Interview with Carol Clark
Terry Morreale: Hi, this is Terry Morreale from the National Centre for Women in Information Technology, or NCWIT. This is part of a series of interviews with fabulous entrepreneurs, with women who have started IT companies in a variety of sectors. All of whom have incredible stories to tell us about being entrepreneurs. With me is Larry Nelson from w3w3.com. Hello Larry, how are you?
Larry Nelson: I'm magnificent and I'm so happy to be here today. At w3w3.com we record all business people from all over the place. We really like to focus in on entrepreneurs. You can listen to this interview and others on w3w3.com.
Terry: Great, thank you. Today we are interviewing an entrepreneur with more than 35 years experience in the startup community. Carol Clark is the co‑founder of "Mind Leaders Inc" and served as the CEO and chair of the board of the company from its formation in 1981, until "Mind Leaders" was acquired in 2007. "Mind Leaders Inc." integrates talent management and e‑learning resources to deliver development solutions from a single platform.
Carol currently serves on the board of directors at "Ed Map Inc," "Sia Linden Associates Corp," and "Ecolibrium Solar Inc," on the investment committee for the "Patient Capital Collaborative 13" fund, and on the executive committee of the "Ohio TechAngels Fund." Before we start Carol, tell us a little bit more about your current endeavors.
Carol Clark: What I'm doing now, is I'm an active "Angel" investor. That means that we invest in young companies. I am on the patient collaborative investment committee. That's part of investors circle. We focus on impact investing. The "Ohio TechAngels" group in Ohio, naturally, we focus on medical devices, technology, Ohio company.
I'm also a member of Golden Seeds, which is an "Angel" group in New York City. They have chapters on the west coast and in Texas. Two years ago I founded "X Squared Angels" which is a group here in Columbus, very much after "Golden Seeds." We focus on women led companies. Women companies can be anywhere in the country, actually anywhere in the world, because you apply to us from Canada, and it can be in any market.
We're just trying to invest in companies that have women in management teams. Being an active angel investor is a lot of work [laughs] . But it's also a lot of fun. You get to meet the investors, you hear all kinds of interesting ideas for companies, and you meet lots and lots of interesting people. That's what I'm doing now.
Terry: Sounds fun.
Larry: Wow, I love it.
Terry: [laughs] Tell us how you first got into technology, Carol?
Carol: I was a math major in college. Way back in the dark ages. When I graduated from college, the large companies would go around and interview at the liberal arts schools. "IBM" was one of the companies that came to interview at Gettysburg College where I graduated. I thought, "well, that sounds like fun, computers," and I wanted to go to New York City anyway. Back then they gave you a programmer's aptitude test.
If you passed the test and some series of interviews, then they offered you a job. I started as what was called the system service representative, which ultimately became a systems engineer in one of the Manhattan offices in New York City. I got into computers in the early 60s, really when computers were just starting.
Carol: It was just so much fun.
Terry: That's fantastic. What technologies do you think are cool today?
Carol: I never thought I would say this, but I think "Twitter" is. When "Twitter" first came out, I thought, "this is technology looking for some application. What is anybody going to do with it?" What I think has happened is that "Twitter" is really our news of the world today. Nothing really can happen in the world without somebody knowing it, and somebody sending it through their cell phone over "Twitter".
I think "Twitter" is really cool. That would be one thing. The viruses that are popping up all the time are really cool. You write a program and I look at the program, and I say "well, I can get around your program" until I do, and then you look at what I've done and you get around it. This particular thing is what's pushing the programming world today. It certainly doesn't have nice ramifications, but I think it's really cool technology.
The third and final thing would be what they're doing with Quantum calculations. Encryption on the web, the World Wide Web, is done with RSA encryption. It basically is just multiplying random numbers together, prime numbers together, and then encrypting them through an algorithm. It's done once each time data is sent. Nobody can break it, because it takes too long to re‑engineer that calculation.
What they're doing now is they're using quantum mechanics to calculate in a different way, and they're going to be able to encrypt everything a whole lot faster. I just saw a TV show on it about two weeks ago and I thought it was really cool. They're my three things.
Larry: Wow. We'll have to look that up for sure. Just to switch gears, Carol, a little bit, why are you an entrepreneur? What about entrepreneurship that makes you tick?
Carol: I think people become entrepreneurs because they want to control their own time, control what they do. What you quickly find out is, many people say, "I'd like to become an entrepreneur because I'm my own boss." You're never your own boss. When you're an entrepreneur, your customers are your own boss. I really liked having the customer as my boss because there were very few politics involved in it [laughs] .
They either like what you're doing and they pay you money for it, or they don't. It's a very simple, nice relationship. I thought I would be an entrepreneur because you can control your own time, you can create what you want and make it as good as you want it, but what I really found that I liked was the fact that you're working for your customers. They're leading the way. I liked that a lot.
Larry: With that kind of comment about the time, that you mentioned, you ought to teach a class on time management.
Carol: I would probably make people crazy. I already make my husband crazy with my time management.
Terry: Carol, tell us who influenced or supported you to take this career path? Role models, mentors, people like that?
Carol: I gave this one a little bit of thought. I would put my parents first. They really provide the unconditional love, self confidence, and they say you can do whatever you want. My mother did that. My father also did that. My father would say, "I don't have a clue what you're doing with these computers, I don't understand it.
I don't know what it is, but I'm all for it" [laughs] . He built ships, so he had physical things that he created, and for me to go into software was really hard for him to understand. Nevertheless, he supported it and was the cheering section all along the way. Then I would have to say that my husband was there the whole time and said, "just go do it. If you think it's the right thing to do, go do it."
Terry: That's great.
Larry: Wow. With all the different things you've been through, you've got such a fabulous background. Along the way you've had a lot of interesting things happen. What are the toughest things that you've had to do in your career?
Carol: One of the toughest things you have to learn, maybe two things. One is, don't take yourself seriously. Really, nobody's watching. If you fall on your face, nobody's paying any attention. You might feel silly, but I think the first thing is you can't take yourself too seriously. It takes a while to learn that. That would be number one.
The second thing is, if you're going to lead, and if you're an entrepreneur you are going to lead, the first thing you have to remember about leadership is you have to make sure people are following [laughs] . You could have the best idea in the world, but if nobody agrees with you or nobody will come with you, you're not going to get very far.
You have to keep looking over your shoulder to make sure that those people that are every bit as important, maybe more important than you are to the success of the company, are right there with you. Those are the two toughest things to learn.
Terry: Indeed, in life and in entrepreneurship [laughs] .
Carol: Right [laughs] .
Terry: If you were sitting here with a young person today and giving them advice about entrepreneurship, what advice would you give them?
Carol: I actually do a fair amount of counseling with people of all ages, but many young people. The first thing I say is, "Is there a market for this product? Is there a large market for it? 500 million or larger?" Because when you start out with this product, you're only going to get a little teeny tiny piece of the market. The market has to be big enough for you to make money doing this.
Number one is the market. Number two is the product. You might think you have the coolest technology in the world, but if nobody's going to pay you for it, you don't have a business. Talk to those potential customers and find out whether they're interested in buying what it is you want to sell. That would be number two. The third one is, you absolutely need to understand the financial statements. You can't go anywhere without understanding the financial statements.
If I say to you as a potential entrepreneur, "OK, give me three years of projections month by month, and make a list of the assumptions that you're making about this business," and you can't do that or you don't want to do that, you're going to really have a difficult time. You have to understand the numbers. You never should run out of cash.
The final thing is you need to understand your own limitations. You need to know what you don't know and go hire it, or find someone who will do those things for you. Those would be the four things. Make you've got a big, big market for this. Make somebody will pay money for this product, understand the numbers, find out what your limitations are, and get a team around you that can make up for your limitations.
Terry: That is wonderful advice. Thank you, Carol.
Larry: Excellent. Maybe I shouldn't even ask this question. It just seems natural with everything you've said so far. What personal characteristics do you think you have, that have given you the advantage as an entrepreneur?
Carol: The first one if a sense of humor.
Carol: I really do. You're going to do things wrong, you're going to do stupid things. You're going to say stupid things. You just have to laugh about it. It's not the end of the world, you're still you. You pick yourself up and you go forward. That is probably the first one.
The next is hiring good people. Those are the only two things. You need to be able to hire people that complement who you are and what you want to do. You're going to make mistakes there too. I guess the rule is hire slowly and fire quickly. I think that's true.
Terry: Carol, what do you do to bring balance into your personal and professional lives?
Carol: I think it's a gift, but I really can turn off the professional piece. I do have four children. They're all grown, of course. Certainly, you have to be able to turn off your professional life when you're raising a family. My husband and I love to travel, so we travel. I love to ride my bike.
I go out on the roads or the trails. I'm not fast. I just mosey along, stop and talk to people or stop and look at flowers or insects or trees, or whatever happens to interest me. That just as peaceful. It is pure joy. You need to have interests other than professional or you make yourself crazy, and you need to be able to turn them off.
Larry: Absolutely. Carol, you've already achieved a great deal. We'll make sure that we have all those links and ideas and stuff up on the home pages and so on. What's next for you?
Carol: I think I'm going to remain an active "Angel" investor. I really do enjoy that. I love, as I said, meeting entrepreneurs, hearing the new ideas, staying current with the technology. I think that's going to be what I do for the next little while. After that, I don't know [laughs] . We'll see what presents itself.
Larry: We'll follow you, so we'll know.
Terry: Absolutely [laughs] .
Carol: Just so you don't stalk me, that's all right.
Terry: We'll follow you on twitter, how about that?
Carol: [laughs] There's a thought.
Terry: Carol, this has been an absolute pleasure, getting a chance to chat with you, getting a chance to know you a little bit better and learn from you. You gave some fantastic tips for our listeners. We look forward to sharing them with our entire NCWIT community, and with the w3w3.com community as well.
Larry: Over the years, my wife and I, we've started 12 different companies, I wish we had know you back then. Carol, thanks. Your advice was absolutely super. Thank you.
Carol: Thank you, my pleasure.
Terry: Have a great afternoon.
Carol: OK. Bye bye.