Lab Notes

The Idea Is the Smallest Part: An Interview With Don Smithmier

In October of 2015 GoKart Labs launched its latest venture, The Big Know. I caught up with Don Smithmier, the CEO of The Big Know, to talk about startup teams, validating ideas, and building lasting companies.

 

In terms of growth, do you ever compare The Big Know to other GoKart startups?
This is the third startup for which GoKart has received this much external recognition. However, this startup, unlike the others, has been a revenue-generating company from day one. We’re a different company in that way so I feel like The Big Know is maturing faster. You always secretly hope that things explode much quicker than you imagined, however, I’m proud of the fact that we set aggressive but realistic goals and we’re meeting them.

It’s also exciting to see validation from consumers and clients who understand the uniquely innovative thing we’re doing. Now it’s just about spreading the word and letting people know what The Big Know is and how it works. To do that within the confines of your funding and marketing budget—that’s the challenge.

“The real question is can you turn that idea into a meaningful business? Can you create great jobs and do something meaningful for the world and take advantage of its potential?”

In what ways has GoKart aided The Big Know in its growth?
At GoKart, we know that the idea is the smallest part of it all; everything comes down to execution. You have an innovative idea, that’s great, but the real question is can you turn that idea into a meaningful business? Can you create great jobs and do something meaningful for the world and take advantage of its potential?

With The Big Know, we made the very clear decision that we were not going to launch or spin it off until a Fortune 500 client helped us validate the concept, not just with that client but with consumers.The other thing is, we applied GoKart’s process and integration of the Traction model to The Big Know, and that’s been helping things move faster.

“For an external source to say, ‘you know, in a competitive pool of ideas, your idea really stands out’—that’s huge.”

It was recently announced that The Big Know won a Eureka Innovation Award. Is it a significant ‘aha’ moment for the team?
Yes. What I think is important for a young company, and for the people who take the risk to join a startup, are these external signs of validation. You have internal signs of validation, like metrics, financial performance, growth rate, and customer satisfaction, but external validation is important as a way to reinforce the decision that people made to join the company and put their careers and livelihood on the line. For an external source to say, “you know, in a competitive pool of ideas, your idea really stands out”—that’s huge.

I just love that The Eureka Awards celebrate innovation. I think that is something the business community needs to do more of. It’s easy to celebrate wealth, stock value, the Fortune500 List, that kind of thing. I like the fact that this award is solely about innovation, just “Hey, that’s a really great way to think about that problem in a way that no one has before.” The business community needs to be doing more of that. So, I think we need to tip our hats to them.

 

What’s next on the horizon for The Big Know?
We’ve got some big launches coming up. We’ve got a gorgeous Cambria course on redesigning your kitchen taught by HGTV’s Scott McGillivray and a course taught by Andrew Zimmern about essential dishes that everyone should know. Both of these are really exciting because they take us into new categories—home design and decoration, lifestyle and culinary.

Not much later, we’ll be launching our first course with Procter & Gamble. To have the world’s greatest brand marketing company come out of the platform is pretty cool. I’m super excited to be launching different types of courses, with different instructors for different audiences.

 

No comments, yet. What do you think?