startup milwaukeean

Startup Milwaukeean of the Week: Jeff Koser

jeffk-zebras Jeff is the spirited leader of Selling to Zebras, Inc., a metrics-driven software sales enablement company.

Passionate about changing the way organizations sell, Jeff provides sales professionals with processes, tools and software that improve sales and emphasize results over busy work.  Most recently, under Jeff’s leadership, Selling to Zebras developed software that empowers sales people to manage the Selling to Zebras process in real time from the field.

Jeff has more than 30 years’ experience in leadership roles in sales, operations and marketing. He is the award-winning co-author of Selling to Zebras HOW TO CLOSE 90% of the BUSINESS YOU PURSUE FASTER, MORE EASILY and MORE PROFITABLY.  In 2010, he was recognized as one of the best sales authors of all time in the book, The Sales Gurus.

Prior to founding Selling to Zebras, Jeff was Chief Operations Officer for Baan Supply Chain Solutions. Under his leadership, revenues grew more than tenfold in five years. Earlier in his career, Jeff held management and sales positions at companies such as NCR Corporation, MAI Basic Four and Xerox Computer Services.

At what point did you become interested in entrepreneurship?

In 1994 I joined a small Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software company headquartered in The Netherlands. Our first task was to figure out how to compete and win against large formidable companies like Oracle and SAP. We developed a profile of the type company who would have the courage to buy from a software company that they had never heard of. We failed early, and often. The excitement of figuring out everything, from the go-to-market strategy, to basic business functions like payroll and expense check processing, was intoxicating.

What has been the largest difficulty you have faced as an entrepreneur?

The most difficult part of being an entrepreneur is creating leverage. Key resources have to be leveraged across the business to allow it to scale. Scale helps create the balance necessary so principles can work on the business rather than continuously working in the business. Someone once told me if “you are the business” then you don’t have a business. Those words stuck with me. We constantly work on creating the proper balance so the business can scale.

What makes Milwaukee a unique place to start a company?

As you read in the introduction we are a sales enablement company with software and services that helps companies sell more. One of our deliverables is “the Zebra”. A Zebra is the profile of the perfect prospect. We also have a Zebra for our business. The Selling to Zebras – Zebra includes a description of the desired cultural fit between us and our customers. Our relationship with and the culture between us and our customers sets the tone for our entire business.

Milwaukee is a great place to start a business because of the people. The Milwaukee area university-level education system delivers people who are well rounded, grounded, honest, hard-working and nice. The culture of the business is the business. Milwaukee people allow us to build a business that is fun and makes a difference for our customers.

And it also helps that they are all Packer fans!

What piece of advice do you have for new start-ups?

Learn every week. Adjust your vision as soon as you have better information. Sell only to Zebras.

What was your favorite musical artist as a teenager?

Bob Dylan. Blood on the Tracks was my favorite Dylan album. Bob couldn’t sing back then either – but his lyrics were raw and incredible.

Connect with Jeff:

Startup Milwaukean of the Week: Derrick L. Johnson

Somewhere along the line, the Jetsons weren’t cool enough and Hannah Barbara, an animation studio, stopped telling us about the future. It seems, we forgot how to dream… djstartupmilwaukeean

Derrick L. Johnson is Founder & Director of Dream MKE, an initiative dedicated to developing a culture of innovation in underserved communities in Milwaukee.

Dream MKE has a goal to develop pathways for individuals who have ideas, but don’t know the next steps—people who have transferable skills but lack the opportunity, and others who are simply looking to leverage technology to change the world. We believe that by integrating modern technologies into underserved communities, we can create positive systemic change.

At what point did you become interested in entrepreneurship?

My favorite definition of entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled. With that said, my first taste of entrepreneurship was in seventh grade, where I fixed computers for family members and friends. This lead to a development of inquisitiveness around technology. I remember taking apart clocks and reassembling them. I would use my Lionel train set to explore the boundaries to find the precise speed in which my train would topple the tracks but not derail. In retrospect, it was my mind’s way of creating thought models and frameworks to understand problems. It’s the breadth of these experiences that put me on my path today.  

What has been the largest difficulty you’ve faced as an entrepreneur?

The most difficult thing about entrepreneurship has been finding individuals who see value in nontraditional opportunities. While it has been fairly easy for us to find the next clothing line, restaurant or real estate investor, finding functional entrepreneurs who are willing to search for that nightmare problem, solve the problem and monetize that solution has been difficult. Thus finding the right problem to solve and having the persistence to select another problem—even when you realize you got the 31st try wrongis essential. Almost any problem can be solved when the people trying to solve them are removed from restrictive systems and given enough time. There is a delicate trifecta that epitomizes entrepreneurship; it’s this balance of time, risk and opportunity that eludes even the brightest minds.

What makes Milwaukee a unique place to start a company?

Milwaukee is a great place to start a company because leaders and mentors have an intrinsic, vested stake in helping the next generation become successful. We see this epitomized in the launch of BrightStar Wisconsin Foundation, where investors are exploring a philanthropic investing model. Honesty, more leaders are accessible here. Simply having the ability to call individuals who have achieved success (and they actually pick up) and share their advice has been tremendous. 

What piece of advice do you have for new startup companies?

Find people who inspire you. Find individuals who have a different worldview than you do.

Also, ask what people need: What’s bothering them? What’s hassling them? What’s costing them money? What’s keeping them from getting what they want? Ask how could you help these people do their job better.

What was your dream job as a child?

When I was a child I wanted to be a music producer. I was raised around music. My grandmother worked at WGCI in Chicago, so our house was filled with enough vinyl to fill a few bedrooms. In my early twenties, I worked as a recording engineer, won Milwaukee’s first Dynamic Producer beat battle and even met a few superstars. However, THE biggest highlight was getting a positive feedback from Teddy Riley, one of my favorite producers.

Startup Milwaukeean of the Week: McGee Young

McGee Young is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Marquette University. His company, MPSP, LLC, markets H2Oscore, a water conservation program for cities that uses online water use dashboards and a rewards program to motivate residents to conserve. H2Oscore dashboards are currently being used in four cities in Wisconsin—Whitewater, Milwaukee, Grafton and Waukesha. mcgeemilwaukeean

At what point did you become interested in entrepreneurship?

My family has a long history of entrepreneurship, so it’s been part of my life since I was a child. However, my first big idea came to me in college when I wanted to start an airport internet service. This was in 1994, right after our campus was wired and we all started using the Mosaic browser. My roommate and I were going to take out student loans, buy computers and get them hooked up to the internet at the airport and make a fortune, even if we didn’t really understand how to hook computers up to the internet. We were talked out of it by people who “knew better,” who said that nobody would ever want to browse the internet at the airport.

What has been the biggest difficulty you’ve faced as an entrepreneur?

Ha! To single out one particular difficulty would be insulting to all of the other difficulties that are faced on a daily basis. That being said, time management is probably the biggest challenge. With another job, a family and a desire to have a life, figuring out how to allocate time among competing responsibilities is always tough.

As a non-technical founder of a software company, managing the technical development of the site can also be challenging. We don’t have a technical co-founder or CTO, so we haven’t had the ability to “solve” our business problems by simply writing more code. However, we’ve actually built a better business model because of those challenges.

What makes Milwaukee a unique place to start a company?

Milwaukee is still organized around its industrial past. The civic and business community is hierarchical and tends to close ranks around incremental approaches to change. Companies that fit the traditional mold tend to do better here. As a startup, it’s a fine line to walk between disrupting existing markets and finding a safe business model that is easily understood by investors.

What piece of advice do you have for new startup companies?

Our company gained a lot of traction when we talked to potential customers; and we wasted a lot of time when we acted on ideas that had only been discussed within the office. Because technology has made starting a company so much easier, the real challenge for startup companies today is finding a sustainable business model. Focus on the business model early and use tools like LaunchRock and Optimizely to understand your value proposition to your customers.

Which books are on your reading list right now?

I mainly read “The Lean Startup" over and over again! Aside from that, a friend just recommended "Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage" as a way to put the trials and tribulations of entrepreneurship in the proper perspective. My daughter and I are currently working our way through the "Magic Treehouse" series.

Quick Facts:

Startup Milwaukeean of the Week: LeMarc Johnson

LeMarc Johnson is Co-Founder and CEO of Nightstir, a mobile Nightlife Communication platform that allows you to create and share nightlife plans. He’s also a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, graduating with a degree in Marketing this summer. lemarc-milwaukeean

At what point did you become interested in entrepreneurship?

I knew a long time ago that working my way up the “corporate ladder” wasn’t for me. It’s becoming more and more difficult to come in at an entry level position and work your way to the top. In high school, I knew that I wanted to be my own boss and build my own successes instead of working for someone to build theirs. So two years ago, I literally sat down one day and started thinking of problems I could solve. Social problems that presented themselves to me and my generation. I saw that there was no longer a platform for college students/young adults to really communicate, share and plan nightlife activities with a select group of people. That’s when I come up with the predecessor of Nightstir, which was a web-based version of the platform.

My co-founder (and roommate at the time) and I set up an LLC, hired a freelancer and started getting after it. That’s the thing about entrepreneurship—anyone can turn an idea into a reality. All it takes is the will, drive and motivation to get off your butt and do something about the problem you want to solve. NO ONE is stopping you except you.

What has been the largest difficulty you have faced as an entrepreneur?

The biggest difficulty I’ve personally run into is sourcing technical talent. There’s an abundance of tech talent on the east and west coasts, whom of which will work for sweat equity just to get their feet wet. Here in the Midwest, sourcing the technical talent required to produce quality code is a little bit more difficult. I’ve been lucky enough to put together a strong dev team, but I know some fellow entrepreneurs who struggle with this constantly.

What makes Milwaukee a unique place to start a company?

Milwaukee is a very up-and-coming city, especially for the tech/startup space. We get all the amenities of a big city, without all of the clutter and over-crowding of cities like New York and Chicago. We’re home to national and international brands, beaches, Summerfest, professional sports teams, etc. So there are so many unique venture opportunities here that just haven’t been discovered yet. Milwaukeeans have been presented with a very unique opportunity to uncover these future businesses. It’s a very exciting time for entrepreneurs here. I can see a very big surge of venture capital firms seizing more and more opportunities in Milwaukee over the next couple of years—it’s already happening.

What piece of advice do you have for new startups?

Never give up. At times you may be feeling down on yourself, and you may even want to throw in the towel. You have to rid yourself of self doubt and keep telling yourself that the company you’re creating WILL be successful. This is the “self-fulfilling prophecy.” You may fall a few times before your rise to the top, but every great entrepreneur has experienced the same types of thoughts and kept driving on anyway. These are words that my teammates and I live by. We know it won’t be easy because nothing worth having ever is.

Who is the most interesting person you’ve met since you began working on Nightstir?

I think the most interesting person I’ve met since working on Nighstir is serial entrepreneur Bob Dorf. I was given the opportunity to sit down with him and get a sort of one-on-one consultation about my business model. He was super funny and was mowing down on some fried chicken the whole time, but was still able to give me some of the most valuable feedback I’ve ever received. In the tech space, you’ll always come in contact with interesting people.

Quick Facts:

Startup Milwaukeean of the Week: Jon Hainstock

Jon Hainstock is the co-founder of Milwaukee startups ZoomShift and Tailwind Creative. ZoomShift helps supervisors create, manage and share work schedules easily online. Employees can access their schedule from anywhere, trade shifts and request time off. With Zoomshift, communication is streamlined via email and text message notifications so everyone stays in the loop. Tailwind Creative assists brands increase leads and design their web presence. Jon is also a devoted husband and father.


At what point did you become interested in entrepreneurship?

There is a consistent pattern in my life of turning hobbies and interests into business, which began in my teens. In high school, I turned my love of music into a business that helped pay my way through college. Curiosity in photography and design helped develop my artistic eye which I later turned into a profitable photography and web design business.

The amount of legwork required in a startup has never been a major obstacle because my businesses have always come from my passion and interests. Even the tough beginnings don’t feel so much like work because I’m fueled by the excitement and challenge of learning something new.

After working with startups, as the director of marketing for 94labsthe tech seed accelerator that preceded Gener8torI saw value and a gap in the market for responsive web design and search engine optimization (SEO) services. My business partner, Ben Bartling, and I started Tailwind Creative, our digital marketing agency, to help fill that gap and fund our startup ideas.

Our current startup, ZoomShift, helps businesses schedule employees online and has always been intriguing to me because it solves a practical need for so many organizations.

What has been the largest difficulty you’ve faced as an entrepreneur?

The hardest part is learning to say no. I want to say yes to every opportunity, every event and every project; but experience has taught me that over-committing will cost me and my business in the long run. So over the years I’ve gotten better at saying no to the things that are not in-line with the overarching goals of my life.

Now that I have a young family, the challenge works both ways. On one hand, it’s easier to say no because of my commitment to carving out quality time with my wife and daughter. On the other hand, knowing that I have a family depending on me to support them can create a struggle to balance the hard work and hours that are required in a startup.

What makes Milwaukee a unique place to start a company?

Milwaukee offers a friendly, close-knit community. Startups, agencies and local organizations are very accessible, making it easy to connect with other entrepreneurs. Building relationships in the business community can make a significant difference for your company. What I love about Milwaukee (besides Alterra) is that people are so willing to meet up, and they genuinely care about the success of your business.

What metformin 500 mg piece of advice do you have for new startup companies?

Connect with peoplenot just online, but also face-to-face. The best opportunities I’ve encountered have come from informal meetings with good folk. You can learn something from everyone, from their successes and their failures. So be sure to take time each week to connect with someone new. For the cost of a cup of coffee or a beer and a half-hour of your time, a wealth of knowledge and expertise can be attained through casual dialog and asking the right questions.

What was the most interesting article your read this week?

I love articles that elicit a response. Check out An App Store Experiment by Stuart Hall. You’ll want to get into iOS development after you read his story.

Quick facts:

Startup Milwaukeean of the Week: Drew Hart

Drew Hart moved back to Wisconsin after stints at startup companies in San Francisco. Drew has since launched Milwaukee-based Snow Day Group, a web development company that works with startups. Drew is a great guy to know and we’re proud to name him as this week’s Startup Milwaukeean of the week! image

At what point did you become interested in Entrepreneurship? 

I first became interested in entrepreneurship during my teenage years. Although in my early years, I didn’t think of myself in terms of an “entrepreneur.” Frankly, I didn’t really know what that term meant until a few years ago. Still, I’ve always been a creative person who is able to weave together abstract ideas and create solutions.

I went straight into a corporate environment after graduating from college. I benefited greatly from that experience. It wasn’t until I had the opportunity to build a sales team from scratch that I recognized the notion of being an entrepreneur. That project was akin to building a mini startup inside of a large organization. It included building out a project plan, kneading out the business processes, marketing, training, rinsing and repeating. That experience did two things for me. First, it confirmed my skills, knowledge and experience. Second, it provided me a great degree of confidence and the notion that I could be successful working for a company that needed creative solutions regularly—so I quit!

What has been the largest difficulty you have faced as an entrepreneur?

Transitioning from a well defined work style to one that’s totally ambiguous. For example, in a corporate business, a lot of risk is removed (including product development, marketing to customers, etc.). It’s easy to plug in, since so much of the business is already defined. There’s a large number of people working in each of the respective departments who have those things covered.

With a startup, however, nothing like that exists and there aren’t departments of people to complete the tasks. You have an idea. Everything else you have to create on your own. That includes developing your product or service, outlining a marketing plan, putting business processes in place, creating contracts, finding talent and selling to customers. All of it (and there’s a lot I’m leaving out). A lot of romanticism surrounds the concept of startups—but once you decide to cut your own path, it’s yours. I love that. It gets me up in the morning and [my team] builds amazing things.

What piece of advice do you have for new startups?

Get connected with other startups and be transparent about both your failures and wins. Being open inspires others to be open. Doing that really helps; you’re sharing information that benefits everyone. Most of us don’t know what we’re doing when we kickstart things, since it’s all brand new. I’d also suggest following entrepreneurs online through blogs, twitter, LinkedIn, whatever. There are a lot of people out there who share their stories, both good and bad, and they are tremendously insightful.

What makes Milwaukee a unique place to start a company?

I wouldn’t say it’s unique. I see Milwaukee having a lot of the traits of other cities across the US and worldwide. The history and culture of Milwaukee gives the city a unique character. Just take a look at all of the independent business owners of restaurants and bars. I guess one thing that makes Milwaukee unique is the proximity of Lake Michigan and its positive impact on the weather. All said, from Bayview to Shorewood, the Milwaukee area has so much to offer.

If you were stranded on a desert island, what item would you want to bring with you? Why?

A boat, so I could leave.

Quick Facts: