Russ: Hi I’m Russ Capper and this is The BusinessMakers Show coming to you today from Milwaukee, Wisconsin where my guest is Mike Hopkins, the Founder and CEO of MakeStuffHappen. Mike welcome to The BusinessMakers.
Mike: Thanks for having me Russ, appreciate it.
Russ: You bet. Product Development Specialist, MakeStuffHappen; I also understand a few years at Harley Davidson. Throw all that together.
Mike: I built my specialty by working new motorcycle programs at Harley Davidson and it gave me a real opportunity to hone my skills. And I quickly realized by working on these large programs that a lot of my friends who worked at smaller companies didn’t have access to these types of skills. So I started a little side hustle by helping them out and started informal and very quickly escalated into fulltime offers to come work at these startups.
Russ: So you’re no longer at Harley Davidson?
Mike: I’m no longer at Harley Davidson. I went fulltime into the startup world about 2½ years ago.
Russ: How long were you at Harley Davidson?
Mike: I was at Harley Davidson for 16 years and over that period of time I led a number of major motorcycle programs, a street platform in particular, as well as redefine the methodology of how Harley Davidson designs motorcycles.
Russ: It’s kind of interesting, Product Development Specialist and now MakeStuffHappen and smaller, entrepreneurial startups; do they need what you learned?
Mike: What I found is one of my first real formal engagements was doing a strategic planning session for a company and what I found is they have really great leadership but nobody had the experience of necessarily facilitating the team and really defining out what their planning process would be. So it was very easy for me to come in for a week or two, establish the actual collection of what their plan needed to be, put it together in a way that would be useful and then set them off to go execute that plan. It was something that I took for granted when I worked at a corporation that I didn’t realize with everything that’s going on in a small startup they just don’t have time to focus on that.
Russ: It’s kind of interesting the name, MakeStuffHappen. My experience with running and doing several startups and even really observing a lot more from this show is that there’s a lot of people that get real excited about the idea and put the structure together and the company together, but when it comes time to delivering something that people pay for a lot of people have trouble. That must be your sweet spot.
Mike: What I’ve found is really hard is it seems like we all have ideas. A lot of times you’ll hear I’m not creative, I don’t have ideas; everybody’s got ideas and everybody’s creative. The slot I fit in to is how do you take that idea to a point of demonstrated value. That point is really important, whether that means you’re in the market and you’re realizing revenue or you’re an early stage company who’s trying to get to that series A round to impress a VC or an investor, you need to show that you’re on the right path of getting there or you need to have actually had some successes already. An idea is not enough.
So this was an opportunity that I felt I could help with because I’ve done it from a project standpoint within a corporation, but then also I started to see these successes as I was consulting with smaller firms. Hey, if you put these things in place this is exactly what you want to see to show that you’re on the right track and this is how you would communicate that. So I started offering that as a service to others.
Russ: How many different companies have you worked with and helped at this stage?
Mike: I’ve helped about a dozen companies. One thing I realized really quickly is that it’s important to focus, pick the right ones that show a lot of potential but also are very committed to seeing their idea through because this world is hard. People expect that these things happen overnight, right? But these projects or these tasks take a long time to really get to that point of demonstrated value. They need the endurance to get there, not just the excitement. So I tend to focus on no more than 2 to 3 projects at a time and usually I try to balance where they are in the development process so that we don’t have too many intense product launches that are simultaneously going on because that obviously starts to cut into everybody’s bandwidth and stress and capacity really to just be successful.
Russ: I’m curious how receptive are they to have another person come in. I guess it depends on how far along they are and how confident they are in their ability to execute.
Mike: It really varies. I think when I’m starting a conversation with a startup there’s a lot of ambition to get going right away and I like to understand really what problems they’re trying to solve with what makes them a unique value to whatever market they’re trying to target. For me what I find really most engaging about any of these projects is where the Founders’ history has led them into this challenge. So I try to reserve this idea of just trying to come in and help right away with where does this fit in all of our lives; both the Founder, my own as a company and how it fits in the growth of my company as well as the consumer that they’re ultimately trying to solve this problem for.
Russ: But this also is a business show and I’m sure people are saying how do you – how does Mike make money? You’re not doing this just for help right?
Mike: That’s right. I start with helping others and the model is I fit what the business need is for both the client I’m helping, that partner, or what we need as a company to ensure that we have the runway to grow. The challenge here is that particularly working with startups and they haven’t done this, that runway is very, very important to the success of the company. So in every engagement I try to defer any compensation as much as makes sense for both of us.
So typically I start any engagement focused on what milestone are we trying to meet and how does this fit both of our business needs? What are we trying to do? What is the outcome at the end of this milestone and where do we want to be at that point? So some relationships will be equity based and some will be time and materials based, but I find the best relationships are those that balance all three; time and materials, once a milestone has been achieved as well as equity because it builds that long term sort of partnership that we’re not just in this for our business relationship, we’re here for longer term success.
Russ: So how would you describe your success, your return on investment in your time at this stage?
Mike: It’s challenging. So some have gone really well and others we’ve had to renegotiate because experience through the process things change and maybe the expectations aren’t being met in the way that either of us expected. The jury is still out of how well it works but I remain able to be flexible in how I approach these projects.
Russ: So 2, 2 ½ years, I would imagine – unless you were really good or your company’s really good – you haven’t had an exit yet with equity?
Mike: No, I haven’t had an equity exit yet but I knew about a year and a half into it that this could be sustainable. It was hitting that point of okay, I’ve made it this far, I know that there’s a foundation here, that this is repeatable; I can do this. It wasn’t just a one off with this client or this client; this is useful to a lot of others. So part of our strategic plan is how do we now scale this. We’ve demonstrated to ourselves that this works and is valuable to our clients, how do we now grow this so we can help more.
Russ: Cool. Well it’s a real interesting strategy, I thin an expertise that’s needed in lots of startups but you’re going through that startup thing where cash is king too. So I want to stay in touch because I would love to check back in a year or something and see how you’re doing.
Mike: That sounds great Russ.
Russ: All right. Mike, I really appreciate it.
Mike: Thank you.
Russ: You bet. All right and that wraps up my discussion with Mike Hopkins, the Founder and CEO of MakeStuffHappen. And this is The BuisnessMakers Show.
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