Monday, October 30, 2017

7 Steps To Finding Investors Aligned With Your Values

investors-aligned-with-valuesOne of the most common complaints I hear from new business owners and startups is about the pain and difficulty raising capital. The “venture capital” model is the only option they know, where they feel they get no mercy, giving up equity and control. Based on my experience with startups, I’m a strong believer that there are far better alternatives available, if you think outside the box.

The key is to look hard outside the world of “professional investors,” to regular people who share your vision and dreams, friends and family who believe in you, and crowd funding your ideas that have a popular appeal. Of course, none of these sources should be approached casually, and none will give you the relationship and terms you are looking for without proper win-win planning.

I just finished a new book, “Raise Capital on Your Own Terms: How to Fund Your Business Without Selling Your Soul,” by Jenny Kassan, who has been in the business for over 20 years as an attorney and fund raiser. I agree with her recommended steps for every new venture, to find the alternatives that match your requirements, prepare for the process, and close on your terms:

  1. Define your personal goals and values for investor alignment. Finding the right investor is like finding the right spouse – it likely won’t work unless you share the same goals and values. In your business, how much control are you willing to give up, how fast and far are you determined to grow, and are you willing to sell or stay for the long term?

  2. Create the ideal investor profile for your unique business. Some investors are all about making money, while others care more about changing the world, advancing technology, or curing a disease that has ravaged their family. Your ideal investor is someone who will really value the benefits that come from advancing your business.

  3. Document the investment types you are willing to consider. The basic categories include equity, straight debt, convertible debt, services, and agreements for future equity. If you project a sense of desperation, or ignorance of the options and implications, no potential investor will give you the credibility to be your partner in a business.

  4. Complete and heed fund-raising legal compliance requirements. Many aspiring entrepreneurs try to raise capital, without first understanding and complying with government and state rules for disclosure, securities registration, private offerings, and accredited investors. The rules for crowdfunding and non-profits are even more specific.

  5. Prepare properly for meeting and closing with investors. This includes investor pitching preparation, how to ask for investor meetings, what to say in the meetings, and follow-up. Generally, as a new business advisor, I recommend advance preparation of an executive summary, a pitch deck, short business plan, and lots of practice and passion.

  6. Methodically address every obstacle head on. Fund raising is hard, and it always seems to take longer than anticipated. Obstacles are abundant, including the scarcity of warm introductions, enough traction to satisfy investors, and unending due diligence requirements. Maintain a positive mindset, and don’t get discouraged by every “no.”

  7. Block out sufficient time on your calendar for raising capital. Many entrepreneurs see fund raising as a part-time task, behind high-priority solution development efforts. Prepare to spend as much as 80 percent of your time for a couple of months looking for and following up with investors. Building and maintaining momentum is key to success.

Unless you are happy with bootstrapping your new business, I recommend that you ignore conventional funding myths, and first seek investors who share your goals and values. You can find these in your professional circle and your sphere of influence, rather than angel groups and venture capitalists. For example, if you are a doctor, look for funding from the medical world.

Also, it pays to be more creative with your investment offer. Rather than simply exchanging equity for cash, explore partnership arrangements where qualified partners contribute services for equity. For example, rather than getting cash from professional investors and hiring programmers, find qualified developers who are willing to work for equity or deferred payments.

In my experience, smart and determined entrepreneurs are usually able to avoid the whole capital raising nightmare, and associated cash-flow and control risks, by simply broadening their definition of investors to include regular people who are willing to share the risk to accomplish common objectives and impacts. Make your business a shared labor of love, rather than a battle.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 10/18/2017 ***

0

Share/Bookmark

Sunday, October 29, 2017

5 Strategies For Making Winning Business Connections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marty Zwilling

0

Share/Bookmark

Saturday, October 28, 2017

5 Keys To Keeping Your Office Positive And Productive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Huffington Post on 10/26/2017 ***

0

Share/Bookmark

Friday, October 27, 2017

How To Reduce Workplace Drama And Improve Results

workplace-dramaIs it just me in my role as business advisor, or is emotional drama in the workplace increasing? Team members seem to be spending more and more time venting to anyone who will listen about the motives and actions of others, and less time introspectively focused on their own productivity and accountability. The result is less real engagement and more negativity for all to endure.

According to a new book, “No Ego,” by international keynote speaker and business consultant Cy Wakeman, the average worker spends 2.5 hours per day distracted by drama. She presents a convincing array of real examples that we have all seen, and offers the following reality principles for business leaders and professionals who want to turn this trend around in their environment:

  1. Always give others the benefit of the doubt – assume noble intent. Drama is all about assuming the worst intent in team members and leaders, and wasting time venting wasteful thought processes and unproductive behaviors. The best leaders are highly focused on hiring only the right people, and modelling a high level of trust and respect.

  2. Remind people that venting doesn’t resolve anything. It only ramps up negativity, and is ego’s way to avoid self-reflection. Smart co-workers and managers refuse to listen to venting, and are quick to turn the discussion to reality, by bringing the relevant parties together for resolution of suspected or real differences. Actions speak louder than words.

  3. Diffuse suffering from imagined stories rather than reality. We all have a human tendency, developed in our childhood, to make up stories which paint us as a victim rather than the problem. In business, the best leaders diffuse this tendency by asking good questions, insisting on decisions based on real data, and not edicting results.

  4. Use empathy when employee ego is creating doubts and chaos. Self-reflection, accountability, and reality are an affront to egos. Avoid ego’s trap by avoiding sympathy and using empathy instead. Sympathy exacerbates the pain rather than healing it. Empathy bypasses ego, shares an observed reality, and makes a call to greatness.

  5. Confirm that challenges are the only reality for success. As long as people believe that business realities are hurting them, they will remain victims. Real leaders improve the readiness, training, and preparation for these events, so that circumstances are not a source of pain, but are expected and can be accomplished with personal satisfaction.

  6. Remember that engagement requires accountability for results. Engagement without accountability leads to entitlement. Low-accountable people may appear to work hard, yet find complaints about everything. They come to believe that making them happy is someone else’s job. Hire, incent, and reward people that accept personal accountability.

  7. Remove resistance to change as a source of drama. Traditional change management techniques need to be replaced by business readiness training and focus. When people are fluent in the now, and ready for what’s next, they won’t feel the pain, and will feel a sense of excitement and eagerness to capitalize on the possibilities change can bring.

  8. Communicate that personal preferences don’t drive the business. Business leaders must convince the team that the decision makers today are customers, the marketplace, competition, feedback, innovation, and breakthroughs. The personal preferences and ego of anyone in the company has little to do long-term business success and satisfaction.

  9. Check your own ego before you attempt to engage another. People who are prone to emotional drama are also super-sensitive to ego and emotions in their leaders and peers. Countering drama with more emotion or violently shaking them up is not productive. Humbly make the call to greatness as you gently spur self-reflection and confidence.

  10. Develop accountability through coaching and mentoring. Building a culture of accountability with minimal emotional drama is a key element to organizational success today. High-performing companies formalize these coaching and mentoring programs, and apply them universally, rather than activate them only to solve specific problems.

I’m convinced that every entrepreneur, team member, and business leader needs to practice these principles to eliminate workplace drama, end entitlement, and drive more satisfying results. None of these deny the fact that business today is hard, and requires rapid adaptability to change and opportunities. Yet smart people make it a source of satisfaction, rather than continual pain.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 10/13/2017 ***

0

Share/Bookmark

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

7 Attributes Of Entrepreneurs Who Change The World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marty Zwilling

0

Share/Bookmark

Monday, October 23, 2017

Why You Need Help Rather Than Helpers In A Startup

robot-personAs an advisor to startups, and a mentor to many aspiring entrepreneurs, I’m still surprised at the number who are determined to go it alone. Even worse, when they figure out that they really need help, the first place they look is for an intern or untrained helpers. They don’t realize that these only increase their workload, due to training and management, rather than offloading real work.

Helpers do what you say, while people smarter than you in their domain do what you need, without any attention from you. In fact, if you are paying attention, you can actually learn from what they do. For example, inventors need to stick with their creative skills, and find a partner who knows how to build a business around it. That’s a win-win for both partners.

Thus top entrepreneurs spend as much time getting the right team in place to run the business as building the product or service. Unfortunately, some are so in love with themselves (narcissistic), that they can’t be convinced that anyone else could possibly run their finances, or take on marketing. True leaders know how to delegate and listen, and let others do what they know best.

In short, if you’re killing yourself with work, and following up on every detail, you may want to look closer at your team to ensure you’ve surrounded yourself with the right people. Of course, the right ones cost may you equity, but a small percentage of a big business is worth far more to you than a large chunk of nothing. Here are some attributes to look for in the people you need:

  1. Prior experience and skills to complement your strengths. Would you attempt to build the house of your dreams, with random helpers showing no experience? Find a partner who has dealt with the realities of technology, tools, and financing. A startup has enough unknowns, without ignorance of the basics. Don’t repeat the mistakes of others.

  2. Proven track record of getting things done. Hard work is necessary, but not sufficient to start a new business. Building a good plan, and measuring against that plan is crucial to growing any business. Often people with advanced degrees have academic smarts, but are not closers. You can’t afford to make every decision, or follow-up on every action.

  3. Develop and propose their own problem solutions. How often do the people around you recommend solutions, rather than highlight problems? If you’re teaming with people who are smarter than you, you should be frequently surprised with their new ideas and solutions. You may not always agree, but you will be constantly learning from them.

  4. Consistently passionate and positive in a role. The smart people you want are as positive and passionate about your business as you are. They take ownership and responsibility for their actions. They convince you with their actions that they understand the big picture. They argue confidently and deliberately, rather than defensively.

  5. Spend more time listening than talking. It’s hard for team members to learn while they are talking. Look for team members who are active listeners, where you find yourself seeking them out, rather than always the other way around. It’s great to team with people that you can envision working for someday, or taking the helm of your business.

  6. Push you to focus on strategic elements and being a better leader. You need people around you asking the right questions, and challenging you on strategic issues, rather than the crisis of the day. You will be motivated to hone your skills as a leader, and everyone will be motivated to raise their game to match the top performers.

  7. Make coming to work fun and exhilarating. Smart people, who are confident in their role and contributions, will make the business fun again, rather than a stress-producer that keeps you up at night. Situations handled correctly and properly anticipated result in many exhilarating small successes, which makes the business a joy for everyone.

Of course, finding the right people is never easy, just like creating an innovative new solution is not easy. Count on building and testing relationships over several months, before you conclude that you really know what a person is capable of. Be sure to test your initial perspective on people you trust, including advisors, investors, and other partners. No “one night stands” need apply.

In my view, if more entrepreneurs spent the same amount of time finding the right partners and team members that they often spend developing the right solutions, the failure rate of startups would fall quickly from the current 90 percent in five years to maybe half that rate. Don’t let your ego get in the way. It’s your success and satisfaction that’s really at stake.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 10/09/2017 ***

0

Share/Bookmark

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Why Taking Risk Is The Ultimate New Venture Advantage

balance-business-risk-versus-opportunityOutside of dreams, there is no real business opportunity without risk. Serious entrepreneurs know that, but too many “wannabes” still fall for that elusive get-rich-quick scheme with no risk. As an active angel investor, I still hear entrepreneurs asserting large opportunities with minimal risk and no competition. My conclusion either way is that they have no market, or haven’t looked.

According to the classic book by serial entrepreneur and former race car driver Tom Panaggio, “The Risk Advantage: Embracing the Entrepreneur's Unexpected Edge,” smart business owners embrace two essential risks to every opportunity – decision and change. First, they decide on a direction to jump, and then they make adjustments and innovations to keep going and growing.

In simple terms, the way you balance risk and opportunity is to look at both as two sides of the same coin. Obviously you are looking for the opportunity side to be bigger than the risk side. Great entrepreneurs have learned how to realistically assess and manage both sides of the coin in the following business opportunity and risk categories:

  1. Strategic. Visionary entrepreneurs tend to identify and map strategic new opportunities, rather than grow existing current ones, based on market insights emerging technology. The risks in new opportunities are usually not evident, so the challenge here is to reduce the probability that the assumed risks actually materialize and to improve the company’s ability to manage or contain the risk events, should they occur.

  2. Financial. Both risks and opportunities in this area can arise from many aspects of your startup, before and after product development. First you need to assess the risks and value of investor funding and carrying debt. Then you walk the delicate balance between burn rates, revenue flows versus expenses, investment in marketing, and employees.

  3. Operational. Once a business is operational, the opportunity can be maximized, and risk managed through best-of-breed processes, and a rules-based control model. Examples are the risks from employees’ unauthorized, illegal, unethical, or inappropriate actions and the risks from breakdowns in routine processes.

  4. Growth. The way you scale your business is a huge balancing act between risk and opportunity. You can grow organically, or stretch out with big capital investments for volume and reach. Grow too fast, and risk quality and delivery ability, or go slowly only to be overtaken by your competitors or a new technology. Find the balance.

For entrepreneurs, both Panaggio and I agree that the first step is adopting a winner’s mindset, and not become a prisoner of hope. When entrepreneurs become prisoners of hope, they look for others to solve their problem. After they decide to be a winner, the key is to embrace risk, rather than fight it, which gives you the real advantage:

  • Embrace the risk of failure. Every entrepreneur must realize that failure is not defeat, but a signal that it is necessary to invoke the two essential risks: decide that change is necessary, and change. Every investor believes that entrepreneurs learn more from failures than from successes. Short-term failures lead to long-term successes.
  • Embrace the risk of proactive marketing. Marketing is fraught with risk, but playing it safe or no marketing is the ultimate risk. Proactive marketing is a marketing strategy that focuses on one objective – to generate customers now. Look at marketing as an investment, not an expense. Risk being known for who you are, as well as what you sell.
  • Embrace the risk of standing in your own line. All entrepreneurs should face the risk of being one of their own customers, by using their own products and standing in their own customer service lines. Only shortsighted leaders assume that customers have unreasonable expectations, or their demands will increase once you have a relationship.

Embracing risk and learning from your mistakes really is an entrepreneur’s edge, since only startups and small businesses can afford to fail quickly, maybe multiple times, and all the while having the ability to pivot quickly to achieve success. In fact, these are the keys to balancing risks against the opportunities. When was the last time you felt your business was in balance?

Marty Zwilling

0

Share/Bookmark

Saturday, October 21, 2017

How Much Stock Would Convince You To Join A Startup?

startup-sleeping-at-workWouldn’t you like to be one of the lucky people who joined Google and Facebook when these were startups, and now be a multi-millionaire or better? So people ask me “How many shares should I ask for or expect when I join a startup today?” In reality, the number of shares doesn’t mean anything – it’s your percent of the total that you need to negotiate.

For example, 200,000 shares may sound like a lot, but if the startup has issued 20 million (a common starting point), that’s just 1% of the company. By the way, you will normally only be offered “options,” which vest over a 4-year period after a 1-year “cliff.” That means you will get none of these until after you work for one year, and the total only if you stay for four years.

Plus you have to remember that these 200,000 shares could still be worth nothing in four years, depending on the “strike price” today, compared to the market price four years from now. Many employees forget that there isn’t even a market for startup stock, until after the company has gone public, which hasn’t happened positively to many companies in the last few years.

Thus, options don’t “pay the mortgage” today, so to speak. Unless you have a sizable nest egg, or a working spouse with an income to support you, I would recommend that you consider any stock options as a “potential bonus,” rather than a key part of your compensation for joining a startup.

With all that said, here are some “rule of thumb” guidelines on what might be a reasonable offer, as summarized from a classic article by Guy Kawasaki, and based on discussions I hear rattling around the investor community.

  • CEO brought in to replace the founder, 5 - 10%
  • CTO, CFO, VP of Marketing or Sales, 1.5 - 3%
  • Chief Engineer or Architect, 1 - 1.5%
  • Advisory Board Member, 1%
  • Senior Engineer, .3 - .7%
  • Product Manager, .2 - .3%

If you are not on this list, just worry about getting whatever your peers are getting. It never hurts to ask in a job interview what stock options are available, and don’t fall for the offer which promises to “work out the equity terms later.”

Obviously, what you get will vary depending on what you bring to the company, and what the market will bear. The numbers I mentioned don’t have a level of precision that can be associated with a particular geography, or a particular business type. Offers near the high end of a range will likely come with a lower cash salary, maybe even 50% of the going rate.

Any offers of equity compensation before the first round of institutional capital should be considered purely speculative. You should also assume that your percentage will go down through dilution as the company raises additional rounds, and offer sizes will go down as the company grows.

Your compensation is the total package of stock plus salary plus benefits. At best, you should view stock as “deferred compensation” or a “bonus,” which has no value today, and a risk for the future that is much higher than mutual funds, or a conventional balanced public stock portfolio. Yet it has been a source of great wealth to a tiny percentage of people.

Couple all this with the fact that working at a startup is much tougher than working at bigger companies – despite all the hype you see about startups which provide free food, foosball tables, and totally flexible hours. Generally, less structure means more stress, and fewer people means higher expectations, longer hours, and a job that may be gone tomorrow.

The bottom line is that you shouldn’t even think about joining a startup, stock or no stock, unless you believe in it and are ready for the adventure of your life. It will always be a learning experience, but it may be a bumpy ride to nowhere. It’s a huge gamble. How many gamblers do you personally know that have won big?

Marty Zwilling

0

Share/Bookmark

Friday, October 20, 2017

7 Drivers of Digital Opportunity or Business Demise

JackWelchApril2012Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, once predicted, “When the rate of change outside the company is greater than the rate of change inside, the end is near.” Yet in my role as business advisor, I often see companies naively ignoring this reality. The smarter ones look outside regularly for evidence of impending change, and treat these as opportunities to jump ahead of competitors.

Today, the move to digital technology is driving marketplace change at a seemingly ever-increasing rate. The pervasive Internet and mobile device access allows instant communication of new options, total sharing of customer experiences, and mass customization, on a world-wide scale. No more hiding behind a cultural stereotype, a well-built brand, or a geographic wall.

The question every entrepreneur and business executive should be asking is what are the drivers of the digital transformation, and how can you make them opportunities rather than costs. I found some real guidance on these questions in a new book, “The Digital Helix,” by Michael Gale and Chris Aarons, who have helped change the strategy of dozens of companies around the world.

I endorse their list of the seven key drivers of digital opportunity, how to recognize them, and examples of how forward-thinking companies have capitalized on them, which I paraphrase and summarize here:

  1. Compression of supply and demand enables near instant fulfillment. Historically, many businesses profited from the time lags between supply and demand by exploiting geography, relationships, and buying habits. Today people can find and switch brands based on delivery, prices, and new features, with one or two clicks and minimal risk.

  2. Shifting demographics changes customer needs and expectations. With simpler and cheaper access to information and alternatives, the cultures and generations are rapidly becoming more homogeneous. Demands and expectations change regularly as people learn from others who share their experiences in this new digital age.

  3. Access to more information is leveling the market playing field. Almost anything and everything is available online, and the amount and depth of information is growing exponentially every year. This means market changes in the world today are instantly available everywhere, and quickly change the way we buy, sell, interact, and live.

  4. Pay-as-you-go provides infinite ability to scale every business. Due to the efficiencies of digital, it is now commonplace to have companies with billions of dollars of revenue and valuation, with few employees, and without years of building infrastructure. Witness the exponential scaling of Uber, Pinterest, Airbnb, and other recent unicorns.

  5. New competitors are built to be digital from day one. Think about the up-and-comers during the past decade that have either created new business models or stolen share from established players. Digital gives startups the same power to understand, engage, and look for new opportunities that traditional brands have spent decades building.

  6. The rate of change is extremely exponential. In the past century, the benchmark for disruptive change was about thirty years or so. Now evolutions and even revolutions are happening within years, or at most a decade. In this digital age, you need a business capable of listening, assessing, and adjusting to the early nature of these changes.

  7. The trade-offs between price, efficiency, and innovation have disappeared. Basic business theory states that businesses have three clear paths to success: cut prices, be more efficient, or invest in sustained technological advantages. Digital enables you to do all three simultaneously, and you must build a plan to do so to compete or die.

The message here is not about recklessly abandoning what you have, or taking huge steps into the unknown. Rather, it is much more about building a strategy to recognize change from early signals, and quickly transform your company to gain significant benefits from the change. The alternative is continual catch-up, and your eventual demise. How tired are you feeling today?

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 10/05/2017 ***

0

Share/Bookmark

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

How To Use A Checklist To Build An Innovative Startup

checklist-for-startup-innovationA common request I get while mentoring entrepreneurs is for a copy of the startup checklist they need to follow, in order to build a successful new business. I wish it was that easy. The challenge is that every new business needs to be innovative and different, in order to rise above the crowd, bring real change to the world, and give you the satisfaction you seek.

Nevertheless, there is nothing wrong with studying and learning from the wisdom and experience of others. So for those of you that love checklists, I saw some real value in the classic book by James M. Kerr, “The Executive Checklist: A Guide for Setting Direction and Managing Change.” His checklists cover everything from building a vision, to consistently delivering results, for entrepreneurs up to mature business executives.

Although I’m not an aficionado of checklists in general, I really appreciate one he has included for keeping up with the latest technological trends that are reshaping business strategies, which should be the driver for startups to fill in the gaps. I’m sure you can find some gaps, niches, or extensions for each of these technologies:

  1. Internet of Things. The physical world is quickly becoming Internet enabled, allowing it to be fused with the digital world. Everyday devices, like Internet soda vending, have an embedded computer allowing full remote reporting and control. Other examples include smart-home remote control, cell-phone tracking, and remote auto traffic sensors.
  2. Mobile Computing. From tablets to smart phones to the Apple watch, people are increasingly relying on their mobile devices to assist them in managing their lives. The next phase of evolution will demand device independence, enabling an uninterrupted computing experience as we move from device to device throughout our daily lives.

  3. Cloud Computing. This is a phrase used to describe a variety of computing technology concepts that involve a large number of computers connected through the Internet. There are already a variety of cloud computing solutions available for common business usage, including the following:

    • Software as a Service (SaaS). This is a software distribution and pricing model in which new applications are hosted by a service provider and made available to customers over a network, rather than requiring customer hardware. Upgrades and troubleshooting can normally be provided over the network, as well.
    • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). Data storage, hardware, and networking equipment are provided to the customer on a per-use basis by the IaaS vendor, who holds the equipment and is responsible for running, and maintaining it.

    • Platform as a Service (PaaS). This is a service delivery model that provides the capability to lease the hardware, operating systems, storage, and network capacity over the Internet. It allows startups to rent virtualized servers and associated services needed to develop, test, and run applications.

    • Business Process as a Service (BPaaS). Procurement, payment processing, and payroll are just a few of the business functions that can be supported through BPaaS provider, who delivers the necessary infrastructure so that organizations no longer need to staff and perform the activities in-house.
  4. Social Media. Social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn manage communities comprised of millions of people worldwide. The challenge for most businesses is determining how to best harness the potential. Every entrepreneur needs to leverage social media for better marketing, requirements, and customer service.

  5. Gamification. This refers to the use of game thinking and software design mechanics to make it more effective and friendly for people to engage with technology. Many businesses are already weaving gamification into their strategies to enhance loyalty programs, customer retention, productivity measurement, and training.

It is time for entrepreneurs and all executives to stop being intimidated by technology discussions and, instead, establish a foundation for understanding the basic constructs that are reshaping the ways in which organizations process information and conduct business.

If a checklist like this one helps you get it done, then by all means find one and use it. But don’t be bound by it. Success in business today really requires that you go beyond any known checklists, with vision, innovation, and determination. Are you driving the technology, or is it driving you?

Marty Zwilling

0

Share/Bookmark

Monday, October 16, 2017

6 Insights On Social Media Trends You Need To Know

social-media-insightsIsn’t it frustrating to think you finally understand something in business, like marketing with social media, only to realize that the landscape changed while you were looking at other priorities? For example, it used to be that marketing via social media meant banner ads on Facebook, buying search engine results, and sponsoring blog entries, but these don’t suffice anymore.

In a classic book on social media by Jim Tobin, “Earn It. Don’t Buy It,” he asserts that “earned” social engagement drives better business results than paid social exposure. Jim should know, since he is the president Ignite Social Media, of one of the best known social media marketing agencies. Here are a few bits of current wisdom from both of us along these lines:

  1. Nobody clicks on Facebook banner ads anymore. Banner ads routinely average a .1% click through rate and Facebook manages to be about half as good as that. That’s 99.96% of people not clicking on those ads. When the glass is only .04% full, you should start looking for a new container.

  2. Where are the young social media users going? They are going to Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Snapchat. Snapchat is currently the fastest growing social network, while Instagram is close behind with a bigger share globally of new sign-ups.

  3. You need influencers more than advocates. Brands need influencers working on their behalf because they provide the third-party credibility and social proof that validates their products. 92% of people trust “recommendations from people I know” and 70% trust “consumer opinions posted online.”

  4. Where did your friends go? While Pinterest and Tumbler have seen activity increases approaching 100%, EMarketer predicts that Facebook usage will experience a decline of 3.4% in 2017, as young people ages 12 to 17 migrate to Snapchat and Instagram.

  5. Maybe they just don’t care. As far back as 2013, Pew Internet & American Life Project started reporting that their focus groups found “waning enthusiasm for Facebook” among teens, that Facebook has become a “social burden” for them, and that “users of sites other than Facebook express greater enthusiasm for their choice.”

  6. New can turn old very quickly. Friendster was a fad, Second Life was a fad, MySpace was a fad, and Facebook suddenly seems old school. Don’t connect the latest platform, which may be transient, with the larger phenomenon of digitally enabled social conversations. If you can figure out why people care about your product, you’ll have success regardless of the platform du jour.

Earning social media clout for your business, rather than buying it, seems to be all about engagement. Engagement occurs when customers and stakeholders become participants by sharing ideas with you, or talking to their friends about you, rather than merely viewing what you publish. Each participant becomes part of your marketing department, as other customers read their output, and become part of the conversation. It’s the principle underlying “viral marketing.”

So how do you facilitate engagement and conversation with your solution? According to an explanation I first saw on Social Fresh, it’s really a cycle consisting of three key phases:

  • User to product (engaged user base). This part isn’t new. In order to build any following, you need a solution that solves a real problem, not just technology that wows you, or great functionality with a painful learning curve. How engaged people are will depend on how much value they see, and how much they enjoy using the product.
  • User to brand (engaged audience). Once someone is engaged with your product, you’ll want to get them engaged with your brand. This happens today when you talk to people through social media and responsive customer service. Get in the habit of having genuine conversations with your engaged users to create an engaged audience.
  • User to user (engaged community). Now you have an engaged audience of people who feel an emotional connect with your brand and product. Time to start connecting them with each other. You can do so using conversation platforms like forums, Facebook groups or build something yourself.

So that’s how you earn customers through social media, rather than buying them with banner ads. But don’t be misled, social media marketing to get customers and brand recognition through engagement still costs money (and time and effort). There is no free lunch. But don’t spend your money on things that don’t work anymore. That won’t build any competitive advantage.

Marty Zwilling

0

Share/Bookmark

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Romances Are Common At Work, But The Risks Are Great

Love-People-Couple-FingersWe all have to communicate and collaborate with other people at work, but most of us start out instinctively trying to maintain an emotional distance from others in the work environment. In fact, most employee training courses recommend the distance if the work relationship crosses management levels, and most management policies strictly forbid fraternizing with the team.

Yet the 2017 Office Romance Survey by Vault, Inc. found in polling more than 1,000 professionals at companies nationwide, that 57 percent had participated in an office romance, and two-thirds of those who’ve had relationships said they’d be willing to engage in another one. So recently I started looking for some expert guidance on the pros and cons on this issue.

One source I like is the classic book “Who’s That Sitting At My Desk?” by Jan Yager, who has a Ph.D. in sociology, and is a coach and speaker on work issues and friendship. She outlines the potential benefits of “workships” (work relationships) evolving into friendships and romances as follows:

  • Improve communication and productivity. Even casual friends at work are more likely to understand your requests, be convinced of the value of your ideas, and more likely to work in concert with you on projects. That’s a win-win situation for both sides as more positive things happen more quickly. Warm feelings also make the work seem easier.
  • Offer support through tough times. Positive workplace relationships can help balance some difficult issues you are facing outside of work. Even at work, if you are struggling with a difficult project, getting some help and support from friends there can easily make the difference between success and failure. We all learn more from people we trust.
  • Aid in self-esteem. Work places provide that day-to-day interaction opportunity that is a key to self-esteem for many. Friends are more likely to provide the positive feedback and accolades that we all need from time to time. Friends are also less likely to exhibit aggression and rudeness, which can lower the self-esteem of any receiver.
  • Can be a competitive advantage. Despite accusations of favoritism, if your friendship with the boss is one of many factors in why you get promoted, that friendship may be a big plus for you at work. If you easily make friends with people at work, it means that you have good relationships skills, which is a key requirement as you move up the ladder.

Of course there can be negative consequences to close friendships and romances at work as well:

  • Work-related betrayal. According to most experts, romantic betrayals are the most frequent type of friendship betrayals, with work-related issues a close second. Betrayals at work run the gamut from telling lies, coloring the truth, plagiarizing work, to saying negative things to the boss. Of course, all these things can happen in any workship.
  • More vulnerable emotionally. Through friendship you open yourself up to acceptance, being liked, admired, respected, trusted, and appreciated. You also open yourself up, as do others when they befriend you, to the greater possibility of disappointment, rejection, and misunderstandings. Success is the best antidote to emotional vulnerability.
  • Competition over salary, promotions, and position. Sometimes friends share too many details on salary levels, work habits, and promotion expectations. This can cause feelings of unfairness, and initiate emotionally competitive efforts. The result can be a loss of friendship, and even loss of any working relationship.
  • Hard to keep work-related disagreements separate from personal relationship. Work-related disagreements break up many romantic relationships, and broken personal friendships break up many businesses. In this new age of collaboration, unemotional different perspectives and disagreements have been proven to lead to better decisions.

If you are contemplating a transition from a workship to a more intimate relationship, according to Yager, you should make sure that it satisfies the following three conditions:

  1. Make sure the move is a shared wish. There are three distinct kinds of friends: casual, close, and best. A fourth category is more intimately romantic relationships. None of these four work well if they are "one-sided,” meaning only one of the parties is committed.

  2. Be ready to reveal and involve your non-work experience. Some people find that they have much in common in workplace duties and perspectives, but have nothing in common outside of work. Or they really don’t want to share their personal life details.

  3. Expect increased pressures from trust and discretion issues. All relationships bring increased demands for your time, and bring expectations and pressures during any changes in your life, or at work. Make sure you both have the shared values in your personal life, as well as at work.

In my view and experience, the benefits of more friendship at work far outweigh the disadvantages. Socializing at work today, contrary to a couple of decades ago, is considered collaborative and productive, rather than a waste of time. Today the trend is to “open” office spaces, even for executives, versus the private and quiet offices of yesterday.

Going further in the friendship direction, to a romantic relationship, is still almost always a negative at work, because the emotional ties and tolls often override rational actions. As an example, I find that most Angel investors still decline to fund startup founders that are romantically involved, citing the high risk of breakup.

Work relationships are in vogue, inside a company for collaboration and teamwork, and outside to customers and partners through social media for loyalty and interactive marketing. But all good things can be overdone. Are you maintaining the right balance in your work relationships?

Marty Zwilling

0

Share/Bookmark

Saturday, October 14, 2017

6 Principles For Driving Online Reputation Management

Yelp_Logo.svgEvery startup fears that one angry and unfair customer who can jeopardize the business by a negative post on Ripoff Report, Yelp, or one of the hundreds of other consumer complaint and review sites on the Internet. Most entrepreneurs don’t even know how to keep track of what people are saying about them on the web, much less how to respond or remove it.

Web reputation management, both business and personal, has become a top priority requirement. On the personal side, these items can kill your career, as I discussed in an old article “Google Yourself to See How Other People See You.” Luckily, the basic principles for reputation management are the same for both business and personal environments:

  1. Actively monitor what people are saying about you. You may assert that monitoring the entire Internet space is an impossible problem. Fortunately, there are already tools out there, like Google Alerts (free) and Brand Yourself, which can do the work for you, and send you a daily email report of every link where your name or brand appears.

  2. Proactively build a positive reputation. Maintaining a good reputation means you have to build one early and maintain it. There is a big difference between no reputation with one negative comment, versus 1000 indications of a positive reputation and one negative. Most people accept that no person or organization is perfect.

  3. Quickly address every negative. Many negative customer experiences can actually be turned into positives, if you quickly acknowledge the problem, resolve it, and spread the positive message before the negative one gets amplified. Don’t repeat the “United Breaks Guitars” experience, which now has been published as a book on what not to do.

  4. Push negative content out of view. In reality, most people will never find negative content, unless a link appears on the first page of search engine results. With the right focus on search engine optimization, or the help of companies like ReputationDefender, you can usually push negative links out of sight into the swamp of the Internet.

  5. Remove unwanted content, where possible. Removing your content from the Web is not as easy as canceling your accounts, nor is it completely impossible. You can easily remove content you own (comments on your site or accounts). Experts, like Reputation Defender, have proprietary techniques to correct or completely remove other unwanted content.

  6. Your reputation is your responsibility. The last step is to recognize that you alone are responsible for managing the reputation of your business and your life. Doing nothing, or counting on more laws, is not an answer. Due to First Amendment rights, offensive content, once entered, is often untouchable, and the sources are immune from liability.

The upside to the difficulty of removing unwanted content is that it does justice to those who have come by their bad reputations legitimately. For curbing bad guys, the speed and visibility of the Internet can be a very useful thing. For all the rest of us, it’s nice to know that we can shout back quickly and broadly, when someone starts to whisper about us.

As I have discussed in previous articles, social networking sites like Facebook are now the most frequently used websites on the Internet. Unfortunately, they have also become some of the most abused websites on the Internet, due to the emotions of failed relationships and the immature whims of young users.

So the social networks are the early place to start, in learning the discipline of building and maintaining a positive reputation. If you get that right, the transition to your business will be easy. On the other hand, if you let your reputation slide early to be “cool,” it may take a lifetime to recover. It’s easier to make Google remember than to forget.

Marty Zwilling

0

Share/Bookmark

Friday, October 13, 2017

7 New Initiatives To Fearlessly Grow Your Business

CTAGrowth has always been fundamental to business success, but it’s never been more critical than it is now, nor more difficult. Every opportunity is global, but so is the competition. Evolving customer expectations and technology are the norm, forcing every company, from startups to large enterprises, to innovate quickly, despite their fear of change, uncertainty, and doubt.

As a long-time business advisor, I believe the mantra that every owner needs to live by today is to disrupt their own business before someone else does it for them. You must capitalize on the uncertainties in your market, rather than letting the unknowns slow you down. You need the commitment of every team member to respond quickly and effectively to emerging opportunities.

I found these points made well in a new book, “Fearless Growth,” by Amanda Setili, who has worked with disruptive technology startups in the United States and Malaysia, as well as some of the biggest companies in the world. She offers seven imperatives, which I espouse, for companies of any size to achieve record growth, and I paraphrase them here:

  1. Embrace uncertainty and risk, rather than repeatability. Traditionally, businesses have yearned for consistency, as a lever tor productivity and cutting costs. Today the market and competitive landscape are changing so fast that the best lever to growth is the ability to anticipate and adapt to change, to beat competitors and excite customers.

  2. Get in sync with customers by frequent customer interaction. Seek direct customer feedback, via social media and personal interactions, rather than old market research. Products and services must be updated continuously; not one major annual upgrade. Enable customers to customize your offerings, and learn from the choices they make.

  3. Continually look outside for talent, data, and technology. In the past, companies avoided sharing knowledge or technology, preferring stealth mode and relying on internal expertise to stay safe. We now see that leveraging the ideas and capabilities outside your organization will grow opportunities and reduce risk faster, rather than increasing risk.

  4. Connect and strengthen your customer ecosystem. Modern growth companies, such as Salesforce.com, have found great leverage value in hosting events to have their customers learn from each other, as well as from channel partners and complementary application providers. Attempts to control communication only slow down progress.

  5. Create cross-functional teams to attack opportunities. These open the floodgates of employee creativity. The best growth companies enable employees to choose their own job, and grant them the leeway to get the work done. They connect employees across organizational silos, and establish fast feedback loops to facilitate learning and change.

  6. Pursue growth opportunities outside your comfort zone. Instead of limiting your scope to current in-house capabilities, set clear objectives of acquiring new talent and skills each period, and make learning new skills a prime objective for every employee. This facilitates change and makes new opportunities attractive rather than frightening.

  7. Recognize the impact of trust on efficiency and speed. Take deliberate action to build trust, and be a personal role model. Encourage and expect healthy conflict, debate, and dissent. The result is better decisions, more consensus, and accelerated business growth. Trust is heightened by showing appreciation regularly for individual contributions.

The objective of these imperatives is to help you stimulate continuous and fearless growth, even in turbulent markets, by staying more competitive, fostering innovation, and dominating your space. The time to start is now, if you didn’t start yesterday. Set and communicate clear priorities for your implementation, and don’t let “the way things have always been done” stand in your way.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 09/29/2017 ***

0

Share/Bookmark

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

10 Winning Entrepreneur Insights That May Surprise You

jeff-bezos-entrepreneurEvery aspiring entrepreneur would love to be the next Mark Zuckerberg or Jeff Bezos, but most have no idea what really sets these guys apart from all the rest. Conventional wisdom has them looking for a painful problem, a very large opportunity, and minimal competitive barriers to entry. In reality, most great entrepreneurs find these necessary, but not sufficient for the big win.

They think outside the box, with a sometimes surprising set of strategies, as outlined in a new book, “Think Bigger,” by Michael Sonnenfeldt. He has collected in-the-trenches intelligence and lessons from his TIGER 21 group of over 500 entrepreneurs and executives around the world. Each has amassed $10 million or more in personal assets, and is willing to share their insights with others.

Sonnenfeldt presents a rich array of strategies in his forty lessons from the trenches, including the following paraphrased insights that I find often overlooked or even rejected, based on my years of experience mentoring entrepreneurs:

  1. Experience at a first-rate company is really valuable. Good big companies provide the training, mentoring, and experience managing teams that entrepreneurs need, but can’t afford. In addition, you can learn much about business principles, and your own capabilities, from being surrounded by many intense, ambitious, and super-smart peers.

  2. Entrepreneurship is rarely about just making money. The best entrepreneurs are committed to fixing a problem, or advancing a purpose, and making money is only used as a validation of their insight. Any money made is typically poured back into the cause, rather than relished for a high-class lifestyle or extravagances by the entrepreneur.

  3. Self-control beats passion for long term satisfaction. Passion often leads to a need for instant gratification. Most successful entrepreneurs either learn or are born with the capacity to delay gratification for critical periods in their lives. Even after success, they use self-control to continue to live modestly, and plow their profits back into business.

  4. Think twice before investing with friends and family. Some are so self-centered that they see family and friends as an easy source of capital. Smarter entrepreneurs know that nothing can bring more embarrassment, resentment, and peril to relationships with people you love and respect than losing their money. Don’t jeopardize key relationships.

  5. You are never to smart or too old for a mentor. In case you think mentors are only for “wimps,” you should know that Bill Gates always revered the guidance he received from Warren Buffet on many corporate matters. Most successful business people, whether retired or still active, love to share the wisdom they gained from their own experience.

  6. Entrepreneurial skills can limit investing success. Entrepreneurs and investors are different kinds of people, inside and out. Smart investors diversify their exposure across multiple assets; if any one of these fails, they are still in the game. A true entrepreneur makes one big bet on a new and untested asset, normally against conventional wisdom.

  7. Apply business skills to solve social problems. Social entrepreneurship is on the rise, with the advent of Millennials and a total world view. Companies that pursue socially relevant goals as part of their mission have the potential to generate double-bottom-line results - a financial return as well as a social benefit. One plus one can now equal three.

  8. Skip conservative - be optimistic, even delusional.  The best entrepreneurs just believe they can make it happen – even though conventional logic would peg the risk as being off the charts. Professional investors dismiss founders who give “conservative” financial projections, and usually make less. Shoot for the moon – you may hit it.

  9. Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. Too many entrepreneurs have a tendency to overrate their personal skills and wisdom, and seek out people who won’t challenge them. The smartest ones acknowledge their weaknesses, and find people who complement their skills, from whom they can learn and delegate authority.

  10. Resilience and determination generally beat IQ. We all know of successful businesses started by entrepreneurs who dropped out of school, while MBAs get no premium with investors. According to most experts, “street smarts” (experience) trump “book smarts” (intelligence) every time, especially if accompanied with a large dose of grit.

Whether you are already a seasoned entrepreneur, or just starting out, I recommend that you regularly strive to think bigger and outside the box, starting with the lessons from others who have been there and done that, and emerged successfully. We need you then to contribute to the next set of winning strategies for the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 09/27/2017 ***

0

Share/Bookmark

Monday, October 9, 2017

10 Secrets For Getting More Things Done In Business

Mark-Cuban-productivityEvery business professional I know faces the challenge of getting more things done on time, and getting the right things done. They all dream of working less, and accomplishing more. Yet I see that most are their own worst enemies. They seem to all fall victim to a common set of mistaken priorities and well-meaning distractions that keep them from exceeding their own objectives.

For example, I talk to inventors who think that creating and perfecting the product is the key to a new business. In my experience, I have found that the product is usually the easy part, and the hard part is turning the invention into a business. Or I find people who want to run a business, but don’t claim any technology skills. Both categories need to follow these principles for success:

  1. Organize and plan every business effort. Document a business plan early, rather than trying to keep it all in your head. Most people think a business plan is only for investors, but it’s really for you to make sure you are communicating, and have included all the necessary elements of cost, timeframe, business model, and opportunity assessment.

  2. Work to your strengths, and get help for weaknesses. Stop trying to fix all your weaknesses, and team with others who have the skills you are missing. Don’t try to do everything in business yourself. Recognize when it’s time to call in an expert to get the job done, learn from them, and listen to your own advice.

  3. Do what you love and love what you do. Figure out what’s really important to you as an in life, as well as business. For most, it’s following a passion to make a difference in the world. Identify your top priorities, and choose one of these to focus on. Then you will get things done, and it won’t even seem like work.

  4. Use networking to build valuable relationships. Build a network of business contacts to allow you to harness the power of others’ strengths. Superficial relationships don’t help. Giving is the best and quickest way to strengthen a relationship. Find people of all levels that have been there and done that, meaning people you can learn from.

  5. Just say ‘no’ to all major distractions. You need to set boundaries and say “no”; to stop multitasking, and to find ways to group similar tasks. Don’t forget to delegate to other team members, and remember the 80/20 Pareto principle. This rule states that, in most environments, 80 percent of the results come from 20 percent of the actions.

  6. Don’t let procrastination slow you down. Procrastination is a killer when it comes to being effective. One of the best ways to stop procrastinating is to break big business projects down into small chunks, using small milestones to move forward. Break time into pieces. When there’s an end in sight, it’s a lot easier to get down to business.

  7. Make technology your friend rather than an enemy. Use technology thoughtfully to automate things that take a lot of time, thus gaining leverage. Reuse things rather than re-inventing them. Yet you need to be careful to separate yourself from technology on a regular schedule to not allow a machine’s interruptions to set your day’s agenda.

  8. Keep focus on urgency versus emergency. Remove or de-prioritize all the relentless urgency-killers, including the crisis of the moment, and people who are skeptics or by their actions create destructive urgency. Show some progress each and every day, and constantly purge low value-added activities. Model urgency in your own personal style.

  9. Focus on completion rather than time worked.  Too many business people focus on how many hours they work, or following a set process, rather than how many tasks they complete. The most productive professionals look for ways to achieve desired results in the quickest possible time frame, thus getting more done.

  10. Learn to read people and organizational hierarchies. Everyone around you has strengths and weaknesses, and you need to capitalize on these. Working effectively with other people is the only way to get more done than any one person can accomplish. The same is true of working with other organizations and companies.

If you follow these principles, you will soon see that you are gaining more control of your business and your life. You will find yourself honing in on the things that actually move the business and your career forward and make you happy, while learning the skills you need to resist the rest. In most cases, the challenge is how to get out of your own way!

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 09/25/2017 ***

0

Share/Bookmark

Sunday, October 8, 2017

8 Weak Change Signals That Can Have Explosive Impact

explosive-changeWhen the economy tanks as it did in the last recession, that’s a strong signal that things have to change, and it’s hard to miss. But most of us in business have to deal most of the time with weak signals, or change that is happening in a far more subtle way. These changes can be cultural, like the increasing need to be social, spawning Facebook and a hundred others, or technological, like the explosion of mobile devices around the world.

No business or startup wants to be the next Myspace, or even the next RIM (BlackBerry), where changes in the marketplace were subtle. Recognizing and interpreting weak signals into timely decision making is critical to your business, and it takes skill and focus.

The challenge is knowing what to look for, and how to react. I saw some real guidance in the classic book by Loc de Brabandere and Alan Iny, “Thinking in New Boxes.” While the focus of the book is really on business creativity, the following triggers were outlined as weak signals which should not be overlooked in your efforts to think outside the box, or think in a new box:

  1. A changing value proposition. For example, if it’s getting harder to charge a price premium for the product you’re marketing, or others are offering your subscription service for free, it may be time to start thinking in a new box. Another example is seeing substitute versions of a product, like eBooks, for a low price displacing hardcover books.

  2. New unmet consumer or customer needs. Perhaps you own a consumer products store and see that following the introduction of a new iPad model, there are no attractive protective cases for them yet available. Or you notice that people are getting overnight delivery from Amazon, but your retail store offers no home delivery options.

  3. The entry of new competitors and new suppliers. You are selling several successful computer video games, but notice more and more new ones popping up on smartphones. Or you notice that your line of high quality tools is being undercut by cheap knockoffs manufactured in other countries.

  4. The advent of new breakthrough technologies. You are still providing conventional digital wristwatches while Apple and others are delivering high-tech new versions that sync with your smartphone. Or you are still delivering coupons via the local newspaper, while new entrants are loading them onto your loyalty card or smartphone.

  5. Changes in your organization’s core performance metrics. For example, quarterly sales on one of your most important products suddenly decreases, or your inventory across a whole category has surged. If one metric changes, it may not be significant, but someone needs to monitor whole categories for fluctuations that may be a weak signal.

  6. Unfulfilled business and other potential opportunities. Sometimes you might be astonished to notice something that has not yet occurred, and therefore signals to you an opportunity, like new transportation alternatives. Taxi or bus companies are often slow to recognize a new popular travel location based on population shifts or resort communities.

  7. Broad disruptive events. Everyone notes macro changes, but the weak or secondary implications are often overlooked. Look hard for unanticipated consequences of events like new government regulations on financial processes, changes in environmental patterns, or sociological changes in other countries. First responders are the winners.

  8. Premonitions, anxieties, and/or intuitions. Weak signals may be even more subtle or insidious. Perhaps your assistant mentions that your phone has been ringing much less lately. Or you sense that some of your best people are getting bored. Such inklings and realizations can be valuable warnings of significant impending change.

All weak signals need to be treated with a continuous innovation mindset and urgency, to stay competitive and current. Here is the recommended five-step approach to thinking in new boxes:

  • Doubting everything you think you know.
  • Probing the possible issues to fully understand what is happening.
  • Divergent thinking to create many new boxes, concepts, and hypotheses.
  • Convergence through testing and validating back to a small number of viable changes.
  • Re-evaluating relentlessly for the agility to survive.

New entrepreneurs are notoriously great at capitalizing on new opportunities, both weak and strong. But nurturing this ability after the first burst of creativity, to accomplish the necessary pivots, and keep from getting seduced by their own initial success, is a more rare commodity, even in the startup community.

If you aren’t reacting to weak signals almost every day in this era of fast-paced change, then you are missing opportunities and falling behind. What new boxes are you implementing these days?

Marty Zwilling

0

Share/Bookmark

Saturday, October 7, 2017

7 Leadership Actions To Win In This New World Of Work

engaged-employeesWe are living in a new generation of business, where customers drive the experience, and highly engaged employees are required to keep up with customer expectations. Traditional business leadership practices, including autocratic, reactive, and narcissistic, aren’t working. Only 13 percent of workers are fully engaged, and half have left a job because they hated their boss.

We have all heard the examples of the great new company cultures, popularized by Google, Zappos, and Facebook, which seem to imply that company perks are the secret to success. Of course, these are great, but they don’t happen without enlightened leadership coming first. I believe that business cultures are a function of people and leadership, more than programs.

As a business advisor, I’m always looking for guidance on leadership practices that work, and I was impressed with a recent book, “The Leadership Mind Switch,” by D. A. Benton and Kylie Wright-Ford. Their experience as executive coaches and entrepreneurs gives real credibility to their assessment of some new leadership approaches that are required in business today.

In my view, every aspiring business leader and entrepreneur needs to understand their seven leadership initiatives, as summarized and paraphrased here:

  1. True blue: stay trustworthy beyond reproach. Trust is still at the top of the required list in a leader. New leaders need to remember that trust works two ways – you need to be trusted so people will choose to follow you, and you need to be able to trust people you work with. “True blue” is a step beyond trust, adding authenticity and transparency.

  2. Kindly confident: project and inspire confidence. Leaders today must always project confidence and help others develop confidence, courage, and curiosity. Everyone needs to take the necessary action, despite their fears, to continuously explore new ideas. Combining courage and curiosity creates a confident unstoppable leader and team.

  3. Enlightened: open your mind and constantly learn. Enlightenment refers to an interest in staying informed and approaching every interaction free of prejudice. An effective leader is intellectually curious, constantly learning, and genuinely in pursuit of wisdom about people, places, technologies, scientific advances, economies and cultures.

  4. Tenacious: be persistent in your pursuits. True leaders are tenacious, determined, and self-starting. They can take a tough situation and fix it. They might retrench, reiterate, reconvene, or pivot more often than others, but they keep at it, instead of stalling when something becomes difficult. They know that nothing significant happens with little effort.

  5. Be uber-communicative: use all channels to connect. Effective communication is critically important for a leader – for two purposes; to deliver the right message, and to establish a common understanding of the message by everyone. Assuring mindshare and connection is the new challenge is this world of distractions and multitasking.

  6. Be dynamic: enable change in yourself and others. Dynamic leadership refers to an energy or force that is spirited and magnetic. Leaders must continuously change and advance, with behaviors that require substance as well as style. More importantly, dynamic leaders always support individuals, and enable others to reach their goals.

  7. Be playful: have fun and try new things. Increasingly, as your work and personal lives blend into each other, it is important to bring levity into the workplace, while making it enjoyable for others to be around you. Learning to be more flexible in your thought processes and actions will get you one step closer to a full leadership mind switch.

Compared to what I most often see today, these approaches represent a “leadership mind switch” in the way entrepreneurs need to think about their behaviors to generate the level of employee engagement required to keep up with rapid market changes and customer demands.

Just as importantly, every leader deserves to feel success and satisfaction from their efforts, rather than continual stress and negative feedback from employees and customers alike. The bottom line is that by directing your actions toward helping others pursue their dreams and customer dreams, you will make amazing progress in achieving your own.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Huffington Post on 10/06/2017 ***

0

Share/Bookmark