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97: Empowering Underestimated Innovators with Nick Tietz of ILT Academy

Published November 23, 2021
Run time: 00:54:47
Listen to this episode with one of these apps:

Not everything needs to be big to be big. ILT Academy Founder, Nick Tietz, is proving that with the impact his startup program is having on underserved markets.

Nick joins the show to chat about building up communities of underestimated entrepreneurs, embracing failure as a way to learn, and getting deliverables to customers early and often at the lowest fidelity possible.

In this episode, you will learn:

  • How not every idea needs to become a billion dollar company to have a major impact
  • Why we don’t need to tear stuff down to build new stuff
  • The impact of training underestimated entrepreneurs in underserved markets
  • Why entrepreneurs should design themselves out of their business
  • How failing fast and safely can lead to innovation
  • How to approach building technology around startups
  • How to identify the results needed to achieve a desired outcome

This episode is brought to you by The Jed Mahonis Group, where we make sense of mobile app development with our non-technical approach to building custom mobile software solutions. Learn more at https://jmg.mn.

Recorded November 12, 2021 | Edited by Jordan Daoust | Produced by Jenny Karkowski

Show Links

ILT Academy | https://iltacademy.io/

  • ILT Academy Workshop in Morehead on December 1

  • ILT Academy Founder Showcase in NE Minneapolis on December 14 (virtual)

  • ILT Academy Workshop and Founder Showcase in St. Cloud on December 16

Nick Tietz on LinkedIn | https://www.linkedin.com/in/nick-tietz/

JMG Pricing Page | https://jmg.mn/pricing

Connect with Tim Bornholdt on LinkedIn | https://www.linkedin.com/in/timbornholdt/

Chat with The Jed Mahonis Group about your app | https://jmg.mn

Rate and review the show on Apple Podcasts | https://constantvariables.co/review

Episode Transcript:

Tim Bornholdt 0:01
Before we get into this week's episode, I want to thank Eden Prairie Tech for their thoughtful five star review of our show on Apple Podcasts. It certainly brightened our day reading your kind words, and your review will help get our show ranked higher on Apple Podcasts. So thank you.

If you want your name or company mentioned at the start of our show like Eden Prairie Tech, it's as easy as giving us a rating and review on Apple Podcasts. If you're listening to this in the Apple Podcast app right now, just head to our main show page, scroll down to the ratings and reviews section, and remember to put your name or company name in your review. Regardless of the app you're using to listen to us, you can visit constantvariables.co/review and we'll take you to the right review spot.

This episode is brought to you by The Jed Mahonis Group. We build best in class iOS, Android, and web apps. We do this by integrating with teams that lack mobile expertise and work together to deliver creative mobile solutions that solve real business problems. To learn more about us and to see our pricing, something we're pretty transparent about, visit JMG.mn.

Welcome to Constant Variables, a podcast where we take a non technical look at building and growing digital products. I'm Tim Bornholdt. Let's get nerdy.

Nick Tietz 1:31
Today, I'm joined by Nick Tietz, from ILT Academy. Hey, Nick, welcome to the show.

Thank you. Thank you. I appreciate it. Tim.

I'm really excited to have you here. I'd love for you to take a chance to introduce yourself and tell us all about ILT Academy.

Hey, thanks a lot, Tim. My name is Nick Tietz. I'm an innovator and entrepreneur. Currently, I'm the CEO and founder of a company called ILT Studios and ILT Academy. We help support and train what we call underestimated entrepreneurs in underserved geographies, rural, urban, like North and South Minneapolis, and informal settlements, sometimes known as slums in third world countries.

That's quite a lofty goal. And it's really great that there's people out there that are like, that are working on that exact problem. You know, I was looking at your LinkedIn, obviously, and if someone were to actually go in and look at your experience section, I don't know too many people where you actually have to click the Show More experiences to get to see the full breadth of what you've worked on throughout your career. I mean, you've done a lot of things in your career. Could you talk a little bit about some of your past experiences and how they've impacted the forming of ILT?

Sure. Sure. And thank you, thank you very much. Yeah, it's, been a really interesting journey. I think everybody's got interesting journeys. And the more we talk about them, and how they shape what we're doing is, it's important. And so we like to focus on that, you know, even with our entrepreneurs, but real quick backstory is I went to the University of St. Thomas, here in Minnesota. And somebody should have told me I was an entrepreneur back then, because I was in the Naval ROTC program, training to be a United States Naval Officer. And I really wanted to be more creative. And so I turned down my naval commission, and went to the Dean of St. Thomas in the journalism department that I was in. And I said, Man, I really want to figure out a different path. And so we created a customized major. So I went to the Minneapolis College of Art Design to get animation and design training. And then I created a customized major in journalism, animation and mass communication, which is a really crazy degree for a naval officer to have.

And when I got towards my graduation, I had to decline my commission, because I just knew that that wasn't the path for me. But I still wanted and felt obligated to serve our country. And so I went in as an enlisted person. I went down to San Diego, where I was on something called a torpedo weapons retriever. And I finished out my time in the Navy down in San Diego, helping to train the fleet, as we were doing a lot of sea operations in the Middle East. And that was a really interesting opportunity, you know, to get lots of different perspectives spending time in the Navy, especially during 911. That was a really interesting time.

But when I finished, I got out, and I had my degree in animation and video production, and that's what I really wanted to do. But the interesting thing that happened was that I I found someone that was like, Well, you seem to know what you're doing. Why don't we give you some money to start your first company? And so I started my first company. We were doing video production. We did that for about five to seven years. We eventually moved back to Minnesota from San Diego, my wife and I did, because we were like, We're never going to be able to buy a home in Southern California during that time period. And while we were here in the Twin Cities, our company kept growing, a little tiny video, motion graphics and interactive company, kept growing. But in 08, 09, the economy tanked, and all of our large and small clients dried up almost at the same time.

But I like to say it was the best thing that happened because I was starting to get into interactive video, and something called user experience design. Now back then, that was barely a term. And I went to a company called The Nerdery. The Nerdery is about 500, well, now it's like 500 nerds in a warehouse. And they do really cool software, custom software development projects. And so I was at The Nerdery for about three or four years. And I helped another gentleman, we grew the user experience department from 4 people to 26, in like two years. It was a lot of fun. But I think my biggest takeaway was that the last year that I was there, I helped lead the efforts to design and develop 100 software applications. And so I jokingly say, I learned all the ways not to build technology.

And from there, I went and did some work at a destination marketing company because I really felt like it was important to think through how do people interact with more than just technology. And I wanted to get a little bit more in the physical world. And so we did a really interesting project with Minneapolis Public Schools, where we helped redefine how our public education system was thinking about delivering the experience of education to students. They were struggling. They were losing students and families in their district. And they were trying to figure out what they could do to stop that. They were losing students to public, to other institutions, charter schools, private schools, and other students leaving the district to go to other districts, to other public places.

So I thought for a moment that I was going to go in and be a public education innovator, and a company called Lifetime Fitness, which is based in Chanhassen, Minnesota, heard about my technology chops. And they invited me to come to Lifetime and see what I could do there to build better technology and develop better experiences for our health club members. I was there for about five years, did some really, really cool projects all over the company. The last couple years that I was there, I reported directly to the CEO on some of some of his, you know, most important initiatives, which was a lot of fun, but the most fulfilling part of working at Lifetime was working with all the team members and the product managers that were spread throughout the company, to try to figure out how we could change the experience for all the team members, and what can we do to improve that. And that was a really, really cool project. We actually, we were doing some work a little bit with Zappos at the time when Tony Shea was still around. And they really, they really wanted to highlight the work that we were doing at Lifetime to change the environment of our employee culture. It was a really, really cool project that I was involved in there.

But at the end of the day, while I was there, you know, Lifetime's big purpose was to build more brick and mortars. They wanted to be a digital company, but their primary focus was building more health clubs. And so I left Lifetime to found, to co-found a startup called the Vitals app. We wanted to solve a problem with first responders and people that have invisible or visible disabilities, that couldn't communicate during the time of crisis. And so we launched a startup called the Vitals app. We were able to grow it really fast. We raised some money. We got it going. And we were about two years into launching statewide. And, you know, we just weren't raising money as fast as we wanted. And the company you know, like many startups, you know, you're trying to grow your product and you have ups and downs and all that kind of stuff and it just became apparent that it wasn't going to work for me to stay on the payroll and help the company grow as fast as it needed to. And, so I stepped away, you know, kept my founder stock. That was important to me, of course.

And I was talking with one of, a dear friend, and kind of a collaborator, if you will, at one of the venture funds in Twin Cities. And I was like, Man, I'm like, you know, you guys have an early stage fund. And you fund startups. You've offered to fund other ideas that we've had, I'm like, Why won't you fund this idea? And they were like, Well, Nick, we can't fund it. Because your company isn't going to be, it's not going to have a 10x return in the next five to seven years. It's going to take longer than that. And then it hit me that I didn't understand my investor customer. Investors have criteria on the businesses that they're going to invest in. Just like customers have criteria when they're going to buy a product from you, you know. If you don't need the product, they don't buy it. As a venture capital firm, if you don't meet their needs, they're not going to invest into your company.

But they said three magic words to me, maybe it was more than three. What if you started another company that we could invest in? And if that company didn't work, what if we invested in your next company? And if that didn't work, what if we did your next one? And I was like, Why would you do that? And they're like, Because you know how to start things in areas where other people can't. And that's something that we would like to invest in. So come pitch us your next idea. And we'll consider investing in it. And it was there that I started doing a little bit of research, because I started to think about, Man, like, you know, over the last 15-20 years, as I've worked as a corporate intrapreneur and a digital software developer, designer, and as the multiple startups that I've tried to start up over the last 10 years, you know, not all of them going very big, or even starting, you know, and I was like, Man, what if I didn't have to find new people every time I had an idea? What if there was like a way for us just to have a team of people that already knew how to build a startup? And what if that was the purpose for this company was to create this environment, where people that either know how to do startups or would want to be part of a startup could just come and work? And I was like, That's the company I want to build. And then I was, because I don't think I've ever had an original idea. But I started to think about what else is like what I'm describing. And I was like, It's like a movie studio.

So I was thinking about back when I was in Southern California, doing more video production and movie stuff. I was like, you know, when Steven Spielberg goes to make his next film, he doesn't grab 10 random people to make a film. He gets his team back together. And he says, Who knows how to film underwater? And if they all say no, they go bring in a subject matter expert, because they know how to tell great stories. And what if we could create a company that we know how to build companies, and we brought in subject matter experts that had a point of view on a product, a problem, or a marketplace, and we put that together and launched it. So if I put all those things together, what I would say is, you know, over the next 10 years, I've built a company that has a startup studio, and I would like to launch 1000 startups over the next 10 years. And I want to find out all the ways not to build a early stage company and commercialize it. And then I want to hire entrepreneurs, and people that are entrepreneurial, to come work at this company, so we can make this a very repeatable process. Do it over and over and over again, except I want to do it in these underserved geographies with underestimated entrepreneurs, just meaning these are people that haven't done it a lot, if at all. And what can we do to change a rural community, an urban community like North and South Minneapolis, and informal settlements, where there are lots of people that understand the problems and the innovations that need to happen in their local community or geography, but teach them these startup and innovation skills that are proven and repeatable? So that's what I'm trying to do as a whole.

Holy cow. That's awesome. I've thought about that kind of a concept before too. I've never thought of it in terms of like the movie studio approach. But like, it makes sense to me that there's, when you look around, like, you know, take the Twin Cities, for example. I think you and I could probably go down and you know, we won't want actually do it on air, but you could probably go down a list of like, if you were going to go build a company today, who are the people that you would want in the roles? And it's not even like, the first thing you wouldn't do is like, what's the idea? The first thing you would do is who are the people that know how to execute on ideas. And once you have that kind of team together, then it's all about, Okay, let's go find the people with ideas. And what I really love about your concept, like first of all, the movie studio analogy is really great. Because with the movie studio analogy, they are constantly using blockbuster victories to fund smaller indie experimental films and things like that. So it's kind of a, you get your couple of big hits that can fund the passion projects and the smaller kind of projects like that kind of model make sense to me, like from a revenue standpoint.

Tim Bornholdt 16:10
The other part of it that is awesome is you going after underserved and I think you said underrepresented, undervalued...

Nick Tietz 16:18

Tim Bornholdt 16:18
Underestimated, thank you. Underestimated entrepreneurs, I love that concept. Like, do you have a couple of like, any tangible examples of people you can talk about of like some underserved or like, maybe just how these people can come to you or how they have come to you? Or how you go out and recruit them? Like how do you get the, once you have this team laid out, how do you go about finding the people to plug in the idea and have that passion to be like, This is the vision that we're all going to be driving towards for the next, you know, six months or a year or whatever it is to get this thing off the ground?

Nick Tietz 16:52
So a couple things to unpack. It's really important when we talk about this is that not every idea needs to be a billion dollar company.

Tim Bornholdt 17:03

Nick Tietz 17:04
So the challenge that I have, or that I guess I'm trying to put out is that, imagine if we could start three $10 million companies in St. Cloud, Minnesota, every year or every other year for that matter, even over the next five years. That would change St. Cloud. What if we could start three $2 million companies in North or South Minneapolis, it would change North or South Minneapolis. And the same thing goes for an informal settlement in a third world country. Like they don't have, not everything needs to be a billion dollar company to make a major impact. And as I've learned, I just was up at the Itasca Economic Development Conference. And I met the author of Strong Towns. And he was telling me that, you know, one of the things that we're not focused on is we keep focused on building all this new stuff, right? But not everything needs to be net new. So even when I talk about innovation and entrepreneurship, I don't mean new things. Like I said, I've never had, you know, a new idea in my life. But what I mean by that is, I'm thinking about what's the new value that we can bring to the market? We don't need to tear down stuff to build up new stuff. Why don't we just reinvent it? So even when we talk about the Vitals app, we didn't come up with the problem that people with autism and that police have. Like those things already existed. But there wasn't a solution that could solve the problem of lack of communication during a moment of crisis with people that can't always communicate for themselves.

But once we start to unpack the problem, now we can start to think about, Well, what is the current solution? Well, the current solution is police need more training. But what if police can't get the training they need and what if they don't understand all the variations of people on the autism spectrum? Let alone PTSD, schizophrenia, epilepsy, dementia, right? There's all like, how would a police officer know how to handle all of those things? Well, what if we could come up with other solutions that would work that weren't training? So my point being is that if we can clarify what the problem is, then we can start to think about not just one solution, but what are other solutions that might work? And then who would want that, the customers, and then the context in which they could be delivered?

So when I talk about, like, what do we want people to be able to do is we want them to have that skill set. And that's the skill set that innovators and entrepreneurs use every day. So then the question is, in these underserved geographies, we already know the problem. It's hard to find good ideas and teams to invest in. They're out there. But there aren't enough qualified candidates to develop and run these early stage companies. And I hear this all the time, from investors, venture capital, and angel investors, you know, etc, etc. And in these underserved markets, as I was mentioning, it's even more difficult because there aren't a lot of these people and startups. They're concentrated in our, you know, more of our larger cities, right, you hear about Silicon Valley all the time, even in the Twin Cities, you know. You could walk around the Twin Cities, and I bet you could find a startup entrepreneur. As soon as you start going into North and South Minneapolis, it's harder to find startup entrepreneurs. And I don't mean small business entrepreneurs. I mean, startup entrepreneurs. Same thing in our rural communities, etc, etc.

But one of the things that I think is really cool is that once you start talking to people that have a point of view on a problem that they think they could solve in their community, and you teach them some of these other frameworks and some of these tools, it's easier for them now to see how they can serve more markets and not just have a lifestyle business, but a small business that could someday turn into a large business. I try to remind everybody, especially as we're teaching this in our academy classes, Lifetime Fitness was a strip mall health club, in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, that is now a large business. And if it isn't the largest health club business in the United States, it's the second largest, but either way, it started as a small business. But it was just a matter of the founder looking at his business model, his customer base, and the problems that he wanted to solve, and then figuring out how to build it up, and then to scale it as big as they want. Not everybody wants to have a billion dollar company. Some do. But again, my argument is, not every idea has to turn into a billion dollar business. What if we had other ones along the way? And how could we purposely train and empower these underestimated entrepreneurs to launch their business in these underserved geographies? Because it will change these communities drastically.

I love that point about not every business needing to be a billion dollar business. And I think if you've listened to this show for more than a handful of episodes, I tend to like, you know, kind of ramble on about the same stuff. And I think this is like another one I'm going to add to my list of things to ramble about if I haven't already is I think that's one problem that I see in technology over and over again, is like everyone has this... I mean, it's not that it's bad to want to be a billion dollar company, like, don't get me wrong. There is a tremendous impact you can have globally with a billion dollar company. And frankly, it's a lot easier to make an impact globally, if that's your goal, with a billion dollars in your pocket or as an industry or an organization that generates that sort of wealth. But I think in a lot of these underestimated communities, and underserved communities, there are so many problems that could be serviced with a, you know, half a million dollar a year business that would make a ton of like, it would have a ton of impact on people. That would create so much wealth and jobs and fix problems that these communities absolutely need. So I really just wanted to underscore that and say, I couldn't agree more of I think you don't have to necessarily think, I'm going to build a mobile app. And it's going to be a billion dollar business, or I'm going to make, you know, hundreds of millions of dollars even. It's like, you know, finding out what success looks like to you and engaging it based off of that instead of having to hold yourself up to being the next Zuckerberg or Bezos or whatever. It's like, I don't think that's healthy for, you know, for one thing, but it's also usually you can make a big enough impact at a smaller scale and investing in that to me is a really worthy cause.

Yeah, yeah, I totally, I totally agree. And that's something that we really talk about and discuss in our academy to make sure these entrepreneurs know. The idea is the easy part. The hard part is the execution. And it's your job to figure out as the founder, How big do you want this to be? It's totally up to you. I've met a number of founders that are like, I loved doing this until I got to 30 employees. And so in that concept of the startup studio, What if your job was to design yourself out of your own business? I mean, that's where a lot of founders get stuck, because they're like, Well, I need to keep being the CEO. What if you went in with the mindset that my job is to prove the market, prove that there's a product that people want, and figure out how to build it up, get traction on my idea, and then go find that CEO that is going to take it from 30 people to 300? And then you become the president of the board. And now your job is to go find the next CEO, when you get to that point, to take it from 300 to 3000. Because that's what happens in today's corporations, right? Like, not every CEO is fit to scale the company to a certain level, and you as the founder, well, you decide what you want to do. If you don't want to manage a 3000 person company, don't. Your life is gonna suck. It's not going to be what you want. You don't have to have a 3000 person company to be happy and fulfilled. Maybe you just like doing the ideas and proving the market. Let someone else manage it. Because there are people that love that part. So when I say to founders, your job is to found the things that you need. When you need a lawyer, you're like, Oh, I found a lawyer. You need money. Oh, I found some money. Oh, you need a CEO. I found a CEO. Found the things you need, find people that are smarter and better than you at these other areas, and fan that flame so that you can grow your business as fast and as big as you want. And if you don't want a big flame? That's totally cool, too. I don't think everything needs to be big, just to be big.

Agreed. It's all contextual. No, I think one question I have about the process, and about how you actually go about doing this. There's a lot of, we've had on the show people that are associated with accelerators and people that are associated with boot camps. I'm really curious to hear how ILT Academy is, you know, similar and different from those types of curriculum for getting people built up in this industry?

No, that's a great question. We have kind of five pillars to our mission, right? We want to find the siloed innovators in entrepreneurial talents in every region. And we want to engage the entrepreneur where they're at. And for us, that means at the very beginning part of the process. Where I see the biggest gap, or when I talk about accelerators, and pre accelerators, you know, accelerators are really great. If you have like an MVP, or you have like a really strong idea, and you've got funding, like accelerators accelerate. It's like, put a jetpack on the back and press launch and you take off, right? If you're not ready for that, you are going to crash. And you may burn up as you're being accelerated.

A pre accelerator, which sometimes might be known as an incubator, kind of depends how we're splitting hairs, is that pre step that really focuses on clarifying your business model and getting into the weeds so that you can be accelerated, right. So I like that term pre accelerator. What we want to focus on, or what we do focus on, I should say, is the early stage entrepreneur. This can be a serial entrepreneur, this could be a student, or a corporate person that's never launched a startup before. We want to teach you the skills needed to purposely push your idea towards commercialization. We don't have a one size fits all program, because what we teach is how to be really adaptable, how to use frameworks and ask the right questions along the way. So that when you finish, you realize that your job is to be the chef or the flavor creator of your business, because you may come to realize that you have a terrible idea. But that doesn't mean we can't, that you can't be an entrepreneur. Just like you may try to make a cake or a dish, a dinner dish or something, and it might come out terrible the first time. Great, do it again. Right? Try something different, put in different flavors. Your job isn't to follow a recipe. Your job is to figure out how to create these different flavors and launch that business.

I think one of the fallacies and I think it's unfortunate is that we stress that as an entrepreneur as a founder, like you need to figure out how to be good at all of these things. And I just don't think that's possible. And in fact, I think it's, unfair is not really a great word, but I don't like it, that as an entrepreneur, we have to put everything on the line to try to get this idea off the ground, right? Like if we were a basketball player, and you walked up to the line, and then you took the shot and you missed and you're like, I guess I can't play basketball. That's not how it works, right? You practice and you practice and you practice. I guarantee you Michael Jordan missed 1000 shots, and he was one of the most accurate basketball shooters in the NBA. Well, why do we do that with our entrepreneurs? You get one shot to make it, by the way, you got to live on ramen, spend your life savings, if you have any, to even have a shot. Well, what if we could create an environment that allowed you to fail small, workout the kinks, as you're working on your idea, and then decide, Hey, is this what I want to spend the next 10 years of my life on? Now you move into a pre accelerator, now you move into an accelerator, right.

And by the way, where we're getting a lot of success, is we have entrepreneurs and small business owners that want to think and act more like a startup and work on these skills while they have a business they've actually already started. And that's been really, really cool to hear. The last thing that I would say, on that mission, right, so find the silent innovators, meet the entrepreneur where they're at, purposely push them towards commercialization is then connect them to a community and culture of other startup entrepreneurs.

In the last 14 months, we've trained 170 entrepreneurs for 10 to 20 weeks on their business. We have a whole new community of people that can speak the language of entrepreneur, and they've done it the same way. It's like walking into a room, and all of sudden, everybody can speak the same language. It is really cool when you see people from different cohorts that have come through talking about like, Oh, did you draw the problem? Oh, I remember when we drew the future state, or we unpacked this, or we used this framework. And we went out and interviewed our customers. And we did our 30 Secont Pitch Night, like, what was it like for you? Like, that was really cool.

And then the last thing is connecting them to all available execution and commercialization resources. Most, the majority of early stage entrepreneurs, myself included, we don't realize the amount of resources that are available to support us on our journey, because it's very disconnected. And I think organizations like Launch Minnesota, the SBDC, the economic development groups, you know, they're doing a good job to try to connect this ecosystem. And so we just see ourselves as a part of that, funneling up and connecting, being a relational router, was what one of my friends likes to say, to these other organizations, with these entrepreneurs that now have their ideas framed up in a way where they can help them. Because they now can clearly explain in 30 seconds or less, What's the problem I'm trying to solve? What's my solution? Who is my target audience? And how am I going to deliver this? It's really, really cool to see these founders, you know, do that work very, very concisely, and people's eyes are lining up when they hear their idea, because they're no longer confused about, What are you trying to do?

There was one thing that you had mentioned that I wanted to underscore again, was this notion of having to hit it out of the park on the first try. I have a friend who, you can call her an overachiever, like she ran in the Olympics, she is a Pro Runner, like just very, very high achiever. And like I've gone over to her house and on her chair in her living room, she has this pillow that has a phrase, a saying, stitched in it, that says, The only time you must not fail is the last time you try. And I've like, I looked at that pillow, and I'm like, who would put a pillow like that on their living room chair. Like, I have to look at that every day. But it's like, you know, that is so true. It's like, especially being an entrepreneur and I'm, you know, been going through this myself with our business is, you know, you think things are going great and you kind of start taking your eye off of certain things to start focusing on other things. And it's the whole walk and chew gum at the same time sort of a syndrome that you start to start tripping over yourself and falling and you get down on yourself for making mistakes, or you make decisions that end up not being the right decisions. And I think that's so important to teach entrepreneurs and teach people that are just, you know, anyone that even if you're not an entrepreneur, it's like building up that grit and that like willingness and the courage it takes to stand up after you get beat down or after you have a failure, to get back up and try again and try something new and not be afraid to make a mistake in public. Like we're all human. We all make mistakes. No one's gonna hold you against it. I mean, you know, there are some mistakes I suppose that could be deemed as unforgivable. But for the most part with running a business and running software, if you make the best choices with the information you have at the time you have it, you know, that's the best you can hope for.

Yeah, well, I totally agree. And I think you know, failure is a way to learn, right? And I think the thing to stress is that you are going to fail at things, and no one should expect you to be perfect. So embrace that. But embrace it from the standpoint of, What can I learn? And how can I learn faster? Right? In embracing that failure, so that you are willing to say, I might fail today, but can I fail small? Like, I don't need to make a million dollar fail? What if I could fail for $1,000? What if I had $100 fail? I mean, and they're not always like monetary fails, but it's just, I think it's kind of the nature of where our brain goes, but how can we fail small?

So for instance, you know, we just had our big 30 Second Pitch Night. And instead of giving a five minute pitch, and failing, what if you just did a 30 second pitch? Because that's a small fail, right? And what do I mean by like, Wait, you mean, like you're telling people to go in and fail? No, what I'm saying is, what we did is we set up an environment where as founders, you can come into the room, and you're going to pitch your idea 8 times in 45 minutes, and then you're going to get feedback. But when you come in, don't pitch the same thing all eight times. Make three different versions of your first 30 seconds, and pitch it and get feedback and figure out which one is the winner. Right? That's a great way to fail small and what was really cool to hear from the founders is that they were like, you know, I went with what I thought was my number one pitch. And some people were like, Yeah, that's pretty good. Other people are like, I don't get it. And then I did my second version. And I got better feedback on that second version than my first version, because they said it was more clear, more specific, you know. I could get behind it. You were more passionate about it. Whatever the case is, right? But my point is, you're not going to get good at things if you don't try them over and over. And if you go in thinking you're going to be perfect, well, we already know that that's not going to work. So what can you do to set you and your team up, especially if you have a team, so that they fail small? You create a good environment for them that allows them to fail safely. You give feedback, coaching and guidance as the founder, but when you go to the marketplace, get in front of your customers as fast as you can, but do it as small as you can. Verify, you know, try it at small, and then you can verify it large scale with a prototype or, you know, whatever you're actually building.

At JMG, you know, we work with a lot of non technical people that are trying to build digital products. I think, a lot of times, you know, people I would assume that come through your door have ideas that centered around technology in one way or another. And I think, oftentimes founders don't have technical backgrounds. If they do, it's, you know, that's kind of a bonus, but a lot of times people don't so I'm curious, how much time is spent during your cohorts around building out the technical side of a business? And if it's a fair amount, you know, what principles do you lean on when you're teaching how to think about building technology?

So that's a really interesting question. So I'm gonna answer kind of like in two parts. So one is, so back in my days from The Nerdery, when we would meet with these founders and these business owners, one of the things that we learned was that we needed to gather the requirements differently. So it wasn't just like, What do you want on this page? What features do you need? It was like, What are you actually trying to do? And how do those solve your customers' needs? And then, based on those needs, what are the features and functionality that actually match up to what you're trying to accomplish as a business and what your customers are trying to accomplish as a user of your software? That radically changed the way that we were helping our customers build it, because the number of times that we would hand the prototype to the client, and they'd be like, That's not what I said I wanted. And then the developers would be like, Yes, it is. I wrote down everything you said. I'm like, Yeah, but that's not what we meant, you know, what we meant was. Right? We needed to take a different approach. So what's really interesting, as you know, as we've embedded that into our curriculum design, is how do we help founders actually clarify what they're trying to do and what their users need and want, so that when they meet with a technology team, because to your point, they often aren't the developers themselves, they can describe it in a way that these experts, who are the people smarter than them in building software, can intake those requirements and then turn them into use cases and user flows and UX documents so they can actually get the software built.

So what I would tell you is that we spend a lot of time on what a business analyst might call business rules. But we do it more from the standpoint of clarifying what is the product or service that you're trying to build? And then how does that, and we let the software people help them, translate them into actual, like, technology requirements and use cases. But based on what that founder's actually trying to move the needle on for a customer.

In our example, that's worked out really, really well is. So as some people may know, one of the founders, and some of the other product people at The Nerdery started a company called Prime Academy for people that want to learn how to code. Well, we've collaborated with them. So we take founders that are learning how to found and coders that are learning how to code and we put them together so that they can build software prototypes of their idea. But what we found or what was really interesting is that these founders, especially the ones that have never built software, were able to work really well with these new coders, because of the way they were describing what they were trying to build and the business requirements, the goals and objectives of their customers that lead to a more, robust isn't really the right word, right? Because it's, you know, what can you build in two months? You can't go very far. But they were able to get some really, really nice prototypes built with a clear picture and outcome and use cases and a demo of what that software was.

And so anyway, in the classes, to answer your question, we do spend time talking about how to build prototypes, clickable prototypes, getting your deliverables out in front of your customers, early and often at the lowest fidelity possible. So that if you are going to go spend money building something, you can do it without building features and functionality that you don't need, and really clarify what that minimum viable product is.

I remember in high school, I had a, our football coach was kind of this like, you know, classic grizzled, old, small, Italian guy who, you know, it's kind of like the old take a salt tablet, just, you know, old school football coach. And I remember him, one time, we were working out like in the weight room, and he was kind of giving us a pep talk. And he was talking about how, you know, if you drive a car, you don't need to necessarily know how the pistons work inside the engine, and how the, you know, you don't need to know how all the bolts and pieces are connected together. But at a minimum, you need to know how to, like, you know, check your oil. You need to know how to do, there's certain, like parts of operating a vehicle that you just need to understand the basics of how it works. And you can always get further down into it if it becomes necessary to you know, like, especially in the context of working out in the weight room. You know, if you need to figure out like, why are you constantly not able to get, you know, the kind of agility you need, maybe you need to figure out which muscles contribute to that agility and then target those muscles with exercises. You know, I think about that in the context of what you just said of, you know. I don't think founders and most people necessarily need to understand how to build an entire mobile app from scratch, including all of the front end and back end and user experience and everything that goes into it. But at a minimum, you need to understand that there are those components there, like you know that your car has an engine. You don't know how it works. You at least know there's an engine there. So I think that's a really interesting approach to doing this here is, at the very least giving them the exposure of clickable prototypes. And, you know, thinking about how you actually go about designing apps.

Tim Bornholdt 44:09
You know, that other part that you talked about was really interesting too of how you got it going at The Nerdery with, it's not, I can't tell you how often, especially in the early days of my business, when people would come to us with these written out specs and say, This is what I want built. And we would just take it and say, All right, and here you go. But then those were the people that were the least happy with us at the end, because we didn't deliver what they had, you know, even if you go back, the worst thing you could do is to go back and shove something in someone's face that says this is what you told me to build. You know, they don't take too kindly to that. But I think when you actually do sit down with somebody and say, you know, when we sit down with people at the outset too, we're asking questions like that, you know, like, What kind of value does this provide? What are the problems you're trying to solve? Like, how is the company making money or saving money from building this thing out? And it feels like you're kind of misleading, like people feel like they're being led or duped. And it's like, No, I need to know, at least at a high level, you know, going reciprocal to what we just talked about with them understanding tech, like, I don't need to know the nuts and bolts of how your business works. I just need to know what these problems are. And then I can help you architect a solution that's going to, you know, solve those problems. And the more that we can get on each other's same wavelength with what the problem is, and bring clarity to that problem, then we can start to architect all kinds of solutions, and we can figure out what fits your budget. We can figure out what, you know, maximizes return. Whatever it is, but you have to start with that clarity at the top of at least having an appreciation for what all these pieces are. And then you know, take your car to the mechanic if it's broken.

Nick Tietz 45:52
Right. No, no, I know, totally, Tim. And it's in it's funny, because when you don't have clarity around the outcome, and the result, and those being two different things, right, a bunch of results will lead to this ultimate outcome. Right? What our founders get really good at is clarifying the outcome that they're trying to achieve with this business or with this idea that they have. Now, how do you get that outcome? Well, we need this result to happen. Oh, what's the result that you want to happen? Oh, this, this, this, this, and this. These results come from a good marketing campaign. These results come from good sales. These results come from good engagement and interactions with our software. Oh, now, that allows to your point that allows the design and development teams to architect a great solution. And as a founder, or as you know, whether you're a product owner or founder, I use them interchangeably at this point, because you are the product owner, and the founder of the company, same time. You want to stay out of those weeds. Clarify those outcomes and objectives and then let those really talented people that you're bringing on your team, let them solve the problems. But you need to know that you at least need these things. Like you need to know that well, I know that we need an engine. I'm not going to tell them what kind of engine we need. I just know we need one. And as long as it gets the result that we need, which will lead to the outcome that I want for the business, then I'm good, right? So your job as the founder is not to get too focused on that micro minutia. Hold people accountable for the things that they need to get done. But measure the gains along the way, identify the gaps in processes or in the product. But don't get so hyper focused that you couldn't close all the gaps. Because there's, you're probably a small team at early stage. Your first MVP isn't going to do everything that you want it to and to the point of what are the minimumly, minimumly, can't even say that. What are the minimum viable requirements needed to create a desirable, viable and feasible product?

Nick, this has been such a fun conversation. I'd love for you to take a chance to, you know, shout out anything you'd like to with ILT and how people can get in touch with you and how, you know, keep this conversation going. It's very exciting.

Well, thank you. Well, I really appreciate that. I mean, I think you know, one of the things that we really want to do as we get connected and engaged in more communities around Minnesota, around the Midwest, we just started our first international cohort in Kibera, which is the largest slum in Africa. It's in Nairobi, Kenya, is that we want to help communities. Our big vision is to help communities become healthier, and thrivier Now, that's a bad word. But anyway, but healthier and thriving communities right, full of problem solvers, innovators and critical thinkers working together to solve the challenges in their community. And we just want, we want to do that around the world. So that's our, that's our vision. That's us thinking big, starting small. We're doing this in St. Cloud, South Minneapolis, and in Kibera. And what we want to do is act fast. We want to find more people that want the same thing. They want to find, they want to get more problem solvers, innovators and entrepreneurs going in their community.

So if you meet someone that's like, Oh, my gosh, they have a good idea. They don't know what the next step is. ILT Academy. They have a good idea. They started it, they didn't get the funding they needed. Come to IoT Academy, we can help you clarify that. We got into an accelerator. We didn't get the funding we needed. We want to do a different idea. Cool. Come to ILT Academy. We will help you work through your idea in a very systematic way, so that when you come back out, you could go back into an accelerator, go into a pre accelerator, or go start pitching the angel investors that want to fund early stage ideas. But if you are a serial entrepreneur, and you're like, I want to do another idea. Cool, come into our academy. We've had more serial entrepreneurs come back to our academy, more than once, in fact, to come work on their idea, because they love the experience of what we're doing. This is all live, it's all virtual. So we're working with people from all over Minnesota. And as I mentioned, internationally now where people are coming together to work on their ideas, push them forward in a very systematic way, and get into a spot where they can really clarify the problem. They're trying to solve their solution, who their target audience is, and why this is a big, important, hairy, audacious problem that they want to solve.

With so much like just doom and gloom that's out there with how many problems there are in the world, it's really great when there are you know, spotlights like this, that it's bringing glimmers of hope and kind of bringing that inspiration back into communities that you know, really need it. We all need it. We all need some glimmers of hope and sharing some knowledge that can really, you know, most people can get there a fair way by themselves. But I would imagine just being part of this community, and being part of what you're bringing out there into the world can really help accelerate that process faster. So, Nick, again, thank you so much for coming on the show today. I really appreciate it.

Oh, thank you so much, Tim, I appreciate it. I mean, we really want to see more underestimated entrepreneurs coming together working on their ideas. And I just want to be really clear, when I say underestimated, I'm talking about gathering people that have been overlooked for one reason or another. But they want to do this, they want to start a business, they want to take their business further. But we're trying to create a spaces and places where we can engage a diversity of thinking, and challenging each other and our ideas, but pushing them up. So we can, you know, we can just boil up these good ideas and like get them out there and get feedback. And if it's not a good idea, great, pivot. And then let's go work on the next one together.

I love it. How can people get in touch with you, Nick?

Oh, the best way, of course is, you know, coming to our website. It's a ILT Academy.io. That's our website. Of course, we are on Facebook and LinkedIn. You can check us out there and see what we're doing. And we've got workshops coming up. We've got a big workshop that's going to be happening in Morehead on December 1. And then we're going to be having two sets of founder showcases. One will be up in northeast Minnesota. It'll be all virtual on the 14th. And then we will be having a inperson workshop and founder showcase on December 16 in St. Cloud, Minnesota. We are pulling in entrepreneurs from all over the state to come up and celebrate this community that we've built up of early stage entrepreneurs to really showcase like the really cool ideas that are coming from our rural, urban, and now informal communities. It's gonna be really, really cool.

Tim Bornholdt 53:37
That's fantastic. And if you didn't catch those, we'll put that information all in the show notes as well. And, Nick, once again, thank you so much for joining me today.

Nick Tietz 53:46
Thank you.

Tim Bornholdt 53:48
Thanks to Nick Tietz for coming on the show today. You can learn more about ILT Academy by visiting iltacademy.io.

Show notes for this episode can be found at constantvariables.co. You can get in touch with us by emailing Hello@constantvariables.co. Or you can find us on Twitter @CV_podcast. Personally, I'm more active on LinkedIn so feel free to reach out to me and connect with me if you haven't already.

Today's episode was produced by Jenny Karkowski and edited by the talented Jordan Daoust.

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