Kay Koplovitz, who founded USA Networks, served as its CEO and was the first woman to serve as the president of a TV network, is the co-founder of Springboard Enterprises, a non-profit dedicated to helping women entrepreneurs raise funds.
They raised 6.6 billion dollars over 15 years for 562 companies, including ZipCar and MinuteClinic. In 1998, President Clinton appointed Kay Koplovitz to chair the bipartisan National Women’s Business Council. She is also an honored member of the Cable Hall of Fame and the Babson Academy of Entrepreneurs.
MEDIA CONNECT is promoting her new book, Been There, Run That. Here is an interview with one of the nation’s leading businesswomen and authorities on entrepreneurship:
MEDIA CONNECT: You are among an elite group of what we call Unicorns – people who have built multibillion companies. Your book highlights the lessons and learnings of entrepreneurs who share similar entrepreneurial DNA. How does Springboard help others?
Kay Koplovitz: Springboard has created an expert network of advisors, investors and influencers who help to guide women entrepreneurs through capital-raising and growth phases of their company all the way to liquidity. This is powerful human capital backing them all the way through liquidity.
MC: Been There, Run That, is an actionable collection of advice-filled essays from you and several dozen entrepreneurs. What is its lasting message?
KK: There are very few technical barriers to starting a business these days, as there were when I started USA Networks but still the most precious resource driving success is human capital.
MC: You were a pioneering force in cable television, having been the first woman to found – and serve as president – of a Cable network (USA Network). What were the drivers that led you to disrupt an entire industry?
KK: I was inspired by Arthur Clark and wrote a Master’s thesis on satellite communications in 1968 and was driven by a vision for opening up the television landscape through satellite connectivity. There were only three broadcast networks then, and I knew expecting to fight my way to the top at those companies was a barrier too high. So I had to build my own. It took seven years of hard labor to get earn my way in, but I always had confidence that I could do it. I had mentors that added much value and I truly believe that if I had had access to the advisors available to the Springboard entrepreneurs today I would have built a 10 billion dollar business. That’s why we want to share this knowledge network with others.
MC: Entrepreneurs are disrupting and driving change and growth in many sectors. What skills do they possess that position them well for a marketplace filled with change, challenge, and competition?
KK: Ah, an interesting question and finally we have an answer. A recent Korn Ferry research project zeroed in the answer for us. A survey of Springboard entrepreneurs revealed that they thrive in ambiguous situations and excel at working through complex problems. Simply stated, they have the attributes that organizations should value the most and key to predicting leadership success.
MC: Which industries hold the most growth promise for entrepreneurs today?
KK: The exponential growth of technologies and life science today make almost every industry a target for growth. I have always looked for chaos in a market because that’s when there is real opportunity. Having said that, I think Life sciences such as biotech, diagnostics and devices are rapidly changing healthcare, and healthcare IT is one of those changes on the top of investor’s lists. Enterprise software is big again as well as media and retail technology Clearly the Internet of things is raising the issue of security and privacy, and finally, the sharing economy is a response to the lives millennials choose to live.
One of your book’s contributors says that innovation is about behavior, not products – and that you can’t innovate alone. Why is this so? Innovation comes from solving really big problems and in order to know you have something really big, you have to have customers to valid it. Then you need great operational execution because it is the only way to build out something of lasting value. Thirdly, you need great talent and partners to support you. It’s about understanding how these behaviors, not just the product or service, drive success.
MC: What’s the key to creating a positive corporate culture?
KK: It is important to know your core values, and that everyone in the company, even if there are only two or three others at the start, know and believe in these core values. For example, when I took my first corporate job, I noticed certain behaviors that I thought were wasting corporate resources. People trying to undermine others efforts, people taking three hour lunches, a certain amount of back biting and more. That’s when I decided that when I started my own culture would be built on transparency, team work, problem solving and cooperation. You have one time to set your company culture, and it is at the beginning.
MC: How can a company get a better product-to-market fit?
KK: Finding customers who are willing to pilot your product or service is the best way to determine great product to market fit. In a pilot, you can adjust by what you learn before taking the product to a broader market, saving both time and money. Find out more in the chapter, Ellie Cachette’s “Five Tips for getting to Product-Market Fit.
MC: Is crowdfunding a good way for a start-up to go or should it focus on getting venture capital?
KK: Crowdfunding is relatively new, having just been approved by the Securities & Exchange Commission in September 2014. In order to be successful, you must be prepared to produce a well planning marketing plan including a compelling video pitch, state how much you are raising and what percent of the company that investment will buy. It is also possible to raise capital through pre-orders for consumer products, not equity. It is an evolving market and is right for some people, especially for early stage or angel level investing. It also validates a product or service and is viewed as validation by a variety of venture firms.
MC: Where do you see the emerging power of human capital heading?
KK: I believe that human capital has always been critical to the success of entrepreneurs and corporate executives alike. At Springboard, we place a high valuation on human capital and consider it a necessary means to any desired exit.