Midwest Perspectives: An Interview with Jeff Spitzner
As a growing epicenter for startups and investors, there’s a lot to learn from the Midwest. Each entrepreneur with their own story of failures and success offers an opportunity for future success. In this ongoing interview series, we’ll tackle the same subjects from multiple entrepreneurial perspectives.
We recently had a chance to sit down with Jeff Spitzner to talk about the entrepreneurial experience. Jeff is a serial entrepreneur based in Columbus with over twenty years experience and nine start-ups to his credit. His companies have spanned life sciences, software, healthcare, and biotech.
What’s your opinion about starting up in the Midwest and working with local resources?
I spent five years in Boston, I’ve worked on the West Coast, and I’m here in the Midwest on purpose because of the quality of life for my employees and myself. We can live comfortably, do our jobs, and have time left over to enjoy a little bit of experience. However, more than the cost of living, it’s about the quality of people here. I’ve traveled the world, and I can easily say the people in Ohio are as good as anywhere else: beyond that, they work hard and are loyal to their companies.
I don’t think the Midwest markets itself well though. We’re not as good at self-promotion as other regions, and when we do sell our successes, it’s as if it’s a rarity or accident rather than saying here’s billion-dollar exit and we’re going to have plenty of these. We have to improve our regional self-image and believe that we are as good as anyone anywhere else.
We need to keep reminding ourselves that we have duties as ambassadors for our region, and let people know that it’s a privilege to work with Midwest companies. I look at national companies located in the Midwest, and I’d like to see them work a little harder to talk about why they are based here. These companies are household names nationally, and if they talked more about why they like being in the Midwest, it would help the next level of businesses.
What’s your biggest mistake, or failure, and what did you learn from it?
Well on a daily basis, as leaders, we set the bar high and fail every day. The biggest thing for me is trusting my instincts. At one of my previous companies, we were ready to grow and bring in new investors, but the angel investors were anxious about how much they would be diluted, essentially blocking the company and me from moving forward. I wish I had stayed with my plan and pushed harder for my point of view. Getting additional investment was critical to our growth. I deferred that we do not bring in another group to help us grow, and the company fizzled out.
What’s the key to finding suitable partners to grow a company?
When you’re starting a company, I think strategic partners are absolutely essential. You can’t do it all yourself. I work very hard to find partners with whom I can have a great relationship and build trust. If you don’t have a great relationship, you’re not going to get much out of a partnership. Also as you’re evaluating possible partners, make sure there’s a strategic alignment in some way between the organizations.
I look for partners who are willing collaborators. I don’t have time to pull things out of individuals, so I go to places where people want to be partners—it’s a business development activity. I go to national conferences and local events knowing I’ll meet people that have the mindset to engage with others to see what can be done together.
How do you learn about a market?
I use a matrix approach. The first thing I do is follow the customers in an area where I want to know more. They’re the ones who decide winners and losers. I also follow companies already in a market to learn what’s going on. I go to conferences, talk to people, read their marketing materials, and meet as many people as I can. Whether it’s in a peer-reviewed article or an opinion blog, there’s always information to be found that’s important to what I am trying to learn.
- I want to know who is buying what and from whom? Why is a given customer buying for a particular company?
- Why did a company add a particular product feature and how well did the market receive it?
- What type of product research are companies doing? What’s on their to-do list to stay competitive?
Acquiring all of this information and putting it together helps me know the industry, and lead our company.
What do you do personally to stay on top of your game?
I have two answers to that. First, as I’ve indicated, I go to conferences, it’s a great way to talk to many people and see what’s new. The other part of staying on top of my game is to spend time advising other organizations and helping with due diligence activities. I see firsthand what they’re doing, and it helps me look at my company in the same objective way. I want to make sure I’m not just sitting around reading my own press releases. Sure everything we do smells like roses, but I have to learn to look at my company the way others do.
How do you prioritize your time?
I have an unusual situation right now in that I’m running two different companies. I divide my time in half: one half for company A, one-half for company B, and one half for myself.
I also work with lists…everything is on a list. Then I prioritize by importance, and tend to make things for other people more important in this process because I know I’ll get to mine; I can be more flexible and accommodating. The other piece is I’m a big believer in managing by a deadline. Making sure I know the deadline for each item and that no matter how I got there, making sure that each one gets done.
To learn more about or connect with Jeff visit his LinkedIn profile.