Sunday, May 31, 2009

Entrepreneur: I Want You to Succeed

By Michael A. Barr

Q: What can you learn from Uncle Sam?
A: How to frame a powerful message.

This famous poster can help you see how to create an immediate sense of urgency – getting instant attention for your message. Intensely, it calls out: our nation is at war; the world is at war. America needs you. Now. We are riveted.

Uncle Sam, one of the symbols of rugged America, appeals directly to YOU. Dressed in red, white and blue and with stars on his hat, he evokes more complex feelings than a military recruiter would – or even a famous general. He is America – its values, its flag, its states, its parades and pride.

He is concerned. The values he – and we - stand for are threatened. His finger is pointing at us, saying “your values are threatened – our values as a nation are challenged. We fought for these values and we will fight for them again – with your service.” He doesn’t actually say all this – we do.

What does he say? I want YOU. We know in a flash what he’s appealing to. This is a message built on three pillars:
  • I, America and what it stands for;
  • Want – not mandate, coerce or threaten – I want. What do I want?
  • YOU. You are in upper case, in red – not I.
Smaller font: for the U.S. Army.

The values of a nation: no weaponry displayed - no specific battle – there would be plenty of those types of messages later on. What this poster does is to use symbolism and economy to great effect.

We ought to study its effect so that you can apply it to your messages.
  • First impression – appeal to common ground - what the US means to us
  • Action – America wants you to enlist in this time of crisis
  • Appeal – serve to preserve
The three-pillar structure creates power economically. I – a mythical figure symbolizing the best in us – want you – the best in you: courage, dedication and contribution. No footnotes needed.

Threes work. Yesterday; today and tomorrow; Challenge, solution, benefits. Introduction, body, conclusion. Threes – Just Do It; I came, I saw. I conquered. Threes are easy to structure, balanced, and memorable. Most ads for over-the-counter pain relievers follow the problem – solution – benefits formula faithfully. It’s instant drama and you can be sure your audience will remember it.

Active vs. Passive

Imagine if the poster said “soldiers are being recruited at City Hall.” This message is perfectly clear but it lacks power. Passive structures are useful when we do not want to attribute something to someone in particular. Attorneys and diplomats use them a lot. A spokesman for the US Government announced in August of 1945 that “an atomic bomb was dropped on Japan.” The decision involved several military and political leaders – not just Harry S. Truman. The passive voice was appropriate.

But if you are a leader of a startup, articulating a vision and inspiring your people, remember Uncle Sam. He – and we – want YOU to succeed.

Today’s article is presented by Michael A. Barr, who is a member of our Startup Professionals team. He brings to the table a long list of business and academic credentials, featuring business coaching and communication skills. Contact him via email at mike@startupprofessionals.com.

Marty Zwilling


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Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day is for All Veterans

Most Americans will be taking today off to celebrate Memorial Day. The official function of Memorial Day is to honor the men and women of the United States who have fallen while serving our nation’s military service. I raise my arm in salute to all of them!

I also want to extend my appreciation to all the other veterans who have spent time serving and protecting our country. Now as they return home and transition back into civilian life, many are wondering what their next steps will be.

For over 20% percent of them, that will mean starting or purchasing a new business, according to an article by Megan Dorn in
Small Business Week: Veterans in Business. Veterans already own about 15% of America’s small businesses — that’s approximately 4 million veteran-owned companies. So where are veterans getting their entrepreneurial spirit from?

Well, entrepreneurs are known for their willingness to take risks for something they believe in (their businesses), as is also the case for members of the military. While on active duty they are willing to risk their lives because they believe in their country.

More than one-third of "new veteran-entrepreneurs" and current veteran business owners have obtained skills from their active duty service that were directly relevant to business ownership. This should come as no surprise when you consider the intensity of discipline that comes with military training.

“Veterans make great entrepreneurs,” Carl Schramm, president and CEO of the Kauffman Foundation said in an article. “They bring exceptional focus, leadership and tenacity—all hallmarks of successful entrepreneurs.”

If you are a veteran and an entrepreneur, you should know that the Small Business Association (SBA) offers specific services to veterans, including its Community Express Loan program and the Veterans Transition Franchise Initiative. In addition, eligible veterans can use their Montgomery GI Bill for entrepreneurship training and business classes.

According to the SBA, veteran’s business development officers in the SBA district offices can help you prepare and plan for your enterprise. Its Veterans Business Outreach Centers are designed to provide entrepreneurial development services such as business training, counseling, e-based assistance, and mentoring to eligible veterans.

There are four Veterans Business Outreach Centers around the country specifically charged with helping the veteran population start and grow businesses. They're located in Albany, New York; Herndon, Virginia; Lynnhaven, Florida; and Edinburg, Texas. To find out which states each center serves, go to the
SBA website.

Actually, joining an existing startup is one of the best ways to develop your entrepreneurial skills. Start by networking to get to know some founders personally. In addition, you should use the standard resources for identifying job opportunities at small companies, like Craigslist.org or Monster.com. You can also visit websites of new companies as a starting point.

In closing, I hope all of you are taking some time off with your family and having a good Memorial Day Weekend. First and foremost, remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice that we may enjoy our freedoms. As we all know, freedom is never free.

Marty Zwilling


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Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Johnson & Johnson Credo and Your Message

By Michael A. Barr

Here is a message that will teach and inspire you – whether you are starting a business or have been running one for a long time. Sixty-six years ago, Robert Wood Johnson, the Chairman of Johnson & Johnson, wrote the company’s Credo – its beliefs. Briefly, the responsibilities of the company are to the:
  1. Customers
  2. Employees
  3. Community
  4. Stockholders
Customers must get products and services of high quality; Employees must be respected and developed; We must be good citizens and, “When we operate according to these principles, the stockholders should realize a fair return.”

What, you might ask, can you learn from these words? Well, the words are the same as those you can find in many a corporate mission statement; it’s their order that gives the Credo such power. Think about it. The stockholders are last, not first. If we do well by the first three, says the Credo, the stockholder will “realize a fair return.” Not an exorbitant sum, but a fair return.

Fair indeed. Check out J&J’s performance since it went public. By the way, guess how many shareholders there were in 1943? One. Robert Wood Johnson.

But you may be skeptical. Why would J&J employees believe this credo? Aren’t these words, after all?

As a young man Robert Wood Johnson was expected to go to Princeton or to Rutgers, a university with close ties to J&J. Instead, he chose to work at the J&J plant with Hungarian immigrants who took him under their wing. Everyone in the firm knew this.

He walked the talk. He knew the business; he knew the workers; and he knew the community. When social unrest swept through New Brunswick many advisors called for abandoning the town. The company stayed and helped rebuild it.

Words that are collateralized by actions are believed. There was a tradition of action at J&J since it was a startup in 1886 – a tradition that gave the Credo legitimacy. The founders of the company had met with skepticism – who would buy bandages that were antiseptic? It took the founders six years to get the company off the ground; they persevered.

We talk a great deal about credibility and impact in this forum. We remind you often to look at every word you use to measure its effect. The J&J Credo is a useful text in these efforts. Remember that people – especially your people – react to your words by measuring their alignment with your actions. If there is a gap between what you say and what people think you really mean – you have work to do.

The J&J Credo was instrumental in saving Tylenol – and perhaps the entire firm. Your words are tested thoroughly in times of crisis – choose them carefully. Finally, as always, think of the Golden Rule: appeal to others as you would want them to appeal to you. And if you do all this, you too should realize a fair return. We certainly hope so, and stand ready to help you find the right word in the right situation.

Today’s article is presented by Michael A. Barr, who is a member of our Startup Professionals team. He brings to the table a long list of business and academic credentials, featuring business coaching and communication. Contact him via email at mike@startupprofessionals.com.

Marty Zwilling


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Sunday, May 17, 2009

From 150 to 225 Words in 60 Seconds

By Michael A. Barr

A few days ago, Marty Zwilling wrote in this forum that an elevator pitch should be about 150-225 words delivered in 60 seconds or less. I want to focus on two challenges you have with your pitch – and indeed with any presentation you make: dealing with negative reactions and the dilution of words.

Mike Tyson was told that his boxing rival had a strategy. “They all have a strategy,” replied Tyson, “until they are hit.”

You can practice your 60-second pitch with passion and energy, and you should. But, if you practice without confrontation, you won’t be ready to deal well with getting ‘hit’ by an impatient investor with a temper. And we do meet some of those.

Practice your pitch with a coach who is experienced and objective, meaning she does not share your understandable love of your product or service. Rather, she can ‘hit’ you with questions and attacks that you may have simply not expected. The more of these you handle in a safe environment, the stronger you are in a tough one.

Questions we prepare for. What throws us is the unexpected attack, the sneer, the negative, dismissive gestures. We can become emotional, defensive, panicked. Make sure your coach listens not just to what you say, but also to how you say it.

Here is a formula for handling attacks that works:

· Acknowledgment
· Bridging
· Restatement

You pitch your startup’s system for managing health care records. Your potential investor interrupts within seconds: “That’s crazy! Hospital managers won’t buy it!”

Count to three. Take a deep breath. Don’t lose your cool with a retort like “That’s not crazy! It’s a great system!” What you have done is to legitimize his words. Instead, in a calm, confident manner acknowledge the concern he has: “I can hear your concern. Hospital managers are challenging customers.” Then bridge: “My company understands hospital management.” And restate: “We are sure our system will succeed.”

When President Ronald Reagan was asked tough questions he used to smile, wait a few seconds, and then start with: “Well….” Reporters knew what he was doing; the public loved it.
The pause served to allow him to consider the situation and to access the content that he had practiced extensively with his aides. The pause and the smile also defused many a confrontation.

Another issue you should consider is the dilution of words. Take a good look at the words you use
in your pitch. If you’ve heard them before, repeatedly, so have your listeners. Work on giving your words new power through short stories that give you presence and your investors something to remember.

A sixty second pitch is a test of your character, enthusiasm, commitment and poise under fire. Practice it with an awareness that people invest in people. And if we meet you in an elevator we’d love to hear your pitch.

And if you want our advice before you get into the ring, contact us.

Today’s article is presented by Michael A. Barr, who is a member of our Startup Professionals team. He brings to the table a long list of business and academic credentials, including business coaching and communication skills. Contact him via email at mike@startupprofessionals.com.

Marty Zwilling


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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Creating a National Innovation Framework

By Michael A. Barr

In difficult times it pays to think big. Richard A. Bendis and Ethan Byler certainly do. They have published a document that I believe we in the start-up community should think about and discuss. It is entitled:
Creating a National Innovation Framework, Building a Public-Private Support System to Encourage Innovation.

The authors call for a national effort to support innovation, entrepreneurship and the advancement of both technologies and early-stage businesses. This effort would encourage the participation of multiple interests: federal and state governments, the private sector, unions, foundations and the investment community.

This Framework contains new structural elements for a widespread national Innovation strategy:
  • A Federal Innovation Partnership and a National Innovation Advisor with access to the President

  • A National Innovation Seed Fund and a Technical Assistance Grant Fund
This funding program, continue the authors, would create a two billion dollar National Innovation Seed Fund to invest in experienced early-stage capital providers, including VC and Angel Funds, as well as other public and/or private funding Authorities.

The purpose of this fund, Bendis and Byler conclude, is to jumpstart new knowledge economy jobs that will shape America’s future.

Many of us entrepreneurs feel ambivalent about government involvement in our work. On the one hand we might appreciate and use government funding and support; on the other hand we are dismayed by bureaucracy and its notorious lack of urgency. Bendis and Byler are talking about the best of public and private resources working together in harmony. Should we publicly support them?

I asked entrepreneurs I know and the response ranged from a “Bronx Cheer” (That’s not an endorsement) to a retelling of DARPA and its creation of the Net. Many of us are not sure about putting innovation and government in the same sentence. A young Bill Gates spent a few months as an intern in Washington and developed a dislike for all government meddling in technology and innovation. This contempt ultimately led to protracted legal skirmishes that at one point threatened to split Microsoft.

Two billion dollars could prime the pump, many of us argue. We have the example of government spending in the space program and in military programs that gave us new materials, jet engines, pilotless drones, GPS, Velcro, a space station and increasingly better solar panels. True, it also gave us a bridge to nowhere, subsidies to farmers, and a tax code that has become an industry unto itself.

We have a visionary, tech-savvy leader in the White House. I say we put aside our instinctive distrust of heavy-handed government and lobby it to invest in us. Google is still about 400 dollars a share. Chrysler and GMAC are in dire straits. What do you think?

Today’s article is presented by Michael A. Barr, who is a member of our Startup Professionals team. He brings to the table a long list of business and academic credentials, including business coaching and leadership skills. Check him out on our website. You will be hearing more from him.


Marty Zwilling


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Sunday, May 3, 2009

Feature Creep: Weeds in the Communication Garden

By Michael A. Barr

Recently we published an article titled “
The Curse of Feature Creep” in startups, commenting that this malady probably kills more startups than any other. In fact, the scope of this problem isn’t just limited to your product.

Feature creep can choke your message as well. Too much information in too many words and images can appear like loss of focus, or a
Rube Goldberg effort. Think about it as you write your business plan, design your marketing materials, and build your website.

Google is a multi-billion dollar company. It can afford to hire the best web developers to create a home page that is an extravaganza of information and entertainment.

Instead, Google’s home page uses fewer words than a Twitter message – and layout that hasn’t changed since the last century. It is clear and simple. Imagine adding extra “bells and whistles” to it. No way.

Our intent as we add words, images and sounds is good. We want to tell our story fully, with as many details as possible. Our company is a box of chocolates and we’ll try to feed them to you in one sitting.

We mean well. But we can end up with clutter.

How do we battle this tendency to over-inform? What works for professional communicators will work for you: Stick to the simplest, quickest statement of your message. Use the 5 W’s and the H:

What? Where? When? Who? Why? And How?

Here is an example. Do you recall the Alka-Seltzer commercial? For 75 years it entertained and sold with a simple drama:

• What? Painful indigestion caused by over-eating. Make it go away!
• Where? Anywhere
• When? Anytime
• Who? Any one of us
• Why? There are medical answers but we want instant relief!
• How? Drink Alka-Seltzer. Instant relief is yours!

The 5 W and an H structure helps you think clearly about your message – from the audience’ s perspective. Ask yourself these questions and you’ll stay on message.

Today’s article is presented by Michael A. Barr, who is a member of our Startup Professionals team. he brings to the table a long list of business and academic credentials, including business coaching and communication skills. Check him out on our website. You will be hearing more from him.

Marty Zwilling


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