Jason Lange is the CEO and co-founder of BloomBoard, a company dedicated to bettering the K-12 education space by providing a marketplace for personalizing educator development. BloomBoard uses the data collected from free observational and evaluation tools to create individualized learning plans and recommendations for teacher growth. Connect with Jason on LinkedIn and Google+. Follow him @BloomBoard.
Who is your hero?
I don’t really have a “hero,” though Sargent Shriver and Leonardo da Vinci were probably my biggest role models growing up.
What’s the single best piece of business advice that helped shape who you are as an entrepreneur today, and why?
I find that the best way to bring ideas to life is to inspire other really smart, driven people around you with a really good story about what the future should look like. No one has the capacity to do everything needed to get a startup off the ground, so your best chance of making it work is to leverage the emotional connections that people have with the problems or injustice they see in the world.
Fortunately, in education, there are a lot of brilliant people who are willing to forego money and power for the chance to make a difference in the lives of others. I’m incredibly honored that so many of them have chosen to come work with us. Once you have those people on board, all you really need to do is get out of their way.
What’s the biggest mistake you ever made in your business, and what did you learn from it that others can learn from too?
In college, I painted houses and managed a small painting crew. A few times a week, I would go out and quote new job opportunities. I hadn’t really been trained on this task. In my first several quotes, I was so caught up in the calculations to ensure that I had the right amount of paint that I barely interacted with the homeowner. Needless to say, my hit rate was pretty abysmal.
About halfway through the summer, my boss gave me a simple rule about the number of gallons of paint for a house of a certain size, and he suggested that I just ask the homeowner a lot of questions to understand the project better.
To my surprise, the response was phenomenal. It became clear that the more I could get someone to share about his home, the more I could develop a level of rapport that would allow him to trust a 19-year-old to not make it look terrible.
In startups, you’re always working outside of your comfort zone. Learning to ask questions and develop relationships quickly is critical to earning the requisite trust that a customer needs before even considering spending money with you.
What do you do during the first hour of your business day and why?
It varies every day, so it’s probably not that interesting!
What’s your best financial or cash-flow related tip for entrepreneurs just getting started?
Get customers to pay you before you actually have anything to deliver. You’d be amazed at how much customers are willing to pay for a product that will truly make their lives easier. If you have that product, they will be happy to pay you in advance for it.
Certainly Kickstarter has proven this, but for any early-stage company, the best validation of your product and market fit is simply whether someone will pay you for your solution even if it isn’t available yet. If they will, then you know you’re solving a real pain point, and your chances of success are dramatically improved.
Quick: What’s ONE thing you recommend ALL aspiring or current entrepreneurs do right now to take their biz to the next level?
Ask for feedback on your product, management style, culture, collateral and whatever else you can get feedback on. I find it can often be hard to get a true representation of the world from relatively informal requests for feedback. If I’m your boss and I never ask you how I’m doing, then the one time I do ask, you’re probably not going to be that candid with me. By asking for repeated feedback, people become much more willing and able to give you the information needed to grow a company quickly.
What’s your definition of success? How will you know when you’ve finally “succeeded” in your business?
Our mission is to empower teacher growth so that every student has the opportunity to learn from a great teacher. I think we’ll know we’ve succeeded when we can watch a good teacher who is open to improvement sign on and engage in meaningful personal and professional growth, then translate that into better outcomes for his or her students.