Tag Archives: Ken Denman

Consider the inevitable

On April 2, the Foster School held its 2nd annual Innovation and Entrepreneurship Symposium, hosted by Neal Dempsey, this year’s Fritzky Chair. Three people spoke about design and innovation trends in business: Ken Denman, president and CEO of Emotient; Bob Paulsen co-founder and CEO of PlayerLync; and Julia Link, principal of the Link Group. Below are highlights from Denman’s and Paulsen’s sessions.

Ken DenmanDenman focused on innovation and relayed his experiences with Emotient, a facial expression recognition and analysis company. Main points included:

  • When established companies are trying to innovate, they tend to make existing products only incrementally better. This works for awhile, but then smaller companies start to catch up and offer more innovative products that grab more and more market share. The example Denman cited was the iPhone. When it came out, it was a product category maker or re-maker. It started taking market share away from existing markets such as GPS and personal cameras.
  • Study up on the industry you’re in so you know who the competitors are and where the market is heading. Knowing this information allows you get beyond the basics in conversations.
  • As an entrepreneur, you’re always raising money while you’re doing everything else. It’s exhausting, but it’s part of the job.
  • As an entrepreneur you have to be able to overcome your fears. You must have the confidence to say, “I can do this.” And you have to be able to project that confidence.
  • Uncertainty is a given in entrepreneurship. You don’t know what you don’t know, but you’ll learn it when you need to know it.
  • Product philosophy: Before you start, think about the inevitable. What’s inevitable given the technology available, customer needs and status of the market? Use the answers to these questions to decide whether or not to pursue an idea. If you can identify those areas in the market where something big is going to happen, you’re positioning yourself for success.
  • One of the most challenging aspects of innovation is to take big complex ideas and make them stupid simple—so simple anyone can understand them.
  • To innovate, be disciplined and methodical in your thinking. Try something, measure it and iterate. Repeat that process over and over.

Learn more about Ken Denman and his company Emotient, formerly Machine Perception Technologies.

Bob Paulsen, co-founder and CEO of PlayerLync, shared his innovation best practices. PlayerLync creates an enterprise platform that provides a secure and easy way to control content and offers tablet-based collaboration. Their clients include large restaurant chains and NFL football teams.

Bob PaulsenPaulsen shared several keys to success:

  • PlayerLync takes a very user-focused approach to their product, and Paulsen reinforced that mentality throughout his presentation. He said you have to make it easy for someone to use your product. If their first experience with it isn’t positive, they’ll look for something else.
  • When developing PlayerLync, they considered what their customer would want in their product by anticipating their needs. The customer gave them a few initial requirements, and they took those requirements and ran with them. The result was a product that exceeded the customers’ expectations.
  • Ideas are great, but businesses are based on who will pay for your product, service or software. Don’t overlook this when starting a new venture.
  • He also recommended three business books: The E Myth by Michael E. Gerber, Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey A. Moore and The Discipline of Market Leaders by Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema.

Learn more about all the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Symposium sessions.

Disruption, power and weak ties: All in a Day of Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Day of Innovation and EntrepreneurshipThe Day of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which took place on April 26, 2013, offered an impressive array of speakers. The all-day conference was led by Ken Denman, president and CEO of Machine Perception Technologies. He also holds the Edward V. Fritzky Chair in Leadership at the Michael G. Foster School of Business. Below are a few highlights of the knowledge shared throughout the day.

The new power: innovation and shared purpose
Nilofer Merchant, the noted innovation author, spoke about the future of social media or the “social era” as she coined it. As part of this discussion, she mentioned a shift in how we think about power. Power used to be related to how many people work for you or how much more knowledge you have than others. Now, power is your ability to get people to do amazing things. And to be powerful, you need to have a shared purpose that extends beyond yourself or your company.

She used REI as an example. Their shared purpose, the one they share with their employees, customers and the community, is getting people outdoors. “We used to think innovation is what we make,” Merchant said. “If you’re in the knowledge economy, who you are is what you make. And your ability to pull in people based on purpose is going to allow people to show up not just with the mind, but with the heart.”

She added that this makes them more committed to the cause and, therefore, willing to work tirelessly to ensure it succeeds. In turn, you’re able to engage a variety of people and have them create value, regardless of whether they work for you.

Weak ties can be strongest
Zaw Thet, co-founder and chairman of plyfe.me and HaulerDeals, was part of the Assembling Nimble and Functionally Diverse Teams panel. When discussing how to diversify your team, he referenced the paper, “The Strength of Weak Ties” by Mark S. Granovetter. As you hire employees, Thet said, you should look for people who can find diversity outside of their current network via a weak tie to another group. The motivation for this is to expand your network and therefore, diversify your staff.

Innovation versus disruption
During the discussion of the Next Big Themes, Ken Denman asked the panel to comment on the difference between innovation and disruption.

Seth Neiman of Crosspoint Venture Partners provided interesting insight on the difference between the two. He referred to innovation as “something that is of such significant value that people will change how they buy,” adding that people won’t change their behavior if there’s not an incentive. “Innovation turns into a business when the time pressure means the big company will get there too slowly, regardless of how intelligent they are,” he continued.

Disruption, according to Neiman, occurs when innovation is so powerful, it catches all the big companies off guard.

Tim Porter of Madrona Ventures made the point there are different kinds of disruption: a new technology or business model can disrupt an existing market or the creation of a whole new market can cause disruption. The latter type often provides the biggest opportunity, but is also the most difficult to anticipate. The most challenging aspect of disruption is time. Porter explained that when trying to time disruption, the biggest risk is that you’ll be too early, not too late.

Learn more about the Day of Innovation and Entrepreneurship and watch videos from all the sessions.

Being contrarian and right

Guest post by Sean Murphy, Foster MBA 2014
He attended the Day of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which was organized by Ken Denman, Edward V. Fritzky Chair in Leadership at the Foster School.

The Day of Innovation and Entrepreneurship promised to be an engaging and informative event that I thought might be a good use of a Friday. What it turned out to be was most likely the best day of my MBA experience. Ken Denman brought in an incredible line-up that focused on topics ranging from funding to team creation to the next big themes in business. The day started with a heavy hitter and just kept getting better. Charles Songhurst, Microsoft’s General Manager of Corporate Strategy, spoke about adjacencies and outlined several observations that could be acted upon. There were some common points such as surrounding oneself with those more intelligent/hardworking/ethical than you and the Gladwellian 10k hour metric, but there were also some great insights new to me. One such point was that diplomacy is virtually unknown in the tech industry. Songhurst recommended that practicing empathy, predicting how others will act/react, and adapting to cultural norms of your target will put you at a significant advantage in the tech space. He also drew several observations about founder-led companies and professional management-led companies, arguing that self-cannibalization requires the confidence and vision of a founder. Songhurst spoke of comparing the earnings of founder-led and non-founder-led tech companies and claimed a 15% difference favoring the founders. He suggested a simple investment strategy would be going long on founders and shorting all others. Very interesting way to kick off the day.

Day of Innovation and EntrepreneurshipA series of panels followed. We heard from Ghia Griarte (Saints Capital), Michelle Goldberg (Ignition Partners), and Andrew Tweed (Thomvest Ventures) about how their VCs assess potential opportunities. A common theme from the panel was the delineation of feature, product, and company and how the market appetite is shifting to smaller, simpler bites. On figuring out what a product or service is or offers, Goldberg said, “Don’t make me think.” Another point repeatedly addressed was the growing demand of the enterprise experience to mimic the consumer experience in UX and hardware. Tweed mentioned using consumer trends to predict what might be happening in the enterprise space soon and investing in back-end mechanics that would enable this shift.

We then switched gears to the non-profit world and heard from Kushal Chakrabarti, Doug Plank, and James Gutierrez about changing the non-profit landscape creating sustainable, long-term success. As expected, they were very passionate about their work and got me seriously considering a non-profit path.

Nilofer Merchant spoke next about the evolution of social media and the importance of co-creation in the future. She emphasized the framework of openness of ideas as one of the key drivers of growth, citing TEDx and Google’s Android as examples.

After a lunch break we returned to a panel of Marc Barros, Zaw Thet, and Donna Wells on assembling nimble and functionally diverse teams. They all emphasized the importance of your network and their reliance on them for the vetting of potential employees. Curiously, it was mentioned that no matter how many interviews you’ve done or people you’ve hired, it’s still difficult to weed out people that end up not meshing. The fit and attitude of hires was especially highlighted when working with a small team, as one bad apple can wreck the atmosphere pretty quickly.

Day of Innovation and EntrepreneurshipKen Denman moderated the next panel which focused on the next big themes and featured Seth Neiman (Crosspoint Venture Partners), Tim Porter (Madrona Ventures), and Jason Stoffer (Maveron). They got pretty philosophical and were dropping gems left and right. They approached VCs as incubators to test strategic theories about the market. Getting the market direction is difficult enough, but timing was a big theme of this talk as well. The key to making money is being contrarian, and being right. The key to identifying these investments is in looking at adjacencies when the future isn’t immediately accessible. What must happen if the things that are in motion today were to take the next step? There are many supporting steps that must first happen, and these can be very lucrative investments. Neiman mentioned investing in supporting infrastructure during the internet ramp up in the last millennium and saw a $100M fund return $13B. Jaw-dropping, even by VC standards.

Ben Casnocha, co-author of The Start-Up of You, brought the day to a close with a riveting personal story and the idea of applying entrepreneurial business thinking to your life. Setting aside time to read and think, increasing your knowledge every day, earmarking funds for meeting with interesting people; these were all suggestions of how to approach your personal development as you would a business. He encouraged students to consider youth and the opinion of our cohort as our value-add in connecting with senior, experienced leaders. It was a great, inspirational capstone to the day.

The amount of knowledge that came out of this event was mind-blowing. I filled more pages in my notebook in eight hours than I do in an entire quarter of class. An amazing array of brilliant, successful, and humble people took the time to share their thoughts and experience with an eager audience and I couldn’t be more pleased to be in attendance. I don’t know how this could be topped next year, but I will certainly be there to find out. And you should too…

Watch videos of all the sessions.

Thought leaders

Guest post by Emilia Griswold, Foster MBA 2014
She attended the Day of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which was organized by Ken Denman, Edward V. Fritzky Chair in Leadership at the Foster School.

Nilofer MerchantNilofer Merchant, author and corporate director, spoke at the Day of Innovation and Entrepreneurship about Social 2018: Where does social media go from here and what principles can we apply to the future? Nilofer argued that “social” is not “social media” and that we’re actually in the “social era” where individuals can now do what once only centralized organizations could accomplish. For companies, this means that they need to embrace openness and fluidity while allowing employees to take ownership in everything they do. But this also applies to people. Nilofer advocated that it is our job “to learn, not to know” and that being open to new ideas is what allows you to learn best.

To close out the day, we were very lucky to have Ben Casnocha, the entrepreneur, author, and chief of staff to Reid Hoffman, speak about his new book The Start-Up of You: Adapt to the future, invest in yourself, and transform your career. I took two big points away from Ben’s talk. First, think of yourself as a start-up and commit to investing. One simple way to do that is by setting aside some time and money to take interesting people out for coffee. Second, keep your mindset in “permanent beta.” Ben noted that when you consider a product “finished,” you lose the momentum to keep improving. By staying in beta, you feel empowered to fix the bugs that pop up and to leverage extraordinary opportunities that come your way.

Ben CasnochaHe also talked about ABZ Planing. Plan A is what you’re doing right now. Plan B is what you want to transition into, and Plan Z is your back-up plan—what you’ll do if Plan A and Plan B don’t work. When you have this mentality you mitigate the risk that comes with transforming your career and yourself. The worst that can happen is you have to pursue Plan Z.

With so many incredible events going on at Foster, it can be difficult to commit to a day without studying or prepping for interviews. But I’m so glad I made time for this conference. I came away with a better idea of how to assess opportunities as well as new ideas for approaching my own career. All-in-all, a great way to spend a Friday!

Special thanks to Ken Denman, Dean Jiambalvo, Jason Hsaio (MBA 2013), Nelson Haung (MBA 2013), and all the Foster staff and volunteers who made this conference possible.

Watch videos of all the sessions.

Related blog post: Great insight and thoughtful honesty at Day of Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Great insight and thoughtful honesty at Day of Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Guest post by Emilia Griswold, Foster MBA 2014
She attended the Day of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which was organized by Ken Denman, Edward V. Fritzky Chair in Leadership at the Foster School.

Foster alumni never cease to amaze me, and Ken Denman (MBA 1986) is no exception. Ken has held numerous executive roles across established corporations and new ventures, and he is currently the president and CEO of Machine Perception Technologies as well as an angel investor. In addition, he holds the Edward V. Fritzky Chair in Leadership and has spent this year bringing exciting and inspiring events to Foster. The Day of Innovation and Entrepreneurship that Ken organized was no exception. For this conference, Ken assembled a fantastic group of leaders in the technology, start-up, and venture capital space from both Seattle and Silicon Valley.

Charles SonghurstThe day kicked off with Charles Songhurst, General Manager of Corporate Strategy at Microsoft. The first part of Charles’ remarks was about the five common reasons that companies succeed: geography, an ability to generate positive serendipity, expertise, getting the right mix of skills on a team, and being empathetic. The second part of his speech wasn’t what I expected from someone at a huge company like Microsoft—Charles discussed why big companies have such a hard time innovating. That mix of great insight and thoughtful honesty is something that comes out at all Foster events, and Charles’ attitude as well as his fresh perspective were echoed throughout the day.

After the incredible discussion with Charles, the day’s panels covered a range of topics relevant to innovation and entrepreneurship. Below are highlights from each panel discussion.

Chasing the Inevitable: How VCs identify and assess potential opportunities
The session was moderated by Foster’s own Professor Emily Cox Pahnke and featured three venture capitalists who work across a range of industries: Michelle Goldberg of Ignition Partners, Ghia Griarte of Saints Capital and Andrew Tweed of Thomvest Ventures. Although each VC specializes in different kinds of deals and has expertise in different areas, they all emphasized that their firms have internal theses they work from. When looking at truly innovative opportunities that don’t have a market yet, they look for products and features that can be easily explained and understood by a customer. All the panelists also agreed that investing is about relationships and the strength of the founder. They want to invest in someone who is wedded to success more than a specific idea, is open to feedback, knows the industry well, and has proven success in previous positions.

Changing the Non-Profit Landscape: What does it take for social entrepreneurs to achieve leading innovation and long term success
While a discussion about non-profits seems odd for a business school, Foster has a history of developing leaders who want to give back. Moderator Zaw Thet, co-founder and chairman of plyfe.me and HaulerDeals, engaged Kushal Chakrabarti (founder of Vittana), James Gutierrez (co-founder and partner of Insikt Ventures), and Doug Plank (founder and CEO of Mobilecause) in a conversation about social entrepreneurship. Despite the non-profit focus, the panelists all came back to the same themes discussed in the for-profit panels. In particular, you should practice “intellectual honesty” and admit to your strengths and weaknesses—then get brilliant people to fill in your gaps. They also reminded anyone going into philanthropy that some non-profits fail because they are 99% heart and 1% business, but being 99% business won’t lead to better results. You must have a mix of business and heart to succeed as a social venture.

Assembling Nimble and Functionally Diverse Teams: Where and how to spot the top talent to booster your team
Panel on Assembling Nimble and Functionally Diverse TeamsWith so many students looking for jobs and internships, everyone was excited to hear what start-ups and established innovation-focused companies look for when hiring. Interim CEO of Vittana, Rebecca Lovell moderated this discussion with Marc Barros (co-founder of Contour), Zaw Thet, and Donna Wells (president and CEO of Mindflash Technologies). It’s no surprise the panelists all advocated hiring people who are able to embrace flexibility, have emotional intelligence, and work well in a team. But it’s most important that you hire people who love and use your product. And when you’re thinking about hiring for your company, remember you should design a position around what needs to be done, not around a title.

The Next Big Themes: What’s next, why it matters, and how you can spot big ideas before anybody else
Ken Denman talked with Seth Neiman from Crosspoint Venture Partners, Tim Porter from Madrona Ventures, and Jason Stoffer from Maveron about the next big ideas. The panelists saw some major trends driving innovation, particularly around cloud computing, big data analytics, mobile, consumerization of IT, biotech, embedding internet capabilities in everyday objects, and perceptual computing. When it comes to predicting the next big thing, these investors look for simple value propositions, pay attention to what the kids are doing, and consider if a new idea fits in with their existing theses and view of the world. But they pointed out that innovation isn’t just about change—it’s about benefiting from change.

Learn more about the Day of Innovation and Entrepreneurship and watch videos from all the sessions.

Real-world strategies for success

Ken Denman & Andrew Lindsay In March, more than twenty Business & Economic Development Center (BEDC) undergraduate students temporarily pushed aside their group projects and studying for exams to think about career approaches following graduation while attending a BEDC-organized luncheon with Machine Perception Technology CEO, Ken Denman (MBA 1986), and Jawbone Chief of Staff, Andrew Lindsay.

Designed as an informal, personal setting for students to actively engage in discussions about career and entrepreneurship options, students questioned Denman and Lindsay and put forth their own questions for navigating the business world. Students who attended came seeking real-world advice. For instance, Diana Nguyen, a student of the Multicultural Marketing class and an executive member of the BEDC’s Leadership Team, arrived at the luncheon seeking to learn how Denman and Lindsay “knew that they were making the right choices” along their career paths, and “what advice…they have for [students] as [they] try to achieve [their] own goals today.”

Both Denman and Lindsay stressed the importance of accessing one’s own individual goals. “Think about how you want to live and what you want out of life,” said Denman. Passion for your work is critical, and one must be invigorated by what they do each day. “There are too many opportunities to do a job you don’t love waking up to every morning.” And, as Rai Huang, another student of the Multicultural Marketing class, pointed out, the importance of “seizing opportunities available in the business school environment” was another chief point made by Denman for current students.

Additional key takeaways from the luncheon were threaded around a theme of best practices for business consulting as a profession—notably one of the “fastest growing industries in today’s corporate world and one of the most popular career choices” for new graduates—and business strategies for start-ups. Denman and Lindsay said that, whether you are steering the choices of businesses in trouble or striving to be entrepreneur, the blueprint to a successful business is to solve a problem or provide a service of incremental value that the consumer market is willing to pay for. Denman asserted that finding new ways to provide incremental value to the marketplace is one of the greatest challenges for small businesses. Conducting introspective market research, appropriately predicting the future of one’s industry, and perusing a risk-adjusted approach are fundamental.

Undergraduate Students at Denman & Lindsay LuncheonStudents also expressed considerable interest in the benefits and challenges of consulting for small businesses versus large corporations. Denman and Lindsay agreed that, while working with large companies can be advantageous for gathering valuable skills sets and acquiring knowledge of proper consulting processes and policies, large corporations can be more resistant to revision and restructuring than small business. Small companies, on the other hand, are more nimble and open to change, and the result of alterations can be more quickly discernible, but the emotional investment on the owners’ part can be far greater. In turn, Denman and Lindsay recommend that the key to successful consulting is to deliver arguments for change with confidence, verified statistics and objective facts.

The hour-long luncheon was a time for students to reflect on their futures, and gain recommendations regardless of the career path they choose. Undergraduate Rai Huang recapped the event well:

“It reinforced my belief that, if a person chooses to follow their heart and keep moving towards that direction, they will eventually find success.”

The BEDC’s ability to connect students with business mentors depends on the generous contributions receive from individuals, corporations and foundations. Please donate to the BEDC to help us train future leaders.

Seeing the future with Ken Denman

Ken Denman (MBA 1986) holds the Edward V. Fritzky Chair in Leadership at the Foster School of Business. He spoke in March at the Foster School about his career path and latest venture, Machine Perception Technologies, a software-based company working to merge emotion detection and machine learning to take personal technology to a new level.

Denman has held myriad executive roles which have spanned large corporations, startups, emerging markets ventures and turnarounds. He led iPass’ successful initial public offering, and led the strategy work for monetizing Openwave’s patent portfolio and spinning off the operating units. He is also an engaged angel investor and board member with public and private board experience. Currently he is president and CEO of Machine Perception Technologies (MPT).

Watch video highlights, which also include a demonstration of Facet, MPT’s emotion detection software. The demonstration was led by Dr. Marian Bartlett, lead scientist at MPT.

Ken Denman was one of UW Foster School of Business Dean Jim Jiambalvo’s guest speakers at the annual Leaders to Legends Breakfast Lecture Series, which include notable leaders in an array of industries from greater Seattle and around the country.