Friday, January 27, 2023

10 Keys To Winning Your Career And Startup Challenges

Contextual Robotics Institute 2018 Forum: Healthcare RoboticsIn business, you can never win every battle, but you must win the critical ones for your own longevity and the success of your business. Picking the right ones is more than half the battle. In my experience as a business advisor, I find that many people spend most of their time on the wrong problems, usually due to ego, daily pressures, or emotions. You must re-prioritize daily.

For example, I once had a business associate who loved to help his peers, which is a positive attribute, until he was unable to complete his own commitments on time, and his career was in jeopardy. As a business owner, I myself had to learn to depend on skilled partners, rather than jump in and try to solve every business challenge myself, from fund raising to social media.

Here is a summary of my recommendations for picking the right battles in a business environment, and how to fight challenges most effectively for satisfaction and growth:

  1. Set personal objectives and make your own decisions. Listen to others and seek their input, but don’t allow them to make your decision for you. Follow your own interests and business insights to increase satisfaction and long-term success. Create a personal business plan, with milestones for your own tracking, and celebrate each step completed.

  2. Help others who have the potential for helping you. By helping others, you will learn from their mistakes, and greatly increase their interest of helping you back. Both of these results will increase your odds of success on your next decision and step forward. In addition, helping others will give you experience you need in other business domains.

  3. Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. None of us can be experts in all the disciplines required in any business. Build relationships with people who have complimentary skills, rather than “yes” people or just friends and family. You can then get better guidance, and learn more, in order to win on tough issues we all face in business.

  4. Become an active listener, and ask more questions. You can’t learn anything while talking, so try to spend more your time listening and asking for input. Pick your battles carefully, since real analysis requires focus, and this is required for good decisions and positive outcomes. Be sure to watch body language of others carefully, for more input.

  5. Budget your time carefully to work on the right problem. Due to the daily pressures of business, I find that many professionals spend their time on the issue of the day, rather than issues important to their future. The result is no decision or bad planning leading to personal failure on priority issues. Time management is a major key to business success.

  6. Don’t let procrastination leave you stuck and frustrated. Tackle the challenges first that are most important to you, rather than trying to solve every problem or seeking to satisfy someone else. Drive that issue to a conclusion and make a decision. Any decision is better than no decision, and it will leave you with the satisfaction of moving forward.

  7. Learn things from every setback, no matter how small. Everything learned is a success and step forward, so keep a positive perspective. How well you handle uncertainties by climbing over your hurdles and standing back up after a fall is what will determine your ability to win in the long run. Pick battles that have value in that context.

  8. Don’t let fear of failure lead you to compromise your values. Use your passion for positive results and confidence in your abilities to overcome the natural fear of failure when approaching any new challenge. Use your support resources and access to coaching to solidify your mindset and personal values, and don’t back down prematurely.

  9. Never assume a victim mentality in a business challenge. There is no entitlement to success in business, so the only way to win is to take full responsibility for your actions and decisions. It’s easy to blame the economy or some other person for your challenge, but you must learn that there are always more positive alternatives that you can find.

  10. Look for innovative alternatives that have never been tried. People who succeed in business recognize that everything is subject to change and innovation, and there are very few absolutes. Make it part of your satisfaction to find that unique solution no one else had yet seen or tried. You become the winner when you outwit your competition.

In my view, the business world is moving faster and faster, making the opportunities for your success even greater. Don’t let your own perseverance wane on any of the critical challenges and dreams you have now or will experience soon. We need your success to feed our own. Make every challenge a win-win.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 1/12/2023 ***



Wednesday, January 25, 2023

5 Pitfalls to Avoid When Transforming Your Business

transforming-your-businessNo matter how well your business seems to have worked for you up to this point, you can be certain that it will need to be heavily transformed for tomorrow’s new world-wide economy and no industry sector boundaries. New digital technologies, business models, and regulatory rulings are forcing all of us to think outside of our silos and rethink what it means to operate effectively.

For example, only a few people today still think of Amazon as an online provider of books and related goods, now that they have exploded their business world-wide into every product arena, added web services (AWS), television and film production (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer), a bricks-and-mortar grocery chain (Whole Foods), and more. None of us can afford to be a silo anymore.

As a business consultant, I can get you started in this transformation, but I was pleased to see more detailed guidance, including things to watch out for, in a recent book, “The Ecosystem Economy,” by Venkat Atluri and Miklos Dietz, both senior partners at McKinsey & Company with much experience. I will paraphrase their key strategy challenges here, with my own points added:

  1. You can be too focused on the short-term. Transforming your organization for the new global economy requires perseverance and long-term thinking. Lay out the potential growth trajectory of your business environment carefully with reasonable milestones, to strike a tight balance between long-term and short-term parameters and judge progress.

    In many cases, I see leaders lulled into a false sense of complacency by adequate short-term returns, and the pressures of daily operations. I urge you to block out time on your calendar at least monthly for more strategic thinking and long-term goals and objectives.

  2. Outsourcing the entirety of building a new system. Outsourcing may look like a quick and easy solution, but you can’t let a partner or supplier drive your business strategy and direction, and it will never absolve you of the responsibility of providing business success. It is fair to bring in outside technology to reduce the risk and speed the implementation.

    I recommend outsourcing for flexibility in existing operations, but you need to take the leadership role in preparing your company for the future. Most great business leaders, including Jeff Bezos, maintain a key internal team to study and implement the next steps.

  3. Not having a means to measure holistic impact. Don’t fail to develop the proper comprehensive metrics for assessing how you and any partners are doing in terms of value creation. It is vitally important to leverage your efforts to maximize all key constituents, including customers, team members, partners, and other stakeholders.

    In my experience, there are still only a few people who like to read numbers and understand them, aside from data analysts. The business ecosystem of tomorrow is too complex to be run by your intuition and gut feel, so don’t forget to add numbers discipline.

  4. Build too far or too close to the core business. If you start building too close to core systems, a transformation can cause problems as managers try to juggle and prioritize current operations. Reaching too far out can also make it impossible to leverage synergies with the current business, and reach beyond the current culture change ability.

    My own insight is that some companies can’t let go of their cores, like Blockbuster, never transforming them even in the face of a new world. Others, lured by hot new markets, abandon their core prematurely, with equally disastrous results. Always keep a balance.

  5. Not accepting failure on any of the new elements. Some failing elements and pivoting must be expected on all new initiatives. Rather than being too proud to admit failure, or imprudently continuing to invest, I recommend that you be transparent with all progress, good and bad, and also celebrate the learning you get from every failure along the way.

    Don’t let your ego or stubbornness drive you to give up too soon on your transformation efforts. Remember, long-term success is a journey, with many challenges in the road ahead. A few wrong turns should never deter you from reaching the destination.

While any business transformation can be challenging, I urge you to always put value creation for your customers, your business, and ecosystem partners ahead of profits. The potential in this emerging world-wide ecosystem market is greater than ever before, as is evidenced by Amazon, Google, Tesla, and others already in the game. It’s time now to get busy, or get left behind.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 1/9/2023 ***



Monday, January 23, 2023

10 Keys To New Business Learning As An Entrepreneur

learning-from-failureIf you can’t deal with failure, then the entrepreneur lifestyle is not for you. Don’t believe that urban myth that all you need is a good idea, a little fun work, and the money will start rolling in. When you are pushing the limits, nobody gets it right the first time, or even maybe the tenth time. That’s why the term “pivot” was invented, so you don’t have to call every change a failure.

Thomas Edison called every failure an experiment (now it would be a pivot), and each one told him successfully what didn’t work. Mistakes are more insidious than failures, and should be avoided at all costs (use your advisors and other resources). Mistakes are things you do on purpose, with negative consequences already known, because you didn’t do your homework.

Failures and pivots come in all shapes and sizes, but entrepreneurs need to adhere to a common set of principles for failing productively, leading to ultimate success:

  1. Don’t allow the same failure twice. This is called the “fail forward” strategy, or learning more about your business from each failure, as well as developing the confidence and commitment to make decisions and take responsibility for them regardless of the results. Repeating the same failure, or the common failures of others, is a huge mistake.
  1. Keep the cost of failure survivable. Keep the key elements in your strategy and rollout small enough and tested early, so that a single failure will not bring down the rest of your startup. This is often called the “fail fast” strategy, with the ability to adapt and iterate to success, based on learning.
  1. Make each move forward a planned experiment. Don’t rely on random opportunities and default decisions to set your strategy. The idea is that there is a right way to go wrong, and “failing smart” allows you to learn something from each pivot. Overt decisions, based on rational thought and real data, will always trump no decision.
  1. A credible failure makes an entrepreneur more investable. Emanating from Silicon Valley, there is a culture of “fail often,” and you’ll succeed sooner. But be aware that failures are analyzed as closely as successes, to see if they represent real innovation, real learning, and a rational decision process, indicating success potential.

  1. Actively seek and don’t ignore critical feedback. Successful entrepreneurs assume some adaptation and change will be required, so they actively seek feedback, spot failures and fix them early. They avoid the instinctive reaction of denial, or the stubbornness of charging straight ahead despite evidence that a strategy is not working.
  1. Determine not only what went wrong, but also how to do it right. Avoid random trials and errors. If you don’t learn from a specific failure, it becomes a mistake that is destined to happen again. Every failure deserves a root cause analysis, so that you end up fixing the real problem, and not just a symptom.
  1. Document and update business processes after each failure. Too many failures in startups result from key business processes not being documented at all, or being non-functional. Failures should result in better processes and better documentation, or they become mistakes destined to be repeated.
  1. Never blame bad luck, poor timing, or misjudgment. These are most often excuses, rather than reasons for a failure. There will never be a perfect time to launch a startup. There will always be uncertainty, and we will always be humans, using judgment calls in lieu of knowledge and real information. Explore the root cause of every failure.

  1. Listen to conventional wisdom and advisors, then chart your own path. New paths are the key to success for an entrepreneur, but unless you listen and do your homework, you will be unable to recognize the old proven paths to perdition. Blindly following old paths, or ignoring known dangers, are unforgivable mistakes.
  1. Practice resilience as the best antidote to failure. Thomas Edison had resilience, bouncing back after 1000 failures on the light bulb alone. Many experts believe that the primary cause of startup failure is not running out of money, but quitting too early. If you accept failure as learning, it’s not discouraging to keep adapting until you find success.

Success may not really always start with failure, but the wise entrepreneur should expect it, embrace it, and capitalize on the learning opportunity. In reality the difference between success and failure in a startup is very small – for example, being acquired in the throes of a bad experiment might be seen as a success or a failure, depending on your perspective.

In the entrepreneur lifestyle perspective, every learning experience is a success, so failure is not an option.

Marty Zwilling



Sunday, January 22, 2023

8 Strategies To Capitalize On Untapped Global Markets

global-markets-untappedIn my experience, the Silicon Valley startup model, focused on disrupting established industries, has treated the USA well and created some great global businesses. Yet many of you are telling me that we are all missing big opportunities by not recognizing the unique challenges faced by startups in developing countries, where infrastructure is lacking, and talent is not so concentrated.

In effect, Silicon Valley needs to take a more global perspective. It has played almost no role in the emergence of current non-US bred startups, including Alibaba in China, Waze from Israel, Paytm in India, and many more. From my consulting with entrepreneurs in Europe and other countries, I’m convinced that we all could benefit from adapting to meet their environments.

I found these challenges and opportunities outlined well in a classic book, “Out-Innovate,” by Alexandre Lazarow. He comes from a background in venture capital from inside and outside the Valley, as well as entrepreneurship work with startup efforts around the world. I second his list of top innovation challenges and strategies to capitalize on untapped global startup opportunities:

  1. Create new markets rather than disrupt existing ones. Silicon Valley is focused on disrupting established industries, but in many parts of the world, innovators must create new sectors, such as education, health care, financial services, and energy. Competition is not always a bad thing, and the real purpose is often to make the world a better place.

  2. Design the full stack, not just a new software element. In Silicon Valley’s classic model, startups must start “asset light.” That means they look for focus on a single piece of the value chain, to limit capital required, people, hardware, and complexity. The idea is to build excellence in one area, and get the rest from the ecosystem.

    In other parts of the world, innovators often need to develop both the ultimate product or service, as well as the enabling infrastructure that underpins it. Even here, Elon Musk faced this issue with Tesla, needing a support ecosystem as well as new technology.

  3. Build for sustainability and resilience, as well as growth. With a singular focus on building unicorns, very rapid growth has been a key metric. But for many other innovative startups in emerging markets where shocks are frequent, a focus on sustainability and the longer view are more key to success. Indeed these principles are good for all startups

  4. Connect ideas and networks from around the world. With today’s pervasive Internet, the best ideas traverse continents and improve with successive waves of adaptation, through diversity in experience, culture, and worldview. Thus Uber’s ride sharing evolved to Gojek in Indonesia, to include delivering food, packages, and even financial services.

  5. Target a global market rather than a local from day one. Even Silicon Valley is running out of local markets large enough to sustain scale. Today’s smart innovators target a large opportunity from fragmented regional markets around the world. It’s also a good defensive move, to preempt competition, which is bound to come world-wide.

  6. Assemble a distributed A-team from top world talent. Silicon Valley’s conventional model is to integrate local experienced engineering, product development, and marketing people for the big push. The distributed model draws on a diverse pool, helps manage costs, and captures regional insights and focus necessary to win local customers.

  7. Manage risk – don’t just “move fast and break things.” Managing risk is about determining upfront which risks are acceptable and which are non-negotiable. Many global ecosystems don’t have the tolerance for legal negotiations and recovering from mistakes. Even consumers here in the US are demanding a more responsible approach.

    Witness the recent backlash against Facebook and Twitter for the non-transparent use of customer data, and for enabling foreign election interference. Facebook’s market value tumbled many billions in 2018 due to users’ decreased confidence in the platform.

  8. Develop new venture models for tougher ecosystems. Without easy access to venture capital, entrepreneurs might have a very innovative idea, but no way to get it off the ground. Investors must learn to appreciate the value of global diversification, be less restrictive on timelines, and prioritize social impact as well as business growth.

I see more and more evidence that that the larger potential for you today as an entrepreneur is to create new industries on a global scale, rather than disrupt old ones. That requires a redefinition of startup and funding best practices and focus, including building new ecosystems, a focus on resilience, societal challenges, and diversity. The global entrepreneurial age is upon us.

Marty Zwilling



Saturday, January 21, 2023

10 Ways To Make Your Funding Pitch More Hard-Hitting

funding-investor-presentationThe average length of a funding pitch to angel investors is ten minutes. Even if you have booked an hour with a VC, you should plan to talk only for the first fifteen minutes. The biggest complaint I hear from fellow investors is that startup founders often talk way too long, and neglect to cover the most relevant points. Or they get sidetracked by a technical glitch due to poor preparation.

If you start by pitching your extended life story, that’s the wrong point. Equally bad is a full tutorial on your new disruptive technology. Investors are more interested in your solution and your business, rather than your technology. Here are some tips on the right approach and the right points to hit:

  1. Match your material to the time allotted. If you have ten minutes, that means no more than ten slides. Then match your pace to cover all the material. I’ve seen several presentations that never moved past the first slide before running out of time. An obvious effort to keep talking after the time limit won’t save your day with investors.
  1. Remember you are pitching to investors, not customers. Some entrepreneurs seem to think that their product pitch is also their investor pitch. I outlined what investors expect to see in an old article “Adding Slides Does Not Enhance Your Investor Pitch.” These are tuned to the ten-minute limit, but are just as adequate if the investor gives you an hour.
  1. Check the setup and set the stage. If the projector doesn’t work, or won’t connect to your laptop, you are the one that loses. Have at least one backup plan, such as copies of your slides to hand out and discuss, in case all else fails. The first words out of your mouth should be “Can everyone hear me, and read the screen?”
  1. Research your audience before presenting. The most respected presenters are the ones who have done the research before-hand to know who is in the audience, and have tailored their message to these interests. If you know only a few people in the audience, acknowledge them, and convince the others that this is not a random cold call for you.
  1. Dress appropriately and professionally. It’s always better to be over-dressed than under-dressed. Business casual is the standard. Remember that most investors are from a generation where faded and torn jeans were on the wrong side of success in business.
  1. Let the top person do all the talking. Tag team shows don’t work in short venues. More importantly, investors want to see and hear the top guy – typically the founder or CEO. They will be judging his aptitude, his character, and his passion. Others can be present for effect, but deferrals to team members for answers are a sign of weakness.
  1. First, get their attention with your elevator pitch. Start with the problem and your solution. These are your hooks, and they better be covered in the first 30 seconds. State your value proposition, and what specifically you are offering to whom. Skip the acronyms, history of the company, and the colorful autobiography.
  1. Lead with facts, but skip the details. Skip the generic marketing phrases like more user friendly, massive opportunity, and paradigm shifting. “According to Gartner, the opportunity is 100 million by 2025, with 12% compounded growth.” Investors don’t need to know the implementation details of your patent or customer support plan.
  1. Don’t forget to ask for the order. How much money do you need, and what percent of your company are you willing give up for that amount? If you want investor interest, the business parameters of a deal should be presented as clearly as the product parameters.
  1. Close by asking for questions and promising follow-up. Acknowledging feedback and actually listening for ways to improve will always lead to a positive impression. You should answer questions with data if you have it, but avoid defensive responses in favor of a promise to follow-up after the meeting.

Most importantly, don’t forget to practice, practice, practice. Just because you have given a thousand pitches in your life, don’t assume you can finesse this one by reading the bullet points in real time from the slides that your team put together for you. You need to be totally familiar and comfortable with your pitch to give it effectively.

Forget the theory that you can “rise to the occasion” and impress everyone with your dynamic speaking ability. If you are pitching the wrong point in the wrong way, the occasion will be more your demise rather than the rise of your dream.

Marty Zwilling



Friday, January 20, 2023

5 Principles For Learning From Practice In Business

female-entrereneurs-trainingAfter years of working in small businesses as well as large ones, I’m convinced that you shouldn’t expect to get it all right the first time, and learning how to run any business is more a result of practice and experience than just academics. Therefore, I often recommend to entrepreneurs and business professionals that they not get too frustrated with initial failures or give up too soon.

Of course, there are some basic principles that people in all careers follow today in maximizing their success, including discipline, determination, learning from mistakes, and practice. If you are into instant gratification or overnight stardom, then starting and growing a business may not be for you. Just ask any one of big winners in business today, such as Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos.

Here are the key recommendations I offer all my clients for learning and moving forward in the business arena, based on my own experience and listening to business leaders and professionals in technology, as well as services:

  1. Define your success objectives early and don’t stray. Don’t be easily distracted from your goals, and don’t expect business success from a random walk. If you don’t know where you are going, it is highly unlikely that you will ever get there. Stay motivated and positive on making every iteration get you a step closer to that desired destination.

    Successful people find that setting goals and objectives provide motivation, rather than waiting for other incentives, such as easy cash or living free. Yet I find that motivation only takes you so far. Goals, when used correctly create habits, which drive true success.

  2. Focus on what you have learned from each iteration. Even when results from your plan seem to have eluded you, find positives in what you have learned. Success comes to those who never give up, and adapt most quickly. Use your vision and passion to keep the energy flowing, guide your efforts, but don’t hesitate to pivot as you learn from failure.

    The great businessman Thomas Edison called his every iteration an experiment. He made no excuses for 10,000 light filament failures. Challenged by his contemporaries, Edison responded: “I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” He then succeeded.

  3. Keep your primary attention on market needs today. Change is the only constant in today’s world of customers and competitors. You can only succeed by listening to all feedback, positive and negative, and iteratively adapting to what you have learned. Factor these changes into your original dream, but don’t assume it can change the world.

    In extreme cases, the change you learn about will require that you essentially reinvent yourself or your business. I believe in the new adage that if you're not disrupting, you will be disrupted. You will need to get outside of your comfort zone to survive and prosper.

  4. Build more relationships with experts and peers. This requires proactive networking and active participation in relevant industry conferences and forums. In business, success is often not what you know, but who you know, and who knows you. It’s easy to get too immersed with daily issues, so be sure you reserve some time for relationships.

    An example is the famed mentoring relationship between Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, both very busy and very smart people. While they have always been in totally different businesses, each still gives much credit to the other for their own learning and success.

  5. Keep up with the latest tools and academic offerings. Just remember that you must never be too busy to learn new things. New software tools and business courses arrive every day, and keeping abreast of the latest in this rapidly changing world is a primary key to progress and success in business. Not keeping up means falling behind quickly.

    In my view, a relatively recent technology which has already transformed many businesses is “artificial intelligence (AI),” yet the potential is even larger. If you don’t find it in any of your solutions or processes yet, it may be time for some new learning.

I assure you won’t succeed with every business step, but you will always learn something new. By capitalizing on this learning, and following the principles outlined here, you can make every initiative, even failures, a step forward in your journey to business success. I submit that if you celebrate every step forward, you will find it comes easier and gets you farther every time.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 1/5/2023 ***



Wednesday, January 18, 2023

6 Keys To Competitive Advantage By Memorable Service

memorable-experience-serviceCustomer service has traditionally been focused on the resolution of complaints, primarily after a transaction. With the advent of social media, and instant communication via the Internet, that definition has been expanded to include all aspects of the customer experience, from finding you and what they need, to the ease of completing the transaction, as well as all follow-on support.

In this context, even “satisfied” is only a “meets-minimum,” and does not put you ahead of your competition. To stand out, you need to provide exceptional and memorable personalized service at all levels in order to get the advocacy and loyalty of your customers, and get the word-of-mouth recommendations that you need to grow the business. Even the best marketing doesn’t do it.

As a business consultant, I’m often asked for some pragmatics on how to accomplish these objectives on a regular basis, without losing control or costing a fortune. My recommendations always include adopting a customer mindset, as well as the following steps:

  1. Accept today’s definition of relevant customer support. With pervasive access to social media, customers no longer differentiate poor product repair and replacement from a poor shopping experience or customer usage satisfaction. Your challenge is to excel in all elements of a customer interaction, from pre-sales to long-term advocacy and image.

    This new definition applies equally to brick-and-mortar stores, as well as online platforms. In reality, many companies now offer a “clicks and bricks” business model, with shopping online, and then completing the purchase and support at a physical location.

  2. Treat every customer exceptionally before they complain. Trying to resolve every problem, after it happens, is too little too late. You must know or react to the expectations of individual customers, and personalize their treatment to gain their remembrance of exceptional service. Great customer service now must be proactive, rather than reactive.

    For example, the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company has implemented a practice of authorizing employees, after relevant training, to spend up to $2,000 per guest, without pre-approval, to solve a special requirement for any guest that will make their visit totally memorable.

  3. Make sure non-contact experiences match face-to-face. As customers do more searches, transactions, and support online, these elements can easily torpedo your exceptional personal interactions by appearing non-responsive or rote. An oversight or deficiency on any platform can easily cancel all other positives, and be hard to overcome.

    Amazon is the benchmark for providing exceptional online experiences, by showing you options you like from past purchases, one keystroke ordering, and delivering the item to your door very quickly, potentially (in the future) even before you ordered it.

  4. Prioritize value to the customer over and above cost to you. This means real customer value emphasis in all interactions and marketing, versus low price and price concessions. It also means proactively collecting and highlighting testimonials from other customers, and communicating these online and in face-to-face customer interactions.

    Exceptionally satisfied customers that perceive a lot of value in your offering are usually willing to pay more, while unsatisfied customers will leave, even at a low price. You may find that “cost-plus” pricing results in giving away margin and losing incremental profits.

  5. Incent a customer collaboration culture across your team. Real customer relationships are required to understand current expectations, keep ahead of change requirements, and nurture advocacy and word-of-mouth marketing. Reward team members who excel in these relationships, and provide training and processes for others.

    Feedback from the field shows that a successful collaboration, whether with customers, employees, vendors, or other business partners, will make your company stronger and more competitive in the marketplace. This results in more profits and growth for you.

  6. Drive down decision making on how to treat customers. You need real engagement and commitment to exceptional customer experiences from every member of your team. Inflexible processes. as well as centralized decision-making work against this goal. Start by hiring the right people, and providing the necessary training, coaching, and mentoring.

    In all cases, employees can only make the right decisions if they know and share your vision, values, and priorities for the business. Thus effective communication is the key here, both from the top down as well as the bottom up. You can never edict all decisions.

Not so long ago, every business assumed that the keys to competitive differentiation were the highest quality product, the best value for the buck, and reasonable customer service as the last priority. Today, I’m convinced that the customer priorities are reversed, requiring a new focus on customer service, with the broader definition, to keep you in the lead for growth and success.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 1/3/2023 ***