Wednesday, April 29, 2015

6 Steps To Convert An Idea To A Sustainable Business

business-idea-success It 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. 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 cash in on 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 recent 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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Monday, April 27, 2015

5 Ways To Improve Startup Founder Team Productivity

bar-graph-meeting If you are like most entrepreneurs I know, there just aren’t enough hours in a day to get all your own work done, as well as run the many one-hour meetings each team member seems to demand for decisions and mentoring. I have found it to be more productive and effective to lead with the model that no meetings will take an hour, and may be done in as little as five minutes.

Of course, this requires some discipline and focus on your part, as well as the willingness to trust team members and allow them to do their jobs. For example, you must forego the traditional meeting approach, where a team member presents a slide deck with all the background and multiple solution options on an issue, and asks you for a decision.

I recommend the elevator pitch-approach instead, which you probably learned in dealing with busy investors, where the person calling the meeting is asked to summarize the purpose, value and recommended solution in the first minute or two. That leaves three minutes, or maybe a few more, for you to clarify your understanding, approve their approach or suggest additional work.

Meetings at this level should never be seen as “working sessions” for actually solving the problem, but as mentoring and direction setting for team members. I have personally used this approach in leading startups as well as large organizations, in highly technical roles as well as business development and marketing. But it only works if you observe the following principles:

  1. Never hide from your team. If you are always hard to find, too busy or unavailable behind closed doors, no leadership or mentoring relationship can work effectively. The old principle of managing by walking around will give the background, and people always having to wait makes them talk longer when they get your precious attention.

  2. Listen and adapt your style to theirs. You rarely learn anything by talking. Practice active listening and respond with a simple affirmation, step-by-step instructions or an anecdotal story, depending on the style and experience of the team member. Five-minute meetings cannot be five minutes of anyone talking.

  3. What is said in a meeting must stay in the meeting. Of course, decisions and action items must be communicated immediately, but individual disagreements, comments and recommendations must never surface around the water cooler or in later reviews. You want team members to provide input openly, honestly and without fear of retribution.

  4. Provide immediate direct and constructive feedback. Team members need your critique of their work to learn, but attacking the person is never productive. Use every opportunity to clarify your goals and set the context for follow-on discussions. If you must provide negative feedback, make every attempt to highlight the positives first.

  5. Make it clear that team members are accountable and responsible. Your most valuable team members wouldn’t want to work any other way. Encourage them to come in with solutions, not problems, and empower them to drive their recommendations to success. Everyone learns best from failures, so failure should never be a feared option.

For one-on-one coaching from the startup founder, I call this approach five-minute mentoring. The goal is not to use your time doing the job for less-experienced team members, but instead quickly identifying their barrier to progress, and providing guidance on a next step. Even if multiple cycles are required to reach the goal, you will spend less time, and they will learn infinitely more.

I fully understand that the best entrepreneurs are problem solvers by nature, so this approach requires a mindset change from solving to a specific answer, to coaching on the process, which will pay big dividends for both of you as the company grows. You can be a problem solver and build a product alone, but you can’t build a successful business alone.

Your primary responsibility as a startup founder is to provide vision, leadership and communication to all internal and external team members. Long meetings behind closed doors are draining for you and not productive for the company toward these objectives.

Start today with five-minute meetings and mentoring to get the fun and productivity back.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Entrepreneur.com on 4/17/2015 ***

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Saturday, April 25, 2015

8 Reasons To Initiate A Startup While Job Searching

looking-for-a-job If 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 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 just 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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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

10 Principles Define Your Startup As Open Vs Closed

open-business-whole-foods Too 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 recent book by David Cushman with Jamie Burke, “The 10 Principles of Open Business,” the authors contend that many recent success stories in business, including Google, Apple, and Amazon, were built on at least one open business principle. In fact, according to McKinsey, open businesses are 50% 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 couple of years, I have seen a tremendous upswing in “open business” movements, especially by entrepreneurs and startups. Examples include Conscious Capitalism®, led by John Mackey of Whole Foods, The B Team, led by serial entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, and the Benefit Corporation (B Corp) form of business now available in 28 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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Monday, April 20, 2015

6 Keys To Proving A Viable Startup Business Model

valid-business-model How do you convince investors that your business model will really work, before you have a revenue stream that exceeds your expenses? Even if you are bootstrapping your business, and you are the only investor, you should be asking yourself the same question. Too many founders have learned that passion and free beta products do not imply a sustainable business.

Proof of any business model starts with a finished product or solution, sold to a new customer for full price, with high satisfaction for the value received. Of course, that has be a repeatable event, with enough revenue to sustain the business. The conundrum is that once you have really proven the business model, you no longer need the investor money you asked for to start the business.

So what should an entrepreneur do to convince themselves, as well as potential investors, that they have a viable business model before it is totally proven? Here are some basic principles from my own experience that will improve your odds and keep you on the right track:

  1. Recognize that you are not the market. No matter how passionate you are about your solution, it doesn’t mean that if you build it, they will come. Don’t skip the market research, input from influencers, analysis of competitors, and the simple act of really listening to potential customers via social media, before quantifying your opportunity.

  2. Start selling it before you build it. Marketing is everything these days. On the average, it takes as long to build marketing momentum as it does to build the solution. If you wait to begin marketing until your product is final, you will find it very expensive to pivot to meet real world input, or the whole opportunity may have moved on without you.

  3. Plan for a real revenue model. The free model, with a loose intent to monetize later, made popular during the tech bubble, doesn’t work anymore. No matter how good your cause, it takes real money to sustain a business. Decide early where and when money will come from, set some milestones and metrics, and work to a plan, or be caught short.

  4. Word of mouth is not adequate for marketing and sales. Even though the Internet is pervasive and free, you should not assume that a website is all you need for sales and marketing. To get the visibility and distribution you need will likely require one or two levels of partner relationships and a real model for marketing, events and promotions.

  5. Customer support is more than handling exceptions. Customers expect to be delighted in all phases of the product life cycle -- understanding features, pricing alternatives, returns and problem resolution. A detailed process, with empowered employees and adequate budget, are mandatory to any viable business model.

  6. Everyone must be part of the sales process. Don’t assume that only customer-facing employees need to understand sales, and that these people can be hired and trained at the last minute. Everyone on your team must maintain the mindset that customers are the key to your business model, rather than technology or accounting.

I’m not suggesting that all these business model elements need to be perfect before you ask for funding or open doors for business. As an active angel investor, I do expect founders to be able to communicate a plan to implement all key business model elements, just as I expect them to understand and plan for all the elements of their technology and their solution.

In my experience, every great product is not a great business, and every great business model involves far more than a great product. Your challenge is to present a total business solution to the right customer set to build your credibility and momentum. Without these, your dreams and your business model may never get the fuel they need, and will burn out quickly.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Entrepreneur.com on 4/10/2015 ***

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Sunday, April 19, 2015

6 Entrepreneur Mindsets That Lead To Real Innovation

shield-innovation Real 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 a recent 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, Intel, and Savola.

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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Saturday, April 18, 2015

7 Ways To Prepare For A Growing Global Opportunity

growth-global New entrepreneurs who want to survive, and optimize the growth of their startups, need to think globally, and act locally, from day one. This approach, popularly known as glocalization, means you have to design and deliver global solutions that have total relevance to every local market in which you operate.

Recognizing this is as much about culture as about language, ensures an understanding of regional motivators, cultural taboos and local customs – so that your solutions are ideally designed and marketed to deliver value that has genuine local relevance.

What all this doesn’t mean is that you should roll out your product in every country at the same time. But it does mean that you think about the global implications at every step of the process:

  1. Pick your company and product names carefully. Don’t pick a name for your company or product that has a negative or totally different meaning in another language. Remember when the Chevy Nova required a rename, once Chevrolet realized that Nova meant "no go" in the Spanish market (not a great name for a car).

  2. Anticipate greater growth outside of North America. Not every international market matters, but some are larger than life. McKinsey estimates, for example, that the upper middle class in China will grow from 14 percent now to 56 percent by 2022. Just the middle class in India is equal in size to the entire population of the United States. And aging populations in Europe and Japan will join the retiring baby boomers in the U.S. with demands for new products and services. Be ready.

  3. Reinforce your brand in international markets. An international brand will command higher prices and additional customer demand. This is called brand goodwill, a hard-won value resulting from the trust that a strong name engenders among buyers and partners. As you begin to saturate the demand in domestic markets, let your brand take you international at low cost.

  4. Balance your business between geographies. When buyers in one region start to slow down, look for buyers in other geographies to take up the slack. Companies with diversified portfolios can focus their energy on other global markets that are doing well.

  5. Speak the customer’s language. People tell me that a multi-lingual website can double your local online business in many parts of the U.S. These days, customers begin their buying cycle online, where they can get answers to their frequently asked questions, product information, and transactions — all in a language they really understand.

  6. Find global sources now. This may not be politically correct these days, but smart startups are looking globally to source their products from the very beginning. Software can be developed “offshore” for a low cost, manufacturing volumes are quickly available from China, and European designs have increased opportunities in every country.

  7. Selectively protect your intellectual property worldwide. At present, no world patents or international patent process exists, so you need to apply in every relevant country. Trying to get patent protection worldwide at the beginning is prohibitively expensive, so pick your geographies and timing carefully and strategically.

These days the world is a single market. It is both homogeneous and heterogeneous. The communication revolution and the advent of the Internet has brought about a new age of globalization. Easier access to international markets is creating limitless sales opportunities on a worldwide basis.

The result is that every startup company now needs to consider every aspect of management, sales and service on a global basis. However, to gain a true competitive edge, you still need to implement effective solutions first at the local level. Don’t try to do it all at once.

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, April 17, 2015

Are You Trying To Be All Things To All Customers?

company-strategy Your business can’t be all things to all people, and excel at anything. Every entrepreneur and every business needs a strategy to keep them focused. In fact, in this new world of pervasive interactivity, it’s time to rethink even how to develop a strategy. Strategy used to come from the inside looking out, but now it must come from a dialogue and engagement with constituents.

These challenges and the processes for a modern strategic approach are highlighted in a recent book by Gerben Van Den Berg and Paul Pietersma, “The 8 Steps To Strategic Success,” which focuses on unleashing the power of engagement with customers, suppliers, employees, partners, shareholders, competitors and government institutions, to set your strategic direction.

Van Den Berg and Pietersma point out that strategic planning no longer works as a static event that occurs once a year. Market change happens too frequently these days, and organizations need to quickly change course just to survive. The real challenge is to recognize when and why a new strategy is needed, and optimize the process against three critical success factors:

  1. A good understanding of the context of strategy definition. Without shared understanding of cause, necessity and ambition, a business trying to formulate its strategy will drift. And without knowing where you stand, there is no way to set a course.

  2. An adequate use of content in terms of quality, completeness, and depth. Thorough analysis with appropriate models and instruments is needed to really understand what is not possible for the organization and the environment in which it is active. Thorough analysis is the basis for finding the right strategy options.

  3. An effective and inspiring process. Who are involved at what time, what are the roles, how is participation organized? In other words: applying the correct methods of engagement. These help to increase the intrinsic level of understanding, stimulate creativity, and develop ideas. Three things are essential in engagement:

    • High quality level of participants’ contribution.
    • Willingness in analysis, vision, and numbers to think about the future.
    • Initiating and pacing the implementation process.

Every business strategy should still be based first on a long-term business vision and goal – referred to by James Collins and Jerry Porras in their classic book “Built to Last” as the Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG). The BHAG always poses three questions in parallel:

  • What are you deeply passionate about? According to Collins and Porras, companies can only be really outstanding in areas where they are fully committed. The answer to this question should be formulated as ‘a customer’s problem the company is going to resolve like no other.’
  • What can you be the best in the world at? This questions going beyond one or two features or best-selling products. It is about identifying a core competence which others cannot match. It might be a patented technology, but it could also be the creativity of employees or logistic competencies of the company.
  • What drives the economic engine? This could be the utilization rate of a plant, the price premium of the brand, or the service offered or products sold. It is essential to keep this financial pillar in view.

From the answers to these questions, the strategic process needs to work its way through the futures you need to anticipate, business capabilities, and strategic options. From there, it’s time to make a decision, execute on the new strategy, and measure results. Based on results, it’s usually time for another iteration, and successful startups and enterprises never stop.

These days, you won’t last long as an entrepreneur with one “next big thing.” Success is more about your ability to “see around the corner” and sense the potential for market changes before they happen, and change your company rapidly to make them happen. How engaged is your strategic process with your constituents, and how fast can you adapt to their changes?

Marty Zwilling

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Monday, April 13, 2015

Realistic Strategies For Funding Product Development

Research_and_Development Angel investors and venture capitalists are looking for startups with real products and a proven business model, ready to scale. Yet I still get too many business plans that clearly are looking for money to do research and development (R&D) on a new and unproven technology. If you need funding for these early stage activities, I have some suggestions on better strategies to follow.

The first is to be more precise in your definition and understanding of where you are, and how the money will be spent. If this is your first foray into the entrepreneurial arena, with no track record in business or technology, your best and perhaps only supporters will be that class of investors known in the trade as friends, family and fools (FFF). They believe in you above all else.

Beyond these believers, you need to match your credentials and interests with the multitude of public, academic and government organizations that proclaim to foster research and early development, to satisfy the long-term needs of the people or organizations they support. In this context, there are at least six stages often included in the scope of R&D to narrow your focus:

  1. Search for new technologies. This early stage is often called basic research, well before any specific commercially viable products might be envisioned. Here your options are limited primarily to large organizations with deep pockets, including government grants, universities and large enterprise sponsors searching for disruptive technologies.

  2. Technology pilots. This is the transition stage from basic research to applied research. Applied research is still primarily scientific study, seeking to solve practical problems, but doesn’t yet focus on a commercial product. Funding sources for this stage extend from grants to large private fund incubators, such as the IBM Watson initiative.

  3. Commercial product prototypes. Funding for commercial product prototypes is still R&D in the eyes of venture capital investors, but in business areas with large opportunities, this activity will catch the eyes of specialized angel investors. It’s still considered high risk for investment, since manufacturing and quality issues are likely.

  4. Product verification and clinical trials. These days, almost every new product is not deemed scalable until it has been certified as meeting a multitude of quality and agency standards, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and Underwriters Lab (UL). Specialized VCs start to jump in at this stage.

  5. Business commercialization. Product development at this stage is the process of scaling up for manufacturing and marketing rollout. The technology is now embodied in a solution that can be replicated to reliably solve a real customer problem. Your fundability with investors now depends primarily on the execution capability of your team.

  6. Expanding the product line. Even for mature startups, there is always a need for further product development and research to compete and diversify the business, and investors understand this. But to prevent confusion with basic R&D, these costs should never be called out the major category in your use of funds statement to investors.

While all forms of technology research and development will always be required, entrepreneurs need to understand that the funding for these efforts comes from many different sources, depending on the stage. Business equity investors are buying a portion of your business, so they are looking to fund a specific business with a specific offering, not a generic technology.

Don’t waste your time and energy talking to angels and VCs about technology funding when you could be focused more productively on grants, private funds and future business partners. Business investors and customers want to hear about solutions, and tend to back away from technology, until it is proven.

Fortunately, in many attractive business domains, including mobile software, Internet apps and ecommerce, the cost of product development is at an all-time low. Developers are using powerful technology tools to build mobile apps and websites for a few thousand, rather than millions of dollars. Thus the best entrepreneur strategy for funding is to build solutions, not technology.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Entrepreneur.com on 4/3/2015 ***

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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Are You Mentally Tough Enough To Be An Entrepreneur?

businessman-tough You have to be extra tough mentally to be an entrepreneur. While thinking about it, I realized that it’s really not that different from the toughness required and trained into America’s elite military force of Navy SEALs, who are known to be cool under fire, able to sense danger before it’s too late, and never give up on achieving their objective.

I learned some good lessons along these lines from a recent book “The Way of the SEAL,” by Mark Divine. He spent many years with the SEALs, but has since started and built six multimillion-dollar business ventures. He now teaches these key principles to business leaders, focusing on the following lessons and strategies, which I recommend for every entrepreneur:

  1. Lead from the front, so that others will want to work for you. To be an entrepreneur or a Navy SEAL, you must first have vision, focus, and the courage to step up to lead. That means visibly walking the talk and willing to clear a path for others. People want to follow leaders they can learn from, who demonstrate excellence and commitment in all they do.

  2. Focus on one thing until victory is achieved. SEALs call this front-sight focus, or the ability to envision your goal to the point that you see it, believe it, and make it happen. Every entrepreneur needs this kind of focus to build a minimum viable product, target the right customer segment, differentiate from competitors, and drive business growth.

  3. Think offense, all the time, to eradicate fear and indecisiveness. Indecision leads to doubt, then the two blend and become fear, which signals defense, resulting in being overrun in the business world, as well as the military world. Offense, for entrepreneurs, means leading with a new business model, new marketing, and new technology.

  4. Never be thrown off-guard by chaotic conditions. Smash the box and think outside the box. In the world of the entrepreneur and the SEAL, chaos is the norm, not the exception. Plan for it mentally and physically, and you will see opportunities rather than problems in the chaos. Winning is finding opportunities, rather than fighting problems.

  5. Access your intuition so you can make “hard right” decisions. Your intuition is really your knowledge and awareness of your business environment, which must be honed with practice and focus. This knowledge is required for you to turn quickly or pivot based on new input from the market, without loss of competitive position.

  6. Achieve twenty times more than you think you can. Set your targets high. Nobody knows what they are truly capable of, with the right discipline, drive, and determination (three Ds). SEALs challenge themselves to find their 20x factor, and entrepreneurs should accept no less of a challenge. Leverage the resources of mentors, investors, and peers.

By teaching and practicing the principles behind these six lessons, Mark Divine was able to improve the pass rate of Navy SEAL candidates from less than 30% to over 80%. I see the same potential for improving the success rate of new entrepreneurs from the current 10-year survival rate below 30%, to a new high target of 80% in this new era.

He suggests that you start with a self-assessment against the “five mountains” to be climbed on the path to self-mastery and success, with my adaptation for entrepreneurs:

  • Physical: business as well as technical skills required for the domain you want to enter.
  • Mental: ability to persevere, make decisions, focus, and visualize success.
  • Emotional: resilience, open to relationships, keep negative emotions under control.
  • Intuitional: level of awareness, listen more than speak, strong self-esteem, insightful.
  • Spiritual: strong values, at peace, willing to make sacrifices, see the big picture.

I agree with Divine that if you desire serious change in your life, you can’t get there by focusing on what you don’t want. Becoming an entrepreneur is a great lifestyle, but it is a serious change from other career alternatives. If you decide to be an entrepreneur because you don’t want a boss, on don’t like regular business hours, you may be setting yourself up for failure.

Apply the lessons from the Navy SEALs and you too can be an elite warrior who leads and succeeds in the new global business paradigm. Are you up to the challenge?

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, April 11, 2015

Avoid The Entrepreneur Role If These Quotes Fit You

Worried Man with Debt and Bills Some people are not cut out to be entrepreneurs. This is a good thing, or the business world would be chaos, with everyone trying to do their own thing. So what about you? How do you know if you should be running your own company, or concentrating on that queue of work that someone else has built for you?

I’ve hit this before, but I still hear from too many unhappy entrepreneurs. Now is the time to put aside your fantasies, and take a hard look at who you really are, before you commit to the entrepreneurial lifestyle. If you recognize yourself in many of these quotes, you WILL NOT be happy in that lifestyle:

  1. “I like my life structured with clear decisions.” Entrepreneurs do not function well in traditional organizations and do not like being in the conventional management hierarchy. Most believe they can do the job better than anyone else and will strive for maximum responsibility and accountability.

  2. “Handling problems causes me stress and pressure.” To an entrepreneur, stress is part of the job, and they are re-invigorated rather than discouraged by setbacks. They may actually be less comfortable when things are going well, and are not troubled by ambiguity and uncertainty because they are used to solving problems.

  3. “My job is fun when everyone knows and does their job.” The best entrepreneurs relish the challenge of an undefined role, and enjoy the learning process as much as success. It’s even better when they can inspire and energize others to do things that have never been done before.

  4. “I like to put my mistakes behind me and never think about them again.” Entrepreneurs accept things as they are and deal with them accordingly. They are quick to learn from their failures. They may or may not be idealistic, but they are seldom unrealistic. They want to know the status of a given situation at all times.

  5. “Balance and family are everything in my life.” Entrepreneurs devote the largest share of their time to the business. During tough business periods, they will give their entire focus to business operations, and may essentially stay on the job for days. Even at home or at social events, the business is always top of mind.

  6. “It didn’t get done today, but there’s always tomorrow.” Entrepreneurs have a great sense of urgency to develop their ideas now. Inactivity makes them impatient, tense, and uneasy. They have drive and high energy levels, they are achievement-oriented, and they are tireless in the pursuit of their goals.

  7. “That’s not my job.” Successful entrepreneurs love to tackle complex situations that span the spectrum from planning, making strategic decisions, and working on multiple operational crises simultaneously. They are futuristic and aware of important implications, and they will continuously review alternatives to achieve their business objectives.

  8. “I love to get awards for my efforts.” Entrepreneurs find satisfaction in the trappings of success from external sources, like the media and peer organizations. They like the business they have built to be praised, but they are often embarrassed by praise directed at them personally.

  9. “I get frustrated when things don’t work.” Entrepreneurs have a "never, never, never quit" attitude. They are self-confident when they know what they're doing and in control. Most are at their best in the face of adversity, since they thrive on their own self-confidence.

  10. “Risk and uncertainty cause me to lose too much sleep.” Some of the best entrepreneurs talk about the highs they get from taking a big risk, and the euphoria they feel when they beat the odds. They live for these feelings.

If you are an employee, and you recognize your boss in the quotes, you probably are not a happy employee. If you recognize your CEO or business founder in the quotes, then your business is probably failing. That’s how important it is for the right people to be in the right category.

In my experience, the most unhappy people are the ones who clearly fit in one category, but for various reasons believe they need to be in the other one (entitlement, more money, more prestige, family pressures). My message is do what you enjoy. Life is too short for the alternative.

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, April 10, 2015

5 Principles For Deriving Winning Business Insights

winning-business-insights I often hear the popular notion that successful entrepreneurs are built from a single heroic insight or a single innovation. This is just plain wrong. The business world is a symphony of players and elements that only works when everything interconnects harmoniously. Continuous innovation and continuous learning are required for any sustained connection and success.

I’ve long believed these principles, but I’ve never been able to explain them as well as my friend Faisal Hoque, with Drake Baer, in their recent book “Everything Connects.” Hoque’s great insights on how to transform businesses in this age of creativity, innovation, and sustainability are based on his serial entrepreneur experiences, as well as his study of Eastern philosophies.

Here is my extrapolation of his many lessons and messages into five essential principles for making the connections in business that can lead to success as a business executive or an entrepreneur:

  1. Learn to work with people and build strong relationships. Nobody succeeds as a “Lone Ranger” in business. Finding people and building the relationships you need requires effort, and is a key component in moving every business forward. Equally important is avoiding people who bring you down, waste your time, or have no interest.

  2. Root out ideas by cultivating curiosity. Curiosity is the best catalyst for business creativity, learning, problem solving, and ideas. Ideas are the beginning of a strategy. The continuous discovering, planning, and implementing of ideas is the only path to sustainable innovation. Nurture the people in your relationships who have curiosity.

  3. Connect with your target audience. Today’s innovative “social economy” requires emotional attachment that links customers to your products, as opposed to competitors, and translates into sustainable growth. A simple, inspirational product and brand message is far more influential than one which highlights product features and functions.

  4. Accelerate sustainable growth. Creating a unique product and a unique brand isn’t enough. It takes repeatable sales processes to create a scalable business. Accelerating this growth requires continuous innovation, improved collaboration, visionary leadership, and an inspired and positive relationships with all your constituents.

  5. Create tangible long-term value. Every business transaction has consequences. The positive ones are called value. Short-term consequences are usually quantitative, and long-term ones are more qualitative. The most sustainable way to create long-term value is to continually invest in your capabilities both as individuals and as an organization.

In business, as in life, success won’t happen without good people relationships. To better build and nurture your people connections, here are some top line principles from the book which I espouse:

  • Be honest. It’s the only way to create and maintain trust and respect.
  • Be direct. Direct communication leads to direction, the path you set as a leader.
  • Think ahead. You need to surround yourself with forward thinkers, and listen.
  • Inspire and influence. The best and brightest will be toppled if they can’t inspire others.
  • Create a community. You need cross-pollination and collaboration from the ecosystem.
  • Think long term. Leaders must be aware of the present moment while setting their sights on long-term goals. Purpose must be a part of the present and the future.

For entrepreneurs, the road to success is always a longer one than you anticipate. An old Chinese saying comes to mind that when you’ve made it 90 percent down the path, you’re halfway to your destination. That last 10 percent of making the right connections is the other half of your journey. Are you thoroughly prepared to facilitate your own success, and the success of your company?

Marty Zwilling

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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

8 Questions Before You Join Or Invest In A Startup

question-mark-startup Every startup founder loves to prompt for questions from investors and potential key team members about their vision, and the huge opportunity that can be had with their disruptive technology. Yet if you are on the other side of the table, there are some other key questions that you need to ask, which will tell you more about the real success prospects for this business.

Enthusiastic startup founders may try to deflect or minimize these questions in true media-training style, so you need to be patient, calm, and persistent to get the whole story. From my perspective as an investor, I recommend that every founder needs to know the answers to these questions, be open and honest in answering them thoughtfully, and without making excuses:

  1. What is the current runway and burn rate? These terms quantify how fast money is being spent, and how long the business can survive before another round of investments is required. Early stage burn rates over $50K per month, or a runway of less than six months may indicate an inefficient or desperate startup. Think twice before you jump in.

  2. How complex is the capitalization table? The allocation of shares among the founders, and the number and size of outside investments, will tells volumes about the health, stability, and management of the business. Most founders like to talk about their many months or years of sweat-equity, but cash invested is a stronger commitment.

  3. When did this effort really start, including pivots? If the company has been around for more than a couple of years, and still has no product or revenue flow, there better be a good explanation. One more key employee or one more investor will probably not turn the situation around. History gaps and founder turnover may indicate a long road ahead.

  4. Does everyone on the team have a clear role and mutual respect? You won’t get this answer directly from the founder, so ask to talk to other key team members to make sure everyone is carrying their weight, and communicates effectively. Some conflict and differing perspective is healthy, but too many titles or close relatives should be suspect.

  5. Any outside advisors or board members available for discussion? Every startup should have at least a couple of outside advisors who are not major investors or family members, anxious to talk to new investors and key new hires. These should be people with complementary skills to the founders as well as industry expertise or connections.

  6. Is there a real customer willing to give a testimonial? Don’t be sidetracked by potential customers in the middle of a free trial, or friends of the founder. If it’s too early for customers, make sure you understand exactly when the product ships, how detailed is the rollout and promotion plan, and how many times these plans have changed.

  7. Are any lawsuits and challenges to intellectual property pending? Before you invest your life savings, or bet your career on this startup, you need to know how much of a barrier to entry the brand and patents are projected to be. If you have questions or concerns, now is the time to seek legal advice, not after the fact.

  8. How much and when can I reasonably expect a payback? Since nine out of ten startups fail completely, serious investors look for a 10X return on their investment within five years. Look for examples of similar companies and revenue multiples achieved from acquirers. Calculate employee stock option values and vesting times, as well as salary.

These questions are the key ones in every due diligence effort, always done by accredited investors, but almost never done by key employees and new partners. Ironically, startup investors are normally in less personal jeopardy than early startup employees. Smart investors know that many startup investments will fail, while employees always plan on million dollar payouts.

In any case, in addition to the grand vision and the chance to change the world, I recommend that it’s worth your while to calmly and assertively get some good answers to some hard questions from a passionate startup founder before you sign your life away.

Marty Zwilling

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Monday, April 6, 2015

10 Steps To Finding The Right Startup Co-Founder

Jerry_Yang_and_David_Filo A common challenge faced by every entrepreneur is that they don’t have the bandwidth, interest or skills to do everything that is required to build their startup. Of course, they can outsource part of the work or hire employees, but that approach means more time and money to manage the work, which they don’t have. The right answer is to find a co-founder with complementary skills.

Two heads are always better than one in a startup. Both need to share the passion, long-term opportunity and risk, rather than just getting paid to do a job, win or lose. Investors worry about a single entrepreneur getting overloaded, disabled or led astray, with no balancing and supporting partner. The challenge is how to find that elusive perfect-fit partner.

Don’t expect someone else to find the partner for you, since it’s really very much like finding a life partner. Your version of the right chemistry, similar values and passion for your solution probably won’t match mine. Yet from my own years of experience in the startup community, here are 10 common steps that have worked for other entrepreneurs:

  1. Write a "job description" for that ideal partner. Your best friend, spouse or a family member is the least likely candidate, so don’t start there. Take a hard look at your own business strengths and weaknesses, and write down what partner skills and experiences would best complement yours. Seek input from seasoned investors and peers.

  2. Network to find co-founders just as you network to find investors. In fact, many of the same venues, such as industry conferences, entrepreneur forums and local business organizations are useful for both. Online, it pays to join entrepreneur groups on LinkedIn and Facebook, and interact with people who meet your criteria on Twitter.

  3. Join online "matchmaking" sites for business partners. Co-founders are business partners for startups, so don’t be afraid to join and explore sites such as StartupWeekend, StartupAgents and CoFoundersLab. Also start a discussion on the wealth of business blogs frequented by entrepreneurs, where you can make your interests known.

  4. Attend local university entrepreneur activities. University professors and student leaders always know a host of top entrepreneurs, alums or staff members who are just waiting to find the perfect match for their own interests, skills and entrepreneurial ideas to change the world. Support local activities and you support yourself.

  5. Look for a partner from a different background. In today’s global economy, your ideal partner may be half way around the world, from a different geography and business culture. Every startup infrastructure is flush with smart people from all cultures, many of whom may be ready and able to bring new energy and creativity to your startup.

  6. Follow up with associates from prior job assignments. If you were impressed with someone’s drive and capabilities in a prior work role, now is the time to connect again to check their interest and availability, or recommendations they may offer. Use caution to avoid employer conflicts of interest and non-compete clauses.

  7. Relocate to a more likely geography. Finding a high-tech co-founder in the middle of Kansas may be a long search. There’s a reason that Silicon Valley and Boston are hubs for high-tech startups. These areas may have not just your co-founder, but also the robust ecosystem your startup needs for investors, programmers and customers.

  8. Explore candidate common interests outside of work. Co-founder chemistry and interest matches are best explored outside the office. Find some common hobbies or sports to get acquainted before giving away half your company. Business partnerships are long-term relationships, so take your time getting acquainted before closing the deal.

  9. Jointly define major milestones and key metrics for the startup. This process is the ultimate test of a true shared vision and working style. Building a startup is hard and unpredictable work, and people get busy, so now is the time to jointly commit. If you can’t work as a team now and easily agree, it probably won’t happen at all in the future.

  10. Negotiate and document roles early, including who is the boss. No matter how equal you all are, there is only room for one at the top to make the final decision on hard issues. Especially when everything feels good today, don’t be hesitant to ask the hard questions of each other. There can be only one chief executive officer.

For the success of your startup, finding the right co-founder is one of the most important things that a new entrepreneur needs to do. There are so many challenges in a startup that no founder should try to go it alone. When you find someone that works, I’m betting you will be together on your next startup, and the one after that. Great teams persevere, and success breeds success.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Entrepreneur.com on 3/27/2015 ***

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Sunday, April 5, 2015

5 Ways To Boost Productivity And Minimize Negativity

people-attitude Throughout my career in small companies and large, I’ve always been appalled by the number of people who have a negative attitude or complain all of the time. These people don’t seem to realize that they are hurting themselves, as well as other people’s productivity, and jeopardize the future of the company they are working for.

I’ve always thought that I might be overly sensitive, until I saw a classic survey done by badbossoloy.com, which claims that many employees spend 10 hours a month complaining or listening to others complain, and nearly one third spend 20 or more hours. No startup can afford that huge cost in emotional capital, as well as productivity!

In the survey, negativity is seen as an indictment of bad managers, but I believe it is also an indictment of employee whiners as well. Ten to twenty hours a month is a lot of time to waste, not to mention the indirect time lost of the listeners, and the morale impact.

What does all this mean, and how do you correct it, or prevent it in your startup? First, you have to identify quickly and fix problems that are outside the scope of control of individual team members. In addition, you can follow these key recommendations from experts for proactive and recovery actions by all parties to minimize the problem in both employee and management ranks:

  1. Executives have to be the role model. If you as the founder, or other members your executive team are chronic complainers, the disease will spread rapidly through the rest of the organization. Don’t play the blame game, give negatively charged emotional speeches, berate employees in public, or wear an angry face at the office.

  2. Use the hiring process effectively. Too many startups give short shrift to the hiring process, because they are too busy, don’t want to pay market prices, or have no experience. It’s actually easy to spot whiners during the interview process, by listening to them run down previous employers and not accepting accountability. Don’t hire them.

  3. Encourage regular self-assessment. Encourage your management team and employees to always check themselves before making unsolicited comments against the following criteria: “Will this comment add value to our company, our customers, the person I am talking to, or the one I am talking about? If not, don’t say it.”

  4. Openly reward positive suggestions. Maybe it’s time to establish or re-activate the old-fashioned “suggestion box.” Make it work by regularly handing out real accolades, as well as real money, to people who add value or reduce costs in your business. A positive can-do attitude should also be recognized in job performance feedback.

  5. Quietly deal with people who won’t change. Some whiners have been that way all their life, and don’t know how to change their stripes. With proper counseling, they need to be moved out of your business before they do more damage. How quickly and quietly you deal with these problems will be the loudest message you can send to others.

Some people will use “honesty” as the excuse for negative and insensitive comments. In fact, the most honest and productive comments are always positive recommendations on how to fix a problem, rather than the complaint that someone or something is a problem. Even if some of your co-workers are jerks, you have no moral, ethical or legal obligation to broadcast this view.

Everyone needs to understand that complaining about salary or pay, criticizing colleagues and bosses, or vendors and customers, will generally just reflect negatively on the whiner, rather than accomplish any positive results.

The truth is that optimists lead better lives, and startups with positive teams are more successful, simply because they believe that what they are doing is going to work. Negativity also is a self-fulfilling prophecy, with an outcome that can be the demise of your startup.

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, April 4, 2015

5 Tips For Startups To Win With Social Media

win-with-social-media Social media is so pervasive in today’s world that every entrepreneur believes instinctively that they know how to use it for their startup. Many soon find that what you do in a personal context doesn’t necessarily translate to your business, and measuring business value is quite different from measuring personal satisfaction. When it comes to social media for your business, expect a high learning curve, but rest assured it’s not rocket science.

Social media is now one of the key marketing tools, but not the only one, so the challenge is to manage the resource tradeoffs effectively by constantly assessing payback versus cost. Startups should begin by selecting just a few of the vast array of social media offerings out there, and customize based on results.

I agree with my friend Lon Safko, and his classic book “The Social Media Bible,” which asserts your team can be successful at social without the cost of an expensive expert or agency, by following these five basic steps:

  1. Start with the dominant players. Top social networks are Facebook (1.2 billion users). LinkedIn (300 million), Twitter (288 million) and Pinterest (70 million). Concentrate your efforts on two to three platforms to start. Get to know the five W’s of these – who, what, where, when, and why. Ask yourself where are the influencers in your market, the majority of your target customers, and what type of interaction will be most productive to your business?

  2. Assess your target customer demographics. Identify your target customer and create customer profiles. If you already have a strong customer base, create a brief survey to help you determine what social media sites they’re using and how to reach them in a targeted way. Add a blog to give yourself a voice, show your expertise, but skip the sales pitch.

  3. Create an integrated conventional marketing and social media strategy. Social media does not stand alone; it must be integrated into a balanced marketing strategy. Your plan should include a well-designed web site, events, press releases, and search engine marketing (SEM). SEM is the most common form of online marketing, which increases your website visibility on search engine results pages through optimization and advertising.

  4. Prepare your staff to deliver on social media requirements. Social media is not free – it takes time and skills that you won’t have by default. Ad hoc coverage by team members in their spare time is a recipe for failure. You need executive buy-in, committed budgets, and education for the whole team on objectives and activities.

  5. Don’t forget the metrics and analytics. You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Determine the proper measurement tools and set up the measurement process. Only then can you determine your ROI. Manage your expectations, and analyze every marketing channel. Scour the Internet for data from similar businesses, existing media, and match it with your own customer profiles. Then set your goals for penetration, frequency, and results.

With social media, a key element of success is focus on the message. Never “sell” or push out your message like conventional advertising. The trick is to listen first, add something of value to the conversation, and pull the customers to you because they trust you and want more. According to Lon, the keywords to remember are to be “sincere, authentic, and transparent.”

Startups are in an ideal position to capitalize on the fundamental shift in power to the customer, who now has real control over your brand message. Companies have to communicate, rather than just pontificate. Customers see what their peers are saying in blogs and product reviews, and how you respond to these, and this impacts their buy decision more than any advertisement.

Above all, don’t forget to observe your competition and their social media activity. Learning from their mistakes and building on their best practices can save you time and money.

Finally, remember that it takes time to establish and optimize your social media presence. Use the five steps listed above to start slowly, leverage your time effectively, stay one step ahead of your competitors, and enjoy the success that social media can bring to your startup.

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, April 3, 2015

7 Entrepreneur Types Drive Change On A Global Scale

SpaceX_Elon_Musk By most definitions of the term, an entrepreneur is someone who starts a new business, incorporating innovative changes to existing products, services, business models, and creating new markets. Yet very few achieve that great aspiration of really driving economic, social, and environmental changes on a global scale.

What does it take to get to that level? One way of identifying the right characteristics and approaches is to take a hard look at entrepreneurs who have done it. Peter Andrews and Fiona Wood, in their recent book “Überpreneurs” have profiled 36 leading candidates for this category, to extract a set of common characteristics. Here are some recognizable entrepreneurial examples I like, just from the technology space:

  1. Driven by an epic ambition. Each of them has seen and seized opportunities for change, sensed the way forward, garnered the necessary resources, and pursued their dreams, regardless of the odds. All of them, in the late Steve Jobs’ words, “push the human race forward.” He agreed with Mark Twain on keeping away from people who like to belittle your ambitions.

  2. Opportunistic and visionary. They must be constantly on the lookout for new ideas and intuitively grasping their potential implications, seeing and seizing opportunities for change. Bill Gates telephoned Ed Roberts, the man behind the first microprocessor, to offer a BASIC software package that he and Paul Allen had not yet written because he knew that one day there would be “a computer on every desk and in every home.”

  3. Innovative yet pragmatic. Überpreneurs are willing and able to jump organizational, cultural, and geographic boundaries as they sense their way toward novel but practical solutions. Mark Zuckerberg envisioned Facebook as a virtual social network built on a lifetime of friendships, while offering advertisers a powerful and targeted marketing tool.

  4. Persuasive and empowering. Offering irresistible investment propositions and attracting talented and loyal followers is key, as they garner the resources to pursue their goals. Larry Page of Google piqued the interest of venture capitalist John Doerr with an outrageous revenue estimate of “$10 billion,” a target that was met in less than ten years.

  5. Focused and confident. All are indomitable spirits who assume total control and drive full steam ahead toward the realization of their dreams. Richard Branson once said “My interest in life comes from setting myself huge, apparently unachievable challenges and trying to rise above them.” “I have always lived my life by making lists … Each day I work through these lists, and that sequence of calls propels me forward.”

  6. Resilient and courageous. Taking bold but calculated risks is the norm, learning from their mistakes, and thriving on change and uncertainty as they upend your world, regardless of the odds. Jeff Bezos of Amazon once said that if you are going to do large-scale invention, you have to be willing to fail, think long-term, and be misunderstood for long periods of time.

  7. Consistently produce results. All of them have created massive new capital, be it financial or technological, social or spiritual. All of them have transformed the condition of mankind – for the better. Elon Musk is a South African born Canadian-American engineer, business magnate, investor, and inventor who founded and built PayPal, SpaceX, and Tesla Motors, and is still going strong.

The real question is how do we produce more of these? I don’t see anything genetic here, as these have come from some very diverse backgrounds, with the normal mix of middle-class, upper, and lower economic environments.

My best suggestion, like the authors of Überpreneurs, is that we just teach aspiring entrepreneurs the facts, help them build their networks, supply them with some resources, and simply get out of their way. If you have a better suggestion, I’ll be happy to learn from it.

Marty Zwilling

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