Glen Wakeman – Co-Founder & CEO, LaunchPad Holdings, LLC

Glen Wakeman is the co-founder and CEO of LaunchPad Holdings, LLC, a SaaS firm that enables early-stage entrepreneurs to increase their success rates by providing online business planning services.

Passionate about growth, innovation, and executive development, Glen mentors several C-level executives and holds advisory positions in numerous startup companies. He blogs frequently about business transformations, global affairs, emerging markets, and leadership skills.

Educated at The University of Chicago, Glen Wakeman has lived in six countries and worked in 32 during his 20-year career with GE. He has led and transformed businesses with close to 20,000 employees and $15 billion in assets. His endeavors have included startups, divestitures, mergers and acquisitions, integrations, downsizing, new market entries, and exponential growth.

How did the concept for LaunchPad Holdings come about?
It started from a conversation with a cab driver. He wanted to start a t-shirt company and didn’t know how. I figured we could fix that. After much experience in business, I learned that ideas and plans are not the same things. The idea behind LaunchPad is to turn rising entrepreneurs’ ideas into plans and thereby lower their risk of failure. The process of raising capital from family, friends, or an existing network is much easier for entrepreneurs if they have a solid plan in place. That’s why LaunchPad provides a structured way of creating a plan that is both fast and easy to implement. We focus on both early-stage entrepreneurs as well as businesses that need help to get started.

How was the first year in business?
It was a roller coaster. The lowest days were presentations that fell flat and watching customers on our screens not convert. The best days were hearing the bell ring whenever we made a sale. The most satisfying days were the days we teamed up, had ferocious debates, and figured out new ways to keep moving forward. We almost threw in the towel, twice. I’m glad we didn’t.

What was your marketing strategy?
Basically, it was a combination of actively selling to networks and groups, as well as testing and learning. It is complex, but one facet of our strategy is the utilization of an entrepreneurial association. It has assisted me in growing my business. They are abundant and easy to join and penetrate. Entrepreneurial associations offer a treasure trove of thoughts, contacts, and capital. Another marketing opportunity that works for me is networking with colleges, management, and capital providers. They all offer me forums to connect with like-minded entrepreneurs.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
Triple digits. The company grew incredibly fast on all fronts including customers, demands, capabilities, and complexity. It was overwhelming. We had to add additional partners to cope.

How do you define success?
Success is finding a way to make a living in service to others. It isn’t measured in dollar terms or acquisition of shiny things. Rather, it is in contributions we make to others. Playing a small part in advancing other people’s interests, skills, abilities, and dreams is very satisfying.

What is the key to success?
A strange combination of perseverance and high expectations is the key to success. My motto is “Demand excellence and you can get it.” Before I start anything, I repeat this. In my experience, it is one of the key principles that facilitate high performance. It’s also a good idea to keep your sense of humor.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Like many rising entrepreneurs, we originally made plans that were overly-ambitious, and as such, tried to “boil the ocean.” I found that simplifying and defining processes is stronger and much more effective. By trimming things down, we were able to deliver better benefits and tools to our customers. I also learned that an effective way to grow a business is by continuously-listening to your customers and adapting to their needs.

What are some quotes that you live by?
My favorite quote is a lyric from a song by Big Country: ” I never took a smile away from anybody’s face.” My second favorite has been attributed to Muhammad Ali: “Ain’t no shame in getting knocked down. The only shame is in not getting back up.” I’d also add Thomas Jefferson’s “Poor education is the greatest threat to freedom.”

What are some of your favorite books?
One in particular that I always recommend is the timeless classic, The Art of War by Sun Tzu. It is still the best book on strategy that was ever written. There are dozens of lessons to be learned about teamwork, preparation, and discipline that can be culled from this book. If you give it a chance, you will understand. It is so full of wisdom, and such a page-turner – “Prepare for your enemies’ capabilities…not their intentions.”

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
The hardest days included the day I looked at my bank account and it had $22 in it. Thankfully, sales started rolling in the next week. The day the demo failed in front of an angel finance group was a close second, but almost losing my partner as a friend was probably the lowest point.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I view everything as a learning lesson, and that has proved helpful for me. You always learn something from your mistakes. Every problem has a solution. We’ve all experienced failure. One memorable failure I had was launching “Snappy Answers”, where were pre-recorded messages for your answering machine. While they were funny, it was ultimately a failure. The reason was because I had no marketing plan and no money, but I learned how to improve for the next time I launched a new business. Ultimately, what I learned was worth way more than the cost. You have to find that silver lining and understand the lessons learned.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Get the basics right: satisfying a customer need. Businesses are destined to fail unless customers value your products and services. As entrepreneurs, we need to fully understand what consumers appreciate and bridge the gap between our own creative developments and the expectations of consumers. I usually caution entrepreneurs to use common sense when looking at their data, because without a steady stream of customers, there is no cash flow and no business.