Leaders and Influencers: An Interview with Forrest Woolworth

Co-founder of Madison’s Capital Entrepreneurs group and COO of mobile gaming company PerBlue, Forrest Woolworth is a “champion of all things entrepreneurial.” He chatted with us about what’s happening on Madison’s entrepreneurial scene, changes he’d like to see, and what’s most rewarding in his work.

Forrest Woolworth

Forrest Woolworth

Tell us about Capital Entrepreneurs.

Capital Entrepreneurs is a community group for Madison area entrepreneurs. We started the group back in 2009 to bring together the then fledgling entrepreneurial community. By connecting those entrepreneurs and forming the “social fabric” to tie them together, Capital Entrepreneurs established much of the foundation for the now burgeoning entrepreneurial ecosystem that has emerged over the last few years in Madison.

What’s the single most important change you’d like to see to encourage more innovation and entrepreneurship in our community?

The concept of “ownership” is extremely important. It’s a principal we use extensively at PerBlue, and relates to an individual taking initiative and responsibility to drive a specific task to completion or solve a specific problem. In order to innovate it’s critical to not only identify a problem (or opportunity), but to actually do something about it. If more people take that initiative to act on something they can improve (big or small), we’ll see more entrepreneurs and more innovation. This applies to tackling problems of all facets of society—not just technical or business challenges, but extending to social issues as well.

What book do you think every aspiring entrepreneur should read and why?

First, Break all the Rules. It’s a great book on building a team, which is critical for any startup. We base many of our management practices at PerBlue on principals from this book and have found them very effective.

What are you most excited about at Capital Entrepreneurs at the moment?

StartingBlock Madison is going to really take Madison’s entrepreneurial ecosystem to the next level. We’ve been working for over two years to bring this project to reality, and it’s now finally nearing fruition. StartingBlock will be a 50,000 sq. ft. entrepreneurial hub downtown that will house the Sector67 hackerspace, gener8tor startup accelerator, as well as provide coworking and workspaces for startups of all sizes. Construction on the project is anticipated to start later this year.

What do you find most interesting and rewarding in your position as COO at PerBlue?

Getting to build things. Whether that’s helping build a team, a product, or even an entire entrepreneurial community, I love being able to build new things. Seeing those things go on to achieve success and continue to grow is very rewarding.

 

Visit Fine Point Consulting for more information about the great tools and services we use to help start-ups like PerBlue succeed.

 

Software Scoop: Greenhouse

Greenhouse Logo

In this blog series, Fine Point Consulting reviews accounting, HR, and other software we use in our office or on behalf of our clients. Check it out! You might just learn about a great new tool for your own business.

Greenhouse is a recruiting optimization platform designed to make companies great at hiring. Their software helps your business find better candidates, conduct more focused interviews, and make data-driven hiring decisions. Fine Point Consulting’s Leah Roe was recently asked to interview a candidate for one of her clients using Greenhouse and has this to say about her experience:

“Greenhouse made it so easy to review and prep for an interview because all of the materials and everything you needed was right there: resume, cover letter, and even the job posting. Having the job posting and the qualities the company was looking for right in front of me helped give me direction for what kinds of questions to ask.

“The software also provided the interview schedule for each candidate, so I could see, for example, that the candidate had a “cultural fit” interview scheduled right after mine, so I knew I didn’t need to spend much time on assessing them on if they would be a good fit with the company. Instead, I could focus my attention on the candidate’s skill level and really keep my interview on track.

“The candidate scorecard function in Greenhouse is amazing. After the interview, the scorecard provides a format for giving structured, written feedback on a candidate, rather than simply a general impression. It really helps you think through why the candidate would or would not be a good fit with the company, and provides useful, data-based information for the hiring manager when it’s time to make a decision—all in one platform.

The bottom line: “I thought Greenhouse was great. The software was clean and organized, and it really streamlined the hiring process. I think it could be useful for companies of any size, particularly those that plan on making a number of hires and/or have multiple interviews scheduled for each candidate.”

Visit Fine Point Consulting for more information about the great tools and services we use to help businesses succeed.

TEDTalks: The Puzzle of Motivation

Have you read any books by Daniel Pink? He’s authored several titles on reshaping work, employee behavior, and the new workplace, including Drive, To Sell is Human, and Free Agent Nation. I’d recommend his work for your business bookshelf.

Pink’s 2009 TEDTalk, “The Puzzle of Motivation,” really got me thinking about my own employees in terms of engagement and getting the best, most creative work out of each of my employees. We are, after all, a knowledge firm: our brains are what keep us in business. So I want those brains to be creative, motivated, and happy.

You should definitely view the entire TEDTalk, but I’d summarize Pink’s key points as follows:

  • There’s a mismatch between what science knows and what business does. Science knows is that external motivators don’t work, and they often do harm.
  • Extrinsic rewards like higher pay work well only for those tasks that are easy, where there are a simple set of rules and a straightforward solution.
  • Most of today’s problems are not simple and straightforward. Solutions to today’s problems are found on the periphery, and you need creative, open minds to find those solutions.
  • Business needs a new operating system for employee motivation that focuses on INTRINSIC rewards to find creative solutions. This new system revolves an employee’s:
    • Autonomy
    • Mastery
    • Purpose

Pink concludes by focusing on autonomy, noting that management works great if you want your employees to comply, but it’s autonomy that will result in true engagement and creativity. He cites several companies that have moved to a Results Only Work Environment (ROWE), where employees have no schedules; they just have to get their work done. Research indicates that ROWEs result in higher worker productivity, engagement, and satisfaction.

I’m excited to announce that Fine Point Consulting is in training to be a ROWE. It will take a few months, and I’m sure there are things we’re going to have to “untrain” ourselves to do. Our clients will continue to be our first priority, and it’s our belief that our new autonomy, mastery, and sense of purpose will allow us to serve them even better.

We plan to blog about our ROWE rollout, so stay tuned. It should be an interesting ride.

Cool Tools for Employee Engagement

I’m fascinated by entrepreneurship. Value creation, strategy and tactics, great thinkers. My “books to read” list is a mile long. It’s a passion of mine.

As a professional services firm, the majority of the value we provide to our customers comes from human capital. Our collective knowledge as a company is our biggest asset and as such, I think a lot about how to protect it, nurture it, and grow it. When you rely on knowledge workers, it is extremely important to do everything you can to keep them engaged in meaningful work. I read recently that Maslow’s pyramid is now really just a square, with all sides being equal: material rewards, meaning, recognition, and impact.

We use a cool tool at Fine Point called Tiny Pulse to make sure I am making good decisions and building an incredible workplace. Rather than the eyeroll-inducing annual survey, Tiny Pulse reaches out to my team members once a week and asks random questions about how they’re doing, while protecting the responder’s anonymity.

Some questions are fun and irreverent, like “You just cracked open a fortune cookie about your company, what does the fortune say about your company’s future?” Some offer an opportunity for amazing feedback, like “What’s the one thing we’re not doing that we should start doing to be more successful”. And, of course, it asks, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how happy are you at work?” every 4-6 surveys so that you can see a trend over time.

My favorite part? Every week responders can give “cheers for peers”, which is a great way for team members to recognize each others’ meaningful accomplishments or just to give a simple thanks.

It’s been a lot of fun using this product and it’s given me great insights about what our workplace is really like. When it comes down to it, my employees are really volunteers. It’s totally up to them whether or not they come back up that elevator tomorrow. Using Tiny Pulse gives me weekly feedback on how I’m doing – so I can make sure they do decide to join me again for another day of awesomeness.

And yeah, our Beer Fridays don’t hurt.

Leah and Chelsea take Chicago

This week Leah and I were super excited to have the opportunity to go to visit, our first Chicago client, Stock Mfg. Co.! Since we had never been on site, we started out our day out by stopping to the factory where they make the magic happen. It was incredibly interesting for us to see the actual work flow and how they run things. We were able to go step by step, from the designs, production samples, to the cutting of fabric, the manufacturing of the clothes, and then the final finishing touches.  It was interesting to experience a snippet of a day in the factory and compare that to our workflow. After the factory, we decided to head out and see some of their products at work. At this point, we finished out our meeting at the Soho House, where we not only talked about the valuable numbers, but also got to learn about how the business was started, where they hope to see it going in the future, and how we can help them get there.

As much fun as we have in Madison, Milwaukee, and Chicago we are just waiting for clients in Hawaii to sign up!