Saturday, November 18, 2017

10 Principles For New Ventures To Weather The Storm

weather-the-stormA perfect storm is an expression that describes an event where a rare combination of circumstances aggravates an environment drastically. In the entrepreneur world, I feel we are in such a situation now for new startups, with the confluence of business transformations, the explosion of new digital technologies, and the political turmoil around the world.

It’s easier and cheaper to start a company than ever before, yet it’s tougher than ever to survive. It takes a “well-oiled” multi-disciplined and motivated team to win, and yet I see and hear all too often about teams that are well-funded and smart, but don’t work well together, or are downright dysfunctional.

The challenge they face is not unlike that described in the classic sailing book “Into the Storm,” by Dennis N. T. Perkins, where a team of amateurs applied some key lessons in teamwork while surviving and winning a treacherous Sydney to Hobart Ocean Race. Here are ten principles from the book that I’ve easily extrapolated to the business startup environment:

  1. Team unity: Make the team, not an individual, the rock star. Flat management is the business term to describe an environment where all members of the team feel they are part of the whole, that each has a key role to play, and each can express their views without jeopardy. There are no individual superstars or bosses with special perks.

  2. Prepare, prepare, prepare: Remove all excuses for failure. Winning teams set out to ensure that every element of the system is known to all and is functioning to the best of their combined ability. Make sure no one has an excuse for failure. That means preparing for things that could go wrong, as well as driving things efficiently that go right.

  3. Balanced optimism: Find and focus on the winning scenario. In business, startups will inevitably encounter setbacks, and need to pivot. The first step is to define “winning.” Is it more customers, more revenue, more profit, or killing competitors? Of course, all of these are important, but everyone needs to prioritize the same way during a crisis.

  4. Relentless learning: Build a gung-ho culture of learning and innovation. The very best teams learn the most quickly from experience. That means they take action, reflect on outcomes, and gain insights that help them continuously improve. Innovation and new ideas are the norm, rather than maintain status quo, or charge straight ahead.

  5. Calculated risk: Be willing to sail into the storm. Great business teams accept that every startup is “a big risk,” and there is no quick path to safety. Winning requires situational awareness, which means always understanding the critical success factors, and working to stay aware of current business realities around you.

  6. Stay connected: Cut through the noise of the wind and the waves. The information blizzard in business is just as noisy as on the stormy ocean. Don’t let it be further clouded by political concerns and turf battles. Everyone needs to personalize communication, warn others of big waves, and even break protocol to help others when required.

  7. Step into the breach: Find ways to share the helm. In adversity, any given team member can be faced with a burden too heavy for one person to carry. A good team draws on each other’s strengths, and shares the load. At the top, this is called distributive leadership, which lessens the burden on the formal leader.

  8. Eliminate friction: Step up to the conflict, and deal with the things that slow you down. Fix the problem, not the blame. Confront differences in ability without blame, and add training, coaching, or education, and eliminate excess weight, before the storm. Humor can help alleviate anxiety and mitigate conflict, providing time to solve the crisis.

  9. Practiced resilience: Master the art of rapid recovery. Startups need people who thrive under pressure, meaning they are resilient and have a high stress hardiness. They enjoy change and look at problems as a challenge, rather than a burden. They measure success in terms of recovery time, and strive to make it shorter.

  10. Tenacious creativity: Never give up – there is always another move. Determination and creativity under pressure make a team unstoppable – on the ocean or in business. The “proud moments” of successful teams are the times when they come together in the face of adversity and win.

Some startup founders try to dodge the team-building challenge by single-handedly doing all the work, or establishing a monarchy where only one voice counts. Neither of these strategies can succeed, since even a small business will soon scale too big for one person to manage everything.

If you are a new entrepreneur, you need to realize that you can’t win by sailing around the edges of the perfect storm ahead. You have to hit it with an innovative plan, and you need a confident and disciplined team to get you through it. Are you ready to rock and roll?

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, November 17, 2017

6 Steps Required From A New Venture Dream To Reality

new-venture-dream-to-realityIt seems like everyone wants to be an entrepreneur and get rich these days. As a business mentor, I sometimes feel besieged by people begging for my view and support of their latest idea. In reality, I like most ideas, but I have to tell them that the real challenge is taking the inspiration from a dream to a business reality. All the evidence says that over 99% fail to make that leap.

So a better question than asking about the quality of an idea, is asking about the quality of your plan to implement the idea. There are lots of resources available for that question, including the Internet and mentors like me. It’s really a multi-step process, with the first step getting you from an idea to a viable product, and the remaining steps creating a sustainable business.

As an example of a good resource, I enjoyed a classic book, “Idea To Invention,” by Patricia Nolan-Brown, that does a great job on the key steps. Here is my interpretation of her realistic process for deciding and then actually taking your inspiration from an invention idea to a sustainable business:

  1. It all starts in your head (think it). Start with what you know, but think outside the box. As you think and explore and imagine the possibilities for new products, remember that it should have a broad opportunity, appeal to people who have money to buy, and needs to have pizzazz to get people’s attention in this age of information overload.

  2. Now get real (cook it). Before you get too excited, it’s time to do some homework. Find out if something very similar is already selling, and who your competition would be if you proceed. Ask some potential customers to see if there is real interest, and start thinking about price versus cost. Look hard at the technology for feasibility and risk.

  3. Keep thieves away (protect it). Limit your disclosures to people you trust, and learn the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDA). File at least a provisional patent and one or more trademarks. Be wary of crafty shysters who will flood your mailbox with official-looking mail offering to help for a fee, or demanding fees you forgot to pay.

  4. Make ‘em want it bad (pitch it). “Pitching” is the insider term for presenting your product idea to people who could conceivably buy it or fund your efforts. Start by developing an “elevator pitch” that you can deliver in 30 seconds to hook a potential investor. Attend trade shows and network to find the right players and pitch your product.

  5. Factory in the garage (make it). This is the point where you work on the specifics of being able to deliver your product or service. Relevant questions include the type of business entity (LLC or C-Corp), licensing or manufacturing, sales and marketing, and staffing. It’s also time to build prototypes to make the product come alive.

  6. Continuous improvement (replace it). Once you have a real product, and it’s actually selling itself online, or on store shelves, you may think you can just sit back, relax, and collect your riches. But remember that complacency kills, and you always need to be thinking of the next product iteration, new territories, and new competitors.

Thus you see that framing your idea is the first of at least six steps in making it a business, and probably less than one percent of the entire effort required. Now you see why no one should judge business success potential by the idea alone. I’ve heard the pitch for many million-dollar ideas, but I haven’t seen anyone pay that for one yet.

In fact, the common element in all these steps is “you.” Investors learned this a long time ago, so most will tell you that they invest in people, not ideas. They safely assume that an entrepreneur with the right attributes will start with a great idea, and spend their time honing and presenting a great plan to deliver, leading to a successful business.

You don’t need the intelligence of a genius to cash in on your dream, and you don’t have to be born with special genes to be an entrepreneur. But you do have to be passionate, positive, determined, and a problem solver to get it done. Talkers and dreaming without follow-through will fail. Are you ready to cash in on your inspiration, or are you comfortable in the other 99 percent?

Marty Zwilling

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

8 Ways That Creating A New Business Helps Your Career

career-road-signIf you are one of the many professionals still trapped between jobs by circumstances outside your control, or are about to dump the loser job you have now, you should be actively defining and starting your own business, in parallel with looking for that ideal job. Let me explain why this is a win-win deal, no matter what the outcome.

You have probably secretly always wanted to run your own show, but with an existing job, never took the time to consider a startup. Then there was always the risk of failure, which of course doesn’t apply once your real job is gone. Also, for most of us, not having done it before, we have no idea where or how to start.

Here are my top recommendations on how and why initiating a startup while looking, or about to be looking for a job, is the right thing to do:

  1. No gap in your resume. Instead of an embarrassing gap in your resume for your period out of work, you have an entry for your startup business, showing initiative, leadership, and breadth of experience.

  2. Fun learning experience. It’s more fun tackling the challenges of a startup in between job search activities, than sitting around feeling sorry for yourself and waiting for status callbacks on interviews (which seem to have gone out of style).

  3. Explore finding a business partner. Unless you are a true loner, you need someone like-minded but complementary in skills to help you with the startup plans. It’s always good to have someone to test your ideas, keep your spirits up, and hone your business skills. Now you have a reason for talking to people who may become lifelong friends.

  4. Learn how to incorporate a business. First, pick a name for your company and do the paperwork on starting a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC). Almost anyone can handle this without professional help, and the cost is less than $100 in many states. It shows everyone you are serious, and limits your liability on any mistakes.

  5. Practice developing a business plan. Pick a startup business that you can do for minimal cost, like a services business with the skills you have. With simple software available today, find a domain name and implement your own website. Use social networking and blogging to get your message out. You don’t even need an investor.

  6. Get business cards made. Nothing says you are serious about a business like handing out professional business cards at local events and Chamber of Commerce meetings. Do them on your home computer for a few dollars. Offer to help a couple of customers free, just to get your act together and your presence known.

  7. Have startup efforts to highlight in job interviews. Work your startup efforts into every job interview and application. It will definitely show off your energy and vision, and will make you a more competitive candidate for any role.

  8. Give yourself a choice – job or your own business. Obviously, at some point you will need to decide whether your startup business is better than the job opportunities. That’s good because it’s always nice to have an alternative, rather than feeling that you just have to take the first dead-end job offered.

There are other startup related points I could make here, like joining an existing startup as a “volunteer” for a time, just to learn more about what is required. Also, in most geographies, there are organizations springing up, and university workshops, to mentor people out of work and contemplating a startup. Get some help from them if you need it.

Just remember that problems are really often opportunities in disguise. Don’t miss out on what may be the best opportunity you will have in your lifetime for a new career. Start up now.

Marty Zwilling

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Monday, November 13, 2017

What Great Bosses And Great Employees Have In Common

happy-bosses-dayEveryone in business loves to complain about their boss, and a classic Gallup study found that 50 percent of current employees have left at least one job in their career to get away from a bad manager. When asked for clarification, the most common reason seems to be a managers lack of clarity in setting expectations, which is obviously one of the most basic of employee needs.

On the other hand, almost every one of us in business can remember that one special manager in their career who exemplifies the norm, who commanded our trust, and treated us with respect, even in the toughest of business crises. In commemoration of U.S. National Boss’s Day every October, let’s all tip our hat to that unique and rare business person we wish all would emulate.

In an effort to be a better business advisor, and recognizing that the answer is not usually as simple as a single dimension, I have asked my own sample of employees at all levels for a list of key traits or attributes they see in great managers, resulting in the following list of ten top positive traits of a good boss:

  1. Clearly communicates performance expectations. Even your best performers don’t like to be surprised after the fact by unknown expectations. One of the easiest ways to avoid surprises is to set deliverable milestone targets for each employee for every period. Then review the performance versus the roadmap and deliverables on a weekly basis.

  2. Shows leadership as well as management skills. As Drucker said, "management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things." Every employee appreciates guidance on both – to do the right thing at the right point in time, towards attainment of the organization’s goals, as well as employee satisfaction and perceived productivity.

  3. Demonstrates extensive and current domain knowledge. Good bosses demonstrate relevant expertise and confidence about that knowledge, as well as the common sense to make quick productive decisions. This requires continuous learning, an ability to think outside the box, and the flexibility to change as the market and technology changes.

  4. Possesses foresight and skills to plan and delegate. Great managers make it a point to understand the specific strengths of team members, and then scheduling tasks and delegating to the right people to get tasks done within deadlines. The best managers are guides and coaches, with a concrete plan based on goals, not just crisis commanders.

  5. Provides positive and timely employee recognition. Most employees are more motivated by recognition than by money. You must immediately recognize team members, formally and informally, when they complete something successfully or show initiative. Over the long-term, make sure they get more positive than negative recognition.

  6. Is an active listener, and provides immediate feedback. Listening to what is said, as well as what is not said, is of the utmost importance. It is demoralizing to an employee to be speaking to a supervisor who is interrupted for a phone call. Good managers plan for feedback sessions, and pick a venue that is conducive to discussion and adequate time.

  7. Stays cool and calm in tough business situations. A great manager is an effective communicator and a composed individual, with a proven tolerance for ambiguity. He or she never loses their cool, keeps their ego in check, and is able to correct team members without emotional body language or statements. They don’t always have to be right.

  8. Shows empathy for individual problems and challenges. This refers to the ability to "walk in another person's shoes", and to have insight into the thoughts, and the emotional reactions of individuals faced with change or the need to change. Empathy is suspending judgment of another's actions or reactions, while treating them with sensitivity.

  9. Provides a role model for honesty, integrity, and humility. Simply put, today’s managers live in glass houses. Everything that a manager does is seen by employees. If a manager says one thing and does another, employees broadcast it. Managers must be straightforward in all words and actions, including admitting weaknesses and mistakes.

  10. Always displays a positive sense of humor. People of all demographics respond to humor, and respect managers who can find humor even in tough business and personal situations. The majority of people are able to be amused at something funny, and see an irony. One of the most frequently cited attractions to a manager is their sense of humor.

Since most of these traits must seem intuitively obvious, it’s hard for me to understand why so many managers and employees miss on expectations. Perhaps it’s time for employees and team members to adopt and display these traits as well, especially the one about empathy for the challenges that your manager is facing. Only then can it be a win-win relationship for both parties.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 11/01/2017 ***

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Sunday, November 12, 2017

10 Sharing Principles To Improve Your Business Image

Whole_Foods_Market_logoToo many customers have long felt distanced from many successful brands, seeing them as closed and mysterious environments, focused only on profits and killing competitors. They may not have noticed the wave of “open businesses,” spawned by the Internet and social media. These are responding to the demands of this new world for collaboration, trust, and transparency.

In a thought-provoking book by David Cushman with Jamie Burke, “The 10 Principles of Open Business,” the authors contend that many recent success stories in business, including Apple and Whole Foods, were built on at least one open business principle. In fact, according to McKinsey, open businesses are 50 percent more likely to outperform their rivals today and grow sustainable profits.

I especially like Cushman’s outline of the ten principles which distinguish the organization and operation of an open business from the more traditional closed model. Here is my interpretation of the key focus points and requirements to be categorized as open:

  1. Shared beliefs (purpose). Your stakeholders all need to understand and agree to the “why” of your organization. As the business owner, you need to have a higher level purpose (beyond making money), and be willing and able to continually clarify and communicate this to your team and your customers.

  2. Shared risks (open capital). Share the costs and risks, and therefore the ownership and the passion with your constituents. In the idea stage, get customers involved with an engaging contest. If you are at the funding stage, try the new crowd-funding platforms or micro-capital investments. Offer equity in future projects to people outside your business.

  3. Shared clients and objectives (networked organization). Support and enable mutually beneficial activities inside and outside the organization. Bring focus on your core competencies and expertise by educating and helping others, who can then return the favor by helping you or buying from you.

  4. Shared knowledge packaging (shareability). Establish vehicles, like a formal customer satisfaction program, to recognize and reward staff and customers for sharing what they can do to help you. Use and contribute to shared resources, like Wikipedia and Creative Commons, rather than relying totally on proprietary and internal tools.

  5. Shared and collaborative activity (connectedness). Enable people within the organization to find what (or who) they need when they need it. Set an example by being visibly connected to the people and information you need through social media. Encourage collaboration by providing the platform, and setting best practices.

  6. Shared ideas and rewards (open innovation). Bring customers and stakeholders into the innovation process to share the risk and reward of development. Consider setting up a new idea forum on your website, with rewards and motivational offers, to facilitate involvement from customers and business partners.

  7. Shared intelligence and opportunities (open data). Make data available to those inside or outside of your organization who can make best use of it. Contribute and give talks to local business organizations, like the Chamber of Commerce, to establish your expertise, and contribute information as well as gather it.

  8. Shared decision process (transparency). Make decisions openly and be honest about the criteria on which they are based. Ramp up transparency by making people the boss of what they do. Respond openly and in a timely fashion to requests for information about the business.

  9. Shared leadership (member and customer led). Make sure your organization is structured around the formal co-operation of employees, customers, and partners, for their mutual social, economic, and cultural benefit. Do things with your customers and staff, rather than to them. Strive to treat them as genuine partners.

  10. Shared goodwill (trust). Foster a mutually assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of the partnership between your company and customers. Earn trust through your consistent actions over time. Review your current investment in “creating goodwill.” Compare this to how highly you value trust. Adjust accordingly.

In the last few years, I have seen a tremendous upswing in “open business” movements, especially by entrepreneurs and startups. Examples include Conscious Capitalism®, made popular by John Mackey of Whole Foods, The B Team, with serial entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, and the Benefit Corporation (B Corp) form of business now available in 33 states.

We seem to have a rare convergence between demands from the marketplace, driven by the real-time collaborative Internet culture, and a desire by entrepreneurs to define success as something more than making money. I think it’s really happening, and it’s time to take a reality check on your own business, and your own shopping habits, to capitalize on this trend.

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, November 11, 2017

6 Strategies To Optimize Self-Leadership For Business

Employees-Leadership-MentorIn my experience as an advisor and mentor to entrepreneurs in business, one of the biggest failures I see is a lack of self-leadership. You can’t lead a business to success, if you can’t lead yourself. I define self-leadership as the capacity to set direction and make decisions, to positively drive your own performance. Leadership in business starts with making good personal choices.

Think about the questions that you are asking your advisors. I expect questions about how a business works, or what are best practices, but I really can’t help you with removing doubts on your abilities, or providing a sure-fire idea and formula for success in business. In my view, business leaders are not “idea people,” but people who drive a given idea to business results.

For example, I often hear from aspiring entrepreneurs that “I had that idea first, and he stole it, and is now making money on my idea.” I’m not an expert on leadership, so I am always on the lookout for specific development guidance, such as the new book, “Leadership Results,” by the well-known leadership coach and business psychologist, Sebastian Salicru.

Salicru details several self-leadership development strategies, which I will summarize here, that I recommend for practice by every aspiring entrepreneur. These strategies provide more valuable initial advice towards business success than I can offer as a technical business advisor:

  1. Build and maintain high self-worth and self-confidence. A healthy and high self-esteem is an essential prerequisite to leading yourself to success, as well as your business. Low self-worth, on the other hand, leads to continual doubts and questions, inability to make commitments or deliver results. Focus on you before your business.

  2. Recognize your weaknesses, but lead with your strengths. The first challenge is to find your strengths. Everyone has some degree of strengths blindness, and will likely benefit from one of many tools, such as the Clifton StrengthsFinder. If necessary, use a strengths coach, and always start a business which highlights your signature strengths.

  3. Practice your strengths often for inspiration and confidence. Using your signature strengths early in your business will cause a flow of inspiration, energy, and creativity, building momentum in your confidence and leadership. This momentum is what you need for enjoyment and satisfaction, as well as for others to see you as a business leader.

  4. Build your character and reputation with personal values. Both self-leadership and business leadership require a solid platform for decisions, based on moral and personal values. Your character, as a business leader, will determine your perceived reputation by peers in business, team members, and customers. Values are your most valuable assets.

  5. Demonstrate leadership by acting ethically and with integrity. People judge you by what you do in your business, more than by what you say. Ethical behavior refers to actions consistent with personal principles and commonly held values in your business community. These will define your right and wrong in business leadership and success.

  6. Build positive psychological capital to sustain your business. In any business, you need hope, confidence, resilience, and optimism to weather the daily challenges of customers, market changes, and competitors. Without a store of this psychological capital, your performance and leadership will wane, and your satisfaction will dwindle.

I have found that no amount of personal or investor money will create or substitute for self-leadership and business leadership. We have all seen examples of new ventures that fail, despite large infusions of venture capital, and high-potential new technologies. Good entrepreneurs can make a success from almost any business idea, through a following of partners and customers.

Today is the age of the entrepreneur, with the cost of entry at an all-time low, and the global market at an all-time high. Yet every business still requires leadership, since competition and the pace of change dictate innovative actions on a regular basis to get results. Now is the time to capitalize on your strengths and maximize your leadership abilities.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Huffington Post on 11/10/2017 ***

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Friday, November 10, 2017

6 Ways Of Thinking To Put Your Innovation Into Orbit

Columbia.sts-1.01Real innovation in the business world is still rare. As I’ve said before, everyone talks about innovation, but the majority of new business plans I see still reflect linear thinking – one more social network with more features, another smartphone app for marketing, or one more platform for faster e-commerce. Historic changes and great successes don’t come from linear thinking.

What does it take for more dynamic transformations? I like the recommendations in the classic book “Orbit Shifting Innovation,” by Rajiv Narang and Devika Devaiah. They summarize twenty years of breakthrough research initiatives and innovation strategy they have led with many of the most dynamic global organizations large and small, including Unilever, Walt Disney, and Intel.

They define ‘orbit-shifting’ innovation as something that happens when an area that is ripe for transformation meets an innovator with the will and the desire to create history, not follow it. The breakthrough innovation creates a new orbit. Beginning with the Macintosh, Apple succeeded in doing this time and time again, transforming the lives of millions, with Steve Jobs at the helm.

Every entrepreneur and every company I know has orbit-shifting intentions. But there is a big difference between orbit-shifting intentions and orbit shifting results. According to Narang and Devaiah, the people who accomplish real innovation results seem to exhibit a higher set of attitudes and motivation:

  1. Personal growth relates to the size of the challenge, not the size of the kingdom. What motivates real innovators is the more exciting challenge, not the number of people reporting to them. The ‘size of the difference’ they will make is more inspiring than the ‘size of the business.’ They relish getting out of their comfort zone, and into the unknown.

  2. The new direction is the challenge, not the destination. The challenge is the transformation vehicle for true innovators, and not a performance goal. They focus on legacy creation, not legacy protection. They ignore failures and are constantly looking at the progress made. They treat innovations reviews like performance reviews.

  3. Be an attacker of forces holding people back, not a defender. Real innovators start by questioning the world order rather than conforming to it. They begin by confronting the forces holding everyone back, rather than living with it. The forces include mindset gravity, organization gravity, industry gravity, country gravity, and cultural gravity.

  4. New insights come from a quest for questions, not a quest for answers. This discovery mindset searching for new questions drives real innovators away from more of the same. They fundamentally become value seekers; they look for value in every experience, in every conversation. They don’t seek prescriptions, they seek possibilities.

  5. Stakeholders must be connected into the new reality, not convinced. True innovators tip stakeholders into adopting and even co-owning the orbit-shifting idea. They go about tipping the heart first, assuming the mind will follow. They seek smart people, who openly express their doubts, and then collaborate to overcome them.

  6. Work from the challenge backward, rather than capability forward. Overcoming execution obstacles is combating dilution, not compromising, for these innovators. Their mindset is not ‘if-then’ but ‘how and how else?’ They convert problems to opportunities, and often the original idea grows far bigger than the starting promise.

Overall, what is different about these innovators is their mental model of romanticism in vision and realism in execution. They expect challenges, and when problems do arise, they are not surprised or let down or disappointed. They face them head on, handle them and move on. Most of the rest of us are the reverse; realistic about the vision and romantic about execution.

Entrepreneurs and startups are in the best position to find and run with orbit-shifting rather than linear innovations. They don’t have to start by overcoming the choking gravities of an existing organization and product set. That’s why most large business and government entities are resigned to buying innovation, rather than birthing it. Is your best startup idea and mindset really orbit-shifting, or just linear thinking that stakeholders won’t buy?

Marty Zwilling

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