YEC Member Spotlight: Adam Keune, Co-Founder/Chief Marketing Officer of Higher Learning Technologies (HLT)

4 min read · 7 years ago


Adam Keune is the Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer at Higher Learning Technologies (HLT).  The company creates mobile test prep apps for students to study anytime and anywhere.  Currently they have 5 apps regularly ranked in the top 50 grossing educational apps, including their nursing app, NCLEX Mastery, which consistently ranks #1 in both Google Play and the Apple App store. Follow him @adamkeune.

Who is your hero?

I have a few different heroes. Some well-known names would be Gary Vaynerchuk, Jay Abraham and the late Chet Holmes. All three of these men emphasize the importance of developing relationships with your customers. It’s something that you see a lot of companies, big and small, do poorly if at all. All of them do an incredible job of expressing how important it is to stay connected with your customers and come up with really great ways to engage with them. When you start looking at people only in terms of potential revenue, you lose touch with why your business is here, and the business begins to suffer because of it.

What’s the single best piece of business advice that helped shape who you are as an entrepreneur today, and why?

Fail fast and break things. For HLT, this means constantly coming up with new ideas and then finding fast, cheap ways to test them. We encourage our employees to think outside the box and not be afraid of failure. Honestly, I would be disappointed if my employees didn’t make mistakes because it would mean we weren’t trying hard enough. One of our goals is to try and have lots of small failures so we can avoid major ones.

We have a lot of people with backgrounds in science at the company, so naturally we apply a scientific model to our business. For almost everything we do the process is simple: Ask questions, do research, make a hypothesis, experiment/test the hypothesis, look at the data and then share the results. This method allows us to test ideas quickly with relatively little time and money. If the results are good, then we can start committing more resources towards them and charge onwards. If the results are bad, then at least we didn’t waste significant resources. No matter what the results are, though, we can say we learned something. Being an education company, learning is always a success in our book.

What’s the biggest mistake you ever made in your business, and what did you learn from it that others can learn from too?

When raising any sort of capital, it’s never over until the money is in the bank. We learned that lots of investors and VCs will tell you how quick and easy they will make it for you, and that’s almost never the case. While most of the investors I have worked with are incredibly helpful and straightforward, I have talked to others who are not. When it comes time to write checks, they start dragging their feet and come up with reasons why instead of taking two weeks like they originally said, it will be closer to two months before they make a decision.

I advise entrepreneurs to look out for this, as it’s a common trick used against young entrepreneurs like us. During the “due-diligence” phase, VC’s will be combing through your books, specifically your cash flows. They can figure out what your run rate is and when you will be out of money. By dragging on negotiations and telling you the deal is “in the bag,” you stop talking with other potential investors and assume the deal will close. Then, after dragging on negotiations, they know you will soon be out of money. This lets them make major changes to the terms of the deal or even drastically lower your valuation. Since they have now seen your numbers and know you will soon be out of money, they know you have to accept the deal or go out of business.

What do you do during the first hour of your business day and why?

I jump on my computer and knock out emails. It’s nice to get them out of the way early in the day and focus on more important things later on.

What’s your best financial/cash-flow related tip for entrepreneurs just getting started?

It always costs more and takes longer than you think. This has been one of the best pieces of advice I have ever received. About 99.9 percent of whatever you are trying to do will take longer and cost more than you originally thought, especially in software. Even with incredible amounts of forecasting and planning, this happened to us repeatedly. As the company gets older, you will start getting a lot better with these estimates. But in the early days it’s something entrepreneurs need to be aware of and constantly remind themselves about.

Quick: What’s ONE thing you recommend ALL aspiring or current entrepreneurs do right now to take their biz to the next level?

Never stop learning! The moment you do, someone else will be right behind you and ready to pass you by.

What’s your definition of success? How will you know when you’ve finally “succeeded” in your business?

I don’t know if I’ll ever say “I succeeded” at business since that would imply I’m done. One of the main things I will measure myself by will be my ability to help others succeed. I have been very fortunate to meet and work with some amazing people on the my entrepreneurial journey. At some point, I would like to have made enough money to give back and help others build something amazing. Having enough money and connections to help grow the entrepreneurial community as a whole, especially in Iowa, is something I really hope to do some day.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.