Sunday, May 31, 2015

6 Trends Are Driving A Data Tsunami For Startups

Image via @_DataTsunami on Twitter
A tidal wave of valuable data is surging from the Internet and connected devices today, and the volume is growing exponentially each year. It’s enough to drown any business which tries to fight it or ignore it, and it’s an opportunity to ride higher and faster than even the successes of Google and Facebook, for those startups that use it as their driving force.

Per a new study by networking giant Cisco, the world’s yearly mobile data traffic grew 69 percent in 2014, reaching 2.5 exabytes per month at the end of the year. This is nearly 30 times the size of the entire global Internet in 2000. According to a recent book “Data Crush,” by Christopher Surdak, data will be the largest source of new opportunities for startups, or death.

According to what I see, as outlined by Surdak, this data surge is being driven by the following six technological and social trends:
  1. Mobility: smartphones, tablets, and the “Internet of things.” Smartphone penetration is near 75 percent, and these generate far more data from their non-phone functions than voice. In addition, more people in the world now own traditional cell phones than tooth-brushes. All devices are fast becoming self-aware, user-aware, and Internet connected. 

  2. Virtual living: the rise and growing dominance of social media. Facebook has created an environment where millions of people can hold billions of conversations with people and companies, transforming how people expect to interact with each other and the world. For startups, this is an engagement opportunity worth billions of dollars. 

  3. Digital commerce: infinite options for buying goods and services online. Data-enabled shopping has completely changed our purchasing experience, has undermined some of the greatest brand names, and has created some new brands, like Amazon, that now dominate. There is still infinite room for new startup sales modes and models.

  4. Online entertainment: millions of channels, billions of actors. With the adoption of the Internet, digital entertainment has rocketed across the world, changing how people entertain themselves. YouTube is now the 800-pound gorilla of entertainment. Online gaming has moved from the geeks to the mainstream. The audience is now the actors.
     
  5. Cloud computing: the death of dedicated infrastructure. More and more company and personal services are being virtualized to the Cloud. Many companies are already seeing their computing costs drop by thirty percent as they move in this direction, providing new startup opportunities with the Everything as a Service (EaaS) trend.
     
  6. “Big data:” learning from the flood. Big data is mining the storage for knowledge. This gives rise to the personalization and customization that we all want. Analytics will soon drive nearly all business decisions for any company that wants to remain relevant to its customers. Startups are in the best position to provide the analytics, and use them first.
As an entrepreneur, what steps can you take to help your business not only survive the data hurricane, but to thrive under these new and challenging conditions? Surdak emphasizes that the goal is to either mitigate some of the pressure caused by data growth or to put that pressure to work for you in growing your startup and remaining competitive:
  • Focus: play to your strengths. Determine your core business strategy and resolve to remain true to it. Make strategic versus opportunistic decisions.
  • Accelerate: speed is life in this new world. Look for and reward quantum changes, like cutting cycle time in half, in your processes, products, and services.
  • Data enable: use metrics and measurements. Extend data metrics into non-traditional channels, such as email, internal social media, and customer collaboration platforms.
  • Quantification: big data, bigger results, and controls. Startups should seek to continually improve performance through statistical analysis and predictive monitoring.
  • Gamify: engagement to get what you pay for. Use internal collaboration platforms, then extend to online customers through your website, blogs, and social media.
  • Crowdsource: putting your audience to work beyond customers. Look beyond today’s requirements for entire new market opportunities.
You need to start now to understand the trends and specifics of the information tidal wave that is building up in front of us. Use the steps outlined here to stay ahead of it, and use its power to propel your startup into the future, ahead of your competition. The possibilities are endless, but the downside will be painful.

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, May 30, 2015

10 Modern Ways To Kickstart Your Business Website

Image via Flickr by SideWages.com
These days every new entrepreneur understands that an innovative product or service is necessary, but not sufficient, to start a business. You have to build a web presence with marketing content to get visibility above the almost 300 million other new websites created last year, and attract the customers you need. But most entrepreneurs don’t know where to start. 

Of course, there is a plethora of “experts” emerging out there, who are anxious to lead you down that path, for a large price. So I’m always on the lookout for some real experts, and some pragmatic guidance on how to attack this issue. A good start is a classic book on content marketing, “Accelerate!” by an expert and friend in this space, Arnie Kuenn, who offers guidance and examples on new and modern approaches for the rest of us:
  1. Build a blog. According to Hubspot, websites that have blogs get twice as many inbound links, 400 percent more indexed pages, and a more than 50 percent increase in traffic, compared to websites without blogs. Search engines and people love blogs these days. 

  2. Join the conversation with Community Forums. A forum is a discussion site on a relevant subject, hosted and moderated by you, which adds authority, content, and traffic to your website. The registration process to join can give you a very targeted email list. 

  3. Curation, the most efficient content. Curation is humanly aggregating, filtering, and re-posting the best-of-the-best content on the web, relative to your product or service area. This shows your knowledge and positions your company as a thought leader. 

  4. Win with engaging contests. Not a new idea, but when used creatively, can entice new prospect traffic and backlinks to your site. People these days love to submit stories, vote on other entries, and receive the recognition of even small prizes or product rewards. 

  5. Traditional publishing out, self-publishing in with eBooks. You don’t need a real book as a base for electronic books, as people now prefer something akin to a “white paper” on steroids. It’s just another way to demonstrate credibility and attract traffic. 

  6. Keep them engaged with eNewsletters. These are regular updates, usually monthly, via website and email that help with customer retention, and remind your customers that you are the expert in your industry. Supplement text here with video and audio. 

  7. Widgets and badges. A widget is a mini-app that displays or updates data either locally or on the web – to share something of value and interest. A badge is a simple graphic designed for fun, to show support, or promote certain standards online. All highlight you.

  8. Look like an expert with Interviews. Here we are talking about interviewing industry experts. By having frequent conversations with experts in your industry, you rank yourself among the top, and show you are connected. You are the company you keep.

  9. Videos, stories in motion. Simple videos, less than five minutes in length, you can do yourself and upload to YouTube for display on your website, can turn a blasé idea into a winner. Keep the atmosphere relaxed and fun, to increase traffic, and maybe even go viral. 

  10. Provide convenience through podcasts. A podcast is basically a non-streaming webcast, usually audio only, for those who want the convenience of downloading and listening via iPod or mobile phone while commuting or working out at the gym. It’s cool.
There are a lot more items of content that could be on this list. But don’t let the number overwhelm you. You don’t need to tackle them all – just pick a few that you think you can do well, and consistently. The key is new content on a regular basis to attract the attention of search engines and new customers.

Most importantly, don’t wait until you have perfect content. Start creating content today. The more you create, the more momentum you build, and better you will get.

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, May 29, 2015

Have You Explored Every Business Growth Alternative?

Image via Pixabay.com
Startups are usually so focused on selling more of their branded product or service to their own customer base (organic growth) that they don’t consider the more indirect methods (non-organic growth) of increasing revenue and market share. Non-organic growth would include OEM relationships, finding strategic partners, “coopetition,” as well as acquisitions.

The initial focus only on organic growth is usually driven a passion for the product, and by limited financial and people resources, as well as the limited experience of the executive team. Yet a creative and skilled team will often find that non-organic growth techniques can better leverage these limited resources in scaling the business. 

An example of a startup which used non-organic growth early and effectively was Microsoft. Bill Gates started producing software solutions, like his Basic Interpreter and MS DOS, but quickly focused on adding thousands of small partners for applications, and major partners like IBM, Intel, and other hardware manufacturers. Even mergers and acquisitions (M&A) came quickly.

Some people feel that organic growth is “better” because it requires real innovation and sustained effort to create long-term competitive advantage through differentiation and efficiency. They might agree that it cannot compensate for the speed and scale of growth of the non-organic approach, but has lower risks of failure.

Despite the risks, there are many advantages of non-organic growth, especially in startup environments:
  • New product or service lines. Organic growth assumes innovation in the product or service, but non-organic growth through white labeling and strategic partners may add totally new brands and services to your revenue stream.
  • Fresh customer base. Teaming with another company, or buying another company, can add new geographical locations and new customer segments to the business. These relationships need not require cash investments; often they are done with exchanges of equity or assets.
  • Economies of scale. In many cases business opportunities with competitors (coopetition) will open up a new marketing channel, and definitely give you the cost advantages of scale. Economies of scale also apply to marketing, distribution, and sales.
  • New management skills. New business relationships mean new perspectives and new executives working on the opportunity. This can be a significant competitive advantage over major competitors, and overall reduces competition in the market place.
I’m certainly not proposing that one mode should be used to the exclusion of the other. Rather, I recommend that you pursue both concurrently, per the advantages of each. For example, if you are in an industry which is fragmented or has a slowing growth rate, with too many competitors, non-organic growth may be required for survival.

Use organic growth options for things which you do best, where there is plenty of room for growth by selling your products in new geographic areas, or using new sales channels, such as through a wholesaler or website. Organic growth is typically safer because you’re using a tried-and-tested business model, and you can reinvest profits back into the business.

Certainly non-organic growth has its pitfalls. Entrepreneurs, while partnering with or acquiring a new business, must check for compatibility and strategic fit. Yet startups looking for investors need to evaluate all the growth alternatives from the very beginning. “No growth” or even slow-growth companies waiting for an Angel may have a long wait.

Marty Zwilling

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Monday, May 25, 2015

These 8 Groups of People Will Never Start a Business

wannabe-entrepreneur Every entrepreneur I know is dismayed by the number of friends who approach them with a line such as “I have an even better idea that will change the world, and one of these days I’m going to get around to starting my own business.” I always wonder what is more important to them on an ongoing basis than changing the world, since their startups usually never materialize.

With the cost of entry to be an entrepreneur so low today, the common excuse of “lack of funding” doesn’t get much sympathy from me. People can build great ecommerce sites with free tools, smartphone apps in their spare time and use crowdfunding to bypass the dreaded angel funding and venture capital penalties. There must be something deeper that slows people down.

So if you have a great idea, and funding isn’t an overwhelming challenge, what are the real reasons that the world is filled with so many “wannabe” entrepreneurs that never get around to starting up?

Based on my own experience mentoring real entrepreneurs and likely candidates, there are at least eight categories of non-starters. I’m sure you will recognize someone you know, maybe even yourself, in one of the following groups:

  1. Enjoy the dreaming, but not the implementation. These are people who often call themselves “idea people,” who like to talk about their vision and leave the implementation to some lesser beings. In my experience, there are a wealth of good ideas out there, and the harder part is converting the dream into a profitable business.

  2. Unwilling or unable to acquire business implementation skills. Our culture propagates the myth that business skills, like rocket science, can only be learned in a classroom or lab. In today’s world, with a pervasively connected and constantly updated Internet knowledge base, online self-learning is always available and more productive.

  3. Irrational fear of failure or embarrassment. Everyone has some fear of the unknown, and that’s a good thing for survival. Successful entrepreneurs are ones who overcome their fears and manage some risk and failures as a part of the learning process. Others are debilitated by their fear, avoid risk at all costs, and never start.

  4. Equally irrational fear of dealing with success. We have all seen people on the cusp of success, who seemed to intentionally undermine their momentum, only to fail near the finish line. Of course, too much early success can kill a business, but real entrepreneurs are certain that they can grow and learn from success, just as they do from failure.

  5. Insist on perfectionism, rather than pragmatism. I know very talented inventors who have been working on the same technology for 20 years, and still want to do more research to make sure it’s perfect before selling a product. In today’s rapidly changing market, perfection is a fleeting and impractical objective. Pragmatists create a minimum viable product (MVP), test it in the market and iterate to success.

  6. Unable to maintain their focus and resist distractions. “Focus” is the key to success as an entrepreneur. A business that tries to do too many things for too many markets will likely excel at none and discourage all potential customers. Focus means keeping priorities straight, separating important from urgent, organizing and delegating.

  7. Substitute excuses for accountability and responsibility. Excuses are efforts to rationalize failure after the fact or justification for never starting. The best attribute of a real entrepreneur is acceptance of the fact that “the buck stops here.” There are always alternatives, pivots and creativity to overcome any obstacle.

  8. Simply not a self-starter, leader or decision-maker. These are the products of the industrial revolution, who wait for others to tell them what to do, and love to find fault and play the victim.  When you adopt the entrepreneur lifestyle, it’s up to you to set the pace, stay positive, be the model and lead the follow-through.

If you expect someone else to make your decisions and bear the risks and responsibilities of implementation, then “one of these days” will probably never come for you. So my view of what it takes to be an entrepreneur is simply to adopt the right attitude and full accountability. People who want it bad enough will get around to it. How long will you be a “wannabe” entrepreneur?

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Entrepreneur.com on 5/15/2015 ***

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Saturday, May 23, 2015

9 Key Tests For Innovation Potential In Your Startup

innovation-potential The entrepreneurs I see are always talking about “disruptive innovation” ideas, but the plans I read are more often linear extensions of a current hot offering, like one more social network with the best of Facebook and Twitter, one more dating site dimension, or another “must-have” accessory for smartphones. Perhaps hard questions need to come before ideas, rather than after.

This approach was highlighted in a recent book by Warren Berger, “A More Beautiful Question,” which makes the case for the power of questions to spark breakthrough innovations. He and I agree that the most creative, successful business leaders tend to be expert questioners. They master the art of inquiry, raise questions no one else is asking, and find powerful answers.

Berger suggests nine key questions, which I have adapted for entrepreneurs and startups, from his focus on existing companies. Every smart entrepreneur needs to ask himself and his team these questions before charging down the road to meet the other ninety percent of his peers that fail:

  1. What business are we really entering? Many aspiring entrepreneurs, especially engineers, are focused on their invention or technology, and never consider the challenges of entering the business realm until too late. Hydrogen auto engines, for example, have tremendous advantages, but haven’t cracked the bureaucracy of government regulations, the power of existing energy companies, and big auto biases.

  2. Why have other smart people failed on a similar idea? All too often I hear the refrain that big existing players, like Microsoft or IBM, are too fat and slow to be real competitors. While these companies do have their challenges, they also have some of the smartest people out there. You need to question strongly why these failed on your innovation.

  3. What will happen if we build it and no one comes? The “unthinkable” questions need to get asked before the crisis. Customers always have alternatives, most notably continuing to do what they do today without you. Asking the hard questions early will force more thinking outside the box, and improve the potential for real breakthroughs.

  4. What if we could become a cause and not worry about profit? Every startup should start with a set of values that would fit the definition of a good cause. The new age of consumers, and the new age of young employees want to align themselves with good cause principles. Figure out what you are against, as well as what you are for.

  5. How can we create the best test, and assume the need for pivot? Your first offering will likely be a learning experience, rather than a run-away success. Plan to make it the best experiment that you can, with metrics to focus on the “why,” as much as “what.” Create a safe environment for your team to question every aspect of the offering.

  6. If we brainstorm in questions, will lightning strike? Collaborative thinking in problem solving and early planning is essential because it brings together multiple viewpoints and diverse backgrounds. Innovation flourishes when diverse ideas and thoughts are aired. Tackle the startup unknowns by generating questions instead of generating solutions.

  7. Will anyone follow if we initially embrace uncertainty? Entrepreneurs are normally all about giving answers, not admitting uncertainty. They are reluctant to take advantage of questioning input from outside advisors, investors, and even friendly customers. Business leaders from Google, Netflix, and others have uncertainty built into their DNA.

  8. Should our mission statement be a mission question? The declarative mission statement is usually seen by the team as non-questionable, thus limiting business thinking. In these dynamic times, it may be appropriate to take that static statement and transform it into more open-ended, fluid mission questions that can still be ambitious.

  9. How do we create a culture of continuous inquiry? The first mistake is not wanting a culture of inquiry, in today’s age of continuous change. Some leaders and entrepreneurs don’t want to continually explain and rationalize their actions. The challenge is to reward questioning by your actions, culture, hiring, and the way you treat customer feedback.

If you want more specifics as well as the theory behind it, I recommend Berger’s book as a practical system of inquiry that can guide you through the process of innovative questioning, helping you find imaginative, powerful answers and building the culture of continuous innovation.

Disruptive innovation is always hard, and takes a very special breed of entrepreneur who is willing to ask the hard questions, as well as listen to tough questions from advisors, team members, and customers. How effective are you and your business in asking more “beautiful questions” and sparking the breakthrough ideas you need to survive?

Marty Zwilling

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

10 Ways Entrepreneurs Foster Team Accountability

Elon_Musk_in_Mission_Control_at_SpaceX Getting things done effectively in a startup requires total individual and team accountability. You can’t afford excuses and multiple people doing the same job. In my view, “taking responsibility” is the core element behind accountability. Many people hear responsibility as an obligation, but I hear it as “the ability to respond.”

Unfortunately many people don’t have the ability to respond, because they lack confidence in themselves, or simply don’t have the skills required. Therefore an entrepreneur’s first requirement is to hire or team only with people who are accountable (already have the confidence and skills you need) – training them on the job is prohibitively expensive when you have minimal income.

Even with the best people, accountability must be nurtured, since it can be killed more quickly than it can be grown. Here are some characteristics of current business leaders, including Elon Musk, who foster responsibility and accountability, and keep it growing:

  1. You need to walk the talk. Above all else, you as the founder or executive have to be a role model of accountability. You need to exemplify the “buck stops here,” and never play the blame game. Reward accountability consistently and often.

  2. Communicate continuously. You need to make sure that your team members understand your expectations, and you need to proactively listen and understand the expectations of all stakeholders. Frequent and consistent communications, both verbal and in written processes, are required. Take away the “I didn’t understand” excuse.

  3. Measure objectively. Goals and objectives must be unchanging and measurable, based on results, with benchmarks for comparisons. Accountability assessments must be based on facts, not distorted by opinions, politics, and desire for power. Frequently changing expectations does not lead to accountability.

  4. Give control before expecting accountability. A sense of responsibility and accountability requires a sense of control. If several levels of approvals are needed for a specific decision, no one will feel accountable, and no one can be held accountable. Real delegation is required.

  5. Align functional groups with business goals. If key inputs are not under the control of the proper group, then they will cede accountability as well. If your sales group is measured on profitability, but is required to process leads from outside sources paid by volume, you have a conflict where everyone loses.

  6. Manage up the line and support your team. You need to be the sponsor and the advocate for every member of your team. Team members who take risks through accountability need to see your overt support up the line, with no blame and no scapegoats.

  7. Provide timely feedback on performance. High performance teams need immediate and useful information on how to improve, as well as regular full performance reviews, individually and as a group. Help people, including yourself, look in the mirror and see reality.

  8. Conduct humiliation-free problem analyses. Getting to the source and fixing problems should never be a “name and shame” game. Leaders need to provide safe havens where difficult issues can be discussed without assigning blame. The goal should always be to solve problems, not hurl accusations.

  9. Provide tools to support accountability. No tools and no data lead to total subjectivity and biased interpretations. Absolute dependence on tools leads to abdication of personal responsibility. Provide adequate tools, but trust the people.

  10. Differentiate accountability from entitlement. Accountability is hard, so no one is entitled to be right every time. Don’t punish people for making a mistake, but make it clear the mistakes have consequences, sometimes painful ones, that we all have to live with. Higher responsibility means more work and more skills needed.

Many executives subscribe to the misguided notion that you can hold people accountable. This is usually a ploy to control others and hand off responsibility, without being accountable yourself. People need to make themselves accountable, and accept the consequences of their actions. Remember that you are the model, and what goes around, comes around.

Marty Zwilling

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Monday, May 18, 2015

8 Ways To Maximize The Value Of Your Startup Stock

Common_Stock_1933 When an entrepreneur first incorporates his or her business, he or she may find him or herself the proud owner of 10 million shares of common stock, commonly called founder’s shares. It’s disconcerting for most to realize that these shares are initially worth nothing, and the challenge is to get that value up as quickly as possible, without losing it just as quickly to investors, lazy partners and taxation.

This is where things get technical, but the principles are really quite simple. Every entrepreneur needs to understand the following basics, to be addressed at company formation, as they engage a qualified attorney to draw up the paperwork:

  1. Allocate founder’s stock commensurate with commitment. Even though initial stock has no value or market, it is extremely valuable in dividing entity ownership between multiple co-founders, commensurate with their investment, contribution and role. Startup owners need to assume a three to five year wait for a liquidity event, such as acquisition or going public, before they can cash out. At that time the original split makes all the difference.

  2. Make sure the government waits for a stock sale to collect taxes. In the U.S., every entrepreneur should incorporate early and file an 83(b) election with the IRS within 30 days of founding the company. Failing to file, or waiting to incorporate until a first investor arrives, is a common mistake, and will lead to a nasty tax bill when you can least afford it.

  3. Spread stock issuance over an earning period. This is the purpose of a vesting schedule, which issues allocated stock over time. Typically, vesting in startups occurs monthly over four years, starting with the first 25 percent of shares vesting only after an owner has remained active for at least 12 months (one year cliff). Key founder vesting should have no cliff.

  4. Retain the right to reclaim stock from anyone leaving the startup. To retain control, the original founder must reserve the right of first refusal to buy shares back at cost from a partner who decides to leave early or stop working. Otherwise, people with no ongoing effort (“free riders”) will own the value growth that you are adding after their departure.

  5. Minimize your own loss of ownership as major investors contribute. This is called stock dilution control. While new equity owners always have to get it from someone, actual re-allocation of existing shares should be based on a formula to maximize the value of your remaining founder shares.

  6. Accelerate your own vesting if pushed out or the startup is acquired. Don’t lose the value of stock not yet vested if your startup is bought out before the normal vesting schedule comes to a close. If new investors want to replace you as the founder early, make sure this action triggers an accelerated vesting clause as well.

  7. Facilitate an upgrade of founder’s common to founder’s preferred. Investors typically demand preferred stock to give them more control and first payouts, but these advantages can be at least partially offset (up to 20 percent) if you plan ahead. The acceptance of this option is now common, even though introduced only a few years ago.

  8. Limit board seats and manage member selection criteria. More board members is usually not better for the startup. Target no more than five members, with at least two being founders. This allows the entrepreneur more influence in controlling dilution of his or her shares, investment terms and acquisition decisions.

Every entrepreneur has heard the stories of a startup selling for millions of dollars or going public with the founder being squeezed out of all the gains. This situation only can be prevented by incorporating early, avoiding negative tax situations and managing your shares like gold. Founder’s shares are just paper when you get them, and it’s up to you to turn them into a gold mine.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Entrepreneur.com on 5/8/2015 ***

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Sunday, May 17, 2015

10 Steps For Entrepreneurs To Drive Real Innovation

business-innovation How is it that only a few business leaders and entrepreneurs seem to drive exceptional results and disruptive innovation in this rapidly changing market economy (marketquake)? These few seem more adept at executing market and technology turns, not just incremental evolution. They consistently take bold steps to stay ahead of the curve, often contrary to conventional wisdom.

Steve Jobs of Apple may have been the most visible example of this ability to “see around the corner,” but others often mentioned include Richard Branson (Virgin Group), and Howard Schultz (Starbucks). Most of you could suggest one more, but not many.

While searching for some structure that could facilitate learning the process, I came across a book by G. Shawn Hunter, “Out Think,” which offers a step-by-step outline for executives to achieve this stage of creativity. It suggests that they need to shed outmoded management and organizational biases, to foster an atmosphere where disruptive innovation becomes the norm.

Here is my summary and interpretation of the ten steps that he outlines for driving the disruptive innovations that entrepreneurs and startups all dream about:

  1. Establish the engine of leadership (trust). A classic IBM Global CEO study listed integrity and trust in the top three characteristics leaders must have in today’s business landscape. These are about being true, honest, and authentic with others, inside and outside the company. Without trust, no one will ever follow even the best innovators.

  2. Provoke with questions, not answers (inquiry). Peter Drucker once said “The most serious mistakes are not being made as a result of wrong answers. The truly dangerous thing is asking the wrong question.” Exceptional outcomes don’t come from standard answers to pre-defined questions by conventional leaders.

  3. Mine the organization for expertise (exploration). Identify individuals within the organization who have led innovation over many years, as well as newer employees that share the same vision. Just as importantly, you have to deal quickly with innovation blockers, including bureaucrats, power mongers, and skeptics.

  4. Dream well – you may find yourself there (aspiration). Aspiring to greatness requires uncovering and exploring truths – including hidden truths – and sharing them with others. The most innovative leaders expect the best of everyone, and develop the guru in others. Emulating perceived heroes and role models can lead to realizing your own aspirations.

  5. Embrace new kinds of risk (edge). Finding the “edge” is similar to “finding flow,” being “in the zone,” or being “in the groove.” These are states conducive to heightened engagement, accelerated learning, and creativity. These states allow deep curiosity, exploration, and highly focused activity to occur, leading to disruptive innovation.

  6. Collaborate to innovate (connection). To create a culture of innovation, leaders must first create a culture of collaboration. That means engaging and inspiring the creative talents of others, respecting employees’ ideas, and bringing new insights into group decisions. With collaboration, differences add up to more than the sum of the parts.

  7. Borrow prior and current brilliance (mash-up). By constantly mashing up prior ideas, applications, and outcomes, powerful new combinations emerge that have value to customers. Find people who deviate positively from the norm, intentionally destabilizing the work environment, and foster moderate creative tension that can spark innovation.

  8. Get moving or accept the consequences (action). Action counts – not words – especially when that action is novel and unique. Once you are in motion, actually producing something, people will respond, contribute, collaborate, and spread the word, driving energy and awareness your way. Innovation does not come without action.

  9. Make it your own (signature). A signature innovative solution is born of the core identity of those who have joined in the innovation journey, executed with the unique personalities of participants. Signature innovation is not easily copied or pirated, because it comes out of a truly unique cultural identity within a team.

  10. Connect with “why” (purpose). In any endeavor, there must be a purpose behind it if we are to receive maximum enjoyment, fulfillment, and a deeper sense of our own role in its achievement. Many companies and leaders now reinforce and demonstrate a commitment to responsible behavior that goes way beyond profit and individual gain.

Exceptional innovation or “seeing around the corner” does not come from closing your eyes and jumping into the unknown. It comes from a focus on learning and following the processes proven by other great entrepreneurs and leaders. Even creativity alone is not enough to deliver real innovation, unless it is teamed with the tendency and tenacity to execute. How well are you executing on the drive to exceptional outcomes in your business?

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, May 16, 2015

How To Find The Best City For Your Type Of Startup

StartupEcosystem Even in this age of globalization and virtualization, the geographic area where you choose to live and work can still make or break your startup business. I still have to tell some entrepreneurs that even with the best idea, they have to move to Silicon Valley to find the investors they need, or they need to move to the U.S. get the attention of the market they choose.

For example, if you are working on a great social networking idea to replace Facebook, and need funding, you probably won’t find any interested and focused VCs or Angel investors in Phoenix, Arizona, where I live. Also, investors from the super-hubs (Silicon Valley, New York, or Boston), won’t assume anyone outside their domain has the savvy and resources to make it happen.

On the other hand, if you are into solar technologies, there is probably an advantage to being in Phoenix or a similar location. Having a great idea in the wrong place won’t get you the funding you need, the experienced domain experts you want, or the pilot market results you need for survival. You need to move to right location and get connected before you ask for help.

Of course, there are always exceptions, but how much added risk do you need for your startup? Maxwell Wessel, in a classic article in the Harvard Business Review on this subject, points out the exception successes of Zappos in Las Vegas, Sendgrid’s massive growth in Colorado, and RightNow’s $1.5 billion dollar sale to Oracle from Bozeman, Montana.

For your own startup location positioning, I recommend his four key questions that every entrepreneur should contemplate before resigning themselves to failure, or deciding where to move to improve their odds of success:

  1. What’s your city’s advantage? Today, Silicon Valley is the consumer and enterprise software capital of the world. Finance has homes in New York, Hong Kong, and London. Energy is still the domain of Houston and Dubai. The list goes on and on. Most cities have something that they are particularly good at. Find yours if you want to stay home.

  2. How can you get exposure? Finding talent and financing isn’t the only hurdle to overcome on the road to startup success. It’s just the first of many. Exposure is another key ingredient. Exposure to customers, incumbents, and competitors all drive success. Exposure instills the fear and urgency you need to deliver the right competitive solution.

  3. What will set your business apart? No one can tell you what to do to create your edge, but it is important that you figure out how you can. Being in the right location helps you to maintain pace because of access to skilled and experienced people. Being close to your customers, your vendors, or even your competitors can make all the difference.

  4. Are you sure you can’t move? Moving might not be easy. But it is one of the simplest things you can do to improve the odds that your business takes off. If you’re about to devote your professional life to building a business, and ready to sacrifice the blood, sweat, and tears it requires, seriously consider this question. It’s very important.

Wessel also summarizes the costs and potential impacts of creating and building your startup in secondary markets, usually meaning not in Silicon Valley or one of the other super-hubs:

  • It takes longer to raise money. Raising capital isn’t the be all and end all of startup success. But it is an important metric for firms in pursuit of explosive growth. Raising capital is a necessary step, and survival time without it grows short, or interminably long. That extra two months spent traveling to fundraise is two months falling behind.
  • It decreases your odds of being bought. When it comes to the technology ecosystem, clusters are vital. Wessel measures a 39% acquisition advantage to being in-state. Tech companies see engineers move frequently, integrate their products tightly, and often find themselves acquiring or merging with counterparts. Personal relationships do count.
  • It decreases your odds of success. If you judge entrepreneurial success as surviving or selling (including raising follow-on funding, being bought, or successfully IPO’ing) as no doubt your investors do, then your odds of success are 10-15% higher inside the realm of the super-hubs. That’s not a big margin, but every little bit counts in this space.

But this measurable difference in outcomes, however significant, is not stopping aspiring entrepreneurs from building businesses where they live today. There are many good reasons to do so. Entrepreneurs cite family roots, a sense of neighborhood responsibility, existing professional networks, and more.

In fact, according to Wessel, following the recession, startups are mushrooming up everywhere. Since 2006, the number of startups founded and funded outside of California, Massachusetts, and New York, has grown by almost 65%. So don’t let location hold you back, but you need to go in with your eyes open. It takes more than a dream and passion to build a business.

Marty Zwilling

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Plan Now To Reinvent Your Startup Before The Crisis

change-pivot You will be pivoting your business in your lifetime, whether you are a new startup, or a mature company like Motorola or IBM. You can count on it and plan for it, or you wait for the next survival crisis brought your way by this rapidly changing world. You can even give it a more elegant name, like “market-focused reinvention,” but it won’t be graceful if you don’t take the lead.

“Pivoting” is changing a fundamental part of your business model. It happens on the front end for startups to get traction, and then again later for every company as the economy, competition, and culture changes around them. The pivot can be as simple as changing the pricing model, or as complex as moving from a product business to a services business.

In all cases, it’s more effective and less painful to do it as a planned process, rather than a crash course in survival. A recent book “Resurgence: The Four Stages of Market-Focused Reinvention,” by top Kellogg School of Management faculty members Gregory S. Carpenter, Gary F. Gebhardt, and John F. Sherry, Jr., outlines the required steps I see as follows:

  1. Recognize the need for change. This is often the most difficult step, either due to startup passion, or due to past success and the instilled cultural norms of established companies. Resurgence begins when entrepreneurs and top executives stop trusting only themselves, and build a coalition with customers to see what is and isn’t working.

  2. Reinvent the vision for change. Doing more of the same to stop the bleeding doesn’t work. Real change demands new goals based on new market realities. That means market-focused, rather than marketing-focused. For startups, it means adjusting your new dream to reality; for mature companies it means walking the talk of new realities.

  3. Formalize change through structure and rewards. Symbols of the new market coalition have to permeate every communication, formal process documentation, and the reward system for everyone. Formalizing change involves distributing authority to make important decisions to the team members most able to add direct customer value.

  4. Team, market, and cultural maintenance. Entrepreneurs and team members are quick to forget why change was needed in the first place. The antidote is to establish ongoing processes for staying connected with the market, like social media, customer visits, and focus groups. Only then can successful startups and resurgent firms avoid the next crisis.

There are no shortcuts to becoming market-focused, and for staying there to avoid crisis pivots in the future. The change takes time, effort, and commitment. But the benefits are worth it. The gains are personal as well as financial. They can make your startup an inspiring place to work, and help your team see their role in achieving something substantial and good, as well as fun.

Even if you are certain that your startup or enterprise is already market-focused, what are the warning signs to watch for that signal a need for change? Here are a few of the key ones:

  • Financial results plateau or show a growth slowdown.
  • Struggling to meet industry growth projections.
  • Competitors are surpassing your own results.
  • Your market segment has lost its luster.
  • The excitement of leading is gone.

When Eric Ries first made the term “pivot” a part of the business vernacular in his best-seller for entrepreneurs, “The Lean Startup,” he wasn’t focused on the challenges of larger companies to re-invent themselves on a regular basis to maintain their synchronization with the market. But in my view, pivot is a more natural and less intimidating term than business re-invention.

For all businesses, the art of the pivot is all about changing course as required in pursuit of the original business goal. If you weave this capability into your business processes from the very beginning, the change can indeed be a graceful and fulfilling part of the business journey, rather than a near-death experience. Don’t wait for the descending darkness before you start.

Marty Zwilling

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Monday, May 11, 2015

How To Pick A Startup Model To Match Your Motivation

entrepreneur-motivation Being an entrepreneur seems to be one of the most popular lifestyle aspirations these days. According to most definitions, anyone who starts a business is an entrepreneur, but most people don’t realize there are many startup types out there, and picking the wrong one can be just as disastrous as being stuck in a cubicle at work, or doing things with no interest and no skills.

In my view, this mismatch of motivation to your business model is the primary reason that 70 percent or more of startups ultimately fail, and an even higher percentage of employees are dissatisfied at work. Thus it behooves every entrepreneur to pick the startup model that best matches their real motivation. Here are six considerations to get you started on the right startup:

  1. Invented a solution to a painful existing problem. You have proven that you can create an innovative product, but creating a business is a whole new challenge. The old adage of “if we build it, they will come” doesn’t work anymore. Every business needs marketing, distribution, a positive revenue model and intellectual property to survive. You won’t be a successful and happy entrepreneur if you aren’t motivated to build a business.

  2. Aspire to be in control of your own domain. There are many business types that don’t assume any new invention or service, such as franchising, multi-level marketing (MLM) or freelancing. These do require business management and execution skills, as well as the discipline to manage yourself. Just don’t look for an investor to fund your efforts here, since investors will likely be tougher bosses than corporate managers.

  3. Looking for a path to dramatically increase your income. This is a tough one, since most of the overnight startup successes I know took six years or more. Franchises and consulting businesses have an earlier and higher success rate, but typically have a lower return. With new products and services, you can hit the jackpot, but many struggle or fail.

  4. Trying to fulfill family or peer expectations. Don’t try to be an entrepreneur just to prove something to a loved one, friend or sibling. There are no business types that work well here, except maybe an existing family business that is already successful. If you must proceed, at least pick something you love, or a social cause to benefit society.

  5. Seeking a new career challenge to follow an existing success. If you have a comfortable position from a previous success, and are not looking to retire, a great business is to share your expertise and experience through consulting. Another great learning opportunity and win-win deal is to co-founder a new high-tech startup team.

  6. Fulfill your legacy and responsibility to society. Environmental startups and non-profit businesses are just as challenging as the next disruptive technology startup, and just as likely to change the world. Leaving a personal legacy is a great motivator to switch to entrepreneurial work, if you have that passion and determination.

No matter which of the entrepreneur business models you choose, don’t expect the work to be easier than a corporate job. In fact, most successful entrepreneurs would argue just the opposite. Success in any entrepreneur role requires a serious commitment, determination and learning from setbacks. Switching business models is not usually a shortcut to success and happiness.

I often recommend to aspiring entrepreneurs that they first take a job with another startup in the same realm as the one they envision to get some practical insight into the challenges, make contacts and learn more about their own motivations. Then take the big step of starting your own business, with fewer surprises, some good connections and likely more accumulated savings.

Overall, it is important to remember that happiness breeds success more often than success breeds happiness. Every aspiring entrepreneur should play to their strengths and interests, rather than listen to all the well-meaning advice you will hear from friends and experts. The exciting part about being an entrepreneur is that you can tailor the role to match your real motivations.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Entrepreneur.com on 5/1/2015 ***

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Sunday, May 10, 2015

10 Steps Up A Great Entrepreneur Legacy Continuum

Melinda French Gates, Bill Gates - World Economic Forum Annual Meeting Davos 2009 Every entrepreneur and business leader waits too long before really working on the legacy that he wants to leave to society and his family. They realize too late that they don’t really want to be remembered for how many hours they spent on airplanes, how many emails they produced, or even how much money they made for the business.

If you disappeared today, what would your legacy show? What have you done for others? If you are not thinking in these terms, you may be making a mistake as a leader. Bill Gates will probably be more remembered in fifty years for the his Foundation to save lives in developing countries, than Steve Jobs for his “insanely great” consumer technology advances.

In a recent book on this subject “Leading with Your Legacy In Mind,” Andrew Thorn, PhD, business coach, and psychologist, talks about his work on leadership strategies with business leaders at all levels. I espouse the “legacy continuum” that he outlines for every leader to reframe over time how their efforts should be spent, for purposes of kicking their legacy up a notch or two:

  1. From passion to purpose. “Just follow your passion” only takes us so far. Passion can ultimately blind us, while purpose reminds us of how we can connect our strengths with the people and environments that will most appreciate and benefit from our skills and abilities. It focuses us on what we can give instead of what we can get.

  2. From change to growth. Leaders often forget that change is hard for anyone. The only time we really like change if when we are acting as the change agents and inviting others to change. Growth, on the other hand, is most simply defined as change by natural development. Growth is natural for everyone, as a symbol of individual maturity.

  3. From goals to aspirations. Goals are generally connected to the near-term boundaries or limits that we wish to overcome and the actions that we must take to overcome them. Aspirations are more intensely connected to our deeper yearnings. When we factor in our aspirations to guide us, we begin to connect to what really gives us value in life.

  4. From balance to focus. Work/life balance is not a natural business goal. In fact, finding more balance may be impossible, due to the many daily emergencies and problems, but we can all find the time to fine-tune our focus. Focus gives us a sharpness of vision, and improves our understanding, to create a legacy that will endure the chaos of our busy life.

  5. From accepting to understanding. Acceptance embodies the idea that we must get to a place where we approve of something that we disagree with. Understanding is a higher attribute, because it allows us to hold on to what we value most, while at the same time showing a sympathetic and even an positive attitude toward another point of view.

  6. From discussion to dialogue. A discussion is a conversation that involves holding onto and defending our differences, seeking a winner. A dialogue provides an opportunity to explore the uncertainties that exist and the questions that are yet to be answered, with the potential of improving our relationships and benefiting from the collective wisdom.

  7. From listening to hearing. Listening skills are important, to focus first on noticing what is being said and what is not being said. To hear, we must actively and anxiously be willing to take action on what is being requested of us. Our legacy is strengthened when we demonstrate an ability to take action to make things better for all parties.

  8. From success to significance. Success is a count of favorable outcomes, which may or may not be significant. Significance will always be around longer than you will be around. It has a life of its own, inspiring someone else to make an impact, and nothing can stop it once it starts rolling. Finally, significance satisfies our deepest aspirations.

  9. From ambition to meaning. Ambition is our early career drive to prove our worth to others, to achieve recognition, often without regard for the sacrifices we are making. When we make the shift from ambition to meaning, we let our authentic self be our guide. Meaning is the personal fulfillment we enjoy as we grow through our own experiences.

  10. From growing older to growing whole. Growing older concerns most of us because it fills our mind with visions of what we are going to lose. Growing whole, on the other hand, is working aligned with purpose, less stress and anguish, and more time living than working. Growing whole involves celebrating by giving back and enjoying a real legacy.

It’s never too early to start working on the image you want to be remembered by, rather than the opportunistic default driven by short-term objectives and challenges. Legacy planning is nothing more than an exercise in using your time wisely. The average career is 117,000 hours of work. How many have you spent so far moving your own legacy up a few notches?

Marty Zwilling

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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

5 Steps To Becoming A Great Business Problem Solver

problem-analysis-solution Perhaps sparked by the recession recovery, I’m seeing a new era of the entrepreneur, with startups springing up all around. Based on my own mentoring and investing experience, the best entrepreneurs are pragmatic problem solvers. They have an uncanny ability to find elegant, easy, and fast solutions to pain points in the marketplace, as well as their own challenges.

The real question is whether problem solving is a skill you have to be born with, or is there any hope for the rest of us to become successful entrepreneurs. After some review of available resources, I’m convinced that problem solving is a learnable trait, rather than just a birthright.

For example, I read a recent book by Penina Rybak, “The NICE Reboot,” that does a great job of outlining problem solving steps, honed from working with special needs youngsters. While her book is aimed primarily at aspiring female entrepreneurs, my adaptation of the five steps of her problem-solving hierarchy should work equally well for entrepreneurs of any gender:

  1. Acknowledge that a problem exists, and react appropriately. Problems will occur in every startup, simply because you are stepping into uncharted territory. Good entrepreneurs anticipate these, and celebrate each resolution as a positive step toward success, rather than responding with anger and frustration and counting failures.

  2. Verbalize the problem to fully understand it and why it’s occurring. Every business problem has a context that is critical, and it’s easy to be too close to see the forest for the trees. If you can explain the problem to a mentor, or even write it down, you will more likely get to the root cause quickly, and avoid emotional and blame-infused responses.

  3. Explore solutions, outcomes, and options calmly. You can’t think clearly while riding high on emotions, so calm down first. Then outline the possible outcomes and alternatives. Good problem solving requires making informed decisions, relying on logic. This is where I say “two heads are better than one.” Work with a partner you can trust.

  4. Use negotiation to come to an agreement or compromise. Whether you are charting new territory for pricing models or technology, there is rarely a perfect solution. Every approach is a compromise between cost, time, and return, so forget your perfectionist tendencies. Listen to your customers to arrive at acceptable and marketable solutions.

  5. Resolve conflict, accept outcomes, and rebuild communications. In startups, conflict is constructive in steering through the maze of innovation that is part of every successful business. Don’t let it make your startup dysfunctional in resolving future challenges. Real entrepreneurs always look ahead and learn from problems resolved.

The best way for a first time entrepreneur to learn problem solving is to find a partner who has “been there and done that.” A good alternative is to enlist the help of a business mentor you can trust. The best mentor is sensitive, knowledgeable across a broad spectrum, but is probably not your best friend. A mentor has to tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. When the message is the same from both, you don’t need the mentor anymore.

As mentioned earlier, one of the most difficult traits to overcome for effective problem solving is perfectionism. A couple of years ago, Amanda Neville wrote an incisive article for Forbes online entitled “Perfectionism is the Enemy of Everything.” In it, she lists three types of perfectionism that are equally toxic to entrepreneurs and mentors:

  • Self-oriented perfectionism, in which individuals impose high standards on themselves.
  • Socially prescribed perfectionism, where individuals feel that others expect them to be perfect.
  • Other-oriented perfectionism, in which individuals place high standards on others.

Perfectionism quashes the desire to ask for help, see others’ viewpoints and empathize, and promote teamwork. For more help on this one, I recommend Esther Crain’s article “Five Ways to Blast Perfectionism and Get Your Work Done.”

With all these incentives, maybe it’s time for you to reboot your career and join the new era of the entrepreneur. Problem solving may be a required skill, but it’s definitely one that can be learned, and perfectionism can be un-learned, independent of your IQ or book smarts (there may even be an inverse relationship here).

The best part of the entrepreneur problem-solving lifestyle is that it can bring satisfaction and happiness to your work. According to a classic study by the Wharton School of Business of 11,000 MBA graduates, those running their own businesses ranked themselves happier than all other professions, regardless of how much money they made. As I have said many times, life is too short to go to work unhappy every day.

Marty Zwilling

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Monday, May 4, 2015

6 Practical Steps To Learning How To Build A Startup

Learning-how-to-learn Despite the rush in every academic institution to offer more courses on entrepreneurship, I still haven’t found it to be something you can learn in school. Of course, you can pick up the basic principles this way, but the problem is that the practical rules for success are changing so fast that no academic can keep up. The best thing you can learn in school is how to learn.

The successful entrepreneurs I have met and worked with over the years all seem to share that passion for learning, and they see rapid market change not as a problem, but as an opportunity for them to move ahead of the crowd in changing the world. Making big money is usually the last thing on their mind, and most are happy living on Ramen noodles in a sparse apartment.

From a practical standpoint, there are many ways to learn about business change, and the opportunities that may spring up at any moment. Here are six steps that every aspiring entrepreneur should take full advantage of:

  1. Communicate with peers who have “been there and done that.” The common term for this is networking, but I find that many aspiring entrepreneurs like to do all the talking about their latest new idea and fail to listen. You don’t learn anything while talking. Successful entrepreneurs love to share, but they respond better to pull rather than push.

  2. Research current success stories and role models. The Internet is better than the Library of Congress or any university, since it changes daily to keep up with reality and is interactive. Reserve some time each day for your favorite blogs and influencers, follow up with social networking and expand your personal contacts offline.

  3. Find a business mentor, as well as a friend. A mentor is someone who will tell you what you need to hear, while a friend might tell you what you want to hear. Actually, you need both, and the ability to tell the difference. I find that all entrepreneurs benefit from bouncing their ideas off someone else, and unique perspectives can add real value.

  4. Don’t skip new “learning how to learn opportunities.” These include the classes in school that focus on case studies and team exercises, but extend beyond the academic world to professional and industry seminars. Focus on the opportunities that match your needs for today, since you never know too far ahead what you need to know next.

  5. Volunteer to help organizations related to your interest. There is no better way to broaden your perspective and understand realities than to work in an environment where motivations are positive. You can get real leadership experience and real learning without long-term commitments and financial pressures.

  6. Start your own small business. The cost of entry for an entrepreneur is at an all-time low, with very low incorporation fees in most states, website creation tools for free and the ability to create and offer smartphone apps for a few thousand dollars. Learn from the challenges of a startup with a low-risk idea before you bet it all on the big dream.

I fully recognize that self-initiated learning is not for everyone. If you are one of those people who likes structured classes and counts on spending a couple of week in the classroom every year to catch up, I don’t recommend the entrepreneur and startup lifestyle. Starting a new and innovative business is not a highly structured process, and finding time for structured learning is unlikely.

Finally, it is always helpful to check your motivation to be an entrepreneur. If you see it as the path to easy money or as an escape from an existing job or family pressures, it’s time to recognize that learning doesn’t come easily if your heart isn’t in it.

There is no substitute for doing what you love, and loving what you do. Once you learn to love learning, you too can be a successful entrepreneur.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Entrepreneur.com on 4/24/2015 ***

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Sunday, May 3, 2015

10 Required Actions To Make Startup Mentoring Work

Steve_Jobs_Mark_Zuckerberg Every entrepreneur can learn from a mentor, no matter how confident or successful they have been to date. Most people don’t know that billionaire Mark Zuckerberg, for example, gives real credit to the inspiring mentorship of Steve Jobs for Mark’s Facebook success. Yet most entrepreneurs simply don’t know how to work with a mentor. It is not as simple as one person giving the other all the right answers.

Some of the best mentoring relationships don’t involve monetary compensation, but none are free. The first cost is networking to find a mentor who is willing and able to give adequate focus to the relationship. In any case, it is good form to offer compensation, such as a small monthly stipend, plus expenses, and perhaps a 1% ownership in your startup, to show your commitment.

From my experience, here are ten basic principles and actions for both the mentor and mentee to remember in getting the most out of any mentoring relationship:

  1. Good mentoring requires building a relationship first. A positive business or personal relationship between two people normally requires a high degree of shared values, common interests, and mutual respect. Remember that good relationships take some time to develop, so don’t assume that your first discussion will seal the deal.

  2. Agree on specific objectives and time frames. Mentoring that consists of random discussions is not very satisfying for either side. I recommend one or more early discussions of mutual objectives, with a written summary of goals and expectations from the mentee to the mentor, with timeframes and milestones.

  3. Make efficient use of time for both parties. This means being respectful and diligent about scheduling and keeping appointments, and returning emails and phone calls. Don’t attempt to multitask, or allow constant interruptions, during meetings. Book follow-up sessions, with an agenda, rather than fill time with random discussions.

  4. Identify strengths and weaknesses early. Both the mentor and mentee should put their cards on the table, to avoid surprises later. Then both should look for opportunities to leverage strengths, and shore up weaknesses. This avoids wasted time and speculation, and provides the motivation to bring in other experts or mentors as required.

  5. Mentor feedback must be thoughtful, specific, timely, and constructive. An important aspect of a mentoring relationship is how the mentor provides feedback to the mentee. Formulate negative feedback in a constructive fashion. Using open-ended questions that start with “how” or “what” help the mentee to arrive at their own solution.

  6. Mentees should avoid any defensive reaction to feedback. The right response to most mentor feedback is a thoughtful question for clarification. Immediately responding with “reasons and rationale” to every feedback will be read as insincerity, and will likely end the mentoring relationship quickly.

  7. Practice two-way communication and candid feedback. Mentoring is not a series of monologues and lectures, from either side. But candid feedback means not pulling punches when they are deserved. Both sides need to practice active listening and thoughtful questions. Constructive conflict is good.

  8. Agree to deal with unforeseen challenges openly. The most common challenges involve time and accessibility demands on either side, or the level of help expected. Both sides need to honor business boundaries, and not stray into personal relationship issues. Agree up front on how to end the relationship if other unforeseen circumstances arise.

  9. Celebrate successes, and deal openly with failures. This will help the learning process and build the mentee’s confidence. With patience and time, the partners should develop a good rapport and become more comfortable with openly and freely conversing with each other.

  10. Evaluate mentoring requirements on a regular basis. The mentee, as primary beneficiary, should be proactive in making sure the review process occurs on a regular basis, perhaps quarterly. This allows for frank discussion of unanticipated changes, and the potential for discontinuing the process and declaring success.

The end of a mentoring relationship should be seen as an opportunity to review what did and didn’t work, and more importantly, to reflect on the results, so that every lesson that can be learned from the relationship is recognized.

Both the mentor and mentee should celebrate the successes, review the learning from failures, and conclude the relationship with positive feelings. To bring it full circle, mentees should now consider passing on their new knowledge and skills by entering a new mentoring relationship – as a mentor. That’s the ultimate satisfaction.

Marty Zwilling

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