Monday, October 16, 2017

6 Insights On Social Media Trends You Need To Know

social-media-insightsIsn’t it frustrating to think you finally understand something in business, like marketing with social media, only to realize that the landscape changed while you were looking at other priorities? For example, it used to be that marketing via social media meant banner ads on Facebook, buying search engine results, and sponsoring blog entries, but these don’t suffice anymore.

In a classic book on social media by Jim Tobin, “Earn It. Don’t Buy It,” he asserts that “earned” social engagement drives better business results than paid social exposure. Jim should know, since he is the president Ignite Social Media, of one of the best known social media marketing agencies. Here are a few bits of current wisdom from both of us along these lines:

  1. Nobody clicks on Facebook banner ads anymore. Banner ads routinely average a .1% click through rate and Facebook manages to be about half as good as that. That’s 99.96% of people not clicking on those ads. When the glass is only .04% full, you should start looking for a new container.

  2. Where are the young social media users going? They are going to Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Snapchat. Snapchat is currently the fastest growing social network, while Instagram is close behind with a bigger share globally of new sign-ups.

  3. You need influencers more than advocates. Brands need influencers working on their behalf because they provide the third-party credibility and social proof that validates their products. 92% of people trust “recommendations from people I know” and 70% trust “consumer opinions posted online.”

  4. Where did your friends go? While Pinterest and Tumbler have seen activity increases approaching 100%, EMarketer predicts that Facebook usage will experience a decline of 3.4% in 2017, as young people ages 12 to 17 migrate to Snapchat and Instagram.

  5. Maybe they just don’t care. As far back as 2013, Pew Internet & American Life Project started reporting that their focus groups found “waning enthusiasm for Facebook” among teens, that Facebook has become a “social burden” for them, and that “users of sites other than Facebook express greater enthusiasm for their choice.”

  6. New can turn old very quickly. Friendster was a fad, Second Life was a fad, MySpace was a fad, and Facebook suddenly seems old school. Don’t connect the latest platform, which may be transient, with the larger phenomenon of digitally enabled social conversations. If you can figure out why people care about your product, you’ll have success regardless of the platform du jour.

Earning social media clout for your business, rather than buying it, seems to be all about engagement. Engagement occurs when customers and stakeholders become participants by sharing ideas with you, or talking to their friends about you, rather than merely viewing what you publish. Each participant becomes part of your marketing department, as other customers read their output, and become part of the conversation. It’s the principle underlying “viral marketing.”

So how do you facilitate engagement and conversation with your solution? According to an explanation I first saw on Social Fresh, it’s really a cycle consisting of three key phases:

  • User to product (engaged user base). This part isn’t new. In order to build any following, you need a solution that solves a real problem, not just technology that wows you, or great functionality with a painful learning curve. How engaged people are will depend on how much value they see, and how much they enjoy using the product.
  • User to brand (engaged audience). Once someone is engaged with your product, you’ll want to get them engaged with your brand. This happens today when you talk to people through social media and responsive customer service. Get in the habit of having genuine conversations with your engaged users to create an engaged audience.
  • User to user (engaged community). Now you have an engaged audience of people who feel an emotional connect with your brand and product. Time to start connecting them with each other. You can do so using conversation platforms like forums, Facebook groups or build something yourself.

So that’s how you earn customers through social media, rather than buying them with banner ads. But don’t be misled, social media marketing to get customers and brand recognition through engagement still costs money (and time and effort). There is no free lunch. But don’t spend your money on things that don’t work anymore. That won’t build any competitive advantage.

Marty Zwilling

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Sunday, October 15, 2017

Romances Are Common At Work, But The Risks Are Great

Love-People-Couple-FingersWe all have to communicate and collaborate with other people at work, but most of us start out instinctively trying to maintain an emotional distance from others in the work environment. In fact, most employee training courses recommend the distance if the work relationship crosses management levels, and most management policies strictly forbid fraternizing with the team.

Yet the 2017 Office Romance Survey by Vault, Inc. found in polling more than 1,000 professionals at companies nationwide, that 57 percent had participated in an office romance, and two-thirds of those who’ve had relationships said they’d be willing to engage in another one. So recently I started looking for some expert guidance on the pros and cons on this issue.

One source I like is the classic book “Who’s That Sitting At My Desk?” by Jan Yager, who has a Ph.D. in sociology, and is a coach and speaker on work issues and friendship. She outlines the potential benefits of “workships” (work relationships) evolving into friendships and romances as follows:

  • Improve communication and productivity. Even casual friends at work are more likely to understand your requests, be convinced of the value of your ideas, and more likely to work in concert with you on projects. That’s a win-win situation for both sides as more positive things happen more quickly. Warm feelings also make the work seem easier.
  • Offer support through tough times. Positive workplace relationships can help balance some difficult issues you are facing outside of work. Even at work, if you are struggling with a difficult project, getting some help and support from friends there can easily make the difference between success and failure. We all learn more from people we trust.
  • Aid in self-esteem. Work places provide that day-to-day interaction opportunity that is a key to self-esteem for many. Friends are more likely to provide the positive feedback and accolades that we all need from time to time. Friends are also less likely to exhibit aggression and rudeness, which can lower the self-esteem of any receiver.
  • Can be a competitive advantage. Despite accusations of favoritism, if your friendship with the boss is one of many factors in why you get promoted, that friendship may be a big plus for you at work. If you easily make friends with people at work, it means that you have good relationships skills, which is a key requirement as you move up the ladder.

Of course there can be negative consequences to close friendships and romances at work as well:

  • Work-related betrayal. According to most experts, romantic betrayals are the most frequent type of friendship betrayals, with work-related issues a close second. Betrayals at work run the gamut from telling lies, coloring the truth, plagiarizing work, to saying negative things to the boss. Of course, all these things can happen in any workship.
  • More vulnerable emotionally. Through friendship you open yourself up to acceptance, being liked, admired, respected, trusted, and appreciated. You also open yourself up, as do others when they befriend you, to the greater possibility of disappointment, rejection, and misunderstandings. Success is the best antidote to emotional vulnerability.
  • Competition over salary, promotions, and position. Sometimes friends share too many details on salary levels, work habits, and promotion expectations. This can cause feelings of unfairness, and initiate emotionally competitive efforts. The result can be a loss of friendship, and even loss of any working relationship.
  • Hard to keep work-related disagreements separate from personal relationship. Work-related disagreements break up many romantic relationships, and broken personal friendships break up many businesses. In this new age of collaboration, unemotional different perspectives and disagreements have been proven to lead to better decisions.

If you are contemplating a transition from a workship to a more intimate relationship, according to Yager, you should make sure that it satisfies the following three conditions:

  1. Make sure the move is a shared wish. There are three distinct kinds of friends: casual, close, and best. A fourth category is more intimately romantic relationships. None of these four work well if they are "one-sided,” meaning only one of the parties is committed.

  2. Be ready to reveal and involve your non-work experience. Some people find that they have much in common in workplace duties and perspectives, but have nothing in common outside of work. Or they really don’t want to share their personal life details.

  3. Expect increased pressures from trust and discretion issues. All relationships bring increased demands for your time, and bring expectations and pressures during any changes in your life, or at work. Make sure you both have the shared values in your personal life, as well as at work.

In my view and experience, the benefits of more friendship at work far outweigh the disadvantages. Socializing at work today, contrary to a couple of decades ago, is considered collaborative and productive, rather than a waste of time. Today the trend is to “open” office spaces, even for executives, versus the private and quiet offices of yesterday.

Going further in the friendship direction, to a romantic relationship, is still almost always a negative at work, because the emotional ties and tolls often override rational actions. As an example, I find that most Angel investors still decline to fund startup founders that are romantically involved, citing the high risk of breakup.

Work relationships are in vogue, inside a company for collaboration and teamwork, and outside to customers and partners through social media for loyalty and interactive marketing. But all good things can be overdone. Are you maintaining the right balance in your work relationships?

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, October 14, 2017

6 Principles For Driving Online Reputation Management

Yelp_Logo.svgEvery startup fears that one angry and unfair customer who can jeopardize the business by a negative post on Ripoff Report, Yelp, or one of the hundreds of other consumer complaint and review sites on the Internet. Most entrepreneurs don’t even know how to keep track of what people are saying about them on the web, much less how to respond or remove it.

Web reputation management, both business and personal, has become a top priority requirement. On the personal side, these items can kill your career, as I discussed in an old article “Google Yourself to See How Other People See You.” Luckily, the basic principles for reputation management are the same for both business and personal environments:

  1. Actively monitor what people are saying about you. You may assert that monitoring the entire Internet space is an impossible problem. Fortunately, there are already tools out there, like Google Alerts (free) and Brand Yourself, which can do the work for you, and send you a daily email report of every link where your name or brand appears.

  2. Proactively build a positive reputation. Maintaining a good reputation means you have to build one early and maintain it. There is a big difference between no reputation with one negative comment, versus 1000 indications of a positive reputation and one negative. Most people accept that no person or organization is perfect.

  3. Quickly address every negative. Many negative customer experiences can actually be turned into positives, if you quickly acknowledge the problem, resolve it, and spread the positive message before the negative one gets amplified. Don’t repeat the “United Breaks Guitars” experience, which now has been published as a book on what not to do.

  4. Push negative content out of view. In reality, most people will never find negative content, unless a link appears on the first page of search engine results. With the right focus on search engine optimization, or the help of companies like ReputationDefender, you can usually push negative links out of sight into the swamp of the Internet.

  5. Remove unwanted content, where possible. Removing your content from the Web is not as easy as canceling your accounts, nor is it completely impossible. You can easily remove content you own (comments on your site or accounts). Experts, like Reputation Defender, have proprietary techniques to correct or completely remove other unwanted content.

  6. Your reputation is your responsibility. The last step is to recognize that you alone are responsible for managing the reputation of your business and your life. Doing nothing, or counting on more laws, is not an answer. Due to First Amendment rights, offensive content, once entered, is often untouchable, and the sources are immune from liability.

The upside to the difficulty of removing unwanted content is that it does justice to those who have come by their bad reputations legitimately. For curbing bad guys, the speed and visibility of the Internet can be a very useful thing. For all the rest of us, it’s nice to know that we can shout back quickly and broadly, when someone starts to whisper about us.

As I have discussed in previous articles, social networking sites like Facebook are now the most frequently used websites on the Internet. Unfortunately, they have also become some of the most abused websites on the Internet, due to the emotions of failed relationships and the immature whims of young users.

So the social networks are the early place to start, in learning the discipline of building and maintaining a positive reputation. If you get that right, the transition to your business will be easy. On the other hand, if you let your reputation slide early to be “cool,” it may take a lifetime to recover. It’s easier to make Google remember than to forget.

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, October 13, 2017

7 New Initiatives To Fearlessly Grow Your Business

CTAGrowth has always been fundamental to business success, but it’s never been more critical than it is now, nor more difficult. Every opportunity is global, but so is the competition. Evolving customer expectations and technology are the norm, forcing every company, from startups to large enterprises, to innovate quickly, despite their fear of change, uncertainty, and doubt.

As a long-time business advisor, I believe the mantra that every owner needs to live by today is to disrupt their own business before someone else does it for them. You must capitalize on the uncertainties in your market, rather than letting the unknowns slow you down. You need the commitment of every team member to respond quickly and effectively to emerging opportunities.

I found these points made well in a new book, “Fearless Growth,” by Amanda Setili, who has worked with disruptive technology startups in the United States and Malaysia, as well as some of the biggest companies in the world. She offers seven imperatives, which I espouse, for companies of any size to achieve record growth, and I paraphrase them here:

  1. Embrace uncertainty and risk, rather than repeatability. Traditionally, businesses have yearned for consistency, as a lever tor productivity and cutting costs. Today the market and competitive landscape are changing so fast that the best lever to growth is the ability to anticipate and adapt to change, to beat competitors and excite customers.

  2. Get in sync with customers by frequent customer interaction. Seek direct customer feedback, via social media and personal interactions, rather than old market research. Products and services must be updated continuously; not one major annual upgrade. Enable customers to customize your offerings, and learn from the choices they make.

  3. Continually look outside for talent, data, and technology. In the past, companies avoided sharing knowledge or technology, preferring stealth mode and relying on internal expertise to stay safe. We now see that leveraging the ideas and capabilities outside your organization will grow opportunities and reduce risk faster, rather than increasing risk.

  4. Connect and strengthen your customer ecosystem. Modern growth companies, such as Salesforce.com, have found great leverage value in hosting events to have their customers learn from each other, as well as from channel partners and complementary application providers. Attempts to control communication only slow down progress.

  5. Create cross-functional teams to attack opportunities. These open the floodgates of employee creativity. The best growth companies enable employees to choose their own job, and grant them the leeway to get the work done. They connect employees across organizational silos, and establish fast feedback loops to facilitate learning and change.

  6. Pursue growth opportunities outside your comfort zone. Instead of limiting your scope to current in-house capabilities, set clear objectives of acquiring new talent and skills each period, and make learning new skills a prime objective for every employee. This facilitates change and makes new opportunities attractive rather than frightening.

  7. Recognize the impact of trust on efficiency and speed. Take deliberate action to build trust, and be a personal role model. Encourage and expect healthy conflict, debate, and dissent. The result is better decisions, more consensus, and accelerated business growth. Trust is heightened by showing appreciation regularly for individual contributions.

The objective of these imperatives is to help you stimulate continuous and fearless growth, even in turbulent markets, by staying more competitive, fostering innovation, and dominating your space. The time to start is now, if you didn’t start yesterday. Set and communicate clear priorities for your implementation, and don’t let “the way things have always been done” stand in your way.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 09/29/2017 ***

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

10 Winning Entrepreneur Insights That May Surprise You

jeff-bezos-entrepreneurEvery aspiring entrepreneur would love to be the next Mark Zuckerberg or Jeff Bezos, but most have no idea what really sets these guys apart from all the rest. Conventional wisdom has them looking for a painful problem, a very large opportunity, and minimal competitive barriers to entry. In reality, most great entrepreneurs find these necessary, but not sufficient for the big win.

They think outside the box, with a sometimes surprising set of strategies, as outlined in a new book, “Think Bigger,” by Michael Sonnenfeldt. He has collected in-the-trenches intelligence and lessons from his TIGER 21 group of over 500 entrepreneurs and executives around the world. Each has amassed $10 million or more in personal assets, and is willing to share their insights with others.

Sonnenfeldt presents a rich array of strategies in his forty lessons from the trenches, including the following paraphrased insights that I find often overlooked or even rejected, based on my years of experience mentoring entrepreneurs:

  1. Experience at a first-rate company is really valuable. Good big companies provide the training, mentoring, and experience managing teams that entrepreneurs need, but can’t afford. In addition, you can learn much about business principles, and your own capabilities, from being surrounded by many intense, ambitious, and super-smart peers.

  2. Entrepreneurship is rarely about just making money. The best entrepreneurs are committed to fixing a problem, or advancing a purpose, and making money is only used as a validation of their insight. Any money made is typically poured back into the cause, rather than relished for a high-class lifestyle or extravagances by the entrepreneur.

  3. Self-control beats passion for long term satisfaction. Passion often leads to a need for instant gratification. Most successful entrepreneurs either learn or are born with the capacity to delay gratification for critical periods in their lives. Even after success, they use self-control to continue to live modestly, and plow their profits back into business.

  4. Think twice before investing with friends and family. Some are so self-centered that they see family and friends as an easy source of capital. Smarter entrepreneurs know that nothing can bring more embarrassment, resentment, and peril to relationships with people you love and respect than losing their money. Don’t jeopardize key relationships.

  5. You are never to smart or too old for a mentor. In case you think mentors are only for “wimps,” you should know that Bill Gates always revered the guidance he received from Warren Buffet on many corporate matters. Most successful business people, whether retired or still active, love to share the wisdom they gained from their own experience.

  6. Entrepreneurial skills can limit investing success. Entrepreneurs and investors are different kinds of people, inside and out. Smart investors diversify their exposure across multiple assets; if any one of these fails, they are still in the game. A true entrepreneur makes one big bet on a new and untested asset, normally against conventional wisdom.

  7. Apply business skills to solve social problems. Social entrepreneurship is on the rise, with the advent of Millennials and a total world view. Companies that pursue socially relevant goals as part of their mission have the potential to generate double-bottom-line results - a financial return as well as a social benefit. One plus one can now equal three.

  8. Skip conservative - be optimistic, even delusional.  The best entrepreneurs just believe they can make it happen – even though conventional logic would peg the risk as being off the charts. Professional investors dismiss founders who give “conservative” financial projections, and usually make less. Shoot for the moon – you may hit it.

  9. Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. Too many entrepreneurs have a tendency to overrate their personal skills and wisdom, and seek out people who won’t challenge them. The smartest ones acknowledge their weaknesses, and find people who complement their skills, from whom they can learn and delegate authority.

  10. Resilience and determination generally beat IQ. We all know of successful businesses started by entrepreneurs who dropped out of school, while MBAs get no premium with investors. According to most experts, “street smarts” (experience) trump “book smarts” (intelligence) every time, especially if accompanied with a large dose of grit.

Whether you are already a seasoned entrepreneur, or just starting out, I recommend that you regularly strive to think bigger and outside the box, starting with the lessons from others who have been there and done that, and emerged successfully. We need you then to contribute to the next set of winning strategies for the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 09/27/2017 ***

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Monday, October 9, 2017

10 Secrets For Getting More Things Done In Business

Mark-Cuban-productivityEvery business professional I know faces the challenge of getting more things done on time, and getting the right things done. They all dream of working less, and accomplishing more. Yet I see that most are their own worst enemies. They seem to all fall victim to a common set of mistaken priorities and well-meaning distractions that keep them from exceeding their own objectives.

For example, I talk to inventors who think that creating and perfecting the product is the key to a new business. In my experience, I have found that the product is usually the easy part, and the hard part is turning the invention into a business. Or I find people who want to run a business, but don’t claim any technology skills. Both categories need to follow these principles for success:

  1. Organize and plan every business effort. Document a business plan early, rather than trying to keep it all in your head. Most people think a business plan is only for investors, but it’s really for you to make sure you are communicating, and have included all the necessary elements of cost, timeframe, business model, and opportunity assessment.

  2. Work to your strengths, and get help for weaknesses. Stop trying to fix all your weaknesses, and team with others who have the skills you are missing. Don’t try to do everything in business yourself. Recognize when it’s time to call in an expert to get the job done, learn from them, and listen to your own advice.

  3. Do what you love and love what you do. Figure out what’s really important to you as an in life, as well as business. For most, it’s following a passion to make a difference in the world. Identify your top priorities, and choose one of these to focus on. Then you will get things done, and it won’t even seem like work.

  4. Use networking to build valuable relationships. Build a network of business contacts to allow you to harness the power of others’ strengths. Superficial relationships don’t help. Giving is the best and quickest way to strengthen a relationship. Find people of all levels that have been there and done that, meaning people you can learn from.

  5. Just say ‘no’ to all major distractions. You need to set boundaries and say “no”; to stop multitasking, and to find ways to group similar tasks. Don’t forget to delegate to other team members, and remember the 80/20 Pareto principle. This rule states that, in most environments, 80 percent of the results come from 20 percent of the actions.

  6. Don’t let procrastination slow you down. Procrastination is a killer when it comes to being effective. One of the best ways to stop procrastinating is to break big business projects down into small chunks, using small milestones to move forward. Break time into pieces. When there’s an end in sight, it’s a lot easier to get down to business.

  7. Make technology your friend rather than an enemy. Use technology thoughtfully to automate things that take a lot of time, thus gaining leverage. Reuse things rather than re-inventing them. Yet you need to be careful to separate yourself from technology on a regular schedule to not allow a machine’s interruptions to set your day’s agenda.

  8. Keep focus on urgency versus emergency. Remove or de-prioritize all the relentless urgency-killers, including the crisis of the moment, and people who are skeptics or by their actions create destructive urgency. Show some progress each and every day, and constantly purge low value-added activities. Model urgency in your own personal style.

  9. Focus on completion rather than time worked.  Too many business people focus on how many hours they work, or following a set process, rather than how many tasks they complete. The most productive professionals look for ways to achieve desired results in the quickest possible time frame, thus getting more done.

  10. Learn to read people and organizational hierarchies. Everyone around you has strengths and weaknesses, and you need to capitalize on these. Working effectively with other people is the only way to get more done than any one person can accomplish. The same is true of working with other organizations and companies.

If you follow these principles, you will soon see that you are gaining more control of your business and your life. You will find yourself honing in on the things that actually move the business and your career forward and make you happy, while learning the skills you need to resist the rest. In most cases, the challenge is how to get out of your own way!

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 09/25/2017 ***

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Sunday, October 8, 2017

8 Weak Change Signals That Can Have Explosive Impact

explosive-changeWhen the economy tanks as it did in the last recession, that’s a strong signal that things have to change, and it’s hard to miss. But most of us in business have to deal most of the time with weak signals, or change that is happening in a far more subtle way. These changes can be cultural, like the increasing need to be social, spawning Facebook and a hundred others, or technological, like the explosion of mobile devices around the world.

No business or startup wants to be the next Myspace, or even the next RIM (BlackBerry), where changes in the marketplace were subtle. Recognizing and interpreting weak signals into timely decision making is critical to your business, and it takes skill and focus.

The challenge is knowing what to look for, and how to react. I saw some real guidance in the classic book by Loc de Brabandere and Alan Iny, “Thinking in New Boxes.” While the focus of the book is really on business creativity, the following triggers were outlined as weak signals which should not be overlooked in your efforts to think outside the box, or think in a new box:

  1. A changing value proposition. For example, if it’s getting harder to charge a price premium for the product you’re marketing, or others are offering your subscription service for free, it may be time to start thinking in a new box. Another example is seeing substitute versions of a product, like eBooks, for a low price displacing hardcover books.

  2. New unmet consumer or customer needs. Perhaps you own a consumer products store and see that following the introduction of a new iPad model, there are no attractive protective cases for them yet available. Or you notice that people are getting overnight delivery from Amazon, but your retail store offers no home delivery options.

  3. The entry of new competitors and new suppliers. You are selling several successful computer video games, but notice more and more new ones popping up on smartphones. Or you notice that your line of high quality tools is being undercut by cheap knockoffs manufactured in other countries.

  4. The advent of new breakthrough technologies. You are still providing conventional digital wristwatches while Apple and others are delivering high-tech new versions that sync with your smartphone. Or you are still delivering coupons via the local newspaper, while new entrants are loading them onto your loyalty card or smartphone.

  5. Changes in your organization’s core performance metrics. For example, quarterly sales on one of your most important products suddenly decreases, or your inventory across a whole category has surged. If one metric changes, it may not be significant, but someone needs to monitor whole categories for fluctuations that may be a weak signal.

  6. Unfulfilled business and other potential opportunities. Sometimes you might be astonished to notice something that has not yet occurred, and therefore signals to you an opportunity, like new transportation alternatives. Taxi or bus companies are often slow to recognize a new popular travel location based on population shifts or resort communities.

  7. Broad disruptive events. Everyone notes macro changes, but the weak or secondary implications are often overlooked. Look hard for unanticipated consequences of events like new government regulations on financial processes, changes in environmental patterns, or sociological changes in other countries. First responders are the winners.

  8. Premonitions, anxieties, and/or intuitions. Weak signals may be even more subtle or insidious. Perhaps your assistant mentions that your phone has been ringing much less lately. Or you sense that some of your best people are getting bored. Such inklings and realizations can be valuable warnings of significant impending change.

All weak signals need to be treated with a continuous innovation mindset and urgency, to stay competitive and current. Here is the recommended five-step approach to thinking in new boxes:

  • Doubting everything you think you know.
  • Probing the possible issues to fully understand what is happening.
  • Divergent thinking to create many new boxes, concepts, and hypotheses.
  • Convergence through testing and validating back to a small number of viable changes.
  • Re-evaluating relentlessly for the agility to survive.

New entrepreneurs are notoriously great at capitalizing on new opportunities, both weak and strong. But nurturing this ability after the first burst of creativity, to accomplish the necessary pivots, and keep from getting seduced by their own initial success, is a more rare commodity, even in the startup community.

If you aren’t reacting to weak signals almost every day in this era of fast-paced change, then you are missing opportunities and falling behind. What new boxes are you implementing these days?

Marty Zwilling

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