Wednesday, June 28, 2017

7 Business Lessons You Can Learn From A 7-Year-Old

NevaLeeReclaSnapshotParents, it’s never too early to start nurturing entrepreneurial talents in your kids! As an active business advisor and angel investor, I’m convinced that we are rapidly entering a new age of the entrepreneur, and those who are best prepared will be the first to reap some big rewards.

You may think you need more entrepreneurial courses in school, or more advanced degrees, but in my experience it’s more of a mindset, some good coaching, and learning by doing that separates the winners from the losers. I continue to see stories of really young entrepreneurs, and I just met a really impressive one, Neva Lee Recla, at a recent Fast Inc. Network conference.

Neva is only seven years old, and she boldly proclaims that she has been handing out her business cards since the age of two. I was participating on a panel to assess about 20 two-minute startup pitches, and she thoroughly impressed everyone with her pitch and her story.

According to one of her two websites (how many of your kids have even one website?), she’s now creating a bestselling book and offering businesses an opportunity to promote their brands by sponsoring her as a young entrepreneur. She has already created or shared in at least three businesses, including selling bracelets, Hot Clothes for Kids™, and creative drawings to benefit veterans and wounded warriors.

After meeting with her (and her entrepreneur parents), I’m convinced that the opportunity is ripe for all of us to learn from the youngest generation in the true entrepreneurial spirit. Here are some of the insights I gained from this interaction:

  1. Experience is a better teacher than academic classes. Memorizing facts is not fun, but making people happy is something you will never forget. Everyone also needs to experience failures, since these can teach more than success. Neva won’t forget some negative feedback on one initiative that “hurts a lot,” but she learned to “keep on going.”

  2. You learn as much as a coach as the student. I can certainly attest that my own efforts to coach and mentor aspiring entrepreneurs have taught me much about business and people. Neva’s parents, who are entrepreneurs themselves, also attest that they have benefited greatly from the coaching experience so far. It’s a win-win opportunity.

  3. You don’t need a blockbuster idea to do good. Results are a function of the execution and the commitment, rather than the idea. We can all think of many ways to improve the world, but too many aspiring entrepreneurs I know keep finding excuses not to start, waiting for that ultimate idea that can’t fail. For example, Neva recently used her drawing talents to produce 1000 sponsored handouts to honor veterans and wounded warriors.

  4. Find corporate sponsors to reduce startup costs. The key to success as a startup is finding like-minded people, and it can work on the front-end with sponsors, before you have back-end customers for revenue. Neva has learned early to focus on ideas with humanitarian, as well as commercial value, such that others are more than willing to help.

  5. Sometimes it helps to not know what’s not possible. It’s refreshing to see the unlimited creativity and curiosity of very young entrepreneurs. I see many aspiring entrepreneurs hesitating due to all the things they know can go wrong, to the point that they never start anything. The lesson is that you can never succeed if you never start.

  6. Startup pivots are best made early and quickly. Based on my own experience, startup corrections are inevitable. No matter how certain you are that your idea will be a winner, you are likely wrong. Young entrepreneurs seem to understand this, and have no hesitation making changes. Others can be very stubborn and charge blindly ahead.

  7. You learn more by talking to people early, versus stealth mode. Stealth mode entrepreneurs won’t tell people about their idea early, or ask for feedback, for fear of the idea being stolen or copied. I watched Neva give her pitch, and talk to everyone who would listen, before too much effort might be wasted. Real entrepreneurs are seldom paranoid.

Overall, the best lesson I heard from Neva for other entrepreneurs is “Don’t be afraid to be yourself.” She is doing what she loves, and you should be doing the same. That’s the only way your passion and determination will get you through the business challenges and the market changes ahead. Enjoy the journey, as well as the destination. Your future and mine depend on it.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 06/13/2017 ***

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Monday, June 26, 2017

10 Guidelines For Storytelling To Hype Your Startup

storytelling-to-communicate-businessThe entrepreneur’s challenge is to effectively communicate their value proposition, not only to customers, but also to vendors, partners, investors, and their own team. Especially for technical founders, this is normally all about presenting impressive facts. But in reality facts only go so far. Stories often work better, because humans don’t always make rational decisions.

Most people care the most about the things that touch, move, and inspire them. They make decisions based on emotion, and then look for the facts that support these decisions. Thus it behooves every entrepreneur to learn how to craft stories from their personal experience and the world at large that make an emotional connection, as well as tie in the facts.

I like the point from the classic book “Tell to Win: Connect, Persuade, and Triumph with the Hidden Power of Story,“ by Peter Guber, a thought leader on this subject and long-time business executive. He asserts that everyone today, whether they know it or not, is in the emotional transportation business, and compelling stories are the best way for you to move your business forward.

More importantly, he provides the insights and guidance that we all need to do this effectively. I have extracted these ten basic principles for telling the right story, at the right time, and telling it right:

  1. Select the right story for the right audience. The most successful story tellers are also attentive story listeners. They understand that it’s more important to be interested in their listener than to appear interesting. What does the audience want and need? Armed with this insight, you can tailor a story that will achieve both your goals.

  2. Choose when the listener will be receptive. Getting to know your audience also means figuring out the place and time where they will be most receptive and least subject to interruption or distraction. They need to be able to give you your full attention, so you need to look, listen, and locate their optimal context.

  3. Finding the source material for good stories. The key is not to expect to find a story fully born, perfectly framed, and read to be told, but to constantly stockpile fragments and metaphors that have the potential to become stories. The most effective story material comes from firsthand experience, infused with your personal feelings and emotions.

  4. Make sure your call to action resonates. Every story needs something that will move the audience emotionally to hear your call to action. This may mean finding a hero or a villain in the story, showing your real passion and emotion, or describing the excitement and fear of others.

  5. Get in the right state for your story. Getting in state isn’t just a mental, emotional, or physical process; it’s all three. This state is vital to telling a story because reading your intention is what signals listeners to pay attention to you. Intentions speak louder than words. Train both your body and your mind on your clear intention to succeed.

  6. Tell the story with authentic contagious energy. Like intention, authenticity and energy cannot be faked. If you are telling a story you don’t believe in, your audience will sense it instantly. The good news is that they will pick up just as instantly on your genuine enthusiasm and conviction.

  7. Demonstrate vulnerability and perseverance. Everyone has something in common with every other person, so open up and expose your fears and concerns, allowing others to do likewise. The trick to perseverance is not to eliminate fear, but to use it to ramp up your energy, heighten your passion, and intensify your sense of urgency.

  8. Make the story experience interactive. You can make any business story more memorable, resonant, and actionable by asking for input or a response during the story, or getting an emotional interaction. Engage the audience physically or verbally, which makes them feel like part of your story, and that they have a stake in the outcome.

  9. Engage the senses of your audience. Scientists tell us that words account for only the smallest part of human communication. The majority is nonverbal, more than half based on what people see and more than a third transmitted through tone of voice. The more the audience feels the story in their bodies, the more positive they will react to it.

  10. Listen actively with all your senses. Even when you make the story a dialogue, rather than a monologue, how you listen as a teller is as important to your success as the actual words you speak. You must listen to gauge emotions, attention, and interest – moment to moment. More engaged listeners will be more likely to heed your call to action.

Examples of great storyteller entrepreneurs include Howard Schultz, founder of Starbucks, and Chad Hurley, founder of YouTube. Both demonstrated many times the ability to turn “me” into a “we,” by being able to tell a story that shined the light on an interest, goal, or problem that both the teller and the listener shared. That connection ignited empathy, secured trust, and gathered commitment to the call to action.

Stories have been used since the beginning of time to share knowledge, history, and ideas. Sure they contain facts, but often emotion is what makes them work. How often do you get beyond the facts in your pitch to customers and investors? If you want to kick your business up a level, maybe it’s time to add some stories to your message.

Marty Zwilling

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Sunday, June 25, 2017

5 Reasons NOT To Start With A Non-Profit Business

Charity_gifts_for_Children_with_cancer_foundationA common misconception I often hear in the startup world is that non-profits are easy and safe, since they don’t have to pay taxes, and they don’t have to make a profit for their shareholders. In reality, from the feedback I get from non-profit executives, exactly the opposite is true.

Technically speaking, in the United States, a non-profit corporation or association is one which has been exempted from Federal income taxes by meeting the criteria set out Section 501(c) of the Internal Revenue Code, most notably religious, educational, and charitable entities like the Salvation Army. Other countries have similar exemptions for similar organizations.

Yet even a non-profit has to make a profit on everything it sells, in order to cover operating expenses (salaries, offices, equipment, research, travel, etc.), unless it relies wholly on donations. Even then, the business and leadership efforts to solicit and manage donations cost real money, and may be more difficult than the marketing and sales jobs of most startups.

Here are the common reasons I hear that make starting and running a non-profit actually more difficult than starting and running a conventional business:

  1. Creating a non-profit 501(c) business is a long and arduous process. You can start an LLC for-profit in less than a month, often for less than $100. A non-profit 501(c)(3) status requires filing IRS Form 1023. For a serious entity, the form must be accompanied by an $850 filing fee, and may take as long as two years to complete successfully.

  2. Investors are not interested in non-profits. Even non-profits usually require startup funds for facilities, people, and inventory. But because they can’t project excellent returns on investment, no investors will likely be interested. Also, they can’t sell shares on the stock exchange to raise money, even though both the NYSE and Nasdaq are non-profits. That means they need to grow organically, or find a philanthropist.

  3. Reputable non-profits need to keep their operating expenses low. This usually means keeping wages low, and no fancy facilities. Thus it’s hard to attract top-notch talent, premium locations, and first-class marketing campaigns. Managing volunteers, and running any organization with these constraints is a challenge.

  4. Results are always subject to public scrutiny. Most startups, as private companies, don’t have to disclose their salaries and spending habits to anyone other than the IRS. Non-profits have to answer to watchdog organizations like Charity Navigator for how much of their proceeds actually make it to the causes they proclaim to support.

  5. Some laudable non-profit missions are hard to sell to supporters. A common complaint from many non-profits is that both government and private funders would rather spend their dollars on ‘sexy’ causes such as children’s charities, cancer, and heart disease, rather than long-term causes like global warming and erasing hunger in Africa.

Unfortunately, misuse scenarios, like the lavish lifestyles of leaders and scams, have given the non-profit environment a bad name, making things even tougher. Even reputable organizations, supporting veterans, the police, firefighters or children, often raise eyebrows, with alarming real data like these from the America's Worst Charities report on a popular activist news website:

  • Kids Wish Network – 2.5% distributed cash aid from $137.9 million collected
  • Breast Cancer Relief Foundation – 2.2% distributed cash aid from $63.9 million collected
  • Firefighters Charitable Foundation - 7.4% distributed cash aid from $62.8 million collected
  • National Veterans Service Fund - 7.8% distributed cash aid from $70.2 million collected
  • Children’s Cancer Fund - 4.6% distributed cash aid from $43.7 million collected

These numbers vividly show that non-profits with good causes can fail to achieve satisfying results, in the same way that for-profit startups often fail, even with good products. Despite these challenges, my advice is still to follow your heart and your passion when starting a business.

You shouldn’t choose a non-profit, or a for-profit, because one seems easier, or one can make more money. Do it because you love the cause, the service, or the product, and the challenges will get lost in the satisfaction and results you achieve along the way.

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, June 24, 2017

6 Ways To Spot Innovative Thinkers For Your Startup

innovative-thinkers-entrepreneursEntrepreneurs are usually highly creative and innovative, but many innovative people are not entrepreneurs. Since it takes a team of people to build a great company, the challenge is to find that small percentage of innovative people, and then nurture the tendency, rather than stifle it.

A few years ago I read a classic book “The Rudolph Factor,” by Cyndi Laurin and Craig Morningstar, which is all about finding the bright lights that can drive innovation in your business. The story most specifically targets big companies, like Boeing, but the concepts are just as applicable to a startup with one or more employees.

The core message is that real innovation and competitive advantage are more people-based than product or process-based. Every good entrepreneur needs a people-centric focus to ferret out creativity and innovation in his team, and to build a sustainable competitive advantage.

The authors observe that people who behave as mentors tend to have an uncanny ability to recognize and nurture people who have innate capabilities along these lines. Here are six of the characteristics they and you should look for:

  1. Problem solvers. Innovators are naturally creative and love new challenges. Some may appear a bit eccentric to people around them. They generally promote unconventional ways to solve problems and have an easier time than most at identifying the root cause of a problem.

  2. Passionate and inquisitive. These team members are passionate about their work and light up when talking about their role or a particular project they are working on. They often ask “Why?” even when it is not the most popular question to be asked.

  3. Challenge the status quo. They believe that questioning is of value and benefit to the organization. This is also how they discover what they need in order to solve a problem, so they aren’t rocking the boat just for the sake of rocking the boat.

  4. Connect the dots. Innovators have the ability to quickly synthesize many variables to solve problems or make improvements. To others, it may appear as if their ideas come out of the blue or that there is no rhyme or reason behind their thinking.

  5. See the big picture. They tend to be natural systems thinkers and see the whole forest rather than a single tree … or just the bark on the tree. They may express frustration if people around them are having conversations about the bark, rather than the forest.

  6. Collaborative and action oriented. They are not loners, and have the ability and confidence to turn their ideas into action. They act on their ideas, sometimes without knowing how they will accomplish them. The “how” is always revealed in time.

Your challenge is to go forth with this new awareness and thinking, to find and mentor those bright lights that will drive innovation and competitive advantage. The next step after finding innovators is to integrate them into your team. A key aspect is establishing a team-based culture that is a safe environment to share and execute ideas.

In fact, this safe and nurturing environment has to extend beyond a single team to the highest levels of the organization. It should embody a style of leadership that is essentially a commitment to the success of the people around you. That opens the door for anyone in the organization to lead from where they are, rather than waiting for management to “do something.”

Innovation is at the very heart of every successful startup. Everyone wins when you look at things very differently and wonder “why”, not “why not.” What better way to extend this power than to surround yourself with more highly creative people? Then you can make the world a place of possibilities, as well as probabilities.

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, June 23, 2017

Do You Have The Right Stuff For A Growth Business?

business-growthAs an angel investor, I get approached regularly by aspiring entrepreneurs who can talk endlessly about their latest great idea, and little else. While I recognize that every new venture starts with an idea, a successful business of lasting value is all about people and execution. Every investor is looking for someone who can turn an idea into a solution, and turn that solution into a business.

If you think about it, some of the biggest current business successes have been based on fairly mundane ideas, including Google (search the Internet), Facebook (talk to friends), and Amazon (electronic shopping). Based just on my own experience, each of these has been tried thousands of times, and only a few of the teams and implementations have met with long-term success.

In fact, according to a new book, “Built for Growth,” by Chris Kuenne and John Danner, the specific beliefs and preferences of the founders can be shown to be far more important than the idea alone. These personality elements drive team motivation, decision making, and personal leadership style, and ultimately shape the plan and the execution leading to success or failure.

In fact, new business founders come in every shape, size, and personality type. Yet my own experience is consistent with the author’s analysis that there are four distinct types who consistently are among the most successful – Drivers, Explorers, Crusaders, and Captains.

After looking at the strengths and weaknesses of each of these in some detail, per a related article by the authors, I applied my own extension of this analysis to how they could be most effective in addressing the five challenges that we both believe every entrepreneur faces, no matter what the type:

  1. Converting ideas into solutions. Drivers and explorers have the advantage here. The challenge is to correctly sense the market, and match the product to the customer need, rather than celebrate the technology or assume that everyone will buy. Captains and crusaders sometimes get too focused on selling the idea before they have the solution.

  2. Galvanizing talented individuals for collaborative impact. Business growth requires many people, so captains step to the forefront in this challenge. Every business ultimately needs empowered teams, with less dependency on star talent. Great businesses are built with trusting relationships, both inside and outside the company. Watch your alignment.

  3. Transforming customers into advocates. Today’s dependence on the customer experience also requires need and cause alignment, as well as exceptional relationships. Every entrepreneur type needs to balance their focus on the customer, with their love for a solution, cause, or business return. Customers will solicit or drive away new customers.

  4. Aligning investors and strategic partners. Investors and external partners tend to favor drivers and captains. However, strategic partners who are already drivers or captains need to align with crusaders and explorers. The challenge is to find complementary relationships, for added value, rather than non-productive thrashing.

  5. Scaling and innovating the business. For scaling and long-term survival, every business needs a continuing focus on the systematic approaches and continuous innovation of an explorer. It’s time to empower more people, keep the broader team engaged, continually translate why to how, and be flexible for market shifts.

It’s evident to me that new business builders who understand their own personality type, with their own particular combination of beliefs and preferences that drive motivation, decision making, and leadership style, can select the right partners, the right team, and the right customers for maximum impact. Business is not rocket science, but it is personal. Get to know yourself first.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 06/07/2017 ***

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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

5 New Rules For Marketing In This Participation Age

participative-marketingHave you noticed that more companies beg you to participate in their business today? It started with an email survey on your last stay at their hotel, but now includes requests for online product reviews, to social media input on the design of future products. They do it because engaged customers become loyal advocates and buyers. Welcome to the “Participation Age” of marketing.

Some say it’s happening today because it’s new, and technology makes it possible. Others say it stems from Intrinsic Motivation Theory, which asserts that people have always been motivated by a desire to join, share, take part, connect, and engage, and find that experience rewarding. In any case, your business needs it today to rise above the crowd and edge out competitors.

If you want all the specifics, you must follow the new wave of marketing experts, like Daina Middleton, and her classic book “Marketing in the Participation Age.” I’m most intrigued by one aspect that I believe relates to every business - the move from a hunter-based metaphor to a gardening metaphor – nurturing what we have planted, based on the following five rules:

  1. Embrace test-and-learn values. That means constantly trying new marketing elements, understanding quickly what works, and immediately scaling, then moving on to the next alternative. Nurturing marketers reserve a minimum of 10 percent of their marketing budgets for testing and learning. It’s a dynamic customer environment out there.

  2. Innovate; don’t perfect. The nurture approach leverages from the best of the moment, quickly adding value before someone else does it first. The concept of continual innovation is crucial, because the best may not last long. Pick something that is good enough and embrace the flaw as an opportunity to learn. Adapt quickly and move on.

  3. Act quickly and motivate others, including participants, to act on your behalf. Motivate people, including your customers, to do something to improve your marketing today. Inspire your organization to act quickly and create an environment that rewards moving quickly. Estimate and act; because if you don’t, your competitors will.

  4. Mix and blend; don’t invent. Partner with others to create unique solutions that might benefit your brand, product, or solution. Choose an agency partner who is pushing the envelope and remember to consider technology, media, and creative opportunities. Look for elegant blends of all three, not an elegant single media solution.

  5. Embrace risks and champion failures. Prepare to learn from mistakes and accept that failures are inevitable in finding success. Partner with agencies that are willing to put skin in the game and get paid only if they deliver results. It often takes several failures to find opportunities that yield the best results.

In the current world of escalating change and information overload, marketing is not a luxury, and participative marketing can be the key to success, even for very technical solutions. We often see a mediocre product with effective marketing outperform a good product with little or poor marketing. Big marketing budgets alone and single blockbuster campaigns don’t assure results.

The message is simple. Ask your customers and partners for ideas, try them all, measure results, and scale up the ones that work. The participants, not the marketers, are in control, and they are demanding a relationship, not just a marketing message. If they don’t find value in the relationship, they move on. The choices and opportunities are theirs.

The situation is not unlike the attraction of current major social media sites, like Facebook, successful multiplayer game sites, like Activision, and today’s real world sports and politics. Gen-Y members were born participants, and they are a major force in every business domain. People thrive on continually learning, feeling empowered, and providing input to the world they live in.

So if you are a startup, or even a mature business, you need to nurture these intrinsic desires and develop more meaningful customer relationships that yield greater revenues. Marketing is no longer a one-way conversation. Does your marketing include listening as well as talking?

Marty Zwilling

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Monday, June 19, 2017

Is Your Leadership Style Motivating or Demoralizing?

angry-man-demotivatingEvery business leader realizes their primary objective is to motivate people to do what is required, yet all of us with any experience in business tend to remember most those times when we felt highly demotivated by our leaders. Since I can’t imagine any leader demoralizing their team intentionally, I’ve concluded that the challenge must be how to see your own faults and fix them.

I’m sure there are a few leaders who are convinced they have no faults, so they don’t look. For the rest, as a coach, I still struggle with definitively telling leaders what to look for in themselves, and how to change. In that context, I just finished a new book, “Communicate Like A Leader,” by Dianna Booher, who has long coached executives at some of the largest Fortune 500 companies.

I like her summary of seven habits that differentiate generally demoralizing managers from ones that are seen as highly motivating. With some of my own commentary, I see these habits characterizing leaders whose management style includes the following:

  1. Dole out bits and pieces versus the big picture. Business professionals don’t want to be treated as “kids,” by parents who parcel out only what they think their children can handle or need to know at the moment. They expect to be motivated by the “big picture,” or higher purpose of your business or group. Don’t ever talk down to your team.

  2. Focus on the “how” rather than the “why.” Only automatons need to be programmed with how to do something, without any understanding of why, and no human is motivated to be a robot. Poor leaders often neglect to offer the why, perhaps because they don’t understand it themselves, or fear they may get challenging questions or disagreement.

  3. Discourage questions as a waste of time. Great leaders actually seek insightful questions and even opposing views, as an avenue to engagement, innovation, and collaboration. The best leaders love to learn, and they know they can’t learn much while talking. Leaders must practice active listening to optimize learning and motivation.

  4. Assign projects or tasks and then disappear. A more motivational approach for leaders is to delegate projects or tasks at a reasonable pace, taking care with each to make sure the team understands the assignment, accepts responsibility, and has the resources to reach the goal. Extra time spent in the beginning will save much time later.

  5. Hire people perceived to be less capable than themselves. Ineffective leaders tend to hire “helpers” rather than “help.” Helpers take more time to manage and train, but won’t challenge your boundaries. If you hire people smarter than yourself, they will be motivated to complement your skills, and both you and your business will benefit.

  6. Communicate indirectly and assume people understand. This approach leaves staff guessing about their standards and expectations, introduces errors, and reduces motivation. People are motivated to deliver if they clearly understand what is expected, with no surprises. Informal direct discussions are more productive than formal ones.

  7. Tend to share mostly bad news or negative feedback. No one is motivated by a leader who only seems to show up when things go wrong. The best leaders communicate personally, regularly, and consistently in both good times and bad. They are quick to celebrate small wins, and give positive feedback more often than negative.

In my experience, the best assessment of where you fit in this spectrum is the amount of positive feedback you get directly from your team, and the number of people who lobby to join your team. If you are hearing more negatives than positives, or your best people are always ready to leave, it may be time to take a hard look in the mirror. Only you can really change the person you see.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 06/05/2017 ***

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Sunday, June 18, 2017

9 Steps To A Balanced Business – Purpose vs Execution

balanced-business-purpose-executionI’m a big proponent of building your business based on a higher purpose, rather than financial gain alone. Today I find that some entrepreneurs, are putting all their focus on a social or environmental cause, and perhaps naively expect that purpose alone will lead to a sustainable business. The reality is that purpose must be balanced with execution for long-term survival.

For those of you who are looking for some guidance on how to meet this balance, I found some real insights in a new book, “Purpose Meets Execution,” by award winning HR executive and business leader Louis Efron. I advocate his nine deliberate steps for bringing balance between purpose and execution to every organization, including new startups and mature businesses:

  1. Define a pragmatic organizational purpose first. If team members and customers can’t relate to your purpose, or don’t agree with it, your business will not thrive. It’s important to involve your team in the definition of purpose, and agree it is consistent with a viable business model, including opportunity, customer need, and a positive return.

  2. Design a structure flexible enough for change. If you build an organization that can’t change, you will become extinct. The only way to do this is to assume that change is necessary to keep up with the market and competitors, and make it part of the process. The longer a system goes without change, the harder it is to pivot when required.

  3. Find new methods for improving communication. Better communication facilitates both purpose and execution. Be aware that communication is much more than just talking and documenting – it’s active listening, building relationships, and walking the walk as well as the talk. Hire, coach, and train everyone on the team to focus on communication.

  4. Lead with an executable vision for the future. Employees and customers alike will rally around a vision, supporting your purpose, if it is seen as executable, with the potential for making their life better if they get it right. The intent is also to get beyond the dream stage, and focus the organization’s energy on the challenges at hand today.

  5. Live and demonstrate aligned people values. Company and organizational values must be aligned with employee and customer personal values, or your execution won’t work, no matter what the purpose. These values must be lived by the leaders during execution every day, and reinforced by rewards and recognition on an ongoing basis.

  6. Place only the right people in the right roles. This starts with hiring only people with a purpose and cultural fit, as well as having the right skills and experience to fill specific roles. On an ongoing basis, it also means mentoring for development of existing team members to prepare them for both the purpose and execution of new functions.

  7. Create a mission that helps people enjoy work more. Part of employee satisfaction is having a well-understood purpose, but they also have to enjoy the execution. Make sure they fully understand the mission, how their efforts will help customers live better, and how their efforts will be fully appreciated and rewarded by company leaders and peers.

  8. Measure employee and customer engagement. By focusing on both employee as well as customer satisfaction, you will balance purpose with execution. It also helps to look for triggers of disengagement, such as a time-consuming expense process, or an uptick in customer complaints. Leaders can gain much from walk-arounds and customer visits.

  9. Take visible action quickly on engagement issues. If you let engagement issues continue unchecked, the negativity will quickly spread throughout your business and damage both purpose and execution. Take action and celebrate results. Foster a sense of urgency, and look for positive energy both inside and in customer feedback.

In my experience, the most powerful driver of business success is a great culture of purpose balanced with executional excellence. A focus on one without the other doesn’t bring personal satisfaction, or financial gain. I encourage every entrepreneur and business leader to take a hard look at the balance in their own organization. Waiting until you sense a crisis is too late.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 06/01/2017 ***

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Saturday, June 17, 2017

9 Keys To Maximizing Your Business Leadership Impact

leadership-impactIn this age of social media and world-wide Internet, message delivery from business leaders needs to change, just like the message changes from leaders in your personal lives. Just a few years ago, no one could have imagined getting text messages from parents, or a President prone to communicate via Twitter. Not only what you say, but how you deliver it shapes your impact.

In that context, I just finished a new book, “Leadership Material,” by Diana Jones, containing a wealth of insights, compelling stories, and examples taken directly from her coaching sessions with current business leaders. Based on my own experience mentoring entrepreneurs, I see the same things, and recommend the following principles for every aspiring business leader today:

  1. Communication must address content and relationship. Every act of communication now has two messages: a content message and a relationship message. The content is what you want to say, and the other half is how you express your attitudes and feeling. Either can get you valued and followed, or rejected by your team and your customers.

  2. With texting and email, syntax and punctuation are critical. In the new mediums, you don’t have body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions, so every word, syntax, and context is critical. Ignoring the relationship considerations, and ordering people to act, causes resentment. Everyone wants their work and loyalty to be valued.

  3. Influence and collaboration trumps command and control. No longer can leaders consider communication as “information out, information in.” You can’t hide behind your technical expertise or a formally appointed role. To be a leader with influence, you must create a culture of engagement and participation, through your language in all channels.

  4. Message tone must align with your observable actions. With the pervasive use of video and instant messaging, people know when you are “walking the talk,” or not. They sense whether your emotional tone is genuine, and consistent with words received. Relationships and your impact quickly break down if you revert to old default behaviors.

  5. Engagement requires a clear use of “I,” “you,” and “we.” Careful use of these three words is necessary for positive business relationships. They can create engagement, unity, and collaboration, or cause alienation. People want to be included in the goals, as well as the results. Customers want to be part of your family, not just transactions.

  6. Be sure to talk to the team, rather than about them. How many times have you listened to a leader talking about their team, rather than to them? This is often the moment when the emotional tone of the group shifts from anticipation to disappointment, and a crucial opportunity for engagement is lost. The same concept applies to customers.

  7. Maximize inclusion by asking open-ended questions. Inclusive questions allow team members to tap into their thoughtfulness and experience, whether they identify with the main theme or not. Team responses give the leader important information for refining their content and adapting it to new contexts. Ask people to share personal perspectives.

  8. Avoid the impersonal and passive to close the gap. Relationships narrow the distance gap between leader and team, or teams and customers. Impersonal language forces listeners to make assumptions, interpretations, and associations, resulting in misunderstandings and broken relationships. Passive is always the language of distance.

  9. Demonstrate personal accountability without ambiguity. Leaders who never refer to themselves, or use the ambiguous “we,” appear to be dodging ownership and responsibility. In today’s work environments, with multiple locations, and people working from home, people have to count on your words alone to provide the right message.

These guidelines are especially applicable to aspiring future leaders and business professionals who simply want to be appreciated for their contribution. The language of leadership is far more important than title, tenure, or expertise. The new communication vehicles and expectations today gives you new opportunities to highlight your value, or hasten your demise. It’s your choice.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Huffington Post on 06/16/2017 ***

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Friday, June 16, 2017

5 Indications That Your Startup Is Poised For Success

board-poised-successEvery startup wants to be a predictable success, yet so few ever achieve this enviable position. In reality, getting there is not a random walk, and requires an understanding of the stages that every business must navigate and the organizational characteristics necessary at each stage.

Les McKeown, in his classic book “Predictable Success” outlines these stages and characteristics for any business. He points out, for example, that every business should anticipate the early struggle stage, a possible fun stage, and probably a turbulent whitewater phase, before they can hope for the predictable success stage.

This predictable success stage is defined as a point where you can set and consistently achieve your goals and objectives with a consistent, predictable degree of success. Unlike previous stages, where you may not know how or why you have survived, you now know why you are successful, and can use that information to sustain growth in the long term.

His studies show that companies at this stage show five key characteristics, which I believe every startup should strive to achieve from the very beginning:

  1. Decision making. The ability to readily make and consistently implement decisions. You need a sense of flow – decisions are made without the decision-making process placing a burden on the organization, or the leader. Decision making is delegated and decentralized, freeing management to concentrate on what they can do best, rather than micromanaging others.

  2. Goal setting. The ability to readily set and consistently achieve goals, and really being in control. It has to happen seamlessly, as part of the day-to-day operation of the business, not as the resource-sucking, do-it-at-the-last-minute event that it is in so many organizations. Goals are hit more than missed, and people are willing to take timely, corrective action.

  3. Alignment. Structure, process and people are in harmony. Otherwise, a lot of time and energy is expended by people because they have to manipulate the organization’s processes and/or structure in order to get things done. There is just the right amount of process and structure to efficiently get the job done.

  4. Accountability. Employees become self-accountable, in addition to being externally accountable to others. When empowered to make decisions of genuine import about their own jobs and responsibilities, and given the resources and freedom required, each employee personally buys in to the overall success.

  5. Ownership. Employees take personal responsibility for their actions and outcomes. This results is everyone pulling together, rather than by the manager group constantly “pushing.” There is a deep sense of co-dependency, where managers are dependent on their teams for delivering, and employees are dependent on managers for guidance.

As challenging as it may seem to achieve these characteristics in your business, the bigger challenge is to retain them for the long haul. Many businesses slowly slide into a treadmill stage, where they become over-systematized, or on toward the big rut where creativity disappears (“the way we have always done thing”), on into the death rattle, where the market moves faster than the company.

As a startup, you need to walk before you can run. That means starting early to practice and implement the techniques that will lead to predictable success. Remember that the lynchpin of the entire framework comes down to your own personal ownership and self-accountability. There is no room here for excuses or half-way efforts.

Marty Zwilling

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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

7 Demographic Shifts Bring Great Business Potential

demographic-secretIf every entrepreneur could predict the future, starting the right new business would be easy. Since my experience and interests have been primarily with technology, I’ve been watching those trends for a long time, and I see rapid change, but predicting impact is a challenge. Recently I’ve changed my focus a bit to people demographics, and I find the implications a bit more concrete.

In fact, I just finished a new book, “Upside: Profiting from the Profound Demographic Shifts Ahead,” by Kenneth Gronbach, which is full of specific facts on demographic changes over the past few years, and what they mean for some of the major business segments out there today. Gronbach is well-known for his generational research and keen forecasting of societal trends.

First, a quick summary of the major U.S. demographic generations out there today, ranked from large to small:

  • Generation Y (Millennials) – 86.6 million, born 1985-2004, biggest business opportunity
  • Generation X (Generation Me) – 82.9 million, born 1965-1984, growing with immigration
  • Baby Boomers (no other name) – 78 million, born 1945-1964, major workforce element
  • Generation Z (Post-millennials) – 40.9 million, born 2005-2024, yet to be defined
  • Silent Generation (Lucky Few) – 28.6 million, born 1925-1944, slowing down rapidly

Outside these societal generations, the people counters are also seeing other major shifts and trends that will have a marked impact on our economy and business, including the following.

  1. Healthcare: An oncoming tidal wave. There is a Baby Boomer and Silent Generation tsunami headed straight for our healthcare system, so opportunities there are endless. That means that starting soon, our doctors, hospitals, eldercare, hospice and even death care systems are going to face unprecedented demand. Technology won’t solve this one.

  2. Autos for drivers: Waning market demand. American’s long love affair with owning and driving a car is over. A recent survey shows that 45 percent of Generation Y, the largest generation ever, consciously seek out alternatives to driving. Here technology is stepping up to the plate with driverless vehicles, resulting in big opportunities all around.

  3. Housing: A shortage looms. In the next ten years, 86 million Gen Y’ers will be moving out of their parents’ homes to start their own families. With 330 million people in the U.S. already, we’ll be at least 25 million homes short, based on the 155 million housing units that exist today. That’s good news for all business segments and the economy.

  4. Shipping and delivery: Strained to the limits. The building of new houses, communities, and infrastructure – as well as the new demand for retail that delivers – will strain trucking and shipping to its limits. As Boomers migrate to the Sunbelt, and everyone orders more online, I can hardly wait for drones to use the sky to help out.

  5. Education: More students and different classes. Everyone is predicting a rise in massive open online courses (MOOC), that will drive the need for new course content, architecture, and delivery approaches. In addition, children from Gen Y will spark a comeback in public school enrollment, and keep traditional colleges in business.

  6. Immigration: Continuing on the rise. Despite recent controversy, we are becoming more and more a nation of immigrants. The Asian population is expected to double by 2050, and Latinos are projected to jump from 17 to 25 percent in the same time frame. These cultures bring a whole new set of needs in food, entertainment, and lifestyle.

  7. Women: On the move. Women professionals are definitely increasing their ranks. There are 60 women to every 40 men in college, and they are entering the world of work in force. They are also moving into more critical leadership positions in both the public and private sector. That brings new business opportunities in fashion, home care, and leisure.

These shifts are independent of technology innovations, but certainly will drive the application of key product developments. Every entrepreneur needs to understand that people and populations drive business opportunities, as well as society. Thus I recommend the study of demographics in determining what business you start, where you start it, as well as how to scale it. Your success may depend on it.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Huffington Post on 06/12/2017 ***

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Monday, June 12, 2017

4 Traits To Strive For To Make You An Extreme Leader

Elon-Musk-Business-Thought-LeaderBy definition, most entrepreneurs are thought leaders. They have the ability to recognize a market need, the skills to design and implement a solution, and the drive to start a business from that solution. It all comes from within themselves. A business leader does the same thing and more through the people around them. Most entrepreneurs are not both.

In reality, a successful startup can be built by a thought leader, but growing a successful business requires a business leader. That’s why venture capital investors often replace startup CEOs as a condition of their scale-up investment. That’s why so many startups plateau after gaining some initial traction, and are run over or acquired by their competition.

Much has been written on this subject, including the classic integration and update of two famous business books by Steve Farber (former partner of Tom Peters), “The Radical Leap Re-Energized”. I like Farber’s highlights of the traits of radical and profound leaders (extreme leaders) as follows:

  1. Cultivate love. Successful leaders model the intensity and energy that it takes to stay ahead competitively and meet ever more ambitious goals. They do this because they love what they do. As they continue to pursue their passion, they remain focused on the contribution made to others and to the surrounding community.

  2. Generate energy. Ask yourself this question – Do I generate more energy when I walk into a room, or when I walk out of it? Do your actions create positive energy for those around you, or are you an “energy vampire,” sucking the life out of your workplace? Hopefully you are the former, and not the latter.

  3. Inspire audacity. This is a bold and blatant disregard for normal constraints. Thinking and acting, “outside the box.” Audacity inspires people to do something really significant and meaningful. It enables them to change the business, the world, and themselves, for the better.

  4. Provide proof. How do we prove to ourselves (and to others) that we are really exercising extreme leadership? The simple answer is “Do What You Say You Will Do” (DWYSYWD). The best leaders achieve their own success by raising the self-esteem of followers. They build credibility by looking for ways to respond to the needs and interests of others.

In this extreme leadership model, leaders aren’t afraid to take risks, make mistakes in front of employees, or actively solicit team feedback. Farber asserts that most of us, at some level, have the innate ability to become a business leader. Getting fully in tune with who you are, and then following your heart, goes a long way towards helping you discover the leader you can become.

Many entrepreneurs who are great thought leaders are unwilling to listen and network. They can’t imagine that their vision for the business can be improved, or even implemented by others. They don’t hire people until it’s too late, because no one else can do the job up to their standards, or with their commitment. At best, they hire “helpers” rather than help, and are too busy to train the helpers.

Obviously some people who call themselves business leaders are only posing. They wear the label and assert the title without putting their own skin in the game. The best leaders approach the act of leadership as an extreme sport, and they love the fear and exhilaration that naturally comes with the territory.

Business leadership is not a solo act. Real leaders accept the job of recruiting, cultivating, and developing other leaders as priority one, as well leading on the thought side. Learning to be both a thought leader and a business leader can make you great. Elon Musk has long been a thought leader, but only recently has shown up on the business leader side. Where are you along the spectrum?

Marty Zwilling

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Sunday, June 11, 2017

If You Can’t Find An Angel Investor, Look Again, Here

angel-investor-find-hereIf your startup is looking for an angel investor, it makes sense to present your plan to flocks of angels, and assume that at least one will swoop down and scoop you up. Or does it? Actually numbers and locations are just the beginning. The challenge is to find the right angel for you, and for your situation. Here are some basic principles:

  • Angels invest in people, more often than they invest in ideas. That means they need to know you, or someone they trust who does know you (warm introduction). For credibility, they need to know you BEFORE you are asking for money.
  • Angel investors are people too. Investors expect you to understand their motivation, respect their time, and show your integrity in all actions. They probably won’t respond well to high pressure sales tactics, information overload, or bribes.
  • Angels like to “touch and feel” their investments, so they are generally only interested in local opportunities. It won’t help your case or your workload to do an email blast and follow-up with 250,000 members around the world.

But now to answer one of the most common questions I get “How do I find angel investors?” With today’s access to the Internet, and Google searches, it really isn’t that hard. Here are the largest flocks:

  1. Gust (formerly AngelSoft). This is perhaps the most widely-used source of information on angel investor groups across the world, run by the “Father of Angel Investing in New York,” David Rose. This software platform is used by many local angel organizations for managing deal flow.

    Gust claims to have facilitated over $1 billion of investments in 500,000 startups to date, via connection through their platform to over 70,000 angel investors in 190 countries. As an entrepreneur, you simply use their investor search engine to find appropriate investors for your business according to location, industry interest, and other relevant criteria.

  2. AngelList. This is another very popular website for raising equity or debt investments for startups. It was founded back in 2010 by Naval Ravikant and Babak Nivi of Venture Hacks, which is also a great place to visit for startup advice.

    AngelList has featured over 3 million businesses for potential investors in a format that is, effectively, a social network for entrepreneurs and angels. They claim to have already raised over $560 million for 1400 startups, primarily in the US and Europe. In addition, they serve as a jobs available site for 24,000 startups.

  3. Keiretsu Forum. This one claims to be the world’s largest single angel investor network, with 2500 accredited investor members throughout 52 chapters on 3 continents. Since its founding in 2000, its members have invested over $800 million dollars in over 800 companies in technology, consumer products, healthcare/life sciences, real estate and other segments with high growth potential.

    The Founding Chapter is in Silicon Valley, California, (naturally). A caveat is that this is a for-profit organization, so fees to present may be significant.

  4. USA Angel Investment Network. This group claims to be the largest angel investment community in the world. They have already raised $300 million for startups in the US and across the world. A caveat is that this network doesn’t offer a personal touch, as it only facilitates the exchange of contact information, so the matchmaking is left up to you.

    The reach is very broad, with a network has 30 branches extending to 80 different countries. They have over 785,000 registered members with 140,000 investors and 650,000 entrepreneurs.

  5. Angel Capital Association (ACA). The ACA is the angel industry alliance, which now includes a directory to more than 240 angel groups and 13,000 individual angels across North America. ACA member angel groups represent more than 10,000 accredited investors and are funding approximately 800 new companies each year, and managing an ongoing portfolio of more than 5,000 companies throughout North America.

Of course, there are many more angel investors, often called “super angels,” that have a large following and large reach, so they don’t need any of these organizations to be found. Examples of some leaders in this space include Ron Conway, Mike Maples, Jr., and Dave McClure. Connecting with one of these would be a real coup for your startup.

My real message is that the best angel you can find is a local high net-worth individual, with whom you or your advisors have an established prior relationship. So get out there and network, and you can be one of the lucky ones who is touched by an angel without having to go through hell first. If none of these will touch your startup, maybe it’s time to look again, in the mirror.

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, June 10, 2017

8 Keys To Business Success – Values-Based Leadership

values-based-leadershipTrue business success and leadership starts with real personal values, extends to building a team, and finally to inspiring customers and your community. That’s a huge leap from an entrepreneurial idea, to a product, to making money. Is it any wonder that the majority of startups fail? My job as a new business advisor is to help entrepreneurs get over this chasm early.

My approach has always been to suggest specific actions that have immediate impact, as well as highlight positive leadership attributes, leading to longer-term success and a commitment to values. I found some great guidance in this context in a new book, “Lead True,” by Jeff Thompson, MD. Thompson is a well-recognized successful values-based leader and speaker.

I fully support and appreciate his case studies and conclusions on specific required personal initiatives, and how these can change people, organizations, and even entire industries. Here are some of the key elements of his message that every aspiring business leader needs to understand and practice:

  1. Muster courage to not allow fear to make your decisions. As challenges come along that require specific and concrete action, they are seldom easy. Your company finances, reputation, or even your survival may be on the line. Courage is not the absence of fear, but it is the ability to put your values and vision ahead of the easier way out.

  2. Practice discipline to translate values to consistent actions. In business, consistency is the key to productivity and trust by team members and customers alike. Leaders who are disciplined around values build trust, inspire others, and have more impact. With discipline, you can be the role model your constituents need to overcome all obstacles.

  3. Use durability to stay true to your vision in tough times. Most entrepreneurs find that they are their own toughest critics. Your values and vision can give you persistence and stability, even when the road ahead seems hazardous and endless. The world may not be ready for your great solution just yet, but leadership can carry you for the duration.

  4. Find reverence for people over profits, egos, and convenience. Reverence for others takes humility, but it results in deeper relationships, deeper wins, and a greater business. The more complicated the lives of your team and your customers, the more they need values to understand those struggles. Their reverence is returned to make you a leader.

  5. Measure, don’t guess, with tools that build, not limit. Hope is the weakest strategy for improvement in business. Set goals based on values, that are meant to exceed, and use metrics, rather than gut feeling to assess your own progress, as well as that of your team. Don’t be limited by tools of the past – always be alert for best of breed and innovation.

  6. Commit to a higher cause to attract like-minded partners. Business leadership in today’s environment is all about relationships. People build relationships in the context of common values, or win-win. More important than killing your competitors or making money is a making the world a better place. People will seek your leadership as partners.

  7. Take responsibility for the big picture and your bottom line. Great business leaders really believe their values can win by improving the economy, the environment, and the bottom line all at the same time. They find it improves their ability to build relationships, communicate effectively, and excite their customers into becoming loyal advocates.

  8. Lead to learn and the benefit will go both ways. The days of educating customers to sell your current solutions are gone. Business leaders today listen and learn customer values, and then use their values to provide solutions to customer needs today, and project customer needs for tomorrow. Customers want to be led, rather than pushed.

Thus it’s fair for entrepreneurs to start by pitching an idea and an implementation, but investors and other constituents (as well as customers) quickly need to see beyond this to the values that drive your efforts. If you haven’t communicated these, or are still a bit fuzzy on them yourself, it’s time to rethink your whole business leadership strategy. Your success these days depends on it.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Huffington Post on 06/09/2017 ***

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Friday, June 9, 2017

4 Key Business Culture Drivers You Have To Get Right

GoogleBwinStartup work environments are always chaos, but they can still be great environments to work in, or they can be terrible. Whether yours is terrible or great, that same tone flows out to your customers, and regulates your productivity inside. You as the founder are the starting point and definer, so you need to get it right.

What does it take to create a positive workplace culture? I did some research on this, and compared it with my own experience. I’ve concluded and the experts agree that it’s all about understanding people, and overtly optimizing the factors that drive them at work.

Ed Muzio, in his classic book “Make Work Great: Super Charge Your Team, Reinvent the Culture, and Gain Influence One Person at a Time,” summarized four key influences which I have also seen as follows:

  1. We are driven by peers. According to many studies and observations, group pressure entices us to rethink our own opinions, and can even change our actual perceptions. That’s a good thing if your business peers are positive about what is happening, and it can cause a spiral into the ground if goals, priorities, and issues are not understood.

  2. We are driven by authority. Stanley Milgram, a famous researcher in the 1960s, concluded that “Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process.” It’s up to you, as the authority figure, to define the standards and communicate roles correctly.

  3. We are driven by expectations. Around most people at work is a core group of six to eight people (your “role set”) who send you expectations about what you should or should not be doing, along with implied rewards or punishments. Our satisfaction is strongly driven by this role set. Find compatible and complementary people for your role sets.

  4. We underestimate the impact of the situation. The pressure of a situation actually can override the prior three forces. Thus you always must be very sensitive to the context, since unfair blame based on situational factors will negate all your positive influences. Don’t make the mistake of assuming people act from personal choice alone.

You as an individual team member, and you as the authority figure, must make a conscious choice to drive the culture around you, rather than be driven by it. Psychologists have noted that going passively along ‘on automatic’ if often our worst enemy. It doesn’t get the job done, and it’s not even satisfying.

The most effective way for you to drive the culture is to understand yourself and to be explicit on the following items to your role set and others:

  • Your personal goals and purpose
  • Your intended impact (‘So what’)
  • Your incentives and motivation
  • Your progress as it happens
  • The resources you need
  • Your capability (share your knowledge)

By default, the at-work culture is just “how we do things around here,” based on problems faced “back then.” The problems you face today are different, and the solutions from back then were likely not the best. That means there is always a premium on culture teachers, compared to culture followers.

So don’t ask yourself how you can influence the culture, by rather how you already are influencing it. Are you a beneficiary of precedent or a slave to it? Choose to choose to make your work environment great.

Marty Zwilling

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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

7 Tips From The Trenches On What It Takes To Succeed

tips-from-steve-jobsWhen you have been on the startup firing line, you quickly learn that any insight from experts and entrepreneurs who have been there before you can make the difference between failure and success. Yet, many new entrepreneurs brazenly assume they are bulletproof, and march blindly into the fray. The result is that half or more of startups fail in the first two years.

I don’t think anyone proclaims to have any silver bullets, but there are common failure threads that appear all too often. There are many books written about failure in startups, and I don’t recommend any of them. I prefer the more positive approach of getting you better prepared up-front, as outlined in the classic book “It’s Your Biz” by Susan Wilson Solovic.

Susan has years of experience in the small business trenches, and really focuses on what it takes to succeed, with realistic caveats from my perspective, including an excellent summary of ‘words of wisdom’ messages that every entrepreneur should take to heart:

  1. Don’t chase your tail. As you are building your business, take introspective looks at yourself weekly. How many days have you had lots of activity going on, but at the end of the day, you’ve accomplished nothing to move your business forward? Measure results to make sure you are not chasing your tail, like your favorite puppy dog.

  2. Keep moving forward. Never let a day go by in which you haven’t done at least one activity that directly relates to a key business goal. Establish deadlines and milestones for yourself and track your forward progress. Keep you eye on the ball, and don’t be distracted by seemingly attractive options that lead you away from your core business.

  3. Listen to your instincts. It’s important to ask and listen to others for advice and guidance, but measure these inputs against your own instincts as well. Blindly following someone else’s strategy doesn’t help as an excuse for failure, and doesn’t help you learn along the way.

  4. Manage growth wisely. Overextending yourself and your resources by taking on too much too fast can kill your business. Growing a business is like a marathon, you don’t want your company to be a flash in the pan. Remember, according to Seth Godin, the average overnight success takes six years.

  5. Look for collaborative opportunities. In business, it’s tough to survive on an island. Strategic alliances allow you to take on bigger contracts, offer more services, and cover larger geographic territories. In addition, two heads are better than one, so collaborative brainpower is a significant asset.

  6. Expect the unexpected. You can’t predict natural disasters, and economic fluctuations. Yet too few entrepreneurs have a current list of business essentials, emergency contacts, or documented backup procedures. Even better, you need a “Plan B” for survival when the unexpected arrives.

  7. Learn to manage your stress. The stress of growing your business will take its toll, unless you take care of yourself. Be realistic about what you can expect of yourself and don’t over-commit. Learn to say “no” and really mean it. Schedule some time each week that is just for you, and for your family.

Overall, we all emphasize that you need to keep purpose, promise, and principles as the cornerstones of your business. It’s amazing how many business owners and their teams go through the motions of running their businesses on a day-to-day basis without ever understanding the purpose behind what they’re doing.

Businesses without a purpose don’t have a heart. Or if the principles and values aren’t yours, then it’s not your heart. If it’s not your heart, then you will be making promises to your customers with your fingers crossed. Remember that if you don’t deliver for your customers, they won’t deliver for you. That can make the normal business trenches a deep hole. Read and heed.

Marty Zwilling

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Monday, June 5, 2017

Are You And Your New Venture Positioned For Success?

business-positioned-for-successEven the most diligent investors are often surprised by apparently solid business startups that fail, while others succeed, despite the odds. In my own experience as an investor, I have concluded that success is more about the people than the product. The best founders operate with a key set of internal principles that allow them to break through all but the toughest business obstacles.

I found this perspective validated in a new book, “Plan Commit Win: 90 Days to Creating a Fundable Startup,” by serial entrepreneur and strategic consultant Patrick Henry. He cites several studies, in addition to his own experience, that highlight the following key people drivers to business success:

  1. Founders need to be driven by impact rather than money. This is an emerging theme in the past decade as investors learn that customers assign more value and loyalty to business owners who display this attribute. The result is a win-win-win situation for investors, entrepreneurs, and customers alike. More value delivered and success for all.

  2. Extraordinary commitment to a chosen path. Other studies indicate that a top reason for many startup failures is that the founders just gave up too early. Owners with the strongest commitment to their solution or cause never give up, and often break through obstacles to success that would kill the rest of us. Don’t be afraid to stay the distance.

  3. Willingness to adjust, but not constantly adjusting. There is indeed a fine line here, between stubbornly sticking to some pre-conceived assumptions, versus changing course based on today’s complaint. Every startup I know has pivoted at least once, but successful companies make each of these a well-planned and well-orchestrated effort.

  4. Persistence and patience with timing mismatches. Solutions that imply a paradigm shift always take longer to sell, and more money for marketing and education than expected. New business owners with this challenge need more patience and persistence to survive. Changing economic conditions and political changes also cause timing issues.

  5. Willingness to observe, listen, and learn. Business success is all about two-way communication, between you and your customers, investors, partners, and internally between team members. Social media and other channels provide the vehicles, but everyone has to be open for the process to work. Use active listening to learn the most.

  6. Develop the right mentoring relationships. It’s easy to assume that your best friend is also your best mentor. But a real mentor will tell you what you need to hear, rather than what you want to hear. Find someone with complementary business knowledge, and the time to help, with your trust and respect, Document your objectives and talk often.

  7. Leadership with general and domain knowledge. The grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence. Don’t start your business in a domain where you have no experience, even if it looks like a sure-fire success. The rules for success in any given business are not in the back of the book. Instead, find a partner with domain experience.

  8. Implement “lean startup” principles. The lean startup methodology, popularized by Eric Ries about ten years ago, expedites new business success through iterative solution cycles, focused business experiments, and validated learning. Investors avoid startups that are in stealth mode, long development cycles, and an inflexible business model.

  9. Balance of technical and business knowledge. According to one study, teams with one technical founder and one business founder raise 30 percent more money, have 2.9 times more users, and are 19 percent less likely to scale prematurely than technical or business-heavy founding teams. Two heads are almost always better than one.

Of course, these principles all work best in the context of a comprehensive overall plan (documented for effective communication), being executed by a committed team, and supported by the right investors. If you can put technology aside long enough to focus on these principles, you too will find the funding you need, and beat the odds of success with your new venture.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 05/22/2017 ***

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Sunday, June 4, 2017

Here’s A Painful Problem For Aspiring Entrepreneurs

data-security-and-privacyWith the Identity Theft Resource Center® reporting a 40 percent increase in data breaches in 2016, there seems to be a growing population out there worried about all the people intent on hurting them. Why is everyone so paranoid these days? My plea to entrepreneurs is to recognize these concerns as an opportunity, to make people’s life better, rather than stoke the fires.

I must be the only one who believes that most of the data gathering in the real world, and on the Internet, is done by businesses to help you find what you want, protect you, and improve your experience, rather than invade your privacy or scam you.

In addition, there is a real business opportunity here for startups. I know companies who collect sensitive data from consumers all the time, and still seem to keep a squeaky clean image (Amazon.com, Ebay). There are others, like LifeLock, recently acquired by Symantec for $2.3 billion, now providing identity theft services for more than 4 million consumers in all 50 states.

But that is just the beginning of the opportunity to provide or take advantage of the new power and tools on the Internet. Here are a few specifics on how to be part of the solution, without the costs, rather than part of the problem:

  • Put a personal face and address on your site; don’t hide behind an “info” email address.
  • Make your company visible, reachable and responsive through social networks.
  • Market your solution and user benefits, not the mysterious technology behind it.
  • Use video and audio, rather than jargon, abbreviations, and computer lingo on your site.
  • Make navigation simple and consistent, with abundant online help

The good news is that, if your company does it right, it might be another Amazon. There seems to be an insatiable demand from consumers for a better shopping experience, meaning they will pay a premium to a company that can present them a better match in products to their interests, without jeopardizing their good name.

In support of this, despite qualms, consumers seem very quick these days to provide more personal data to get something they want. Young people naively enter their pictures and personal data for fun on social networking sites, ignoring constant feedback from the media that these are bad practices.

I certainly agree that just like in the real world, consumers have to assume that there are always bad groups on the Internet, as well as down the street, trying to rip you off, so stay out of bad neighborhoods, and keep your wits about you at all times. Internet users need to start watching out for themselves, like looking both ways before you cross the street.

The bad news for startups is that your company can lose big if it’s caught in the middle. A while back, the Target retail chain account database was hacked, with personal data of up to 70 million customers stolen, and this black eye won’t soon go away. A few years earlier, PayPal was hit by a scam to get the personal information of its users, and some feel it hasn’t fully recovered since.

Sometimes the problem cause is that startups forget the technical standards and quality processes that every Internet rollout must follow to reduce the risk. Don’t take shortcuts on these. I see lots of new software put together on a shoestring as a “proof of concept” – but then gets rolled out to customers “asis” due to lack of time or money to “harden” the product.

What I learned from a panel discussion a few years ago, sponsored by an association of lawyers, is that lawyers don’t have any answers, and are all too quick to fan the flames of fear and paranoia. They merely highlighted consumer privacy rights, with much hand-wringing about big bad companies that are capturing shopping habits without consumer knowledge on the Internet.

A better approach might be to use your marketing power to tell people that you can now ring their smartphone in front of their favorite store for a special sale, and allow them to “opt in,” rather than surprising them with your new technology. Few people are paranoid about something they want and enjoy.

The best startups start from a painful problem needing a solution, rather than a technology solution looking for a problem. Security and privacy are an opportunity crying for more solutions. Have you looked hard at the potential?

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, June 3, 2017

5 Reasons Entrepreneurs Need To Highlight Small Wins

Business-Success-StressManaging and motivating a team in a startup is more than just using the right interpersonal skills. It’s more than providing recognition, tangible incentives, and clear work goals. A key influencer of satisfaction and motivation, top-ranked by employees, is positive progress and the completion of meaningful work. Sometimes you have to manage progress, not people.

“Busy work” and “grunt work” are deadly terms in a startup environment. So are setbacks, project cancellations, and frequent changes of direction that make people doubt that the work they are doing will ever see the light of day. These points are illustrated in detail in “The Progress Principle,” a classic book from the Harvard Business School, by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer.

They explain that work progress and setbacks matter so much because one of the most basic human drives is toward a person’s belief that he or she is individually capable of planning and executing the tasks required to achieve desired goals (self-efficacy). Steve Jobs had his share of setbacks, but he never let those dampen his team enthusiasm.

Negative events cause uncertainty, doubt, or confusion in people’s sense of themselves, and lowers their motivation for the work. In fact, an analysis of thousands of detailed logs from employees show that setbacks have more power to sway work satisfaction than progress:

  1. The effect of setbacks on emotions is stronger than the effect of progress. The power of setbacks to diminish happiness appears to be more than twice as strong as the power of progress to boost happiness. The power of setbacks to increase frustration is more than three times as strong as the power of progress to decrease frustration.

  2. Small losses can overwhelm small wins. The asymmetry between the power of setbacks and progress events appears to apply even to relatively minor triggers. Similarly, small everyday hassles hold more sway than small everyday assists. Any manager’s job description should start with facilitating subordinates progress every day.

  3. Negative leader behaviors affect work satisfaction for everyone. Managers should avoid actions that negate the value of work in progress. One way is dismissing a team member’s work, or changing priorities arbitrarily, or inadequate communication. Don’t assign people who are clearly unqualified, or over-qualified, to a task.

  4. Failure to facilitate progress and remove obstacles. Consistent daily progress by individual employees fuels both the success of the organization and the quality of those employees inner work lives. This progress principle should be the driving force and the number one objective of every leader.

  5. Other types of negative events – not just setbacks – are more powerful than their mirror-image positive events. Based on employee logs, the connection between mood and negative events is about five times stronger than the connection between mood and positive events. Employees recall more negative leader actions than positive actions.

People often say, “it’s business, it’s not personal.” But work is personal. If people feel capable, then they see difficult problems as positive challenges and opportunities to succeed. Put another way, they develop a “sense of empowerment.” This need grows throughout their career as people compare their achievement with those of their peers as well as their own “personal best.”

As an example, entrepreneurs often have great difficulty relinquishing top leadership positions when their companies have grown beyond their own management capacities, because they have invested so much of their personal identities in what they have built.

In many cases, only you as the founder can remove barriers to progress, such as meaningless tasks and toxic relationships, before they disrupt employee motivation and productivity. Only you can activate the positive forces that enable progress, including “catalysts” and “nourishers.” Start today in your own startup, to eliminate the negatives, as well as accentuate the positive.

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, June 2, 2017

10 Behavioral Tips To Raise Your Cool Factor At Work

Richard_Branson_Cool_Business_LeaderEvery business professional needs to stay cool under pressure, to be a top performer, and for the sake of their own health. Yet everyone has a melting point – a critical threshold where pressure causes them to respond irrationally. Many people believe their threshold is permanently set by family genetics, or cultural influences, but I believe anyone can train themselves to stay cool.

In my role as a business advisor, I’ve seen it happen many times as business leaders mature, and I’ve felt the change in myself over time. I’ve always been looking for the specific behaviors required to make the change, so I was pleased to see some real guidance in a new book, “The Melting Point,” by Dr. Christian Marcolli, a world-class expert on sustainable high performance.

I like his ten behavioral change recommendations for improving your ability to stay cool under pressure and deliver sustained world-class business performance under massive intensity:

  1. Define and commit to live by your core values. People who try to be someone they aren’t feel constant pressure. Strive to understand your core values and your deeper purpose (personal and professional), and use only these when making fundamental decisions. Get out of, and don’t take on roles that force you to compromise your values.

  2. Prepare for your key performance moments. Some professionals refuse to prepare for known tough issues, with a false belief that they can finesse any challenge, or they refuse to prioritize. Even the best do extra homework to prepare mentally and emotionally to be at their personal best to deliver on key performance meetings and presentations.

  3. Focus on and recognize incremental progress. The key to sustaining high motivation and a high melting point is feeling that you are making progress on key issues on a daily basis. Sometimes it means reserving daily dedicated time for key issues, to facilitate visible progress. You will then experience satisfaction, instead of increased pressure.

  4. Save 30 percent of your energy for outside activities. Leaving work every day exhausted leads to burnout and easy meltdowns. Save some energy for your family and friends, and restoring balance and vigor to your body. Professionals who don’t manage their diet, exercise, breaks, and sleep, will always find their melting point nearby.

  5. Establish boundaries and say ‘no’ more often. The most productive and respected business people know their limits and assertively protect them. Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself and courteously explain to bosses or colleagues why certain requests or expectations may be unreasonable. Do the same in commitments to family and friends.

  6. Plan for performance with a reserve. Schedule yourself in such a way that you can expect to deliver your top results at 90 to 95 percent of your energy levels. This allows for those all-too-common occasions when things take longer than expected, or your time is preempted for higher-priority tasks. Learn to delegate more as well. Never over-commit.

  7. Manage office political relationships. Time spent building and maintaining key work relationships can dramatically improve your productivity, reduce stress, and raise your melting point. After having assessed your environment, start healthy networking activities, such as lunch, with important people in your professional network on a weekly basis.

  8. Add more inspirational people to your network. When you reach a certain level or role in an organization, it is difficult to find time to spend with inspiring people who can provide you with insights and new perspectives. Set aside time to seek out experts in your field for ideas, as well as mentoring and coaching. Make this a priority in your private life also.

  9. Mentally transition between work and home. To raise your melting point, always take a few minutes of silence at the beginning of each day at work to get mentally and emotionally ready to be at your personal best. Do the same ‘check-in’ with your best side as you transition from work to home. You will connect better with people in both worlds.

  10. Disconnect from work devices in the bedroom. Diligently protect some private space in your home, preferably your bedroom, where no work devices or conversations can appear. This space must be associated only with rest and recovery, to offset the stress and demands of the office. Only make exceptions if there is a true business emergency.

The stakes are higher than ever in this competitive and rapidly changing world. Businesses have become pressure cookers filled with disruptions and chaos. It’s enough to drive the best of us to a meltdown in performance or confidence.

Don’t assume that what you can achieve or tolerate is limited by anything or anyone in your present or past. With a new focus on the right habits, you too can be the cool business leader you now only read about in the news.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Huffington Post on 06/01/2017 ***

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