Ep. 89 - Learning Through Play With Sphero COO, Jim Booth

Ep. 89 - Learning Through Play With Sphero COO, Jim Booth

Sphero is a company that creates high-tech robots, encouraging learning through play. Joining Cameron Herold in this episode is Jim Booth, the Chief Operating Officer of Sphero. Jim shares how they’re inspiring the next generation of creatives through high-tech robots, and highlights the skills needed to be a COO in the startup world. Coming from the US Military Academy, Jim shares his transition from the military into the corporate world, and how that experience led him to Sphero. Discussing Sphero’s hiring process and the importance of continuous nurturing, Jim also takes a closer look into the overall culture to specific culture, and how this plays out in the total success or failure of a company if not meshed correctly.

Jim Booth is the Chief Operating Officer of Sphero, a company that creates high tech robots encouraging learning through play, where he oversees operations, sales, marketing, and business development areas. Prior to Sphero, Jim’s entrepreneurial experience includes Rally Software and three early-stage startups and operations, business development and founder roles. He began his corporate career at FedEx as an engineer and manager of strategic alliances during pivotal growth years for the company. Jim is still an active mentor to companies in Techstars, Patriot Boot Camp and other startups. He’s a 1990 graduate of the US Military Academy and served as an army officer during combat operations in the Middle East. Outside of Sphero, Jim loves to travel with his family and enjoys cheering for his kids at their sporting events. Jim, welcome to the show.

Thanks for having me here.

Where were you over in the Middle East?

I graduated from West Point. Right after graduation, Gulf War One was starting off. After I got out of my officer training, I met my first unit in Saudi Arabia when we were in the defense. We transition to the offense and conducting the war.

I was over there. I was a couple of years older than you. I was backpacking and in Egypt in the Sinai. I was moving over in Israel and the war was ending. It was April of ‘91. One of the US boats came in and I sat and partied with all the guys. They were glad it was over and I also remember they were so young. I wasn’t that old. I was only 25 but they all seem young to me.

That’s something you realize about the business of war. Our best, youngest and brightest are there. I remember when I was at West Point, you have all these professors that have fought all these different wars like Vietnam. One of my professors said, “I know you’re going to get an engineering degree, but you might want to think about figuring out the Middle East.” I got a minor in Middle Eastern history, because I was like, “No. This will serve me well on the ground knowing the difference between Sunni and Shia, and what are the fundamental problems in the Middle East.”

I’m curious. I talked to someone at a dinner party who’d been in the military and in operations at the company. He seemed to have pulled some skills from that. I was super impressed. What did you pull from your time there that you still would use?

There are a whole number of skills that you can pull from the military. First, there’s an incredible amount of leadership that happens under duress. You need to be able to plan and be flexible. I was much in play in the startup world. What’s also in play is that if you have a solid plan, you have something to deviate from. If you’ve got a great team, you can carve off pieces of your business and more different units and let them run businesses within businesses. I always remember that at one point, you study the history of warfare from the beginning of time and you learned the old Soviet command and control model warfare doesn’t work in practicality.

We were training for the fact that you’d lose your leadership and the best statement of you as a leader was the unit would move on, conduct this mission and be successful. The same thing holds true in the startup world and business in general. If you’ve got a great team, you carve out pieces of the business, give them a lot of flexibility and discretion. Give them guidance and train them and stuff. Let them go and run the business. That’s a broad thing. There are other executional things you learn. When you compare startups to being a warrior if you get things wrong in warfare, people die and that’s the ultimate. If you get it wrong in business, the companies go under and people are affected by that. There are a host of good entrepreneurs that are former vets. There’s a great program through Techstars that they run. It’s an incredible way to pull off.

Tell us a little bit about Sphero and what you’re running.

If we needed an intro on it, we’re completely focused on inspiring the creators of tomorrow through different STEAM and STEM type of things. We sell inside of schools, teachers, kids, and also sell in retail to parents. We say whether it’s in the classroom or a living room if we want to expose kids to the 21st-century learning skills, we do it across the board. We do it by exposing kids to coding and different STEAM and STEM topics through our school robots. We acquired little bits of the product as well. I always tell people that we want to be a company that helps kids fall in love with learning again. There’s a certain type of learning that happens in schools. We have teachers come to us and say, “What can we do differently?” I say, “Realize what you have in each of your kids and give them that slight touch that they need in the right way.” Whether it’s a serial product that’s getting kids excited about the ability to code and problem solve or someone else’s, I’m excited to see that transformation. It’s what I call project-based learning in the classroom.

I’ve been going to the main TED Conference for years and every year at TED, we keep seeing more and more of these STEM products for kids. It seems to be that they’re trying to get the whole TED community engaged in that as well. Are there core strategies that you have in getting your products or your ideas out to the market?

There are. First, on the education side, teachers are absolutely incredible in looking for ways to teach course concepts, different ways and get away from the rote memorization and bring fun activities. First and foremost, teachers and kids are our focus inside of education. Similarly, inside the home, it’s about parents and kids. I grew up in New York as a kid. My mom was a seamstress and my dad was a plumber. Money was tight sometimes. They were always hesitant to buy me something that was a toy. If they were buying me something that combined learning together with play, they would do it. I remember begging to get certain things and that was the screen from my parents.

We can definitely throw around the footballs and stuff but if they were going to spend some money, they wanted to see that it furthered us in some way. We see that happen. Our focus areas are parents and kids, teachers and kids as well. I’m blown away by the teachers that we see that are out there. There are all kinds of issues with education but when you take a step back and you look at that fundamental core of incredible teachers, we’ve got a lot to be thankful for.

We’ve got a much better base than we give credit for. The administration and the bureaucracy in the school system is the problem, not the teachers. Tell me about how you got involved in Sphero.

SIC 89 | Learning Through Play
Learning Through Play: There are all kinds of issues with education, but when you take a step back and look at that fundamental core of incredible teachers, you got a lot to be thankful for.

 

I was at Rally at the time. I was a strong supporter of the Techstars ecosystem that was happening in Boulder. At the time, Techstars focused on Boulder and they were proving out the model here. Myself and our CEO, Paul Berberian and one of our lead investors, Brad Feld were mentors to our two technical cofounders in Techstars. We were fascinated by what they were doing. They had a broad thesis. This is back in 2010, we carry these super-powerful things in our hands and we don’t control physical things in the everyday world. They were starting with their motorcycles opening up garage doors and doing all these utility things, which were awesome. When we interviewed them, we found out that they were both robotics and gaming guys. We said, “Go and pursue something that you love to do and that you’re passionate about.” That’s how I got involved with Sphero early on.

We coached them through the Techstars program. Afterward, we joined, Paul and I, made a good technical and business team together. A lot of companies have to have that perfect storm with that. For us, through our robotic ball prototype to CES, we had a perfect storm of interest from consumers, press, and buyers. We got swarmed at the event because people were fascinated by the fact that you could make this whole notion of connected play and learning come to life. That’s a little bit of our Genesis story.

You’ve been there for a long time. You’ve been there for years. What part of the business do you run? What parts do the founders run? How did you guys split that up? What does the org look like?

Businesses go through multiple summits, but one of our founders spun off Ian Bernstein to start a company named Misty Robotics. Misty is all about creating a robot that allows developers the opportunity to do incredible things with a home-based robot or robot around the office. Ian is off with our incredible CEO getting that business off the ground. Adam has stayed with us in a role. He’s worked on a lot of products for us. Some of the most amazing product that we’ve had has been inspired by Adam. Paul and I as CEO and COO, I always tell people that there are many different COO and CEO dynamics. Initially, Paul and I were like, “Let’s split the business in half.” Paul focused heavily on the product. He’s a great product CEO and I focused on sales, BD, and marketing. It was one of those divide and conquer type of relationships. That was great for us early on and we’ve morphed over the years of me handling different things. As you build a team, you end up leaning on people to help you grow the business and beyond you.

You’ve talked about a couple of things. One, you talked about an article that you read years ago called Give Up My Legos, which was about this team building Lego structure together. All of a sudden, to keep building, you had to get different people to take different sections and give up your sections of Legos. In the military, you talked about the same thing. You had to give up areas and let people start to run those. Over the years, given that stuff up, how have you decided to start working on the critical few things or build your teams? Can you walk us through those years?

Give Up Your Legos is a great article. Everyone should google it and check it out. We share it with our team regularly. There are a number of articles we have in our arsenal. The thesis there is that if you’re a successful startup, you’re building a Lego set that if it’s valued, you ended up breaking up pieces of it. If you look at Sphero early on, I handled everything from legal to people. As you get to a certain size, you realize, “I need to have subject matter experts to bring into the company.” The way I eased into those and find people to help us grow our business is first, you do them on your own. You get to know what’s required. As you grow a bit, at least for me ended up tapping into external resources. I’ll use legal as an example. Initially, we use things that were CAM templates and things like that.

As things got a little bit more sophisticated, we used outside counsel. Based on the outside counsel, you start to realize, “We need general counsel inside.” You have a relationship with some people you work with and you might be able to transition them in the organization. Sales is a similar example too because you end up doing sales and business development on your own. Sometimes you tap into some great season consultants. Some of our success in channels has been about finding those people and getting us up the learning curve. We use them in manufacturing. There was a great company that we’ve used. Similarly, in sales, we got some help there and you start to transition those people inside the company. That’s how we’ve done it over the years and it’s served as a crawl, walk and run for us.

I remember interviewing our general counsel and saying, “I keep a good eye on things that are important to the company from a legal perspective. I’m a bad general counsel in general. I’m not an attorney.” She laughed and said, “No. This is a common trajectory for companies.” That’s been my path of how I managed those things. It gives you a way to ease into them. Whether you use those consultants and bring them internally or use them as advisors, there have been people that have gotten us up the learning curve so quickly.

In different areas of your business depending on the founders’ backgrounds, you will or will not need help. I have a strong supply chain and logistics background. When I got out of the military, I worked for FedEx on their supply chain group. I didn’t need help there but manufacturing in China, for instance, we leaned on an incredible partner there that helped us get up the learning curve super quickly. I always tell people they took us through manufacturing in Asia Charm School 101. They stood in the car with us for a little while. Eventually, they got out of the car and we ended up driving it.

I was curious about that. How many total employees do you have approximately?

We’re at 140 plus.

A real company and real moving parts. How do you decide what parts of the business to continually outsource to not bring in-house? How do you decide what parts to bring in-house?

You first make the decision if it’s core and crucial to the business? You don’t want to outsource something that’s core and crucial to the business. There’s also the practical concern of what is that cost line item to the business? Even if it’s not core and crucial, can we run it much more efficiently and at a lesser cost? I suppose if it’s a pretty big line item, it’s crucial. We look at things that are big, caught up and say, “We’re not going to take those external if we can run them less costly and more efficiently internally.” Strategic is one filter for me, and the other is costs. Those are the two primary ones for me.

Something I’ve always struggled with as an organization grows and scales and you start building the people underneath you to run different business areas, I’m good at giving up control and letting them run those areas but I almost abdicate versus inspect what you expect. I sometimes give them away too much rope or let them run for far too long. How do you oversee stuff as you’re giving up your Legos and you’re giving up those big chunks of the business? What roles do you have in place? What oversights do you have?

Startups, in general, are good places to be delegatory versus directive. It starts in the hiring process. For us, we hired people that are comfortable and have ambiguity, have run businesses, want the ability and freedom to give them the broad guidance and they can go out and execute. Even still you oscillate between, “Can I delegate that entirely because someone’s absolutely incredible?” There’s an area where they may need some development and you’re going to dial in and be able to help them. For us, it starts with the hiring process.

As you get people into the business and realize what their strengths in developmental areas are if they have a developmental area, you can use people around the business to help mentor them. If you have a tight leadership team, people will naturally work together and help each other out. Our business leaders on the sale side tend to have a lot of input into marketing and field marketing. We’ve got a number of checks and balances in place that if somebody is getting a little bit off task and need some help, people can jump in and help each other out.

SIC 89 | Learning Through Play
Learning Through Play: Startups, in general, are good places to be delegatory versus directive.

 

How do you nurture that style of a leadership team so they are working and helping each other’s areas and concerned about each other’s areas without having the silos happen?

It starts with trust and people working together. The whole trust side of things is built through leaders working together every day rolling up their sleeves and problem solving together. It’s amazing to see when you’ve got sales and marketing ops all working together to do a great job for a particular client. Those wins help each other build trust. We focus on those areas and it’s been the things that we think through and focuses on.

Has that started in the hiring process or is that something that you nurture ongoing, that trust?

It’s both. Among the leadership team, we meet regularly. We’re driving to what we call rocks for the company overall. You may be familiar with it. We use a rock process here for the strategic plan. Everyone drives off of something similar. Whether it’s the Google process, ours or others but it starts around getting a commitment to what’s the overall strategic goal and what pieces do people own and work together on. Not only are you working together every day but you’re taking a step back quarterly and annually to do planning together. We have that process in place to help guide things along and bring people together. We’re doing Q4/Q1 planning. Once you get down the cadence of that, people realize, “This is our time to work on the business, not in the business.” It helps people out a lot and builds that trust. It’s hiring plus how we run the company and work together as a team.

What are your leadership team meetings like? Do you have weekly meetings or business area review meetings? Walk us through some of the different meetings that your leadership teams use to scale the company.

Take a look at things because everyone feels that you may be over the meeting. We’ve been experimenting with a no meeting Wednesday. We’re taking stand-ups to do things in Slack. We’re trying to get things out of email. In general, we have a core C-level, senior VP level meeting once a week. What we drive there is what are the big issues that we’re trying to solve for? What are our blockers? We have a more expanded leadership team meeting and we call it our Growth Meeting that we do each week as well.

In there, we tend to guide things around topics so people aren’t just updating like, “Here’s what my week and month look like.” That’s been effective for us. When people walk out of there, they have the opportunity to touch everybody in the company. There are a couple of other unique things we do that are super special. One is we do an all-hands Friday meeting. In that all-hands, we’re bringing food. We have a thing we call the board of thanks, which we’re thanking everybody in the company. We’re briefing out to the company in total. We do some fun stuff where we give away a Chinese chicken foot if we’ve done something super funny, interesting or even dumb. We also do this thing since we came out of an accelerator. Either 2 to 3 times a year, we do a Sphero product accelerator where the company breaks down into teams and they can focus on what items they think are important for us to put on the strategic roadmap for the future.

Walk me through that. Once they propose some items that might go on the strategic roadmap, what do you do with them? 

We will take a look at them and prioritize them against the criteria for us. Based on that, they’ll go on the roadmap. We’ll put them in a parking lot to say, “It’s a great idea, but the timing is not right,” or I will say, “That doesn’t hit the roadmap.” What we found is that all across the company, people come up with great ideas and if you don’t have a way to harness them and act on them, people are going to be frustrated. It’s a nice way of us facilitating the power of the company overall. We’ve had some incredible things come out of places that you wouldn’t expect. People come up with great things that affect our business from any part of the business.

There’s also the flip side of that, which is the entrepreneurial quick start. The big Shiny Object Syndrome that early-stage entrepreneurs have which is they want to start every idea and it will only take three minutes to do it. We often need a place to keep their ideas, as well to vote on those. I always green light, yellow light, and red light. The green light is yes, it goes into the plan. Yellow light is yes, but not now and the red light is used to be a great idea that’s off the list. 

That’s a great similar process. We have customers that will be bringing in and having them put to us customers. We do a ton of work also with bringing kids in and playtesting is what we call it.

Do you know a guy named Richard Rossi?

It sounds familiar.

He runs a big STEM conference once or twice a year back in the East Coast with about 5,000 to 6,500 kids that go to this. It builds an arena filled with all of these kids that are interested in the STEM areas. I’ll introduce you to him. We had met through an organization called the Genius Network and he’s been big in that whole space. It might be an interesting connection for you. The reason I want to talk to you about Brad Feld is he’s been talking a lot around the whole bipolar nature of entrepreneurs. I’ve done a lot of work in that space, too, that I want to connect with him on some stuff and some ideas. 

Brad is on our board and has been an incredible supporter of the company over the years.

He’s the face of entrepreneurship in Boulder too.

SIC 89 | Learning Through Play
Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up

Entrepreneurship in Boulder is big and Brad is definitely one of the forces. The one thing that even Brad would tell you is that it’s all about the community that you foster and beyond, you keep polar leaders. Certainly, it’s through things like Techstars and talking about how startup communities, in general, have been super influential.

Is Sphero all based in Boulder or do you have some teams or some branch offices as well? 

We’ve got a couple of offices. We have an office in New York that we acquired. We have an operation team in Hong Kong. We do product development and sales for Asia there. We have a small team based in the UK that also handles the UK, Europe. We’re a company that’s focused on sales globally from the beginning. It’s funny because sometimes, I have entrepreneurs come to me and say, “We’re focused on North America. Once we crack North America, we’ll think about the rest of the world.” I’ve even had entrepreneurs say, “I’m pressure testing my team to prove to me that international is something that we should pursue.” I’ve always said, “Revenue-wise and also diversity for your product, the quicker that you can think about your total global impact, the better. If you leave that as a company and as a management team, you’ll be better off.” For us, one of our key partners globally is Apple and that was crucial to us developing a whole global mindset. For a company like us, we have to think about the global market.

You’ve been in your career for a while but you’re still young. Where are you continuing to grow and learn your skillset? 

One key area is continuing the sharpening saw as a coach. I’ve been spending a bunch of time learning from others. I got done reading Jerry Colonna’s book Reboot. Jerry is an amazing guy and what Reboot does is very good. There are a lot of the principles that Jerry puts out and there are some great leaders that are out ahead that you can talk to. I spend time with the other mentors. I always tell people, “Give back to the community. There were people that helped us that were in front of us in our venture portfolio or even just a startup.” Remember reaching out to the guys that fit that when we were early on in learning. They were going through a crazy growth cycle and lots of other companies. I like to spend time mentoring young entrepreneurs in Techstars and other programs, but I also like to spend time with people that are in front of us. That gets me thinking about, “What do I need to do differently?” We acquired littleBits. That’s a significant integration for us. There’s a whole group of leaders that have come over from that business that are helping us understand how they’ve been successful. It’s cool that we get to learn.

What is happening with that integration? What have you learned? Has there been any big a-has or any assumptions that you had that you got slapped in the face with or anything that was easier than you might have thought as well?

The good thing is it was an incredible team and the leadership team was strong. There are people on that team that are amazing. We get to share stories about this work for their business and this works for ours. They’re always immediate quick hits and leadership was one of the things. They’ve got some great products. We have a mutual appreciation for our businesses, but we’re both getting to learn each other’s businesses and that takes a bit of time. Fortunately, we’re focused on creators and so are they, and we’ve known each other for quite some time. With any acquisition, that’s something that takes some time. There are also the nuts and bolts around integrating the companies in total. Things like, “We’re on that suite, there on that suite. That’s great.” That’s a little bit easier.

Were they following the whole scaling up Rockefeller Habits system that you guys are using or were they on a different methodology for running their business? 

They have disciplined processes. It’s more of the EOS. They have done a good job of driving clarity throughout the organization, which takes some of the Rockefeller processes and it gets it a little bit more detailed. They’ve done a good job of cutting down on being over the meeting and using Slack. They had a little bit more of a disciplined process around Slack that we like.

You mentioned meetings a couple of times. I wrote a book called Meetings Suck and it was because people kept complaining about meetings, but no one had ever been trained on them. I started to realize that no employees had ever been trained on how to show up, attend them or participate in them either. I wrote the book so people would stop complaining about it and learn how to run things in the first place. 

We’ve done the same thing. You may have some lunch and learn topics and we bring people in to talk through that and get people into a good spot.

What else are you focusing on your lunch and learn? I was on a retreat one time and I was thinking about some stuff related to executive learning. 

There are a whole host of things that we do through lunch and learn. Some of it is like, “Let’s share broader strategy around sales or ops.” One time on our lunch and learn, we had the people from littleBits on our team in New York walking us through some cool stuff that they do and their demos for products across the whole company. We certainly have structured things that we talk about but we also leave them unstructured so people can come in and talk about things like the value of diversity on the team, how diverse teams beat teams that are not diverse every time. That was a good topic for us. Sometimes we talk technical engineering types of topics come in and people can take a look at them. We leave them broad. We handle what I would call company people-related topics that are important and you have to do. We’ve left them open and been pleasantly surprised about all the other great things that come through there.

We had a woman, Barbara Annis, who’s a gender diversity global expert. She’s worked with some of the biggest brands, some politicians and big organizations. We had her come and speak at our COO Alliance event. We run a network for second in commands and there are no entrepreneurs allowed in the room. Some of the insights that she gave us on gender diversity and what was happening inside of workplaces were fascinating stuff.

It opens people’s eyes up and blows your hair back. There’s a powerful video that is out. This is one example of how people become more aware of things. They talked to young girls in school and they asked them if they can name an inventor. These girls will go through and they’ll name Thomas Edison, Tesla, and notes go through. They can’t name a female inventor, and then they tell them all of these incredible inventions that have come from women. They go back to the girls and the girls are like, “No one’s ever taught us this. We’re proud of the heritage of woman inventors.”

I showed it to my daughter around the time that there was an MIT student who wrote the algorithm that I found. There’s a new version of the black hole someplace and my daughter was moved by that. She took a step back, “Dad, I would have been one of those girls in this video.” You look at that and you go, “How can we broaden people’s thinking around diversity and how important it is?” Me, in particular, as a founder of littleBits, it has been an incredible activist for, “Let’s expose more girls to technology more and more women to the possibilities of STEAM careers.”

SIC 89 | Learning Through Play
Meetings Suck: Turning One of the Most Loathed Elements of Business into One of the Most Valuable

When you guys are going through a transition as well with doing an acquisition of a completely different company and culture, that’s going to force some change in a great way. Also, having offices in China, New York and Boulder, three completely different markets as well. Globally, companies are having to radically change the way that we operate and the way that we think. 

Each of the offices has its own individual culture. There’s a shared culture pitch between them all and it’s fun to see. I grew up in New York but I live in Boulder so I can understand and live in both of those worlds. The New York team has different things that they do that are special to them that we’re picking up on and bringing into our office. Likewise, the same for our team in Hong Kong.

Anything that you’ve noticed in the hiring side of the business, either in Hong Kong or in North America, any differences? 

There are regional differences in terms of the ability to hire. It’s harder to hire technical devs in Boulder. It’s a smaller community and there’s a decent amount of movement between companies. The ability to have teams in different places working on different things, especially on the technical side is helpful. Of course, the cost differences. Hong Kong is going through a lot of turbulence. Our team is in a good spot but they’ve had to think about how to travel to work, how to travel from Hong Kong to China. Those are all things that are different. Even the team in New York, their commutes are longer and we’re looking at a different spot for them.

We had a member of our COO Alliance event and they were talking about one of their investors, which was a Chinese company. They were worried about the market. Even finding out that they had Chinese investors, there’s such a strange US-China rift happening at times. If you were to link back to some of your earliest learnings that you took in business, things that you probably have leverage, what are some of the big things that you learned early on that you still do?

It was interesting because I made this career switch from the military over to the corporate world. Some of the early lessons for me were around understanding the financial underpinnings of business. How important things like gross margin and operating profit are. You tend to see a lot of young startups focus on revenue growth and they forget about the fact that the enduring companies that stay around for a while tend to focus there. In light of some of these events, we look at WeWork who’s operating profit. I know they’re grown quickly but their gross margins were 20%.

Some of those important financial underpinnings, you learn those early, you take those throughout your career and apply them. We talked about hiring great teams and being able to delegate. Startups have a couple of key advantages. One is being focused and two is their ability to move fast. We’ve always tried to keep that in mind, whether it’s in our hiring process. If somebody comes in and meets with us and we have a great meeting, they don’t walk out of our building like, “I wonder if I’ll get that job.” We tell them, “You did a great job. We’re interested. We’re going to follow up with you quickly.” We try to apply that all throughout the company, whether it’s in our sales process or product development.

If you don’t do that, somebody else is going to grab them in this day and age, too. If we were to link back to you as 22-year-old and you’re just starting out in your career, what word of advice would you give yourself back then that you know to be true but you wish you’d known as you’re getting going?

I probably tell myself to slow down a little bit. Whether it’s my background or upbringing, I felt this incredible need to establish myself. At times, that paid a price. You have this work-life balance and when you’re 22, it’s all work. There’s not enough life balance there and I paid the price for that. You want to get yourself to this level of professional security, whether it’s economic or personal. That would be one thing. As I talked to 22-year-olds, if they’re college grads and they’re looking for what they’re going to do, I was going to give them some simple advice that my mentor had given me when I was young. It was like, “Number one, do what you want to do.” That sounds stupid, or “At least put yourself on the path of doing what you want to do. Don’t just take the job because you need the money.”

Try to at least focus yourself in doing what you want to do. Number two is, “Go where you want to go.” I’ve had people that have come in and they’re interviewing for a role that they don’t want. They break that rule where they don’t want to be in a particular location. You’re saying, “You’re breaking the two most fundamental rules that are out there.” I tend to give that advice. I paid heed to this last piece of advice but I don’t see enough young 22-year-olds doing this, which is to find great mentors. We had a wonderful young girl that was taking a gap year and watching our kids. She was considering careers and she said, “I’m thinking about getting into the FAA.” My wife works for the FAA. I said, “My wife will take you to work and you could spend some time and at least consider it.” She thought she might want a career in medicine so we put her in touch with a great doctor that she could learn something.

It seems like we’ve lost a little bit of that apprenticeship. My dad was a plumber, he was an apprentice. I even think when I was at West Point, I was like, “I learned about the art of warfare.” Unfortunately, they learn the lessons at a place like West Point when you start losing a lot of your graduates on the battlefield like, “Bring that apprenticeship back into the workplace.” It’s valuable. My son is getting into that thinking about what he wants to do. Dad and mom talk to him all the time. He listens but if you were to talk to you about business, he would go away. It would impact him in a different way than mom and dad.

It’s interesting that anyone who’s successful has been helped by someone else and we’re naturally bent to try to give that help and paying it forward. It’s often if you just reach out, especially if you reach out for some specific questions like, “I want to pick your brain about these three things,” people are apt to say yes.

Especially around career choices because you have so much invested there. I’m starting to see colleges do a better job with that but we’ve got a long way to go.

Jim Booth, the COO for Sphero, thank you much for sharing with us on the show.

Thank you.

Important Links:

About Jim Booth

SIC 89 | Learning Through PlaySphero is a company that creates high-tech robots encouraging learning through play, where he currently oversees operations, sales, marketing, and business development areas.  

Prior to Sphero, Jim’s entrepreneurial experience includes Rally Software and three early-stage startups in operations, business development, and founder roles.  He began his corporate career at FedEx as an Engineer and Manager of Strategic Alliances during pivotal growth years for the company.   

Jim is still an active mentor to companies in Techstars, Patriot Bootcamp, and other startups.  He is a 1990 graduate of the US Military Academy and served as an Army Officer during combat operations in the Middle East.  Outside of Sphero, Jim loves to travel with his family and enjoys cheering for his kids at their sporting events.

Leave a Reply