Into the Lion’s Den: Lessons from Entrepreneurship

On a sunny day, I walked confidently into my first day at work for one of the bigger television stations in the US, feeling pretty good about my new reporting job. A photographer welcomed me and with a smirk and a smile, he said in a whisper, “Welcome to the lion’s den, kid. You’re fresh meat. Be careful.” It was his warning that I had to have my own back and being the new person didn’t mean I would get any breaks. That was the television world at that time. Get it done, get it done right or move aside. Your competition was everyone. My journey as a broadcast journalist was one that tested me in almost every possible way until I became an entrepreneur.

It was a real honor to share the tests of entrepreneurship with the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network (DWEN) Tech Talk in November. I love talking latakoo every chance I get. We’ve come quite a distance since my co-founder and I created latakoo in 2010. It’s always my hope that someone will hear something that speaks to them and it helps them in their journey and success.

The DWEN talk, with Intel’s Global Sales Director Sarah Wieskus moderating, focused on the topic of How to Position Your Business for the Future. That’s something most entrepreneurs are thinking about. At latakoo, one of our goals is to build the future of content collaboration and sharing.  Our video workflow company is always working to meet the ever-changing needs of the largest broadcasting companies in the world. 

Please do watch our full Empower Hour chat here. A big thanks to Sarah, Intel and Dell!

If you can’t watch, I put together a list below from our chat of my tips for entrepreneurs and best practices that have helped me and our company grow. I certainly haven’t done it alone and I’m still learning. My co-founder Paul Adrian and I share these three qualities: We love to learn, we’re big on research and data, and we don’t like to quit.

I really do wake up every morning and think, “I can’t wait to go to work!” As a business owner, yes, I’m always working, but what I mean is I can’t wait to engage with my team, and I can’t wait to solve problems for my clients. 

That doesn’t mean every day is full of roses. There have been many challenging times along the way. As I said during the talk, I knew starting a business wouldn’t be a cakewalk, but I didn’t know how hard it would be to build a company starting with an idea and taking it to profitability within 5 years. I hope these tips and lessons learned help you and your future. Best of luck!

 

MY BEST PRACTICES AND TIPS FOR ENTREPRENEURS

  • Try to do something every single day that grows your business
  • Listen intently to your clients’ needs, and work to come up with solutions 
  • My main ingredients to survival and success:

             • Persistence

             • Grit

             • Not backing down

             • Not letting go entirely, but enough so that others can do their jobs

             • Taking a step every day toward a goal

             • Tackle one problem one at a time, and don’t let them overwhelm you

             • Having realistic expectations

  • When should you ask for help?

             • We bring in help for two reasons: When you or your team become inefficient, and tasks are taking too long, or when we need a specialist.

 

IF YOU’RE LOOKING TO START A BUSINESS

  • It’s important to have an idea of how much bandwidth you have to contribute to it.
  • If you can’t give it your full focus, it’s likely to be much  tougher. Also, investors generally don’t invest in part-timers.
  • When it comes to the financial investment, bootstrap for as long as you can.
  • If you can, find a way to build your business, instead of spending all your time trying to raise investment.
  • If you’re creating something that’s a solution for your clients, then focus on the clients and what they need.
  • Success means having the freedom to create and make your own decisions. Don’t rely on others to make your decisions. Listen to everyone who gives you advice with a mind to evaluate the advice before acting on it. 
  • It’s important to have mentors you can go to for counsel who are always cheering you on, but also not afraid to be honest and give you a reality check.
  • Make your decisions based on research and data first, but don’t ignore your gut feelings.
  • If you’re an entrepreneur because you want to provide a solution and you are dedicated, then you’re going to figure it out.

 

I think about missed opportunities, often giving a good deal of thought to things I didn’t do well and how I could improve next time. At the DWEN talk, someone asked about books that helped me. I answered that I have a ton of  books. Lots of Malcolm Gladwell. None of them were top of mind at the time so I spoke about finding people who are actually doing something and understanding their examples. I want to add to that here. I enjoy being a learner. I try not to make decisions without data and research. Reading and listening are obviously integral to learning. I don’t always want to read a book that’s self-help or business related because I need an escape. My current read is a psychological thriller. Having said that, my favorite read in 2021 was “Breath,” by James Nestor. A fellow female entrepreneur friend gifted it to me. James Nestor is again, someone who is out there doing what it takes to change his life and the lives of others. He did research on himself to cure his illness. In this book, he provides research and methods on the healing power of our breath. Whether we want to deal with stress or improve our performance, breathing the right way and focusing on the breath, makes a difference. Here’s more about Nestor’s mission and how it can help you deal with stress. 

I also read lots of blogs on Medium, check the New York Times and Washington Post daily and I have several podcasts that I frequent on my runs, including The Rich Roll Podcast and Masters of Scale with Reid Hoffman. Roll is an ultra athlete and a vegan. I’m a runner and a vegan. Roll brings on guests who are inspirational in their quests in life, people who are trying to change the world, save the planet, help animals, live longer, live better. Rich Roll is one of the reasons I am a vegan. Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, meanwhile focuses on how founders scaled their companies, telling the origin stories of companies that scaled successfully, with people sharing their challenges and lessons. One of the reasons I enjoy Masters of Scale is Hoffman’s genuine love for entrepreneurs and what they do. One of my favorite quotes about entrepreneurship comes from Hoffman, “An entrepreneur is someone who will jump off a cliff and assemble an airplane on the way down.”

Like a lot of entrepreneurs, I am definitely that kid who asked “why” a lot, defying some of the rules. Why does it have to be this way? Why can’t we do it better? Why is this the rule? Not every rule is right or efficient or good. Sometimes to change things, you have to step into the lion’s den and figure your way out.

If You’re Not Using Pilot NextGen, You’re Missing Out

You know the feeling when you go to the grocery store and they’ve rearranged the aisles? You’re immediately annoyed because now the quick trip isn’t going to be so quick anymore as you struggle to learn the new layout. Why is it so hard to find a loaf of bread?! But with each shopping trip you get a little more comfortable, and can’t seem to recall how things were before. The reasons behind the changes become more clear as you discover new items the store was making room for with the new design. The end goal was to create more options and a better experience for customers.

While latakoo Pilot isn’t exactly a grocery store, it is the spot multimedia teams depend on around the clock to get the files they need. It’s the magical place in the cloud where our community of content creators view, download and share videos, pictures and audio uploaded through latakoo. As our technology and offerings evolve, a new Pilot was needed to grow along with it. October 13, 2021 was an exciting day, to say the least, as we rolled out the new and improved Pilot NextGen to our users.

 

 

What Changed?

The before and after is drastic. Not only did the new site get a visual makeover, but the updated Pilot is packed full of new features and functionality that our team thoughtfully designed based on feedback from real users who drive everything we do at latakoo. Turning on the new Pilot for everyone was as simple as the click of a button, but the transformation was years in the making. 

Some of the biggest upgrades include new options that allow users to personalize their Pilot. You can create a custom list of Selected Networks that you access the most, eliminating extra time spent scrolling through a long list of choices. Click on the video below to see how.


The all new List View displays files more like a spreadsheet and is also fully customizable to fit your workflow. The added Bulk Action buttons enable users to delete, download, move and copy multiple files at once. There’s also the noticeably larger and smarter video player that offers a much better viewing experience.
Click here to view the new Pilot Basic Guide.


Post-Release Fixes & Enhancements

Pilot NexGen has now been out for testing for a full month, and we want to thank you for communicating issues you’ve found as you use the new system. Our team has been working diligently to push fixes.

Here’s what our team has resolved to date:

  • Improved search results
  • Sharing links (direct and embed)
  • Saving, moving and copying metadata
  • No more % in downloaded file names
  • MPEG2 transcodes


These are the improvements coming soon: 

  • Ability to rename files
  • Audio file thumbnail in certain web browsers
  • Group upload file names
  • Ability to download individual elements from a group
  • Isolate individual audio tracks


Valuable user feedback has already led to Pilot enhancements. A client asked if it was possible to add a progress bar so they could track the status of files through the entire latakoo system — letting them know the second a file is uploaded to the moment it’s landed in their asset management system. The short answer was: YES! Our team at latakoo has always had access to this data behind the hood, but producing that data in a way that you could easily digest it required quite a bit of designing and building. We are happy to report it’s now available to users through the new File Tracking feature built into Pilot. Similar to a FEDEX or UPS package tracker, with our Flight Tracker, you get to see the arrival points and times for your file.

 


When will Classic Pilot go away?

At your grocery store, changes are usually made with zero heads up or adjustment period for shoppers. At latakoo, we wanted our users to ease into this new territory at their own speed, and be able to go back to the old system as needed. That’s why, when Pilot NextGen became the default, we put the “Back to Classic Pilot” button right at the top for users to click on any time and go back to what they were comfortable with.

Our hope is that you’ve started living in the new Pilot full-time. If not, give it a try! Once our team tackles the list of improvements above, Classic will go away and NextGen will become the main Pilot. The important thing to remember is that Pilot NextGen is running on the latest technology with an optimized database, allowing for more speed and flexibility. We will be sure and communicate to you with plenty of notice as Classic Pilot is retired. You can look forward to more updates as we continue to provide the tools and technology to simplify your workflows. 

The Interoperability of Being

As ridiculous as it sounds, multiple people get a notification every time my cat, Raja, uses his smart litter robot and any time there is a sound in my hallway. I or someone else can act on those notifications with connected devices. Does Raja’s litter need to be changed or is he just tripping the system? The robot will tell us. Is there a package at my door? The camera will let us know. App makers connect us to our pets, our cars, our fridges, our shoes. We live in the age of connection and while broadcast has been slower to the trend, we’re now seeing a growing demand for interoperability and flexibility in the enterprise broadcast and media sector.

“For years, people sat on panels and said the NRCS (Newsroom Computer System) needed to be that interconnect. Everybody listened. Nobody did anything about it,” said Blake Russell, the Executive VP for Station Operations and Content Development at the Nexstar Media Group. Mr. Russell envisioned a world where multiple systems opened up secure endpoints to connect with the newsroom computer system. “That’s our NASA, our Mission Control,” he explained. Nexstar owns, operates or provides service to 199 television stations and their related signals reach approximately 62% of all U.S. television households.

Mr. Russell and Nexstar were among the first to push for this, but they are not alone. This has become a routine request from media clients. Recently a buyer said, “We really love having our video and transcriptions and metadata in latakoo, but I like that it also shows up in Avid.” latakoo’s backbone is built on agnostic collaboration. Our cloud infrastructure and API exist in such a way that we can provide secure connections to integration partners.

There’s a natural instinct for self-preservation: a catch in the throat, a protective fear that occurs when broadcast vendors talk about interoperability. No matter what customers want, it sounds suspiciously like we are being asked to build a bridge into our service that allows some other company to sell something to our customers that maybe we could have built and sold ourselves. Why give up business to an interloper? After all, this is not the consumer web. We support a niche industrial market that some of us have carefully developed, groomed and served for decades.

And when I say “we,” there are doubtlessly some tenured technology vendors who look at latakoo today and see an “interloper.” The reality is that whether we’re talking about new technology startups in a market or newly arrived immigrants to a country, the temptation once one has arrived and survived is to immediately turn around, close and bolt the door. Let’s build a wall, because we can clearly handle things from here. I can understand the trepidations here as I am both an immigrant and a startup technology founder, but we can’t let fear create handcuffs.

While the temptation is strong to create closed branded ecosystems with locked-in customers, there are at least two problems with this bar-the-door strategy. First, it is a guaranteed superhighway to mediocrity. And second, it does not serve the best interests of our customers. Truly free markets are scary precisely because they are not protected, and that means that some innovator (not interloper) can surprise and disrupt the market with a superior service or business model. That is also why free markets are awesome for customers. Innovators create the future through their imagination and skilled execution. Everyone benefits.

After Eliud Kipchoge, a personal hero and the Kenyan marathoner, ran his epic sub two-hour marathon, he said, “No human is limited.” His “why” resonated with the world, “The reason for running 1:59 is not the performance. The reason to run 1:59 is to tell that farmer that he is not limited; that teacher that she can produce good results in school; that engineer… that he can go to another project.” Kipchoge built a team of rivals to get it done, pacemakers who were among the world’s best distance runners. That’s how records get broken. And sometimes during the race, competitors discover they are faster when they collaborate.

For years, broadcast and media customers asked vendors to provide easy access to superior solutions under one umbrella. “We need to remove the level of complexity to use broadcast technologies and find out how we can all get along within the same environment,” said Mr. Russell. “You don’t need six things, each doing one element alone. You need one thing that can talk to everything and it has to be secure.”

Like almost every major station group in the United States today, the Nexstar Media Group grew quickly as it acquired other station groups. This created a communications challenge which the Nexstar team brought to latakoo. How does a station group operating in 100+ markets realize its potential economies of scale through real time communication and content sharing? Another station group simultaneously described the same scenario. We tackled the challenge and called our solution, Manifest.

At its heart, Manifest is a searchable index of assignments that allows users to quickly discover what is being produced that day throughout the company. Teams can search through a huge organization’s assignments by category, geographic region and precise search terms. They can follow developing stories they discover for updates and request that the content be delivered directly to them the moment a journalist turns in a story by sending the finished product through latakoo from the field to that reporter’s home station.

Like every other part of latakoo, Manifest can exist on its own or it can integrate into another asset management system. For Mr. Russell’s team, there’s no time to duplicate work by re-entering data in more than one place. Instead, the systems used by reporters need to synchronize so that the same information and content is available on every platform they use. Today, Manifest already seamlessly integrates with three of the world’s most used Newsroom Computer Systems as well as a custom assignments system, called Daybook, built and used by Nexstar.

This year, latakoo is participating in the roll out of another collaboration product that provides broadcasters the benefits of two companies, each doing what they do best. The Panasonic US team reached out to us earlier this year with a proposition. Their PTZ (Pan, Tilt, Zoom) cameras are in demand, and they’ve got low latency streaming video built right into the cameras. The challenge their customers face is easily setting up the necessary web systems to support the cameras. Could latakoo help? As a web- based software service provider, latakoo used the tools Panasonic baked into its cameras to easily discover the cameras on a LAN, to send the video to the cloud, to control the cameras from anywhere in the world and to direct the video stream to on-premise broadcast playout. Panasonic makes hardware solutions. latakoo makes software services. Marry the two and broadcasters receive the collaborative benefits of each company’s specialty skillset.

All of this is not to say that companies should ever walk away from the creation of any disruptive service or product they see fit to produce. The key is to go ahead and build the things you know are needed in the marketplace, but also negotiate an entry point for others to integrate. Vendors will do better if customers choose their service because it’s better and not because customers feel chained inside their matrix.

Cloud with a silver lining

“I don’t know if you’re aware of what happened here,” said our client. “But we had to send our editors home – all of them – nearly 200.”

It wasn’t a choice. The state’s governor  ordered all non-essential workers to seclude themselves to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. And while these workers qualified as essential, they got sent home anyway because one sick employee could infect enough others to knock a critically important newscast off the air.

“Here’s the thing,” our client continued. “We’ve learned that the work can get done from home. These people are not coming back. We’re already converting edit bays for use as offices and other things.”

After years of tolerating, but not openly embracing the full potential of cloud technology, the pandemic forced broadcasters to rip off the Band-Aid and in-an-instant fully adopt the cloud as a primary tool for the construction of their newscasts.

Before the pandemic, our cloud based platform  was primarily used to quickly move content from the field through the Internet to a broadcast centre. It was an acquisition tool. But once people began working at home, that video had to go the other direction; from the broadcast centre to people’s dens and home offices.  The video also had to be accessible to watch in the cloud.

While content transfer has always been bi-directional and the video has always been watchable within the platform, what changed was where people were working. Confirmation for the anecdote our client verbally shared with us leapt off the page when we looked at their usage data. This customer’s team uploaded 1,800% more video in May 2020 than in May 2019 in their headquarters city.  The staffers watched 8,000% more video on the platform. They streamed nearly 150,000 video minutes in just one month. Welcome to the cloud.

The thing about the pandemic is that it hastened a change that was already occurring, and like those soon-to-be-converted edit bays, broadcasting itself will change forever going forward.  This opens up tremendous opportunities for broadcasters, production companies and the vendors that support this community to fully explore and develop the potential of massive amounts of scalable compute, endless inexpensive storage, integrations and interoperability.

No longer is an editor confined to a small room physically attached to a limited set of locked down on-premise tools. Now, that editor can connect to the most innovative services in the world. Some built by niche specialists who may literally do one thing better than anyone else.  The content creator gets access to that specialized tool if it is connected to her organization’s cloud platform.

And that is the real key. We vendors must create systems that make integrations and interoperability easy and seamless in order for our shared customers to reach the full potential of the cloud. That is easy to say but is a huge step for the industry. It may even be a bigger step than the one the broadcasters took when they sent their editors home.

The video vendor industry has a long history of building proprietary products that attempt to lock-in a customer base to a specific brand. This lock-in practice has not disappeared as vendors have taken to the cloud. The competitive instinct of some storied brands is to attempt to build a single siloed cloud platform that does everything their customer needs.  The problem with this model is that even if it temporarily satisfies a customer, the silo is almost instantly out-of-date and will lag behind new solutions built by the rest of the world.

The true promise of the cloud lies in being able to easily access different cutting-edge technologies from your chosen platform, and that is available to your team if the vendors you choose make it easy to connect their system to services created by other companies.

Our core foundational belief is to be a bridge between the technologies that our customers use.  A perfect example of this philosophy is the provision of a service on our platform that tracks the metadata associated with video stories from birth to broadcast by seamlessly integrating with the newsroom computer systems that our customers use.

It is possible that the legacy of this pandemic will not all be bleak as it forced broadcasters and vendors to work together to unlock the full potential of a cloud that is still connected to traditional broadcast facilities and to the video editor creating something beautiful from her home office.