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Entreprenuer

In: Business and Management

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rt of an ongoing effort to help the world learn more about DecisionDesk, what we do, and what we’re interested in, I sat down with our Co-Founder and Chief Business Development Officer, Marc Plotkin, to pick his brain on the issues the we as a company face on a daily basis. Here’s what he had to say: What got you interested in starting your own company? I never had a specific interest in starting my own company; however, I’ve always been making things: music, films, and all sorts of creative projects. However, up until we started DecisionDesk, my creations were mostly out of a need to express, whereas this company was the first time I wanted to make something that was solving a real-world problem that no one else was solving. I actually believe that’s what companies are for. I think starting a company without trying to solve an existing problem is pretty silly, but when you combine the nature of a for-profit company with a focus on solving a true problem in people’s lives…then you have something powerful that’s worthwhile to make. How has your background in music contributed to your role in Business Development at DecisionDesk? From what I’ve seen, great companies have to build niches to build momentum. For us, the performing arts world has been a fantastic beachhead for us, which has allowed us to spread to other parts of higher education. Our founding team spoke the language of Fine Arts professionals and educators very well and that has been an essential asset. Aside from the market-fit for DecisionDesk, as a musician I believe making albums taught me about end-to-end completion earlier than most people. The concept of ideation and iteration until you have something very big that’s finished was something I was already very familiar with and that experience came from making music.
Where did you see the need in the space for DecisionDesk? We saw the need in two different places. As recent students ourselves, each member of the founding team had personally been in the situation of having to physically go visit schools located all over the United States to either interview or audition. This experience was expensive and difficult. Additionally, we felt that a stack of essays and test scores didn’t accurately represent ourselves. So from the applicant perspective, we wanted to break some geographic boundaries, as well as offer a more holistic view of who these people really were. From the perspective of a school, faculty having to review materials that were in an array of mediums was costing a tremendous amount of time. Some kids were mailing materials, some were filling things out online, etc. Our dream for reviewers was to allow them to review literally on the same page as the applicant’s content. When we finally implemented this, we saw it remove as much as two hours of review time per applicant.
Why is video the new avenue programs are going down to make admissions decisions? Until every home has a hologram projector, video is the best option for pre-screening candidates. Whether it’s over Skype or over a pre-recorded option like DecisionDesk, allowing for video submissions opens up a world of candidates who would otherwise never be in the running for consideration. At DecisionDesk, we believe pre-recorded videos are a better use of time than live ones like Skype, since as any interviewer will tell you, when you’re interviewing the wrong person, you typically know early on, but out of courtesy you stay on the phone or sit in-person with them for another 30 minutes. It’s the worst. The great thing about pre-recorded videos is that you can very quickly A/B different candidates answering the same questions and make a decision fast. We find this drastically improves the quality of who our clients spend in-person time with, rather than focusing on the quantity of people showing up in-person. How can DD’s technology make a difference in other fields than arts admissions? Other than university admissions? DecisionDesk is tremendously valuable in all disciplines. We believe in helping people to pick the best people. The Arts was an obvious start for us given our background as artists and musicians, and the fact that the Arts Community already embraces video and audio evaluation gave us a head start. For other disciplines, DecisionDesk has been used for business school pre-interviews, architectural blueprint submissions, computer science coding videos and more. Outside of Universities DecisionDesk has been used in prestigious grants like The Fulbright, to other startups that utilize it for hiring. We also use our product to do our own hiring internally, and it’s helped us put together our own fantastic team.
What are your feelings on MOOCs, and most colleges not wanting to adopt them? We live in an unequal world and a lack of education is the root of many of the world’s problems. If we can get high quality educational assets spread to areas that normally wouldn’t have access to them, then we have a chance to potentially redraw socio-economic borders and give more people a chance for success. In terms of some colleges being against them, I understand their point of view that they’re closer than most organizations to the benefits of in-person, collaborative learning, and I’m certainly not arguing that that arrangement isn’t ideal. However, the reality is that most people cannot afford college or even physically or geographically access great colleges, so MOOC’s are a great alternative for people who don’t have the option of college well within their reach.
What do you think is the next big trend, beyond video screening? What startups right now do you feel like are making a really big difference? I think the sharing economy is extremely exciting. One of the greatest gifts and burdens to the First-World is excess supply: empty space in homes, infrequently used vehicles, long untouched belongings, and extra food. When these things can be leveraged to create mini-economies for owners while simultaneously creating better options for consumers, there’s an amazing result. So I’m a big fan of companies like AirBNB, Uber, and Skillshare. Outside of the sharing economy, I think the 3-D printing revolution will be even bigger than the personal computer revolution we saw in the 80’s and 90’s was. Once the 3-D printing world finds their Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, someone who can actually get one of those in every home, things will really get exciting.
What’s next for DecisionDesk? DecisionDesk has done great work in the Fine Arts and we’d like to bring the expertise we’ve created to many more academic areas and eventually en masse to the hiring world. Video is starting to take off for hiring, but the concept of a portfolio of content to represent you better than a resume hasn’t really been done right yet, and DecisionDesk would like to step up to the plate. We’re working on some very exciting new products that will address this specifically.
You didn’t go to business school, but you started a company that is worth a few million dollars: how did your college experience help you go down this path? Is entrepreneurship something everyone should look into? Should more colleges be mentoring/offering classes to help kids face this challenge for after they graduate? There are a few things specific to DecisionDesk that certainly don’t have to be universal. First off, our bread and butter market has been Higher Ed, so going to college gave us the experience to see the problem that we’re working to solve. Secondly, the social element of attending college was huge in helping us get to where we are today. I met my two co-founders at college. We’re from literally completely different parts of the country: the East Coast, the Midwest, and the West Coast. Could I have met different people who could’ve become co-founders through a non-academic experience? Of course. However, it would not have resulted in what DecisionDesk is today. Regarding the entrepreneurship question, I want to specifically differentiate between entrepreneurship and starting a company. As I said earlier, I believe starting a company is a viable option if you believe there’s a problem that needs to be solved but is, for the most part, being ignored. However, if there’s a problem currently being solved and you’re passionate about it, you should join that cause, and the way to stand out from the other million kids is to be entrepreneurial. If you had to solve a common problem in opposition to the way everyone else might, what would that look like? Confidently going your own way on tough problems is often the best way to reveal answers that most people are missing. There’s a great Mark Twain quote, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” So in that sense, I may harshly say that I don’t particularly think the “job market” matters if you’re able to be entrepreneurial. The world can’t ignore people who accomplish things and fix problems in ways the majority of people don’t. In terms of what we should expect from colleges, I think that every student should graduate with some sense of how their area of expertise translates to their own sustainability. It’s great that kids graduate as experts in specific niches, but the problem is that if you’re not inherently motivated to make your niche sustainable, then you’re very likely to give up quickly. I also think schools could be doing a better job of teaching students how to teach themselves, because your education, either as an expert or as a human being in general, can’t just stop after you graduate. At this point, we’ve accepted the belief that if you want to learn something, you have to go to school for it. But the truth is that the “real world” is a lot different from school, so you want to have the muscle to be as strong a thinker as you can be ready for right when you graduate. Schools definitely exercise that muscle, but I think most schools need to do a better job at giving students the tools to educate beyond school. I never planned on working at my own company full time and had never taken a business or marketing class, but I was thankful that I somehow had the gift to educate myself on those topics. Unfortunately many recent grads don’t seem to continue their self-education very much after graduation, and I think it might be because they don’t know how, or they’re not given the tools while they’re in school to figure that out.
What are your feelings on the current job market facing kids when they graduate college, in terms of the route you chose to take? Should kids go to college anymore? The question “Should kids go to college?” is very provocative due to the times, but it’s difficult to generalize. As of 2013, I think if you’re a self-starter and an autodidactic, then there is definitely an argument to be made in skipping a well-trodden path that will likely put you or your family in debt. That said: most people (at least when they’re 18) are not the kind of person I just described. Most kids at 18 haven’t fully realized themselves yet, so these days I’m still suggesting that most kids (if they can afford it) should definitely apply to and attend college. If they can’t, there are starting to be some very worthwhile alternatives (like MOOCs), or at least becoming an expert in one field so you can get some experience without the necessity of a degree. I see this everyday with computer programmers who taught themselves what they needed to be hirable when they were still in high school. I’ve heard you talk a lot about people you’re inspired by who don’t have a college degree. What tools does college give you to go down a road similar to the one you’ve gone down? The college experience gave me a no-consequence environment to fail. For example, sometimes I would skip class to go record part of my band’s album. Sometimes this resulted in me failing a test, but sometimes this resulted in the album I was working on getting me an internship at a major record label. When we started our company, sometimes I would skip a saxophone lesson to go to an investor presentation. Sometimes this resulted in me sounding bad in a recital, but sometimes this resulted in a bunch of 22-year olds being given hundreds of thousands of dollars to create something from nothing. College was a rare time in my life where I could take giant risks with little fear. I think if I had been in a situation where I couldn’t have gone to college I probably would’ve made much more conservative choices, and probably had much more conservative results.
What advice can you offer to kids applying to college? To admins and faculty? To kids graduating? The best advice I got was towards the end of my freshman year of college. A senior who was about to graduate, who realized his fate of not having any connections or a job lined up for after graduation, looked at me and said, “I wish I had started interning and working my freshman year”. This scared the crap out of me so I spent the next two months emailing people my music work until I got a summer internship at Sony BMG. In a lot of ways I feel like I’m still riding that wave of motivation that that senior gave me. I would impart the same advice. Some things you just can’t plan for, but if you have a mental list of things you’re interested in and can start crossing off things on that list and working on them earlier than later, then you’re literally expanding your life in the real world working on things you’re more likely to enjoy. After working at a record label I realized I didn’t love that part of the industry, after working at a big professional recording studio I realized a lot of people that do that everyday aren’t happy. This was great! I was learning how I actually felt about things I had just dreamt about. This is essential and you should do everything you can to do this starting when you’re still in school. For admins and faculty I would suggest looking at college kids not just as pupils of your discipline, but also as people on the cusp of being self-sustaining. Part of your job has to include being mindful of this so students don’t have the wrong idea about what’s required in the real world. Lastly, to kids applying to college, I’d highly recommend looking at schools and programs that are largely made up of other kids who have already made a decision about what their focus is going to be on. Don’t fall under the delusion that your major has to be what your life is, but surround yourself with people who have already dedicated themselves to being experts in something. This is what is valued in the real world. Even if you haven’t decided what you want to focus on, being surrounded by people who have that energy of focus is really powerful. I went to a school where almost the entire freshman class started work in their major from day one. Whether it was music, engineering, or medicine, the energy I was around was one of commitment and focus.
What’s up next for you? I like to constantly tinker with a few projects that excite me. DecisionDesk definitely continues to be an outlet for me; however, I have some other ideas surrounding education, use of excess supply, and sharing that I’d like to address when I can. At some point I’d also love to invest in other startups doing innovative things. The longer you spend in the startup world the easier it gets to spot the winners and it would be fun to sit on the other side of the table occasionally to contribute to solving certain problems without necessarily taking on (the same level of) the stress of running one yourself. As a musician, I’m still very active. The past couple years I’ve been producing and playing mostly for other people’s projects and so this year I’m saying no to most requests and writing and recording what will be my first solo project.
Marc and the two other co-founders of DecisionDesk, Eric Neuman and John Knific, started DecisionDesk in 2008. Outside of his position of Chief Business Development Officer at DecisionDesk, Marc is an entrepreneur, producer, and musician. He currently lives in Brooklyn, NY.…...

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