Pop Quiz, Monday with Tom Heffner, President at Tom Heffner Enterprises, LLC


The Pop Quiz, Monday is a fun little exam that we love to give to savvy business owners. The examination is not a surprise after all since the interviewee already knew about the questions in advance. However, we can always pretend and have fun with the scenario of a young entrepreneur sitting in class nervously biting on their pencil. They are ready to take a pop quiz on a chapter that they were supposed to read the night before. Instead, they played Metroid all night on their SNES (Oops, this was me in high school). The real purpose of the pop quiz is that this is a fun way to introduce business tips from real-world experiences that you can not learn in a classroom. We want to thank our entrepreneur for being a good sport and volunteering their time to answer a few questions to help our community grow from their knowledge.

I want to introduce you to our guest today who will be taking our Pop Quiz Monday.

1. Can you please tell everyone your name?

Tom Heffner

2. Tell us about your business and what you do?

My business focuses on 2 different areas. I am the host of The Next Year Now Podcast, where we interview world class experts and thought leaders (e.g. Adam Grant, Tom Rath, Angela Duckworth) to uncover the habits and practices that fuel their success. The show is based on the belief that everyday habits and practices are vital for us to thrive at work and in life.

In addition to my podcasting work, I also run a design innovation consultancy where I train individuals and organizations on the fundamentals of innovation through Design Thinking. We aim to help people and organizations build their own capacity to innovate and think creatively using the tools of Design Thinking.

3. Why did you want to become an entrepreneur?

I wanted true freedom. And for me, that means doing WHAT I want, WHEN I want, and with WHO I want. As an entrepreneur you get to make these decisions and it’s incredibly satisfying to have that kind of power and control in your life.

For me there was also a connection to building something for myself. I’ve worked for different organizations and the one challenge for me was knowing that at the end of the day, I’m helping build the vision or dream of someone else. I wanted to build my own dream and if you’re working for someone else, it’s hard to to that. I’m not saying entrepreneurship is for everyone — and look — I waited 15 years before I began pursuing this path. It was just the right path for me at the right time in my life.

4. What are the challenging aspects of running a business?

Running a business … hands down it’s learning to balance your time while pursuing what is most essential to the life of your business and to the vision you are building towards. If you are just starting your business, then I would say that the most challenging is bringing in consistent, repeatable sales. For a lot of people, when you are thinking about making the jump, or planning on making the move, you might some clients or sales lined up. The reality is the vast majority of those will NOT come to fruition. And in general, most of the leads, potential clients/sales you might win … those will not pan out either (at least in the beginning). So it’s helpful to go into it with a growth mindset and accept that you will be learning a lot in the beginning. It might not work out often, but it will begin to change over time.

5. What do you love most about your job?

Helping people. It seems cliché to say that but that is such a huge driver. As a podcaster I share habits, practices, and tips for how every one of us can thrive in life and improve every day. That is incredibly rewarding.

As a design consultant, I love seeing the transformation of people. In the beginning of a class or training, where I’m teaching Design Thinking methods, I will ask the class, “How many people here consider themselves to be creative or innovative?” Almost no one raises their hand. By the end of the 2 days, almost everyone will raise their hand when I ask that question. It’s such a great feeling to know you are helping equip people with confidence and competence to be better.

6. How do you have fun at work (team building, pranks, etc..)?

I’m a big fan of improv. Whenever possible I like to include exercises from improv in work. An example of this is to take 5 mins before a meeting starts or even during a design workshop I might be facilitating, to tell a story with each person in the group contributing one word at a time. That is, the story starts with the first person giving a word, then the next person builds on that story with a word, and so on, until you’ve crafted a funny and improvisational story.

Another thing I like to do is to have icebreakers at meetings and design workshops. These are activities that are short, simple, and fun. One icebreaker we use a lot is to have everyone sketch who they would dress up as and attend Comic-Con (annual convention for fans of comics, movie, and science fiction) as … for example, I sketch Batman because he’s a superhero who does superhuman things, but he doesn’t have any super powers. He’s a regular person just like all of us. It’s ends up being a great way to introduce everyone and build rapport quickly.

7. What would one piece of advice that you give to a new business owner?

Find a mentor. I didn’t do this when I launched my business and it was a BIG mistake. People succeed largely in the presence of and with the help of OTHER people. You cannot know it all, so don’t try. Have that sounding board for advice and mentorship.

Thank you for taking our pop quiz today. You get an A+ for effort. You can learn more about our interviewee and their business by visiting them on the web:

You can learn more about Tom Heffner at his consultancy site, http://tomheffner.com and you can learn more about the podcast he hosts (The Next Year Now Podcast) at http://nextyearnowpodcast.com

Tom loves meeting and connecting with new people, so feel free to reach out to him on LinkedIn as well.

Author: Ricky Singh, MBA

Editor of The Startup Growth.

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