Jennifer C. Larson is the CEO of Hive Digital Minds. Jennifer C. Larson is a thought leader, influencer, visionary, and successful entrepreneur. Jennifer provides the leadership and energy that has inspired the creation of Hive Digital Minds. Jennifer C. Larson joins other leading CEOs and Founders taking part in our Leader Roundtable Interview Series. The DotCom Magazine editorial team has recently awarded Hive Digital Minds with our Impact Company of 2019 award. We are delighted to have Jennifer join us for our Leader Roundtable Interview and our popular “speed round” as well.
Jennifer, thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy day for this interview about your company, leadership, and entrepreneurship.
1. What is the “elevator pitch” for Hive Digital Minds?
Hive Digital Minds was created to help school leaders with their communication and parent engagement strategies. Our core product, SchoolBzz, is a cloud-based platform which simplifies how information is shared with families – eliminating teacher websites, reducing email and replacing messaging apps. SchoolBzz integrates with learning management systems like Schoology and Google Classroom, enabling educators to easily communicate with parents using their existing systems.
2. What is the key to your company’s success?
We obsess about customers and the problems they are experiencing. In fact, our vision was born out of personal frustration as a parent. I was running a consulting business, had four kids, and decided to enroll in a graduate program to pursue my MBA. About halfway through grad school we started missing things for our kids – an orchestra performance, a non-uniform dress of choice day (and the list goes on!). Our school was using so many different tools to push information to parents – it was overwhelming. I couldn’t keep up. I knew there had to be a better way to stay informed.
We spent the next year doing a deep dive to really understand parents’ needs. It was evident that communications needed to be simplified, ideally making everything accessible in one place. We also learned that we needed to find a way to simplify the process for principals, teachers and other school staff, as many teachers were using multiple apps to post the same information in a variety of places.
Our success comes down to the fact that we’re addressing a real problem for parents and schools alike, because we took the time to really understand the issue and took a deliberate approach to building our solution.
3. Many of our readers are just starting to build a company. What advice can you give entrepreneurs just starting out with a new venture?
Build a company around an idea you are extremely passionate about and know your “why.” Share your story with employees, customers, and partners, and make sure it’s something you truly believe in, every day. Without a strong sense of why you do what you do, it will be difficult to invest the effort needed to sustain your success.
4. For other entrepreneurs seeking to build a business as successful as yours, what advice can you give them when times get a little challenging?
Remember your “why” and don’t give up! Startup is tough. Develop a really good network of supporters – friends, family, partners, entrepreneurs, customers… because you will have days where you feel like your entire world is crashing down and you need to know who you can call to remind you why you started this venture.
5. How important is the commitment to client satisfaction at Hive, and how do you make sure your customers will become raving fans of your company?
Client satisfaction is extremely important to us. As a cloud-based product that relies on an annual subscription fee, we want customers for life. Their experience with our product, our partners and our people is critical to their overall satisfaction and loyalty to SchoolBzz.
One of our founders heads up our Customer Success team – both to ensure a quality experience with SchoolBzz and to listen to what our customers say – it’s been an important part of our strategy since the beginning. We are always looking for creative ways to engage our customers, to bring a little fun into our relationships and ensure our customers have a positive experience.
6. In today’s fast changing business environment, how do you stay abreast of things?
Technology is having an impact on every industry and it can be tough to keep up with the latest trends. A few strategies:
- Know your space – if you’re target market is too broad it will be difficult to keep up with what’s happening. We are laser focused on parent communications in the K12 space.
- Get perspective – get out of your office, outside your community. Attend conferences and meetups. I love traveling to other cities to learn about their tech initiatives.
- Build a strong network – connect with other thought leaders in your industry. Learn from their experiences and share relevant industry news with each other.
- Follow relevant digital/social media – subscribe to industry newsletters and follow thought leaders on Twitter and LinkedIn. Be realistic with how much time you have each week to keep up with industry trends – it can be very time consuming and you might suddenly realize you have 72 unread newsletters sitting in your inbox.
7. What is your “Why”? Why do you get up in the morning, and how do you keep yourself at peak performance to lead Hive?
A colleague once said to me, “Are you looking for a job to fund your passion? Or do you want to make your passion your job?”
I had spent 10 years in the software industry (before kids) and while I loved the endless possibilities with technology solutions, something was always missing. So the answer was obvious for me – I wanted a career I was passionate about. As a founder of two charter schools, mother to four kids and active volunteer, education was my passion.
I discovered the problem I wanted to solve while I was in graduate school. Over the years my “why” has evolved to a much broader focus on parent engagement and how it can positively impact student outcomes. We might start with a simple solution for school communications, but ultimately we are about ensuring every student has the support they need to be successful in life. That network of support is critical, and our goal is to ensure every parent/supporter has access to the resources and information they need to stay connected and support their child outside the classroom. That’s worth waking up for each morning.
8. Can you recommend a book that has had an influence in your career? How did it influence you?
I read a lot. Most recently I have loved Bill Aulet’s Disciplined Entrepreneurship and I use it as a workbook to map out some of our business strategies. I discovered this book at a critical time in our startup as we were transitioning from product development to business development and his simple process for analyzing different strategies was extremely helpful.
9. When communicating with your staff, can you tell us the most important thing you do so that they are able to carry out the objectives that you set forth at Hive?
Communicate often! We are a remote team so communication is critical for us to ensure everyone is on the same page. We use Slack and Zoom (video meetings) on a daily basis and try to keep internal email to a minimum. I try to be as transparent as possible about what we are working on, so we do have regular team check-ins and company updates.
10. Can you explain what leadership means to you?
Leadership is about vision, culture and customers. We have a big vision, we call this our north star, and it hasn’t changed since inception – the path to get there on the other hand is constantly evolving. It is also about culture and creating a company that people are excited to work for because they feel respected and valued. And most importantly it is about the customer. Without customers we have no company. A leader must have a connection to the customer and continue to develop those relationships.
We would like to have some fun and do a “speed round” with you! We will ask you ten more questions that we want you to answer in just one to three words only. Here you go!
1. In three words or less, what makes a successful CEO?
Vision, culture and customers.
2. Describe your business in one word?
3. Describe your customers in one word?
4. What one attribute do you look for when hiring an employee?
5. What is the one word you want your customers to say about your company?
6. In three words or less, describe your passion?
7. In three words or less, describe what it takes to be successful?
Vision, culture and customers
8. In three words or less, describe your first year in business at Hive?
Exciting, stressful, fulfilling
9. In three words or less, describe how running a successful company has changed you?
10. What is the one word that you believe has the most power in the English language?
Jennifer C. Larson, thank you so much for sitting down with us for our DotCom Magazine Leader Roundtable Interview Series. We very much appreciate the time you spent helping our readers learn more about what it takes to be a leader. We wish you, your family, and of course Hive Digital Minds, nothing but the best.