Sunday, July 25, 2021

6 Keys To Positioning Your Disruptive Solution Today

Primavera De FilippiEvery entrepreneur with a new technology tells me that his innovation will be industry-disrupting, meaning that it will render the existing technology obsolete, and create a new market. Yet truly disruptive innovations, like the smartphone from Apple and the rise of the Internet, are very rare, and are generally unpredicted. So why would any investor ever believe any of these claims?

In fact, as a mentor to entrepreneurs and an investor, I recommend that entrepreneurs avoid using the term disruptive with investors, since many see it as implying extra high risk, a long time for payback, and extensive marketing to build the new market. Yet a win in this department clearly has huge implications for success, and a very real potential to change the world.

Thus, it’s worth some extra effort to understand attributes of the market, in concert with your new technology, which might really indicate that industry disruption is possible with your innovation. In a classic book, “Disruption by Design,” by the renowned innovation consultant Paul Paetz, I found a list of common patterns and recognizable attributes that I like, called disruption fingerprints.

I suspect that several of these will surprise most entrepreneurs as being counter-intuitive to their thinking. Entrepreneurs tend to look for big changes and big markets when seeking disruptive opportunities, when the opposite may be more effective. I agree with Paetz that the following approaches are often more likely to find a disruptive opportunity around the corner:

  1. Initially address a small market niche. Disrupting a huge market intuitively has greater potential, but it’s also like turning an aircraft carrier. It takes a long time and lots of effort to overcome existing momentum, and both investors and customers want to see results on a small scale in their lifetime, before they line up to join the movement.
  1. Pick a technology that somehow seems inferior to the major incumbents. Existing players normally think in terms of bigger, better, and faster, whereas more customers may really be satisfied by smaller, cheaper, and simpler. Think personal computers compared to mainframes, or smartphone cameras compared to professional cameras.
  1. Target large but moderate-to-low-growth segments. Usually these are low-growth for a reason – a new technology or price point could easily be the trigger to a large opportunity. On the other hand, high-growth segments may look more attractive, but are likely being attacked by the big players and many other competitors.
  1. Look for sizable customer populations unattractive to incumbents. These may be people who can’t afford existing products due to income levels or location, but need the solution. Remember the explosion of cell phones throughout the world when cheap versions and new pricing models were introduced a few years ago.
  1. Explore industries where you are an outsider. Most business advisors recommend that you stick with the business area you know, where you have inside knowledge. Often entrepreneurs are more able to think outside the box and bring disruptive change to less-known business domains. Consider Apple’s move into music, telephones, and watches.
  1. Compete against non-consumption and non-existing markets. The most disruptive products are ones that never existed before, and no forecasts are even available to size the opportunity. Facebook built the social media market before customers even knew they needed it. Naturally, these are very high risk efforts, but have unlimited potential.

Of course, entrepreneurs looking for disruptive opportunities should never forget the more likely disruptive alternatives, such as bypassing existing channels to go direct to the customer, finding an order-of-magnitude cost breakthrough, addressing underserved needs, or offering dramatic improvements in ease-of-use and convenience to new and existing users.

Yet, even with these alternatives, market disruption is rarely predictable – it’s obvious only in hindsight. Every entrepreneur should aim for it, but restrain themselves from highlighting that focus to early investors, or even early customers. It’s one of the quickest ways to lose your credibility, and maybe even your opportunity. Pitch your innovation against today’s market.

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, July 24, 2021

5 Strategies For Recognizing Early The Need To Change

Autonomous DrivingEvery entrepreneur realizes that change is now the norm, and they have to adapt their business quickly to survive and prosper. In fact, the best entrepreneurs seem to see breakthrough changes coming even before they really happen, and are able to turn them into huge new opportunities. In the trade, this rare capability is called the ability to see around corners.

While only a few people seem to be born with the right genes, I’m convinced that it is also a skill that can be learned and even institutionalized. In the classic book, “The Attacker’s Advantage,” by world-renowned business advisor Ram Charan, I found some real guidance on what skills are required, what to look for, and how to react in time. Here is a summary of his five basic strategies:

  1. Always on the alert, sensing for signals and meaning of change. Technically, this is known as perceptual acuity. Smart entrepreneurs compare perceptions with a diverse group of leaders and experts on a regular basis. They search for impending changes across multiple environments, and reflect on these to spark new ideas for growth.
  1. A mind-set to see opportunity in uncertainty. Uncertainty is an invitation to go on the attack and entrepreneurs need to be always ready to take their business to a new place in the changing landscape. They should never be defensive, and accept reality when core competencies are actually a hindrance to moving in a more promising direction.
  1. The ability to see a new path forward and commit to it. Leading entrepreneurs don’t wait for everyone to agree with their view of where to take the business, and have the courage of their convictions. They pursue new opportunities with tenacity, identify the obstacles they need to overcome, the blockages that stand in the way, and attack them.
  1. Adeptness in managing the transition to the new path. These entrepreneurs stay connected to both external and internal realities to know when to accelerate and when to shift the short-term/long-term balance, with a sharp eye on cash flow and debt. They create and meet short-term milestones to win credibility with investors and stakeholders.

  1. Skill in making the organization steerable and agile. No business leader can succeed in driving change without being able to bring key people on the team along. They learn to be agile, or steerable, by linking the external realities in real time to assignments, priorities, decision-making power, funding, and key performance indicators.

Examples of recent entrepreneurs who exemplify these attributes include Steve Jobs, who moved Apple from a computer company to smart phones and music, Elon Musk, who seems to be capitalizing on structural changes in the auto industry and space travel, and Jeff Bezos, who parlayed selling books on the Internet to a whole new paradigm for shopping from home.

Too many entrepreneurs allow the pressures of daily crises and total immersion in tactical details to narrow their thinking and to lower the altitude of their view. Everyone needs to find and hone the techniques that work for them in maintaining that perceptual acuity. Here are a few that both Charan and I recommend to get started:

  • Set aside ten minutes of each weekly staff meeting for that purpose.

  • Seek contrary viewpoints from people you respect, rather than compiling support.

  • Regularly dissect the past, to look for change signals you and others missed.

  • Continually increase your mental map of key changes in multiple industries.

  • Evaluate who might use an invention, patent, or new law to create a bend in the road.

  • Use outsiders to multiply your capacity to scan for disrupting patterns.

  • Watch the social scene, looking for new consumer behaviors and trends.

  • Be a voracious reader in all forms of media, both online and offline.

Even if you can’t see around the corners, it helps to have the perceptual acuity to see bends in the road before others. With that, and the courage to accelerate towards them as opportunities, rather than slowing down to mount a defense, you too can be a winner, rather than a victim in today’s uncertain but unlimited market.

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, July 23, 2021

6 Management Strategies To Maintain Brand Leadership

protect-your-brandEvery one of you business owners I know has worked hard to build your brand, and recognizes the critical value of instant brand recognition and leadership. You have done everything to register your brand legally, including domains, copyrights, patents, and trademarks. Yet, as an outside advisor, I often see slippage over time on protecting your brand, which can be costly.

The specifics of these shortcomings are hard to nail down, but I was impressed with the good summary provided in a new book, “Make It, Don’t Fake It,” by Sabrina Horn. She is a widely acclaimed C-suite advisor, speaker, and founder of HORN Strategy, LLC. I add my insights here to her top six key strategies for keeping your brand authentic and above reproach:

  1. Avoid changes that may compromise quality or image. We all strive to reduce costs and improve efficiency, but the ultimate test is the potential to erode values, culture, and brand image. Every change has possible downsides, and it your responsibility to quantify and balance these against benefits. Don’t let your bean counters devalue your brand.

    For example, a few years ago Wells Fargo seriously damaged its brand trying to grow the business by creating accounts without proper customer consent. This resulted in lawsuits and fines, angered many new customers, and the Wells Fargo brand is still recovering.

  2. Evaluate the brand impact of proposed market moves. The push is always on to grow your market with new geographies, new products, and new market segments. Yet every change can cause brand dilution or competition you don’t need. Always check language nuances and translation issues. Moving in or out of the wrong market can kill your brand.

    Most of us can still remember when Ford expanded into Brazil with the Pinto model, not realizing the translation had a negative sexual connotation, which severely hurt Ford’s brand in many countries for all models. There are many comparable examples of big hits.

  3. Recognize that employee morale impacts your brand. If employee morale is down, your brand will be negatively impacted. Thus you need to see and be seen with your people, and walk the talk. Don’t wait for quarterly morale surveys, or feedback from HR. Ask employees for feedback, and commit to fix problems before you feel brand impact.

  4. Never argue with customers, public or private. Pay close attention to social media and online feedback, and never respond defensively. Create and truly listen to your customer advisory council, and focus on removing opportunities for them to be disappointed. Customers, more than advertising, make your brand image in the market.

    Of course, we can all agree that the customer isn’t always right, but it does your brand no good to debate the issue. The best approach is to listen and learn from them – and clarify your brand marketing, customer service, business model, or just find the right customers.

  5. Accommodate and integrate multiple cultures. As you expand the business into new geographies and market segments, focus on culture inclusivity rather than trying to manage multiple subcultures. Use global online “influencers” and common values to seek communication across groups, and keep the focus on your brand rather than differences.

    In this age of the Internet and global communication, it is virtually impossible to isolate individual subcultures, and market your brand uniquely to each. Attempts to do this have resulted in more confusion than value, as well as high management and marketing costs.

  6. Differentiate your brand based on a higher cause. Be different based on a unique value proposition, not just better quality or cost. Know yourself as well as your customer, and make your brand a statement that they can relate to, and want to be a part of. Keep you image authentic, fresh, and harmonious, and firmly based in reality.

    For example, TOMS shoes differentiated their brand of common shoes by highlighting a higher purpose from founder Blake Mycoskie of donating a pair of shoes to the needy for every pair sold. He found that the return was far greater than the cost of donated shoes.

Building and protecting your brand is the ultimate responsibility of every business owner and leadership team. It supersedes all other responsibilities, and should be top-of-mind in everything you do. Don’t let the day-to-day pressures from customers, competitors, and scaling push you into shortcuts that look good on paper today, but may damage your brand image in the long term.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 07/09/2021 ***

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Wednesday, July 21, 2021

8 Principles For Better Delegation And Work Control

to-do-listIn my role as a business advisor, a complaint I often hear from owners and professionals alike is that there is just not enough time to get everything done. This is especially true from those of you who are perfectionists, and feel hard-pressed to delegate critical tasks to anyone who may be less capable. Even worse, I hear the terms control freak or micro-manager tossed around.

The solution, in most cases, is more effective delegation of work to the right people. I’m convinced that effective delegation is a skill that we can all learn and benefit from, and improve on over time, through a new and continual focus on the following key principles:

  1. Give everyone at least one chance to earn your trust. You really don’t know what others around you are capable of until you give them a chance. Don’t assume anything. Less experienced people need the challenge, and you may be the only obstacle to their progress, as well as yours. This starts by hiring people with the right skills and training.

  2. Evaluate every task for the opportunity to delegate. We all have strengths as well as key interest areas. Delegate to match strengths and interests of others. You need to keep only the most critical tasks for your role, and delegate others to give you the focus to excel in the ones you keep. Don’t wait until you are overloaded to consider delegation.

  3. Never delegate work to others that is rightfully yours. Delegation should never be seen as unloading undesired work, or automated load balancing. Every task should be evaluated for applicability, priority, and fit to your role. Arbitrary delegation will likely result in poor quality work, loss of trust, and ineffective use of everyone’s time and skills.

  4. Focus on providing clear instructions and coaching. I often find that people who disappoint in delivery never really knew what was expected, or how it was to be done. Think back to when you were new in this area, and what would have helped you to get the job done quickly and effectively. Make sure they have the right tools and sources.

  5. Set completion times and milestones for follow-up. Just handing out work and expecting no more involvement is not a good strategy. Always expect to check interim milestones, and be attentive to other indicators of good progress or problems. This is an area where multi-tasking and management by walking around pays big dividends.

  6. Delegate decision authority as well as responsibility. If you insist on making all the decisions, you have not really delegated the task. Make sure the person doing the work has all the tools, resources, and decision rights necessary to do the job without constant support from you. Delegation should never result in multiple people doing the same job.

  7. Give private and peer recognition for jobs well done. To provide the highest incentive to complete delegated work, and inspire loyalty and trust, don’t forget to provide the positive individual feedback deserved, as well as peer recognition for progress and results. Don’t make the mistake of always taking credit and never giving credit for work.

  8. Learn to say no when others request help from you. Perhaps you are your own worst enemy, by being too quick to accept assistance requests from others. Some people may try to dodge responsibility or lighten their own workload by pushing their work to you, or frequently asking for your help. Practice speed mentoring, and ask for interim progress.

    Another approach to avoid appearing negative is to ask for time later to discuss the specifics. This gives you a chance to check your calendar first, or give some thought to alternatives before committing. You can also seek reciprocal help to balance the impact.

I understand that all of you who have grown a business from a single-person entity are reluctant to believe that another person can do the work as well as you. Yet your growth and the growth of your business depends on your ability to manage the bigger picture, as well as get the day-to-day work done. You can’t be the leader and have the success you want, if you kill yourself with work.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 07/08/2021 ***

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Monday, July 19, 2021

7 Accelerated Growth Strategies For Disruptive Change

Nuclear-Power-PlantTo build a startup, entrepreneurs need a laser focus on providing an innovative solution to a real problem. Once they achieve that initial traction, the focus needs to change for quicker growth. Most entrepreneurs dream of achieving the exponential expansion of a Google or Amazon, but few investor pitches I see outline any strategy beyond simple marketing to make this happen.

Investors are looking for innovation in the growth strategy, to match or exceed the innovation in the technology and solution. Conventional marketing may be adequate for linear growth, but it probably won’t take your startup to the exponential growth of a large-scale movement.

While searching a while back for the most effective strategies of companies that have achieved huge growth, I came across the classic book “Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World,” by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler. These visionary thinkers outlined in their book a set of modern accelerated growth strategies that I believe every entrepreneur should adopt:

  1. Build a community of evangelists. Become a conduit for people to talk to each other, and feel like part of a special community. According to Seth Godin, it’s also necessary to engage them with the message from you, the leader, about where you want to go, and the change you want to take place in your world. This incents word-of-mouth on steroids.
  1. Nurture partnerships with many other organizations. Playing well with other organizations in cyberspace and in the real world is more effective than trying to move the mountain alone. Build a list of specific organizations that can help you, and how to engage them. Organizations bring their own communities to exponentially grow yours.
  1. Incent friendly competition with prizes. People love to compete. Give community members incentives, rewards, and challenges as a way to square off against one another, and they will show up. Diamandis created the XPRIZE and Singularity University which created huge movements, and exponential growth for related businesses.
  1. Go into battle against a common rival. One of the best ways to strengthen a community is to take a stand, and find a common enemy. Attacking an issue that affects many potential customers allows you to focus on providing solutions, and lets your community do the selling. Refrain from ranting and raving or bashing the enemy.
  1. Deliver edgy product demonstrations. New products being used in innovative and unusual ways spark buzz and attract followers. The opportunities are endless, with the Internet of Things, wearable technology, driver-less cars, and new fashion trends. Get your community involved in both the idea and the delivery.
  1. Host events to bring your community together. Events can also be in cyberspace, or anywhere in the real world. These encourage members to band together and share experiences based on common interests, and strengthen ties to your brand. Don’t forget that when planning an event, your ultimate goal is incite people to advocacy and action.
  1. Maximize your online brand and media presence. Don’t forget the basics of search engine optimization, social media engagement, video marketing, and courting influential bloggers. Your online brand is what your community thinks of you when you are not available. Creating and updating quality content is required to maintain visibility online.

These strategies are exceedingly effective when applied to solutions that are derived from one of the accelerating new technologies, including networks of sensors, infinite computing, robotics, artificial intelligence, and 3D printing. They also work well in building movements based on social causes, environmental change, and health initiatives.

Another more recent strategy for business community building is crowdsourcing. With crowdfunding early, and crowdsourcing to build a community throughout, entrepreneurs can massively increase the speed of business evolution in today’s hyper-connected world. Why not make your idea an unstoppable movement, and not just a business?

Marty Zwilling

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Sunday, July 18, 2021

10 Startup Execution Steps Highlight The Finish Line

business-growing-fast-businessmanBusinesses always seem to take longer to succeed than an entrepreneur expects. Seth Godin once said that overnight success in startups takes about six years, and Seth is an optimist. Thus we all look for shortcuts. Execution shortcuts would be hidden strategies to achieve the endgame sooner, without losing 40 to 60 percent of the financial potential along the way.

The short answer is that there is no magic. But there is consensus from the experts that human dynamics are more the key and the problem, rather than any particular business strategy or tactic. The classic book, “The Execution Shortcut,” by Jeroen De Flander, a well-respected writer and speaker on business strategy execution, offers some good insights and examples.

If you aspire to get a better return from your strategy, De Flander and I agree that you must learn to position your strategy to capture the head, heart, and hands of your constituents. They need a full sense of awareness of where you are going, to care deeply about it, and maintain the highest energy to drive it. Here are ten ways he offers for an entrepreneur to enhance his/her strategies:

  1. Facilitate small choices that get you closer to the finish line. Provide prioritization guidelines to align day-to-day choices with the big choices. To make the right big choice, everyone needs to know who to focus on, and how to offer unique value to customers in the chosen segment. When to say no is also a critical part of any strategy.
  1. Keep the big choice clearly visible in all your actions and communications. People shorten and package messages all the time, causing message distortion which can hide the core of your big idea. So don’t pass messages down the line. Talk directly to every key constituency often, and make your messages as sticky as possible.
  1. Draw a finish line so key people know the real objective. Capture the core of your strategy and show everyone in an inspiring way what strategy success looks like. Everyone works harder when they know who’s winning and the distance to the end. The right finish line also motivates and gives purpose to those traveling the execution road.
  1. Define lead indicators, and regularly re-measure distance to the finish line. Everyone needs a limited set of lead indicators to provide feedback, and allow recalibration based on things learned along the way. Remove old signposts to prevent confusion, and work to prevent information overload.

  1. Share strategy stories for stickiness and heart connections. Story wrappers add context and emotion to the strategy to make people feel and remember the core message. People want to see what kind of small choices they have to make to contribute to the big choice.

  1. Climb the micro-commitment ladder with full engagement. Don’t settle for small commitments on big things. Go after big commitments on small things. The highest rung on the commitment ladder is “Yes, I will get it done no matter what.” This is the only level that represents full ownership of the task, and execution responsibility has really shifted.
  1. Go beyond self-interest to boost belief in others. The key to success is belief. Celebrating small successes along the road make people believe they can achieve a big success at the finish line. Success is a self-fulfilling prophecy, causing people to dig deeper, recover faster, and keep going longer.
  1. Constantly tackle complexity as your business grows. Complexity is the CO2 of the modern business world – the biggest performance killer in organizations. Embrace simplicity to create the most productive working environment. Be constantly on the lookout for best practices and tools to improve your strategy execution.
  1. Experience the power of habits to automate decisions. Each overt decision we make demands mental strength, and when there are too many decisions to take, our reserves run out. Remember how draining your first day on a new job was. Quickly the small decisions become habits. Group habits become your company culture.

  1. Find your 7-day rhythm. A daily rhythm or schedule creates habits faster, but is unrealistic in most business environments. A 7-day rhythm provides regular repetitions, and follows a more normal business flow. Be sure to connect decision horizons and find a spot for strategy in everyone’s weekly agenda.

We have all seen businesses and startups with great ideas that never seem to reach the finish line, while others with more mundane solutions seem to take some hidden path to success. In my experience, like that of De Flander, the difference is almost always related to the entrepreneur and their execution strategy, more so than to the solution provided.

So, the next time you talk to a potential investor, spend more time on your execution dynamics and less time on the product pitch. I suspect it will be a shortcut to at least the funding phase of your startup, and probably long-term business success as well.

Marty Zwilling>

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Saturday, July 17, 2021

5 Keys To Spending Your Time On The Right Work Items

time-management-more-resultsIf you define your self-worth as an entrepreneur by how busy you are, it’s time to find another lifestyle. We all know people who are extraordinarily busy, but never seem to accomplish anything. For survival, entrepreneurs need to be all about accomplishing results that matter for themselves, their team, and their customers. That’s productivity.

Why is this so hard? In an eye-opening Franklin Covey study, respondents indicated that 40 percent of their time was being spent on things that were not important to them or their companies. That is a huge hit on productivity. For insight, I recommend the details provided in the classic book “The 5 Choices: The Path to Extraordinary Productivity,” by Kory Kogon, Adam Merrill, and Leena Rinne.

Although the authors focus has been on large organizations, I believe concepts are even more relevant to entrepreneurs and startups. Every entrepreneur should consciously follow these five key actions and implementation tips, to compete and survive, as well as to get the personal satisfaction they expect from the lifestyle:

  1. Act on the important, don’t react to the urgent. Filter the vitally important business priorities from the urgent for the moment, but less important ones, and keep your focus on what matters most to your success as a startup. This will increase your return on the moment (ROM) in the midst of fierce distractions.
  1. Go for extraordinary, don’t settle for ordinary. To change the world, as envisioned by your passion, you need to achieve extraordinary results on the important things. That means identifying the few most important roles you play in the startup right now, giving a framework for balance, motivation, and fulfillment.
  1. Schedule the big rocks, don’t sort gravel. You can never achieve major milestones by just sorting through the gravel faster. Decide what is most important and get those activities in the bucket before the week begins. Spend at least thirty minutes each week planning your schedule to execute with excellence on those important things.
  1. Rule your technology, don’t let it rule you. Turn technology into a productivity engine, rather than a burden, to battle the avalanche of email, texts, and social-media alerts that threaten your productivity. Put order into the chaos by using technology to place all incoming information into four categories: appointments, tasks, contacts, and documents.
  1. Fuel your fire, don’t burn out. There are only two sources of energy: a clear and motivating purpose, and a healthy body. Manage the five primary energy drivers of moving, eating, sleeping, relaxing, and connecting to create a pattern of life that fuels your fire and keeps you from burning out before your startup achieves success.

In addition to following these choices personally, and entrepreneur has to instill the same priorities and values into every member of the team, through leadership. Every business culture is built by the actions of its leaders, primarily through the startup process. Here are some ideas on how you can exercise leadership in creating a high productivity culture throughout the team:

  • Regularly share your commitment to productivity with everyone.
  • Practice productivity planning with your key team members.
  • Create an environment where it is safe for people to make better decisions about where they are spending their time, attention, and energy.
  • Break the assumption that everything you ask for is needed immediately.
  • Provide and encourage the best use of technology to manage information overload.
  • Reward highly productive efforts, just as you might reward good emergency responses.
  • Encourage an aura of healthy energy and living versus anything for the cause.

Whether you are the entrepreneur leader or a team member, remember Pareto’s Law, which asserts that 80 percent of all outputs result from 20 percent of the inputs. It’s not the hours you work, but the work you put into those hours. Think seriously about which 20 percent of your tasks will produce more results than the other 80 percent combined. That’s extraordinary productivity.

Marty Zwilling

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