myself is, what are you going to go do? You were created for this. Everything that you are converges in this, what else are you going to do? You can’t quit because you’d be walking away from what you were created to be. I think a lot of people don’t have that and that’s why they’re always self-guessing. That’s why they’re always on the border of, “Should I quit? Should I keep on going?” I saw an article around 70% in America, 80% in China do not love what they do. Even the concept of retirement itself. Does that mean lack of purpose? Do you just wander around doing nothing? Do you know how many people crash and burn die because they have no purpose in life once they retire?
I’m on feet first retirement plan. I’m going to die in the job because I like what I do. How far down the road can you do your job that you don’t like? That’s your choice.
The other big issue, this is a big discussion that I had with Millennials. It would be very difficult to make enough money in your lifetime to retire if you’re going to retire. For me, retirement is doing what I want when I want because I have the money to do that. It’s not stopping working. In reality, if you don’t start a company, own it or own equity in a company, having a retirement vehicle is a very limited opportunity. Pension plans and retirement funds and all of that are very limited in what they’re going to produce for you when you look at this late stage retirement of, “I can do what I want when I want.” It’s not retirement but having flexibility. It’s hard to save enough money to do that. Ownership or equity are big issues relative to having the finances down the road.
I saw some statistic. It was either 80% or 90% of the folks worth more than $20 million are business owners. How do I get there? I was math pre-med in biology and chemistry and that stuff. What does one do with that? I never took an economy class. I never took a business class.
I could give you about 100 ideas.
It’s an interesting training ground and I don’t think that we get that much training. You have to go find your mentor.
You have to understand that it’s not about what do you want to do, it’s about what problem are you passionate about solving and who has pain and urgency to solve that problem. That’s the core of business.
Is that problem one that somebody can pay you to solve for them? It’s because they don’t have the money to solve a problem.
You don’t have a business until you have a paying customer.
What’s a good quote you find meaningful or one that you use frequently? I don’t know if that was it?
There’s a number of them. Customer intimacy is the key to success. I think those are very important concepts. The best customer is the one you already have, which goes into a lot of financials, of cost of customer acquisition, and lifetime value of a customer for your financials and your build out. I love Mark Twain’s statement, the two most important days of your life. That’s what drives everything. The day you’re born, the day you find out why. If you find out why, and who are you in all of your assets, gifts, skills, and talents, is your destiny and your purpose. You don’t have to wait until you’re lying on your death bed. You can take that look back at any time and start to understand what you were created to be and do. I think the quote by Mark Twain is such a key one because most people don’t know why.
If colleagues were asked what you’re best at, what would they say and how to utilize the strength on a day to day basis?
My gifts are really two things, and people say that as well. One is the ability to assimilate a lot of data. That’s why I’m constantly learning and getting data and what does that mean into a picture. The other thing is the skill set to operationally architect solutions. I call myself an operational architect. That’s really one of the biggest things that I’m known for. Whatever the vision is, wherever we’re trying to go, whatever we’re trying to do, what’s the operational architecture that will make that work? I love to architect it and work with people to architect it as a crowdsource solution, but then I don’t like to run it after we build it.
I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you coming down. This has been fun. I wish you great success and safe travels as you go out and try to redeem the planet.
Thanks, Bob. I really enjoyed being with you and look forward to further discussions.
- Leadership Institute for Entrepreneurs
- Kauffman Foundation
- 1 Million Cups
- Identity Driven Entrepreneurship
- Disciplined Entrepreneurship: 24 Steps to a Successful Startup
- Disciplined Entrepreneurship
- Identity Driven Entrepreneurship
- Curating, Scaling and Managing Culture
- DISC: A Language for Behavior
- LIFEntrepreneurs – Facebook
- Leadership Institute for Entrepreneurs on LinkedIn
- Scaling Up
- Toxic Charity
- Do No Harm
- Herschend Family Entertainment
About Mike McCausland
Michael is the CEO of McCausland Associates International LLC, a Colorado Springs, CO based consulting firm providing end-to-end solutions for strategy development, organizational alignment, and culture management practices. Michael started his career as an NRC licensed nuclear power plant Reactor Operator and then moved into training design and delivery. As the power utilities began to deregulate he formed a consulting company focused on rapid, large-scale change management and culture transformation. In addition to large-scale change, Michael specializes in the people side of change including culture design and development.
On the non-profit side, Michael was a Founder and the Executive Director of a non-profit operating in more than 150 countries over a 15-year time span. During his tenure, the organization launched two global networks; one focused on business development and the other on disaster preparedness and response. Michael is now focused on launching the Leadership Institute For Entrepreneurs (LIFE) to help emerging entrepreneurs with a whole product solution ranging from ideation all the way to operations and scaling and a supporting ecosystem for funding and growth support. Michael is certified by MITx to train the Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamp course curriculum.
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