Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Kevin Leahy of Knowledge Advocate Talks about His Startup

Kevin Leahy of Knowledge Advocate Talks about His Startup

Where are you from originally?

I was born in New Jersey, lost my Yankee accent in North Carolina, accelerated my appreciation for wine and food in California, met the love of my life in Manhattan, romanced in Brooklyn, and eventually landed in the Great State of Texas.

What university did you go to?

My economics undergraduate degree is from Duke University and I earned my law degree from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

What brought you to Austin?

My wife and I sought out a young, vibrant, smart town that was close to where she grew up (San Antonio).

What is the idea behind Knowledge Advocate, LLC?

After 15 years of preparing and examining witnesses for trial, I saw the opportunity to create an on-demand interview company. The company helps clients with pre-hire, exit, performance, and other interview needs. The skills and training of a trial attorney are well-suited to capture and transfer critical corporate know-how. Employee knowledge matters and is often hard to collect and organize. I saw a niche need for professional questioners who could interview people at the highest levels to connect and pattern their essential corporate knowledge and pass it along in a meaningful way to those who need to access and know it.

What need does it fulfill?

Consultants, businesses and individuals have limited access to expert questioners absent being deposed by a lawyer, written up by a journalist for a story, or analyzed by a therapist. Knowledge Advocate fills the need to interview pre-hire candidates and perform exit interviews with the highest possible skills available. The company uses its questioning abilities in business consults to execute comprehensive succession plans and facilitate communication, productivity, and change management opportunities. Knowledge Advocate also teams with other business consultants to accentuate expertise in fields including organizational dynamics, economics, and web analytics with a professional questioner who drills down and gets to the bottom of client concerns, roadblocks, and problems. The point is that when professional answerers (the consultants) get together with professional questioners (Knowledge Advocate), the effort results in great consults.

What exactly does your service do?

Depending on the client, Knowledge Advocate researches hiring needs, evaluates concerns about losing knowledge held by departing employees, and explores the need for succession plans of senior leaders and business owners. Investigation and preparation quickly turn into action: interviews happen that maximize access to the highest quality of high quantity, relevant business information. We pinpoint what the client needs to know, protect it (with transcripts and video, as needed), and pass it on to those individuals that depend on it for future business success and smart, well-informed decisions. Because of our unique third-party role, Knowledge Advocate clarifies the insight and meaning of what employees know, a process that drives outcomes including faster decisions and solid solutions. Always, the professional level of questioning leads to a deep, documented awareness of how and why things get done and by whom.

Who is it for?

On-demand questioning and interviewing skills are well-suited for business clients including senior leaders and HR departments who understand the value of a professional who conducts top notch interviews and champions knowledge capture and transfer needs. Available knowledge that is capitalized on in this way becomes a competitive advantage. Consultants also use Knowledge Advocate to round out their expertise with a subcontracted expert questioner who dives deep to connect and pattern the clients' opportunities and constraints with the consultant's expert advice. Individuals also rely on the company as a soundboard for tracking their own thoughts and capturing critical insight into business and personal challenges; the effort produces instant 360 evaluations and trends the individual's thoughts in a comprehensive, actionable way.

What was the most challenging aspect of starting up a business?

Educating potential clients about the value of a professional questioner is a continuing challenge. No business owner would consciously hire amateurs to perform their interview work. Still, because few companies offer on-demand questioning and interviewing services the accepted practice is to permit employees who may not be expert questioners to conduct critical pre-hire, exit, and system wide interviews like performance evaluations. Getting the word out about professional questioning and comparing Knowledge Advocate's service to already existing services like business consulting and coaching has been a challenge as well because what Knowledge Advocate does is not exactly the same as what coaches or consultants do.

What is the next step for you and your company?

I have become a thought leader in the field of professional questioning and interviewing. Because clients express needs in this area, Knowledge Advocate conducts seminars that teach employees how to improve their questioning skills to get better interview results. The company is also teaming with web and enterprise analytics professionals to leverage technology that can trend employee knowledge over several quarters to understand where the company is, where it is heading, and why what the company knows at the employee level matters. Knowledge Advocate's partnership with business consultants rounds out the continued practice of high end questioning in fields as diverse as investment banking, economic development, and non-profit management.

What advice do you have for entrepreneurs?

Use your existing skills to leverage a passion that fits a market need. I know, sounds a lot easier than it is. Mostly, believe in yourself and your skill set and know that it can and will deliver outstanding results that provide you the courage to go out and sell your stuff to buyers who turn into satisfied customers.

What Austin-based resource have you found to be the most helpful and why?

A nod goes to Hall Martin and his Entrepreneur Network, his organization conducts a class in conjunction with the Acton MBA that is excellent for new business owners. Additional resources have included a small group of peers that met to discuss solopreneur challenges, Bootstrap Austin's many helpful members, advice from non-profit colleagues (non-profit service has led to my relationships with a diverse and vibrant group, Leadership Austin alumns offer particularly strong counsel), friends, family, and most important, the adventurous innovators who became my first clients. In the end, those closest to me have been the most supportive, cheer-oriented group an entrepreneur could hope for. They serve as excellent guides through the difficult, life-changing decisions that make up the entrepreneur's journey.