Building Your Own Business From Idea to Operations with Ashley Connell

Welcome to episode 97 of the Nerd Journey Podcast [@NerdJourney]! We’re John White (@vJourneyman) and Nick Korte (@NetworkNerd_), two Pre-Sales Technical Engineers who are hoping to bring you the IT career advice that we wish we’d been given earlier in our careers. In today’s episode we discuss the journey that Ashley Connell, the founder of Prowess Project, took to get from idea to fully operational.

Original Recording Date: 09-30-2020

Topics – Building Your Own Business From Idea to Operations

2:20 – The Start of Something New

  • The morning just before A10 lost their biggest client, Ashley had a great idea for a new business.
  • She had recently read Built to Sell by John Warrillow in a single sitting.
    • The book is a business fable about an entrepreneur who wanted to sell a company that wasn’t worth anything and his journey to change things.
    • Ashley read the book, wrote a list of things she thought she was good at, and the next morning picked one. This was the birth of Prowess.
    • It started with an idea about meetings. Often times meeting wrap ups with action items and notes are not handled properly.
      • What if they could do a sort of Uber for meetings and have people pay for a meeting facilitator?
  • Ashley had lunch with a friend from middle school who was running an accelerator program.
    • Ashley applied the next day and was accepted to Founder Institute, which takes you from idea to Incorporated in 4 months.
    • The program is very challenging and is the best thing she has ever done.
    • An accelerator program is typically for scaling an existing business. Founder Institute was more of an incubator (idea to reality).
  • Regarding the list Ashley made, it was about 9 things she felt were her strengths.
    • This was right after the A10 breakup.
    • The number one thing on the list was note taking. She is very good at making sure things get accomplished at work.
    • As Ashley later learned, meeting facilitation in small snippets is more of a discomfort and not a pain. People pay to get rid of pain and not discomfort.
    • In addition, her heart was with women returning to work. She was, at the time, in her early 30s and married but did not yet have children.
    • Throughout her career, she had an ongoing anxiety about how having children would affect her career progression.
    • According to Harvard Business Review, if a woman is out of the workforce to raise children for 3 years, she loses 30% of her potential compensation that can never be made up.
      • Ashley became obsessed with this statistic. How could women not have both?
    • The meeting facilitation idea would allow training women to do this wherever they were located.
    • However, the two real things people needed were additional project management and more empathy.
  • Prowess helps the women who took time off from the workforce. They get training that leads to a certification.
    • Half the curriculum includes confidence, goal setting, emotional intelligence, and communication.
    • The other half is on working remotely, business trends, technology training, and project management.
    • At the end, a candidate takes a test to be counted in or out of the Prowess job pool.
    • During the process, the Prowess team gathers 52 different work style indicators on the candidates and their work.
    • Getting to this point was all about responded to feedback.
  • Ashley’s experience was as a hiring manager, someone who would use a member of the Prowess community to help their business.
    • This was key in not getting overly passionate about the mission and not concentrate too much on talent development.
  • Initially Ashley went and spoke to hundreds of women returning to the workforce.
    • About 43% of women leave the workforce to raise children at some point.
    • There was not a clear path for these women to return (no step-by-step process), making them feel overwhelmed and intimidated.
    • The mix of mentorship, training, and community seems to be the secret sauce. All of the lessons Ashley learned from Spiceworks are being applied to her current company.

17:13 – Being CEO of Prowess and Finding Her Why

  • They have been around for less than 2 years and have about 7 employees and 40 customers. The pool of talent is about 250 women.
  • It was important to balance the talent with the opportunities for Prowess. They make money through placements and matching companies with talent. They can be more selective.
  • There is an application process for candidates. Certain requirements apply to join the community. The certifications mentioned are a requirement as well.
    • During COVID, Prowess created a pay it forward program so that once a candidate gets a job, they pay for another person to go through the program.
    • This is fostering an ambassador program as well.
  • 21:20 – Thinking Like CEO
  • The way to get there is talking to your team. Truly understand their desires, dreams, what their family is like, and their personal goals.
  • Ashley runs the business not for herself but for her employees.
    • She surrounds herself with smart people and enables them to use their talents to move the company forward.
  • Is she still in the Built to Sell Mindset?
    • No. She has a 10-year plan for the company.
    • Ashley built an organization to solve her future problem (being a woman who wanted to have children someday).
    • Interviews, sourcing, and feedback take an amazing amount of time. Prowess can help cut down this time commitment for organizations because of their rigorous process.
    • Ashley gives an example of how a prospective employer could get help from Prowess and get candidate recommendations for a specific role quickly.
  • How do you progress the people?
    • Ashley wants to build out more resources to bring emotional intelligence into the workforce. This is where many people shine, but this is dulled down or absent in a typical hiring process until you talk to them.
    • Hiring is moving to the next step, and Ashley wants Prowess to be at the forefront.
  • To own your own business, you must be obsessed with whatever it is you are doing.
    • That was one of Ashley’s problems with A10 (was not obsessed with Marketing). With Prowess, Ashley has found her why.
    • Entrepreneurship is extremely hard, perhaps even more than being in Sales.
    • Obsession with solving the problem is the only way to keep going.
    • The process is tiring yet rewarding.
  • Finding balance
    • Ashley has her employees write down what they want and what they don’t want. It is often easier to write down what you don’t want to paint the picture backward.
    • After painting the picture, it’s important someone hold you accountable.
    • Taking time off is certainly important here.
  • The conversation may be over for now, but we certainly want to have Ashley back at some point!

Contact us if you need help on the journey.

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