After years in the industry, Mike Broderick realized that audience response technology could be applied to benefit education in a meaningful way. He decided to found Turning Technologies, a company focused on building a response solution geared to and focused on education at all levels.
Over the past 10 years, he has managed just that, growing his Youngstown, Ohio-based company into a multimillion-dollar industry leader. Broderick, the company’s president and CEO, says the most important ingredient to starting a company is vision, to be able to “understand and articulate what you’re going to accomplish as a company.” But he also says it takes much more to build a company successfully from the ground up.
Identify challenges and solutions
To transition audience response technology from use in corporate meetings and events to education, Broderick knew he had to develop a way to provide the technology in a format that would be easy to use, affordable and compatible with other classroom tools.
But even after successfully developing a product, Broderick says the challenge of establishing credibility remains for any start-up company. In order to sell his learning solution to schools and universities, Broderick had to convince them the technology was a viable solution from a long-term, sustainable business that would be there to support them.
“That was probably the biggest issue,” he says. “We overcame that gradually over time through a lot of partnering, and likely a lot of product giveaways, building stories to tell.”
Document how your solution effectively meets a need
To earn credibility, a company needs to effectively document how its solution improved a legitimate need, Broderick says. For Turning Technologies, the need was achievement in education. After developing a product designed to engage every student in the classroom and ensure each one is learning, the company had to test its effectiveness.
Broderick got Turning Technologies involved in implementation studies that measured the results of using the company’s products. The studies found that if used effectively, test scores, as well as student learning and engagement, improved. What was more, students liked using the product.
“Publishing that information and getting that message out was obviously key in seeing rapid uptake and continues to be,” he says.
Define your role as a leader and hire the right employees
After establishing his product, Broderick realized he had to focus on his leadership style and grow his staff. He decided to manage his company pragmatically, with the idea that his most important job as CEO was finding, challenging and encouraging employees. He says successful leader needs to recognize his or her own limitations, hiring others to complement strengths and compensate for weaknesses.
“That’s probably one of the biggest reasons for failure, the tendency of an entrepreneur to try and replicate himself in key members around him,” Broderick says. “That’s the last thing that we need. What we need are people who are different, people who can bring new and complementary things to the table. Recognizing your own limitations is probably one of your biggest strengths as a successful entrepreneur.”
When hiring employees, Broderick says he recruits strategically through networking to find the right people. By being well connected within its industry, a company will know who the key players are.
To hire quality employees, a company needs to be willing to pay above market rates. Promoting within the company, when possible, is also important to maintaining an invested staff. A successful employee doesn’t see work as a job but as an opportunity for a successful, lifetime career, Broderick says.
Establishing a leadership style and hiring the right employees to fill out a business isn’t where the process ends, however. As a company grows, a leader must take a step back and let his role evolve. Broderick says a successful leader gives up authority as employees grow into their own roles, maintaining influence by focusing on the “big picture” of the company and how its pieces interrelate.
Treat clients as partners
Creating strong relationships with clients is just as important as having a strong employee foundation. Broderick approaches every client relationship as a partnership, whether a single school, major district or university.
“We listen and we’re involved with our clients,” he says. “We have a sort of holistic approach to client relationships. We do things that may seem like no-brainers, but our clients absolutely love (them).”
One such no-brainer is providing tech support from a local call center. To provide the best customer service, customers must be able to talk to a support agent who is intimately familiar with the product and dedicated solely to providing support, Broderick says. Having a local call center also limits customers encountering communication barriers
To ensure customer satisfaction with products and services, companies should acknowledge customer feedback from sources such as Net Promoter Scores, he says, as well as solicit feedback themselves.
Realize it’s not an overnight process
Even seemingly “sudden successes” have years of effort behind them, as with Turning Technologies. Broderick says the first three years of starting any company will be difficult as a company tackles the above-mentioned steps while trying to find sources of revenue.
“Looking back today, quitting wasn’t an option,” he says. “I didn’t have a plan B in my mind of what I would do if it didn’t work. And I almost wonder that if I did, if Turning would exist today. There will be tough times and a lot of days where you come to work and just slog through it, but that’s the perspective the entrepreneur needs.”
How to reach: Turning Technologies, (866) 746-3015 or www.turningtechnologies.com