Jamie Henderson [jhenderson]
What is the business idea that you are working on right now? How did you come up with it?
Right Side of the Curve is an online community for parents and teachers of gifted children. We will have experts in the field provide articles and advice, but the real meat of the site is that members will be able to share their questions, concerns and experience with each other.
Is there a website, blog or social media link where we can see more about your project and/or yourself?
Yes - we have a facebook page and a website.
What is your professional background? What were you doing before?
I have been a management consultant and business coach for many years. I started as a consultant with a small firm that specialized in process improvement for insurance companies and banks, and over the years have become very adept at working with people to document and improve business processes.
How did the entrepreneurial spirit rise up in you? Were you exposed to entrepreneurship in your family or your social environment when you were a child?
My family has historically been farmers. Mom and Dad both were both teachers, but my grandparents on both sides were very entrepreneurial, and several members of my extended family are business owners. I think that by it's very nature, growing up in an agricultural community develops an entrepreneurial spirit.
Do you have partners working with you on this? How do you split the work with them?
Yes. My business partner is primarily handling the technical side of the business - making sure that the site works the way we have envisioned it. He is also working on the internet marketing aspect of the business - SEO and developing a social media infrastructure. I have primary responsibility for recruiting contributors and making connections in the world of gifted education. That said, we are both working hard to create a buzz around the business and get more content to make the site useful for members.
Describe your business plan as briefly and simply as possible.
Our primary source of income will be membership fees. We are also going to participate in affiliate programs with a few selected vendors.
What have you achieved up to now? What have you yet to achieve?
We are in the early stages of developing the business. Our website is up and running, and we are starting to develop a network of contributors - people with expertise in the field of gifted education who can contribute articles and give advice to our members.
Are you looking for investors? What are you offering in exchange for what?
Do you have employees or people that you outsource tasks to? What do they do?
My partnership with Andrew began as outsourcing. I hired his company, SR Solutions (http://www.sr-solutions.co.uk/), to do some configuration on the site. As we started talking, he got interested in getting actively involved with the project, and I was increasingly pleased with the quality of his work and the ideas we generated together.
As the site grows and we continue to develop new contributors, we may have to bring in some additional people to help keep the flow of articles moving and on point, but we'll see how it works out.
Entrepreneurs have a reputation as "control freaks." How do you avoid that?
I certainly have that tendency and am constantly on the alert, to make sure that I'm not trying to do everything, and listening for good suggestions and advice. The only way this business will be successful is if we are able to develop and maintain a collaborative culture. So far, so good!
How do you balance work with relaxation?
Right now, I'm not doing so well with the balance. The work is exciting and something I'm passionate about, so it's easy to get lost in doing things. I have to force myself to stop working and take time out to spend time with my family, and to just relax.
What is your main motivation: being your own boss, adventure and discovery, getting rich, doing good for others, or is there something else?
There are a couple of answers to that. First, I have always wanted to be my own boss, and am frankly not that great as an employee. As a consultant, my professional training was to find better ways to do things and to find out why a manager isn't as effective as they could be. Those traits havent' generally been appreciated by the people I've worked for.
Second, I believe that what we are out to accomplish with Right Side of the Curve will really make a difference. Academically gifted kids are generally underserved by most school systems. State sponsored schools are typically geared towards the 'normal' student. Students that struggle frequently receive additional support. But there is an erronious assumption that because gifted kids are smart, they will be alright on their own. It's just not true. By raising awareness about the needs of gifted children, and by providing their parents and teachers with a great source of information and support about how to better serve those kids, we can make a contribution to all our stakeholders.
What do you think of big corporations? Would you work for one?
I have worked for and in big corporations. For some things, they can't be beat. Size creates an economy of scale that helps keep prices low and provides a level of standardization for commodity goods and services that small business can't match. Unfortunately that frequently comes at a cost, and I think most employees in a big company don't feel connected to the way their work has an impact in the world.
And as a consultant, most of the clients that I worked with used consultants as a way to standardize processes so that they could do work with fewer people. The concept of loyalty between a company and it's employees is a thing of the past. At some point, employees stopped being people and started becoming FTE's - just a number. Job security is only an illusion these days, as witnessed by the number of people out of work and the proliferation of contractors at most large firms.
Describe two moments of maximum fear and maximum satisfaction that you have lived through in your business adventure.
I am in a low level state of fear all the time right now. What if we can't get contributors, or if we don't get any members? Will I have to take on a client project to pay the bills, and if so will I be able to maintain the focus needed to keep the business going?
But then I mention the project to someone and they get excited about it. Every time someone says they will contribute articles or gives me a new idea for how we can provide value it gives me a rush!
When you need guidance or advice, where do you find it?
I'm lucky to have a good business partner - we can bounce ideas and get suggestions from each other. Beyond that, I have a strong circle of friends with great experience. I frequently go to them when something stumps me.
Up to what point is luck is important? How do you attract it?
I am not sure there is much luck involved. Over the years, I've developed a big network of connections - 2800 first degree connections on LinkedIn, and 1100 names in my personal address book. Because of that, I've been able to make several connections that are helping grow the business.
I don't think you can attract luck, but we do attract people to us by being passionate, enthusiastic and open. We are excited about the project, and I think people sense that excitement and it's catching - so they want to get involved. And the more people who get involved increase our chances of success.
What do you do to maintain morale and continue persevering in low times?
I give myself a little time to grieve or suffer over a disappointment, and then get on with it. Sometimes, just talking through that disappointment helps it go away.
I also have a plan to follow, so it helps keep me focused on what needs to happen.
Which well known entrepreneurs/enterprises do you admire? Why?
Richard Branson is one of the people I admire. He has been able to create successful businesses because he attracts great people, and because he has the courage and perserverance to get things done.
Benjamin Franklin is another - he was always curious about things, and kept forging ahead with projects he believed in. He was a wealthy man when he died, but more importantly he never stopped learning.
What other types of businesses are you frequently tempted by?
If there is an aspect of helping people develop their abilities and expand their universe, then I'm probably tempted. I am developing a coaching practice, because I want people to help people grow, both personally and professionally.
Are these times of crisis good for beginning a business?
Maybe times could be better, or the economy stronger, but who knows when that might happen. Today is the only time we have, so why wait?
How important have PR and social media been for you?
We are spending a lot of time developing social media marketing channels. Andrew actually created our FaceBook page today, and is planning to create a twitter feed as well. Word of mouth is going to be a major factor in our success!
What would you call success? Where would you like your business to be five years from now?
We think that it entirely possible to have 20,000 members on the site. That will certainly provide some financial success. From a personal perspective, we'll be successful when our members start talking about successes they have had from being part of our community. When a parent says that their kid is doing better in school, or is just happier because of something they learned from talking to another parent or one of our experts - then we'll know we are making a difference.
What skills would you advise a want-to-be-entrepreneur to acquire?
First, plan - know what you want to get done and how you are going to go about getting that done. Know when to stay focused, and when its ok to take on other projects.
Second, find good people to work with. There is no joy in taking it all on yourself. In today's world, there is just too much to know for one person to be an expert in all aspects of the buiness.
Third, be persistent. There will be disappointments and hard work. You have to keep moving forward in spite of that.
Finally, find your passion. Some people do start business just to make money, and there's nothing wrong with that. But if you start a company to solve a problem you are passionate about, it can keep you going when things get hard, and give you more than one way to measure success.
Downers Grove, IL USA