Saturday, July 30, 2011

Have You Created a Citadel for Your Startup?

By Bob La Loggia, CEO StormSource Software

Business is often compared to war and waging battle with enemies. Indeed, Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” is one of the most popular business books ever written, and it was originally written as a military strategy guide. Battle terminology has been a mainstay in the business lexicon for decades. The list of war references used in business is almost endless, from “gathering the troops” to “losing a battle but winning the war.”

One battle concept that has enduring applicability is that of creating a citadel. A citadel is a fortress in a commanding position in a city. The purpose of a citadel is to provide defense for a city. Citadels are fortified, meaning they have the firepower to fight off enemies. When a citadel is built, a city is preparing itself for a battle.

In today’s competitive business environment, where barriers to entry seem to be crumbling before our eyes, creating your citadel is more important than ever. But, erecting a citadel goes way beyond just creating barriers to entry. Developing a citadel involves the following:

  • Creating a battle-ready infrastructure. Michael Gerber’s must-read book on starting a business, “The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It,” talks about working "on" the business instead of "in" the business.

    It’s a bit counterintuitive, but by focusing on creating a rock-solid infrastructure, whereby all processes are sharpened, documented and turnkey, you are developing a foundation that will allow your business to expand swiftly. You are also developing a key to business success that is rarely talked about: transforming new recruits into productive warriors quickly.

  • Developing a proven, but flexible business model. Your business model is the structure that supports your strategic plan. Your business model is how you get customers, grow and make money. The paradox of a business model is not that you have to continue to tweak it until you reach perfection, but you have to continue to remain willing to adjust it constantly based on customer and market information.

    Ideally, you’ll end up with a core, proven model that you adjust along the fringes on a real-time basis. It’s the same mindset used in planning a citadel. You hone and execute your core strategy, then adjust some of the details as you gather information on the enemy, the elements, and other pertinent information.

  • Building a reputation. The most effective citadels are never used. They are built as a protective measure. They say, “We are here and ready to fight. We won’t back down from any battle.”

    When citadels are constructed effectively, enemies usually move on to fight less-formidable opponents. When you build a reputation as an authority in your segment, a juggernaut that won’t let up, and a company that will defend what it has to the death, competitors will think twice about attacking.

Yes, citadels are fortresses. They are bastions of your business. Your citadel is your protection from the competition. Creating barriers to entry is important, but creating a strong infrastructure, having a proven business model, and establishing an impenetrable reputation will help ensure any would-be adversaries take their fight elsewhere.

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Today’s guest post is by Bob La Loggia, who is the founder and CEO of StormSource Software, the source of Appointment-Plus online scheduling software. He is a veteran of four startups, has over 22 years in technology, and has built several citadels. You can contact him directly through his website or email.


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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Find the Best of the Best Blogs for Entrepreneurs

With as many as 100 million active blogs (web logs) in English alone on the Internet, how can you find and read the ones you need to be a leader in your business domain? I’m a speed reader, but that’s a challenge for even the best of us. Yet we know keeping up with the latest trends and techniques can make all the difference in ensuring that your business stands the test of time.

I’ll summarize below some of the strategies and tools I use to tackle this challenge. But I’m sure there are some good ones I’m missing, so I’m soliciting your input as well.

  1. Business site expert blogs. Almost every traditional major business news site, like Forbes.com, Entrepreneur.com, and HBR.org have blogs which are contributed by experts in different business areas. I review these, as well as contribute entries occasionally for entrepreneurs and startups.

  2. Blog aggregators. One of my favorites in this category is MyAlltop, run by a well-known name with entrepreneurs, Guy Kawasaki. This site allows you to build your own page of selected blogs and news sites from the Alltop selection of the “best of the best.” Other popular aggregators include TheHuffingtonPost and BusinessInsider.

  3. Follow thought leaders on Twitter. Most great bloggers, like Mark Suster and Scott Edward Walker, are also active on Twitter. That means they send tweets to announce their latest entries, and they usually re-tweet others of value to their followers. You might even get personalized answers to business questions (try me on @StartupPro).

  4. LinkedIn groups news links. There are several popular ‘groups’ you can join on LinkedIn that are focused on entrepreneurs and startups, like On Startups, Founders & CEO Club, and Startup Specialists, to name a few. They feature news links daily from popular blogs, and well as relevant discussion topics. I’m there every day.

  5. Facebook for Business news links. Similar to LinkedIn, Facebook has a group for business topics, which also includes daily blog news links and discussion topics. I review news there, as well as posting my own link occasionally.

  6. User generated news links. Digg, BizSugar and Hacker News sites populated by user contributed links, who want to share their favorite item. These then get voted up or down in popularity by other users, so the hottest ones bubble to the top. I quickly found that ‘most popular’ doesn’t mean most useful, so use with care.

  7. Community bloggers platforms. There are now several platforms, like Bloggersbase and Brazen Careerist (for Gen-Y) where bloggers can post or repost articles, categorized by area of interest. If you are a budding blogger, these are a place to start, and even earn ranking points if voted up by other readers.

  8. Bookmark favorites. Every browser has a simple way of tagging favorite URLs, so they can be accessed quickly from your own browser. Other sites, like delicious and StumbleUpon, go several steps further by allowing access to the list from any computer, anytime, and anywhere. Also you can tag them into collections, search them, and share with others.

  9. Email subscription. If you like the latest blog entry from your favorite sources, like Seth Godin, to be sent to you automatically via email, it’s still available. I recommend you be very selective on this one, as many blogs will clog even the best email system.

  10. Blog catalogs. Finally, if you just want to search the universe of blogs to find ones of interest, try sites like BlogCatalog and HubPages. They will help you through the maze, and promote yours at the same time.

We all need information filters these days to find the nuggets of gold in a sea of sand. But I do recommend that you spend some time each day catching up on the real world around you. Otherwise, you are just keeping your head in the sand, and you won’t see the changes you need to survive.

Marty Zwilling


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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Global Expansion Requires Local Expert Staffing

By Ernst Gemassmer

You have successfully conceived a new business, obtained funding and are now planning to capitalize on the large market opportunities existing outside of the USA. In this article I would like to share with you recommendations for staffing, based on my personal long-term hands-on experience in this arena.

  1. The head of international must be experienced in building international businesses and must operate from corporate headquarters. It is both costly and in many instances complicated to enter foreign markets. Mistakes can delay market entry, result in fines or certainly delay establishment of a local presence. Thus, it is essential to appoint a ‘head of international’ with significant hands-on experience to chart your course in the global world.

    In my own experience, a significant amount of time was spent in explaining and obtaining approval from corporate staff for the actions required in building international. In many instances recommendations involve up front costs with no guarantee of precisely when specific revenues can be achieved. It is therefore essential that the head of international reside at corporate headquarters.

  2. Do not delegate selection of candidates to headhunters/search firms. Finding, selecting, and appointing the right individual to head up in country or even regional roles is critical. Mistakes can be costly. In my experience it is essential for the head of international to clearly define his needs, hire a professional to locate individuals and perform the initial screening.

    However, final selection of key international managers must be made by the head of international, in close cooperation with corporate management. Despite the costs involved, inviting the finalists to headquarters is essential.

  3. Thoroughly understand the specific laws relating to hiring and termination in each country where you plan to operate. Labor laws and prevailing practices differ in most countries. If you choose to operate in a specific country, you must meet local legal requirements and prevailing practices. Again the head of international will spend a significant amount of time explaining and justifying differences to his corporate colleagues.

  4. Retain the services of a local (in country) law firm specialized in labor laws. Since labor laws differ so much from country to country it is essential to obtain advice from local labor counsel. Not following this advice can and will be costly. Special attention must be paid to the construction of an offer letter. In those cases where a termination becomes necessary, you should also obtain guidance and direction from a local labor attorney.

    In my personal experience the head of our Italian operation resigned and we accepted his resignation. He then chose to sue us claiming that his supervisor, based in Germany, created a difficult work environment. Our Italian labor counsel recommended settlement, instead of going to trial. The cost to us was nine months of pay.

  5. Ensure that your pay practices for foreign employees are in line with local legislation and prevailing practices. Pay practices, commission and bonus plans need to be in line with prevailing local practices. If they are not, fines and difficulties with the local tax authorities can arise.

Having successfully staffed your international operations, you can now expand your markets greatly. However, remember to think long term, plan globally but act locally.

A successful head of international will spend time keeping updated on local conditions through participation in industry meetings, chamber of commerce memberships, as well as developing and maintaining corporate contacts. He is a broad-based general manager, has knowledge of most functional areas, is a diplomat and not just an international sales manager.

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Today’s article is presented by one of the founders of our Startup Professionals team, Ernst H. Gemassmer. He resides on the West Coast, and has long helped entrepreneurs there, as well as providing turn-around assistance as interim CEO, and International coaching. You can contact him directly at ernst@startupprofessionals.com.


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Monday, July 4, 2011

Independence is the Real Driver for Entrepreneurs

For all entrepreneurs, starting a business is the route to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” no matter how risky. It’s the American dream that has been the goal of people in this country for over 230 years. If you are here in the U.S., I hope you are all able to take some time off this holiday weekend, to contemplate what you do, and why you do it.

According to an article and poll by Startups.co.uk, having the independence to make your own decisions is considered the key benefit of being an entrepreneur. Nearly 90% of respondents said decision-making independence was very important, closely followed by more flexibility for a better work/life balance. Job creation and innovation are the results, not the drivers.

Personal satisfaction also ranked close behind, with 70% of respondents claiming it was a key advantage to running their own business. Contrary to popular belief, most business owners did not start a business just to earn more money. Only 32% of entrepreneurs cited money a key benefit of running their own firm. This indicates that lifestyle and satisfaction factors are often more important than financial ones.

As with everything in life, there are advantages and disadvantages to every choice we make. Choosing entrepreneurship is no exception. Beyond the obvious advantages mentioned above, there are some additional advantages that get mentioned often.

  • Challenge of originality. A good entrepreneur feels the incentive to offer a new service/product that no one else has offered before. That’s the same challenge an artist feels on every new canvas, or every musician feels when composing a new work.
  • High level of excitement. Entrepreneurs love the continuous challenges of a startup, and the satisfaction of solving them. Some are so high on this life, that they hate the fact that they have to "waste" part of their life in sleep!
  • Minimal rules and regulations. Work in a conventional job is often difficult to get done because of all the "red tape" and consistent administration approval needed. With a startup there are no rules, until you make them.
  • Challenge of originality. A good entrepreneur feels the incentive to offer a new service/product that no one else has offered before. That’s the same challenge an artist feels on every new canvas, or every musician feels when composing a new work.
  • Beat the competition and discover yourself. Competition drives innovation, and innovation drives competition. The cycle never stops. But the best part is that ultimately entrepreneurship isn’t a race against others but an opportunity to discover your potential.

Of course there are some disadvantages that every entrepreneur knows all too well:

  • No regular paycheck. Starting your own business means that you must be willing to give up the security of a regular paycheck. In fact, most startup founders work for no salary during the first year or two of company operation.
  • Few paid benefits. There will likely be no medical and dental benefits, and no vacations or other perks during the formative years. Don’t expect a staff to do the accounting, handle correspondence, or even clean the bathrooms.
  • Decision responsibility. All the decisions of the business must be made on your own, better known as “the buck stops here.” This may sound like an advantage, but is actually a major source of stress and loneliness for startup CEOs.
  • Staffing challenges. Hiring and firing decisions are hard, and that’s just the beginning. Often times, you will find yourself working with people who "don't know the ropes" and require extensive coaching and assistance. Then you have to deal with the mistakes.

By definition, if you see the rewards here as outweighing the risks, you are an entrepreneur. So you should fully appreciate the independence factor fought for so hard by our forefathers. I hope you have had time this long weekend to savor the dream. You earned it, and you need the rest.

Marty Zwilling


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Saturday, July 2, 2011

Are Poker Playing Entrepreneurs More Successful?

By Bob La Loggia, CEO StormSource Software

Are startup founders who play poker statistically more likely to succeed in business? Beats me. But I do know that there are many lessons that founders can learn from poker players. As we all know, poker used to be relegated to smoky casinos and the back rooms of seedy lounges. But, in recent years, poker has become a game for the masses. Kids who once idolized athletes now idolize the “e-athletes” they see playing poker on TV.

Now, I’m not going to ask you to start wearing dark glasses and try to stare down the office supply salesman as he tries to convince you to buy your pens and Post-it Notes from his company. But, I am going to ask you to think about a key aspect of poker playing that is very applicable to businesses.

You can easily spot a novice poker player because they have a tendency to always think their opponent has a better hand than they do. If someone raises the bet, the novice folds their hand. “I’m sure they have a pair of aces. I can’t beat them with my pair of kings,” they think.

Conversely, you can always spot a confident pro. When they get raised, they take a moment to think. They analyze the situation, take a good look at the person who raised, and then decide what to do. Oftentimes, they’ll re-raise, but other times, they’ll match the bet. They know that their opponent doesn’t necessarily have a better hand, even if they act like they do.

In business, you will always have competitors. And you may have a tendency to think they have it all figured out – that they have the better hand. When they announce that new feature or high-profile partnership, don’t panic or get demoralized. Instead, stop and assess the situation carefully.

Chances are, you are holding a pretty good hand, too. Maybe it’s better than theirs, maybe it’s not. In poker, as in business, it’s not the best hand that wins; it’s the one who plays their hand best that wins.

Business history has proven time and time again that it’s not necessarily the best product that wins in the marketplace, and having a superstar founding team, VC partner, or advisory board doesn’t guarantee success.

Was VHS a better technology than Betamax (for you youngsters, VHS and Betamax roamed the Earth about the same time as the dinosaurs)? Why isn’t TiVo’s vastly superior DVR in a dominant position? Does Domino’s sell one million pizzas a day because it has the best pizza? And, did Facebook provide that much more of a rich user experience than MySpace?

So, now you have your excuse for spending your Tuesday nights at the casino. Tell your significant other that it’s all in the name of sharpening your business skills. And, if you must wear the dark glasses and hoody at work, please do it when you are alone.

The office supply salesman may be intimidated by your staredown, but, more likely, he will think you’ve lost your marbles. Dark glasses or not, always remember, it’s not what’s in your hand that’s most important; it’s how you play it.

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Today’s guest post is by Bob La Loggia, who is the founder and CEO of StormSource Software, the source of Appointment-Plus online scheduling software. He is a veteran of four startups, has over 22 years in technology, and has seen a lot of poker games. You can contact him directly through his website or email.


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