As an Author, Speaker, eCommerce consultant, and Teacher, David J. Neff has been living in the Fortune 500 and nonprofit world for over fourteen years. He’s the VP of the Accelerator program at Clearhead, where he works with Fortune 1000 brands on eCommerce Innovation. He is the author of The Future of Nonprofits and IGNITE: Setting your Organization’s Culture on Fire with Innovation.
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- The Future of Non-Profits – David’s book
- Ignite: Setting Your Organization’s Culture on Fire with Innovation – David’s book
- Sketch – screenshot sharing tool
- Sprint by Google Ventures – book recommended by David
3 Key Points:
- Become an “interpreneur” before you becoming an entrepreneur to gain that experience from taking point on a valuable project.
- Look for outside information to be inspired—webinars, conferences, books, etc. are all opportunities to grow and learn.
- Do not limit yourself in the things you can do so you won’t be type-casted into a specific role.
- LegalZoom: Invest your time and money in your business, and use LegalZoom for the legal stuff. Save even more by entering EOF in the referral box at checkout!
Time Stamped Show Notes
(click the time stamp to jump directly to that point in the episode.)
- [01:04] – David worked with The American Cancer Society and is now currently doing consulting work
- [01:41] – David’s specialty is digital strategy, innovation, and helping “intrepreneurs” become entrepreneurs
- [02:02] – “Intrepreneur” is defined as people working within a large company that are given a project that grows into something of real value
- [02:28] – David was an “intrepreneur” while working at The American Cancer Society
- [03:11] – David advises people to work at companies that allow them to become “intrepreneurs”
- [04:25] – David’s worst entrepreneurial moment was being pigeonholed as being “the social media guy”
- [05:03] – David advises people to not micro-focus on things so that they don’t get type-casted
- [05:40] – David’s AHA moment was when he made the C-tools for doctors
- [07:55] – David encourages people to go outside the office and look for inspiration
- [08:30] – David is most fired up about his book, Ignite: Setting Your Organization’s Culture on Fire with Innovation
- [11:35] – The Lightning Round
- What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur? – “Fear”
- What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? – “Go listen to people smarter than yourself” and “Don’t make excuses”
- What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success? – “Getting up and exercising in the morning”
- Share an internet resource, like Evernote, with Fire Nation – Sketch
- If you could recommend one book to our listeners, what would it be and why? – Sprint by Google Ventures
- [14:28] – Connect with David by checking his website and at Twitter
David: I’m ready. I’m on fire.
John: As an author, speaker, ecommerce consultant, and teacher David has been living in the Fortune 500 and nonprofit world for over 14 years. He’s a VP of the Accelerator Program at Clearhead, where he works with Fortune 1000 brands on ecommerce innovation. He’s the author of The Future of Nonprofits and Ignite, Setting Your Organization’s Culture on Fire with Innovation. So David, take a minute. Fill in some gaps from that intro and give us a little glimpse of your personal life.
David: Sure. Thanks for having me. So I spent nine years at the American Cancer Society doing a lot of nonprofit-focused ecommerce, donation, and fundraising work and then, for the last six or so years, I’ve been in the consulting world. So kind of taking all that knowledge and going back out and helping large brands and large nonprofits with their digital strategy. I also have had the pleasure of writing two books, including my latest book, which we’ll talk about today.
John: Well, David, before we get any further, I want to know what your area of expertise is. What would you consider your specialty?
David: My specialty is digital strategy, so really helping kind of traditional brands that are just now starting to understand everything they can do online and then innovation. So how do you take really smart intrepreneurs inside of companies and turn them into entrepreneurs.
John: So let’s talk about intrepreneurs for a second. What exactly is an intrepreneur?
David: There are a lot of folks that are working inside of these big, complex organizations that, if only given the chance to work on not just a pet project but something of real value, something that they can put behind a business plan, something that maybe turns into an interesting product, become these intrepreneurs. I know that’s my story and something that really helped me catch fire at the American Cancer Society was them letting me be an intrepreneur, which then turned into later on me being an entrepreneur.
John: What’s something that we can learn from you right now in your area of expertise that we probably don’t know as entrepreneurs?
David: I think something you guys can learn from me is just the steps to take to really turn yourself into an entrepreneur. My big nod to your listening audience and to you is that you have to find the right company that has the right culture to let you be an entrepreneur. It’s something you should constantly be looking for when you’re working for somebody else is do they let you do that within their system?
John: When do you have that conversation?
David: I think it’s a very transparent conversation to have in the hiring process. Don’t wait a year in to find out if they do that, but ask them point blank, “If I had a great idea that wasn’t exactly in my purview, but something I know I could help the bigger organization with, how do you handle that? Is there a system? Are there steps? What does that look like?” A lot of places they say, “No, we just tell you to go sit back down at your desk and do your job.” That’s probably not the answer you want to hear.
John: Well, David, something that I want to hear, and I know that Fire Nation does as well, is what you consider your worst entrepreneurial moments to-date. So don’t pull any punches. Take us there. Tell us that worst entrepreneurial moment story.
David: Being on my own, consulting for two years, and I had had trouble – I think as a lot of entrepreneurs do – especially if you don’t have a product to sell. My product was myself and my consulting business. So going out and, back in the day, it was helping folks with social media because that was so popular.
My worst moment I think as an entrepreneur – besides people being late on bills and not paying you on a timely schedule – was just being pigeonholed, was losing gigs and losing contracts from big companies, from big nonprofits, because they said, “Hey, you know what? You’re the social media guy.” I did that to myself. I let myself get so pigeonholed and let people think all I knew about was social media that I wasn’t able to go out and talk to people about actual strategy work or planning or operations or how you should organize a team or all these other things that are kind of classic consulting skills.
John: What was your big takeaway? What’s the big lesson learned that you can pass onto Fire Nation?
David: Make sure you’re avoiding the steps to do that. How do you get pigeonholed? You constantly go out and speak on the same thing. You write about the same thing. That’s great. You want to have an area of expertise, but sometimes it’s just too limiting. So you really need to make sure what speaking gigs you’re taking, what books you’re writing, what eBooks you’re publishing, what your blog’s about is never so focused, so micro-focused, that you get typecast.
John: Now take us to what you consider your greatest aha moment that you’ve had thus far. Take us to that great idea and walk us through how you turned it into success.
David: Sure. I was sitting at South by Southwest Interactive in 2004, yeah 2004, and was just really starting to understand the power of things like Palm Pilots, if your audience remembers those, if you remember those, Pocket PCs – all of these really early mobile personal device assistants – and thought to myself, since I was working at the American Cancer Society, “Wow, look at all of these thousands of people at South by Southwest, which is kind of where the future comes to be seen, and they’re all into this. They’re all using it. They’re all planning with it.
It would be interesting if a doctor had one of these to be able to look up health information.” So I went back and, being an intrepreneur at the American Cancer Society, I successfully put together a business case, launched it, got it funded, got a peer review to say, “This is a good idea” and got some seed money. Think of it as an internal venture capital person – to actually go out and create what we called C-tools, which was short for Cancer Tools, which was on the Palm Pilot, with a green screen and helped doctors, primary care physicians who normally don’t know a lot about cancer, right?
They would know a little bit and then refer you to an oncologist, but we helped these primary care physicians just know the basics; “Just know the seven warning signs of this” or “If this is happening, it might be this and here’s more information and here’s more links” and how to talk about smoking cessation and things like that. To get that idea, to have the idea, to get it funded, to go out and hire someone to actually code it and then to actually launch it all across the State of Texas, was so empowering for me and really gave me a burning desire to help other people be entrepreneurs or intrepreneurs and really helped me write my first book and now my second book.
John: What do you want to make sure Fire Nation takes away from that story? What is the lesson learned?
David: You need to get out of your seat and leave your office sometimes and actually go out to conferences. Go to webinars if you can’t go to the conference. Read books if you can’t go to the webinars. You really need outside inspiration. You can’t be sitting there staring at your screen, working on your Excel documents, for your entire life. You need to say, “Hey, you know what? Is there a learning and development budget because I want to spend it and I want to go somewhere to get that type of inspiration.” For me, that’s always been places like South by Southwest.
John: David, what are you most fired up about right now? What gets you excited today?
David: I think I’m most fired up about my new book Ignite, Setting Your Culture on Fire with Innovation just because we finally, my co-author and I, who was at the American Cancer Society with me as well, have taken the time to go out and interview folks at huge brands, small companies, entrepreneurs and intrepreneurs, and say, “How do you guys accomplish this? How does it work? What does it look like? Is there a repeatable path?” and if you’re’ an employer, we’ve really taken the time to say, “Here’s what you should look for when you hire someone.
Do they ask that question, John, that you and I talked about earlier? Do they question you about your culture? If you have a good idea is it shut up, sit back down, go back to your job.” Or is it like, “Yeah, actually that’s awesome and we have a system in place to actually do something with that idea?” So that’s why I’m fired up is just writing that book and being able to put all of those case studies and interesting interviews into one place.
John: Alright, David. You don’t go anywhere. Fire Nation, stick around. We’re gonna be right back after we thank our sponsors. David, are you prepared to ignite?
David: Oh, I’m ready.
John: What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur?
David: Oh, fear absolutely, just the fear of leaving my job and working on my own. Would I be able to make bills? Can I get food for my dog at the end of the day? It does. That food’s expensive. How am I gonna survive doing this all on my own?
John: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
David: Go listen to people smarter than yourself. Again, the same advice I gave earlier, get off of your butt. Don’t make excuses. Yeah, you may have a learning and development budget and it’s all gone for the year. There’s budget cutbacks so we can’t send you to a conference. But that doesn’t stop you from looking at MeetUp.com and going to a UX Meetup or a Design Meetup or design thinking.
Anything that would critically challenge you and you’d listen to people and voices different than you. It’s easy for me to make that excuse of like, “I can’t afford to go to South by Southwest.” Well, no one’s telling you that. We’re just telling you to get out and be more voracious in learning.
John: What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success?
David: For me, it’s getting up and exercising in the morning. I try and run three to four times a week and I defend that time, right? I’m not gonna take that 7:30 coffee or that 7:30 meeting because that’s when I’m out running. So for me, I think that gets me fired up, the blood running. There’s lots of time to think when you’re out running by yourself and I have some of my best ideas out there running through the neighborhood.
John: Share an internet resource like Evernotes with Fire Nation.
David: I am a huge fan of Skitch. I don't know if you guys use Skitch or have used Skitch, but great screen sharing, great capturing things. “Hey, I got a slide that I want to make changes on.” I’m not sending people the whole deck or being ridiculous or, even when I was writing my book, we would go out and screen capture stuff to share with our publisher. “Can we get the rights to this? Could we share this screenshot or this slide or whatever it is?” So I just love Skitch.
John: If you could recommend one book to join The Future of Nonprofits and Ignite – your two books on our bookshelves – what would it be and why?
David: I just read Sprint by the Google Ventures folks and dug it a lot, right? Everyone talks about design thinking and how you do sprints at work to build interesting products, but this book is fantastic in that it actually took all that, put it in an understandable format, and said, “This is what it looks like. This is how you go do it.” So that’s something I just read that I’m digging a lot right now.
John: David, let’s end today on fire with you sharing the best way that we can connect with you and then we’ll say goodbye.
David: You bet. Well, you can definitely check out theignitebook.com and check out my new book and then I – much like John mentioned in the past – am a Twitter guy. Still on there, still doing it, still love the platform and I’m @DaveIM on Twitter.
John: Fire Nation, do are the average of the five people you spend the most time with and you have been hanging out with DN and JLD today. So keep up the heat and head over to EOFire.com and just type David in the search bar. His show notes page will pop up with everything that we’ve been talking about today. Best show notes in the biz; timestamps, links galore Fire Nation. David, thank you for sharing your journey with Fire Nation today. For that, we salute you and we’ll catch you on the flip side.
David: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.
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