"Make It Happen Before It Happens to You"

As an early investor in companies such as Facebook and Netflix, Mark Thompson knows a thing or two about identifying the ingredients that go into making a successful company. In advance of his keynote presentation at this year’s BizConCLE event on Oct. 12, Mind Your Business had the opportunity to sit down and get Thompson’s unique takes on how to attract capital, what the next business disruptors will be, and what challenges business owners might be facing in the future.

Read on below to find out what Thompson had to say about these issues and more …

Q: Without giving away the store, what’s one key takeaway you want people to come away with after listening to your presentation?

 A: I want them to know how finding the right talent can be a game changer for businesses. It’s all about finding the people who are connecting with your customers and finding people who have the willingness to grow and scale. You want to find those people who are customer-focused, believe in the business and are willing to have an open-minded attitude.

In growing markets like Cleveland, that battle for talent is acute, so having a strategy to find people who add all three of the characteristics I just mentioned is key. Then, you have to help these people develop those skills. That ends up being your recipe for success.

Q: What are the best ways for a business to raise the capital it needs to fund growth?

 A: The specifics depend on the capital you’re raising: venture capital, small business loans, tax credits, etc. But in terms of getting funded, generally the people who take a bet on you will do it because you have demonstrated you can grow your business in changing times. They love to see a great track record; that always sells a banker. They like to see the humility to be able to change and to be willing to grow. They also want you to be open to looking for ways to improve things on behalf of your customer.

Everyone knows it’s never a straight line when it comes to business and the customer is always changing. You want to be characterized as having some flexibility. You want to make—and keep—promises. You want good, quality testimonials from your customers. Those kinds of third-party endorsements show what you have been able to achieve.

Q: What’s the biggest challenge you see businesses struggling with today?

 A: I talked about this a little bit before but I really think it comes down to finding talent and finding someone who believes in your business and their willingness to feel connected to the business. It takes more than money to attract people to your business. You attract talent with meaning. They want to work with people they believe in, trust and that have their long-term development in mind. This also means caring about the larger life they lead and I’m talking about Boomers as well as Millennials.

People do want to feel connected to the work they do and the people they do it with. Think about your mission, your vision. As humble as the business might be, you still want to trust your boss and believe in what she’s doing. Leadership matters more today than ever before.

Q: What do you think is going to be the next business “disruptor” people are going to have to deal with?

 A: What we’ve found is that you need to be the change you wish to see. In Cleveland particularly, when you’re walking down through the neighborhoods and looking at the way they’ve been transformed, that takes leadership. That shows a willingness to work with these communities and that they wanted to lead the change rather than be run over by it.

You have to make it happen before it happens to you. It’s your role to continue to lead the change and find opportunities to serve your customer better, faster and cheaper and have empathy for the customer. Whether you’re a B-to-C or B-to-B, you’re seeing the world our customers live in is changing so fast. The winners are those who recognize that. You want to be that partner with your customer and have shared objectives. Boy, that will really start to separate you in a world where there are a lot of short-term-isms.

In Cleveland, you have a context for having a long history and building long-term relationships. That’s your strategic advantage. Use it. Your customers have to change and you can help them change.

Q: What’s one thing no one is talking about that’s going to be on everyone’s mind 12 months from now?

 A: In a year from now, we’ll be talking about companies expanding domestically and also how you can participate globally in the economy. One way to think about your business is how the product or service you’re offering in Greater Cleveland could be offered in other cities, states and countries around the world. Start thinking about that larger dream.

Related to that, think of more and more ways to partner with your customer by developing different programs or solutions that address their needs. Behave like you’re more deeply integrated with them. Even if you’re in the product business, you’re still providing a service.

Find out more about the other keynotes who will be taking the stage at BizConCLE in October. And learn more about the plenary and breakout sessions planned at this year’s event.