Ep 19. Innovation and How to Inspire It – Priceline.com Founding Team Member Jeff Hoffman

Today we dive into the mind of Jeff HoffmanJeff is a serial entrepreneur who was on the founding team of Priceline.com and uBid.com.  He is now a co-founder of ColorJar and is a frequent public speaker on the topics of innovation, entrepreneurship, and leadership.

Innovation is a skill that allows certain people to truly make a mark on the world, yet it is a skill that is not taught in schools.  When I was with Jeff, I heard him tell a story about the day he took a 5 year old to the office (I think it was a family member).  She was looking around asking a million questions. “What do those machines do? Why do you have so many people here? What is this for?”  In the moment, it was annoying.  But what really annoyed Jeff wasn’t the questions from the little girl, it was the fact that he didn’t know the answers to many of them and he was the CEO.  One of the questions was what two pieces of equipment were for, and when Jeff realized he didn’t know and nobody else in the office knew, he had his CFO pull their records to find a receipt or any paperwork that would show what they were for.  He came to find out that they were collating machines for putting binders together.  The bad news was, they were still leasing them. 

The most innovative people’s minds are much more open that the rest of the world.   

How to Be a Trend Setter in Your Industry – Info Sponging

The concept of Info Sponging is to every single day, take just a few minutes and learn one new thing that is not related to your industry.  Learn the things that you’re not sure why you are learning them.  If you are in Human Resources, read about Banking.  If you’re in banking, learn about Eastern Europe.  Then write down one sentence about what you learned.  While you do this, you will not see how this relates to anything going on in your life or your business.  The value comes from looking at it like a single puzzle piece. 

If you were to receive a single puzzle piece, you would not be able to tell what the bigger picture is.  But eventually, you get enough puzzle pieces that you can begin to identify a bigger picture that you would never have discovered before.  That is Info Sponging.

This is how the concept of Priceline.com came about.  The founding team, looked at several business models, including fruit stands.  Their commodity was fruit, but it was perishable and therefore had an expiration date.  So as it got closer to its date of expiration, there would be discounts on the fruit.  The team looked at this and thought, “if it works for fruit stands, why couldn’t it work for the airline industry?”

Info Sponging was also used in the fast food industry.  An owner of a fast food restaurant realized he could only serve so many shakes and so many burgers an hour.  So in an effort to look for new ways to increase efficiency, he looked outside of the fast food market and started studying the banking industry.  As he went from bank to bank he finally witnessed something he had never seen before, cars pulling up to the side of the building, and depositing checks through a “drive thru”.  The concept of the “drive thru” as we know it in fast food restaurants was born.

How to Get Started As An Entrepreneur

Be problem centered.  Many people say they want to be an entrepreneur because they want to make a difference, or because they are unhappy with their job.  While these are certainly reasons, they do not set you up for success.  The entrepreneurs that succeed today are those that find a deep pain and believe that they are the ones that can solve it, and back that belief up with action.

The Biggest Mistake You Can Make Starting Out

If you’re like me, then you have what I refer to as “shiny object syndrome”.  I begin working on a project, and when I see a new shiny object in the form of a new opportunity, I get distracted and try to take that new opportunity on as well.  Before you know it, you are balancing 6 different opportunities.  For the entrepreneur who identifies with this, the advice is simple.  Get rid of 5 of them and do 1.  You can do 1/6th of the job on 6 different things and expect success.  So how do you decide which one to pursue?

3 Questions to Identify the One Opportunity That You Should Be Working On

  1. Is this a real problem? 
  2. Is it a big problem (big market)?
  3. Is there a real business (money to be made) solving this problem?

Why Business is Like the Olympics

Think of a gold medal winning women’s gymnast.  She does not come home, shoot some hoops, then play baseball, then play tennis, then spend 20 minutes on her gymnastics routine, then watch TV and go to bed.  She does gymnastics 6 hours a day until she wins a gold medal and nothing else.  Once she has won the gold, then she can focus on something else.  Business is no different.

If you want to excel at anything in life, do that one thing until you win your gold medal, and then move onto the next thing. 

For me, I realized I was considering so many entrepreneurial endeavors and I needed to pick one, the podcast.  I needed to focus on building the best podcast possible and only do that (outside of my day job) until I won my gold medal.  Because of this advice I put several other opportunities on the back burner.

Why Jeff Mentors Others

Entrepreneurship is a privilege not an entitlement.  Since it is a privilege it is important to pay it forward.  One way to do that is to reach back and pull someone forward as an appreciation of being an entrepreneur.

The world has a lot of problems.  One of the best ways to solve problems is to unleash an army of entrepreneurs on them.  Entrepreneurs are the most efficient problem solving mechanisms out there.  The more people that go out and say “I’m going to solve a problem” the better our world will be.

3 Ways to Provide Value to Your Mentor

“How can I add value to my mentor?” is one of the most common questions I get asked and the answer is a simple one:

Set Goals

A mentor wants to invest their time in someone who is hungry and set on achieving specific goals.  Communicate your vision effectively and enlist your mentor’s support in achieving your specific measurable goals.

Achieve Results

If a mentor is going to invest their time in you, they want to you take action and achieve results.  In order to do that, you need to have an open mind. There are times when I find myself hearing advice and thinking that I already know the right answer, which may contradict what I’m hearing.  Has this ever happened to you?  It is time to realize that your mentors are where they are for a reason, and you are where you are for a reason.  Give some consideration to this and have the faith to take action on the counsel that is provided.

Share the Milestones

It is important to track your progress along the way and share the milestones with your mentors.  Review where you asked for help, the counsel that was provided and the results that have taken place.  This will add tremendous value to your mentor and make them feel that the time they invested in you was time well spent.   

How to Approach a Potential Mentor

I see it all the time where a person approaches a successful businessperson in hopes that they will share their secrets to success and asks them if they would be willing to grab a cup of coffee and let them pick their brain.  Truth be told, I’ve been guilty of this as well.  What you are really saying is “you were successful at something and I want to be successful so will you give me some of your free time?” 

The problems with this is that the people you want to mentor you are the most successful, which also means they are likely the busiest and their time is the most valuable.  If you want their valuable time, you need to bring value to the table.

One way to bring value to the table is to find shared goals and interests; then do your homework.  Find out the types of projects they are working on, that way when you approach them you can have an intelligent conversation about something that matters to them and show how you can potentially contribute to their goals.

3 Questions to Find What You Should Work On

  1. Is this something I am good at?
  2. Do I love doing it?
  3. Does the world needs me to do it?
  4. If you can answer “yes” to all 3 of these questions, then your time will be well spent.

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