Three Lessons From a Hero-Building Entrepreneur

As entrepreneurs, we don't want to just grow our businesses -- we want to grow them exponentially. That's why I love seeking out advice from the top serial entrepreneurs: business owners who have built one successful company after another after another. Their experiences can prove invaluable to those of us seeking to take our companies to the next level, and their hard-won lessons can help create a clear track for all of us to run on.

One of the top serial entrepreneurs working today is Christian Cotichini, who has founded four start ups in the past 22 years -- one of which (Absolute Software) went public, and one of which (MAKE Technologies) was acquired by Dell Computers. Most recently, he co-founded HeroX, which helps businesses develop incentive- and prize-based programs to find innovative solutions to their problems and to address worldwide concerns.

Cotichini recently discussed some of the key insights he's learned over a two-decade career of entrepreneurship -- and he offered three smart moves that today's entrepreneurs should be making right now to ramp up and become hugely successful.


1. Tap the wisdom of the crowd. Crowdsourcing has become a much-loved method of funding first-time entrepreneurs' ventures. But it's also an amazing way for established, successful business owners to solve their biggest challenges and spark additional growth. The power of the Internet allows you to easily create a prize-based challenge aimed at solving your biggest hurdles and put that challenge out to top innovators and problem solvers around the world.

Rather than hiring one person or team, imagine having many teams focused on solving your big pain point.

Cotichini explains: "The need for innovation is greater than it's ever been. But it's really hard to get that kind of innovation to occur inside your company, because most successful companies become risk-management organizations that focus on consistency and execution. Crazy ideas don't make it to the agenda. Yet, crazy ideas are the source of innovation -- and that's where the crowd comes in."

The best part of incentive-based challenges: You only pay for successful results. If a person or team solves your problem, you award them a monetary prize. But you don't owe a dime to anyone who fails to address your needs. (You also get to set the deadlines, which can help drive rapid results.) "It's an extremely safe way to invest in innovation," notes Cotichini.

2. Go virtual. One thing Cotichini loves about building companies today versus two decades ago is the ability to create virtual organizations with team members located across the country. His latest venture, HeroX, has been a virtual company from the get go and currently has 12 staffers in eight cities. "If you recruit within commuting distance of a point on the map, you limit yourself to one-tenth of 1 percent of the population of the planet. But if you're willing to recruit anywhere, you increase your talent pool by a thousand fold," says Cotichini. "That allows you to be very targeted with your hiring, and really chase after the best people."

Don't sweat it when venture capitalists and other outside investors try to dissuade you from going the virtual route, as they inevitably will. There's no need to all be eating pizza together in the same room in order to create loyalty and buy-in anymore. I, too, run a virtual company and have found that this model allows me to cherry pick the best talent in the world. Workers who are attracted to virtual organizations are self-driven, self-motivated and extremely ambitious. They're attracted to an organization that provides unlimited potential and flexibility, and the ability to basically be a free agent while also being a member of a tribe.

3. Manage systems to manage people. The knowledge of how to best run your company can't reside solely in your own head. You have to create systems and checklists so that your team can execute consistently and improve continually. For every meeting and client event that HeroX runs, for example, they have a wiki where their systems are documented. Every time that system is executed, the team gets together to determine and document the top three improvements that they could make to the system to improve the experience the next time around. "I've found that all you need are three improvements per iteration. I guarantee that after five or six iterations, you will start looking magical to your clients," says Cotichini.

In addition, implementing systems across your enterprise allows you to outsource operational and other tasks that your core team of people shouldn't be spending their time on in the first place. Says Cotichini: "Once we get something working, we can outsource it. When we do research for a project, we can outsource that job because we've got a 13-step checklist that any researcher can follow. We give a great researcher the checklist and the template, and they're launched."

Give yourself the tools you need to excel in your business and in your personal life. Check out the insights, tactics and actionable strategies from today's top entrepreneurs at AES Nation.

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