Interview with Robert Reich, Entrepreneur

Jami Oetting
Jami Oetting

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robert-reichWelcome to The Agency Post. Tell us about yourself.

I am an entrepreneurial executive with 20 years of experience creating and refining consumer and enterprise software solutions. I was named inventor on six patents, I’m an advisory board member with Silicon Flatirons and BDW at University of Colorado, a mentor at Unreasonable Institute and the organizer of the New Tech Boulder/Denver/Fort Collins professional meet-up events.

Do you think entrepreneurship is a skill that can be taught? What type of experiences and foundational skills does an entrepreneur need?

If you’re the academic type, there are plenty of sources for self-identifying with the mind of an entrepreneur. Howard Gardner's, "Five Minds for the Future," or Noam Wasserman's "The Founder’s Dilemmas" are two, but in my opinion, we’re all entrepreneurial at our core. What’s needed to push someone over is the passion to solve a specific problem. As far as foundational skills go, I would align the creative founder closely with that of a creative in an advertising agency and the operational-minded founder with business development and accounts-type people.

How could advertising professionals benefit from the skills learned through your Startup: Learning Entrepreneurism class?

The startup class is offered through BDW, a post-graduate program at the University of Colorado in Boulder. The semester-long class is broken down into two phases: First, the “Think Tank,” followed by the second, an “Accelerator.” The Think Tank phase is all about empathy and getting the students to physically and emotionally experience a problem they are passionate about solving. During this phase, the students pick the problems, find other founders who have similar passions and then immerse themselves in the problem/solution by testing, refining and trashing their hypothesis using a custom business one sheet (think the 140-character version of an old-school business plan). Once they have proven to themselves and the community who will use their solution and that they understand the product-market fit, they transition to the accelerator part of the program. During this phase, we bring in four different types of mentors: lecturers, investors, team and discipline to help the companies and individuals evolve. The final output is a fully functional company where the students own 100 percent of the IP.

I entertained the idea of turning the core concepts of the startup class into a 72-hour immersive experience for the ad industry, but as of today I have not done the work to condense the curriculum. Perhaps one of your readers will foot the bill...

Many advertising agencies are struggling to compete with startups for top talent. Why do you think this is? What could agencies be doing to attract this talent that finds the startup field more alluring?

I'm currently consulting on a project where I'm looking at the technology requirements for a next generation ad agency. What's clear from the research is that large ad agencies are broken on many levels, and these issues are directly affecting their ability to recruit the best and brightest young creatives and technologists. A few examples include:

  1. As agencies get larger, they become risk averse, which is counter to the culture that helped them evolve.
  2. Clients are reluctant to give large enough budgets to unproven media outlets, which in turn forces the young creatives at agencies to work on outdated media. All the while, their smartphones are buzzing and ringing as they use the latest mobile and social media technologies and see how behind they are becoming by working at the large agency.
  3. There is a cultural divide between the executives who run the agency and the employees doing the work.
  4. Startups offer younger creatives a greater opportunity to affect the final product.
  5. Startups are currently sexier and offer a greater promise of financial success.

Tell us about OpenSpace and what problem it solves in the app market.

We were the first company to offer a physical store for buying virtual goods, and we are in talks to sell the technology to an ad agency that specializes in the physical-to-digital experiences emerging in retail.

You are the founder of OneRiot, a social targeting service for in-app ads, which was bought by Wal-Mart in late 2011. There has been a lot of discussion on the future of mobile advertising, app revenue models, etc. What is the biggest challenge facing the mobile advertising industry?

We need more collaboration and larger exploratory budgets to figure out how to evolve today’s interrupt advertising to meet the needs of mobile social users. When the big advertising news around the Super Bowl illustrates how fast a tweet is created, approved and released, it’s obvious we are in the early days of the social, mobile, digital experience.

As the founder of New Tech Boulder/Denver Meet-up, you facilitate a weekly group that discusses startups and technology. What trends or technologies should people keep an eye out for in 2013?

The combination of physical sensors/displays and digital services. Things like iTunes/iPhone/iPad, Nike Fuelband and Nest. Marketplaces like Airbnb, the transition back to enterprise and the maker movement. But I would say the biggest trend is the startup community itself.

Entrepreneurial activity reportedly rose 60 percent in 2012. What types of support or leadership are needed in the community in order to continue this type of growth?

The ecosystem is such a fundamental part of the process that it can't be overlooked when you choose a location for your next startup. Brad Feld outlines these concepts in his new book, “Startup Communities.”

One reason you love what you do: The creative high of watching people enjoy the things I create.

Most interesting startup: I am not sure I have a favorite startup at this point, but I do have some technologies that continually impress me. My Epson printer blows me away every time I print a photograph, the amount of things I can accomplish walking down the street using my smartphone and the value per hour of today’s mobile games.

Must-read book: Just finished “Kill Decision” by Daniel Suarez.

Connect with Robert on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter @menro.

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