Coby Skonord Podcast Transcript

Headshot of Co-Founder and CEO Coby Skonord

Coby Skonord Podcast Transcript

Coby Skonord joins host Brian Thomas on The Digital Executive Podcast.

[00:00:00] Brian Thomas: Welcome to Coruzant Technologies, home of the Digital Executive Podcast.

Welcome to the digital executive. Today’s guest is Coby Skonord. Coby Skonord is a crowdsourcing expert, public speaker, and founder of Milwaukee based startup Ideawake. Ideawake makes it efficient to tap into ideas of thousands of employees, customers, and suppliers, empowering companies to identify and take advantage of market trends faster than their competition.

Over the last eight years, Kobe’s led the team at Ideawake, helping design three innovation platforms being used by companies to power their employee improvement and innovation programs in over 39 countries and 185 cities. He’s deeply committed to advancing innovation, leading with purpose, and building a world class team that continues to over deliver and innovate for the future.

His main focus includes managing the company’s internal and external growth strategy and overseeing the launch of digital innovation programs for organizations in over 14 verticals, from healthcare to financial services to hospitality and manufacturing, among others.

Well, good afternoon, Coby welcome to the show.

[00:01:12] Coby Skonord: Hey, thanks for having me.

[00:01:14] Brian Thomas: Absolutely. This is awesome. Thank you for making the time and jumping on a podcast with me, one of my most favorite things in the world to do is, like I mentioned to you earlier, Coby is jumping behind the mic and talking and listen to some stories, certainly appreciate you making the time. So thanks again.

[00:01:28] Coby Skonord: My pleasure, Brian. One of my favorite things to do as well.

[00:01:31] Brian Thomas: Very cool. This will be fun then. So, Coby, let’s just jump right in here. You’ve got quite the career as an accountant, business leader, you’re an entrepreneur, speaker, now the co-founder and CEO of Ideawake. Could you share with our audience the secret to your career growth and what inspires you?

[00:01:49] Coby Skonord: Of course. So, the quote that stays with me and has stayed with me for really since I was 15 years old. My dad told it to me and it’s what his dad told him. And it comes down to this. Learn everything you can until you’re 35. And then you can write your own ticket. So, I’m still on that journey myself.

And many would say from where I started so I was a accountant at Ernst and Young right out of college, but in my two weeks in the first day of training and then started my own company, many would say in the beginning, I took a step back, but really what’s. It led to, in my opinion, is really getting your MBA or the equivalence of your MBA.

I don’t have one but really getting an MBA and more in business and really learning how to build something from the ground up. Something that you would never get going. Originally, my path was EY, and then my plan was to go in M& A. But really that’s the mantra that I’ve lived by for better or worse is really just learn everything you can, take in everything you can.

And so you’re 35, you can write your own ticket. I started off, like I said, in accounting and finance since then I’ve learned how to code learned sales, which really just everything is sales at the end of the day, in my opinion marketing how to raise money, how to hire employees, handling the HR function, literally, everything under the sun in terms of building something from the ground up, and wouldn’t take it back to the world.

[00:03:01] Brian Thomas: That’s awesome. I love that. You’ve got a lot of energy in your voice and I can tell when we have guests on the show, when they’re. Really passionate about something and also appreciate the little nugget, the gem from your father, he passed on. I think that’s so important. So Coby, you’ve been intimately involved in the startup community and now you have a great idea management platform that helps companies and founders transform their ideas into meaningful impact. Can you share a bit more on this?

[00:03:26] Coby Skonord: Really, and this is a little bit of a journey in terms of the answer. So where we started and when I left my job, as I mentioned at a EY, the original vision of the company was helping entrepreneurs validate, develop and launch new technology products.

And so that’s where we really started for the first here excuse me, two years of the business and really now where we are is targeting enterprises with a similar product. But it’s essentially like a kick starter inside of a larger organization. But to give a little bit of the story without taking too much time.

Like I said, where we started was a platform that targeted inventors and entrepreneurs, and we learned a lot, helped build about 500 products over the course of two years, didn’t make a lot of money though. And we’re in the Midwest market. So, raising venture capital at the level that we needed to, in order to sustain it longer term wasn’t feasible.

So, we pivoted, started targeting enterprise companies. And it’s really one of the learnings that actually I teach today and start inside of large companies and really what our platform helps enable. Is helping folks that have ideas inside of large companies, validate those ideas before they spend a lot of time and resources actually executing on them.

So the mantra of building something that nobody wants or 90% of new products fail, really what our platform helps enable is crowdsourcing ideas from employees, then teaching those employees, the skills that they need to avoid the main problem that I ran into was. Really burning through 250, 000, learning a lot, not making a lot of money than having to pivot.

[00:04:52] Brian Thomas: Great. Thank you. And I think that’s awesome. I’ve been in that technology world as a tech executive for many years and a leader and seeing a lot of great ideas. At least on the surface, and then they just fizzled out or they just didn’t make the ROI that they all intended.

So, I appreciate what you’re doing. I think it’s an art and a science, what you’re doing. So, thank you. And Coby, you’re obviously leveraging some new and emerging technologies in your business. We talk about tech here a lot. Is there something that you might be able to share with us today?

[00:05:22] Coby Skonord: Oh, of course. And I’ve got some unique things, but the thing that everybody I’m sure in the last, five episodes has talked about is chat GPT and just AI in general, and so we do have an integration that just went live with chat GPT, we’re taking a different focus than the rest of the industry, in my opinion on it, and so really what it’s helping do is The main issue that somebody like, if you look at what our product does we believe that everybody inside of large organization, whether you’re the secretary or the CEO have ideas to transform the company.

The problem is the lower that you go on the totem pole, the less voice that you have inside of the company to drive the strategy. And so what we do is really empower the voice of the frontline employee in order to reduce, whether it’s. Something like, a small cost reduction to transformational.

We really enable frontline staff. And so how we’re using chat GPT is once somebody comes up with an idea, you can actually use the integration in order to go out and build a business case behind your idea and really put your idea into dollars and cents in a way that. A lot of folks like a secretary who has no prior business experience wouldn’t be able to do so that it can be better compared apples to apples with senior leadership when it’s evaluated.

[00:06:31] Brian Thomas: I love that. And making it easier so that you get all ideas out there and get people really to buy in and be part of something. When you level that playing field. So I appreciate the share and Coby last question here this afternoon, could you share something from your career experience. That would be helpful for those listening in growing their career in either innovation or entrepreneurship?

[00:06:55] Coby Skonord: Most definitely. So, I guess 2 different answers to that question to start with entrepreneurship. It’s not an easy path and, a lot of folks sugarcoat it. Entrepreneurship is always sexy in terms of starting your own company, doing your own thing. It’s really hard. I guess I’ve been in the abyss now for.

Well, the first two years and now after, we got our first large customer B2B it allowed us to scale and really start chugging. But even relative to my peers now, right. With where I was in the accounting and finance world, some would say I’m still behind the eight ball, which I would strongly disagree with, but it’s, something that you need to make sure that you really want to do and that you’re really passionate about almost to a point.

Where it’s irrational because starting a business versus having safety is always irrational. So that would be my first piece of advice from a, abstract standpoint to entrepreneurs. The second piece would be whatever your idea is. Most people tend to go towards a B2C product. So, business to consumer, what I’ve learned, and I’ve mentored at least 50 companies at this point since I started and what I, based on what I’ve learned going B2B, even if you want to go B2C long term.

As a general rule of thumb, I found to work much more effectively, especially when it comes to raising early-stage funding, getting in order to get B to C customers when you have an average, deal size or value of a customer of 10 and the business model requires a lot of marketing dollars in order to scale.

It’s much harder to tell that story. Then it is to go out, get to not even enterprise, just two B2 B customers to pay a couple hundred bucks a month. And you can use that story a lot more effectively from what I found in order to raise that initial pre seat funding.

From the innovation perspective. I have my own. We could talk about that for an hour. But to summarize, I would say if you’re in innovation inside of a company with over 100 employees, the main thing to focus on. There’s a lot of shiny objects that they’re going to get pointed at you specifically. Whenever an innovation program starts in your task with driving corporate innovation at a large organization, they always say that they want you to transform the business nine times out of 10.

The problem is when you’re trying to transform the business, you’re preventing all the managers and directors that you need to work with to make innovation happen. Because basically you’re at odds with them because they’re being measured on their quarterly or annual performance, which is normally tied to one of two things, top line revenue growth or operating margin.

So, the things that an innovation leader is working on are things that are, have an outlook of three years to getting a return on investment plus a lot of the time or at least one year plus, and everybody else that you’re trying to work with is being measured on quarterly or annual performance, and that’s going to lead to their next promotion.

A bonus that they’re going to get at the end of the year, et cetera. So really what I’ve learned is that the change management that’s required for innovation You really need to meet those folks where they are and try to figure out when you’re selling this when you get hired or when? You get promoted or changed over to that position Is looking at it from a longer term scope where you pitch to the leader Hey, we need to get some quick wins that are going to help you build relationships with business units up front And then from there, longer term, whenever you start the program, the program itself is not about getting a new product to the market.

The program itself is building relationships with business units to prove out return on investment in order to ultimately get the CEO of the company or whoever you’re reporting up to, to integrate. KPIs around innovation into quarterly goals for all managers, directors, whoever you’re working with. If you don’t do that, you’ll be climbing an uphill battle.

Normally your tenure is going to be between 12 and 24 months, and then you’re going to end up finding a new job, or the program’s going to get canned. I’m very candid, but that’s really at the end of the day, what ends up happening. So you need to figure out a way to build the relationships with business units, help those individuals running those business units achieve whatever quarterly or annual goals, whatever they’re being measured on, help them achieve those goals through your projects more effectively than they’re doing today.

And then use that as a launching pad in order to get the incentives aligned instead of misaligned between innovation. And the business units that you have to partner with inside of the company.

[00:11:08] Brian Thomas: Awesome. Thank you. I appreciate that. There’s a lot that goes into this and I’m glad that you broke those out. Entrepreneurship versus innovation. That certainly helps out our audience for sure. And Coby it was a pleasure having you on today. And I look forward to speaking with you real soon.

[00:11:24] Coby Skonord: Brian, the pleasure is mine. Thank you very much.

[00:11:26] Brian Thomas: Bye for now.

Coby Skonord Podcast Transcript. Listen to the audio on the guest’s podcast page.


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