Saturday, April 25, 2009

Millennials: How Not to be a Survivor

With all the reality TV shows these days, I think they are missing an opportunity on one that highlights millennials (Gen Y) struggling to fit into the traditional business workplace. I’m confident that millennials are our future in business, but a little adaptation on both sides along the way is probably needed.

After a few articles on Millennials as entrepreneurs and managing them in startups, I have collected a list of “cultural mis-matches” most of which have actually been observed in the real world.

I offer a few of these here as an attempt to lighten your day, and also because I believe there are serious messages that we can learn from every bit of humor. Actually, these can apply to people of any age, but you might be a millennial if…
  1. You had to turn down three job offers before this one because they insisted that you had to be at work by 9am.

  2. You feel comfortable wearing your Abercrombie & Fitch moose logo t-shirt every day to work, except for dress-down Fridays.

  3. You are perturbed that the guy in the next cube keeps interrupting you with his questions, rather than just sending a text message.

  4. Your new boss is so hot, that when she mentioned the job comes with “benefits,” you signed on immediately.

  5. You suggest that the ultimate collaboration platform for the next project would be either Facebook or Twitter.

  6. When you pitched the great new “mashup” technology to the CEO, you couldn’t understand his strange comment about a train wreck.

  7. You think this company should stop its embarrassing focus on making money, and concentrate on things that create real meaning in the world.

  8. You are proud of your multi-tasking capabilities, to be able to listen to your iPod and text your friends, for maximum productivity during staff meetings.

  9. You are convinced that your company user-group meetings have something to do with drug rehab.

  10. You overheard some executives talking about the “dot-com bust”, which is a mystery since you can’t think of a woman named Dot who ever worked in this office.
If all these anecdotes all strike you as perfectly normal and reasonable behavior, then you also might be a millennial. Of course, every company culture is different. If you are a millennial or not, and you want to be a survivor in your business world, it pays to follow the leader.

But then, if you are the entrepreneur, you are the leader. Maybe that’s why I’m seeing a new surge of startups these days! Have fun.

Marty Zwilling


Friday, April 24, 2009

Famous Last Words: “But I MEANT WELL!”

Most of us entrepreneurs mean well when we speak. So why do our words and gestures get us into so much trouble sometimes?

We are driven and committed, dreamers in a hurry. Sometimes, in the heat of battle or in an evaluation of a – well to us an out and out slacker who outrages our work ethic - our language gets “carried away,” and we get into trouble. We “lose it”, and we regret it later.

We have to watch our mouth, as they say, as much as we watch our patents, our cash flow, and our brand. More, actually.

We are public people when we launch. And that means we live in a glass bubble, especially if we “catch on.”

Henry Ford is one of the undisputed geniuses of modern times. By 1920 one out of two cars in the US was a Ford. A brilliant innovator, his manufacturing methods transformed the world. And yet, as he grew in power, he began to have less patience with his own people and with customers.

One of his workers approached him with excitement and said “Mr. Ford! I have an idea!” Ford snapped at him “I don’t pay you to have ideas!” As to a suggestion that he respond to customers’ changing tastes, he quipped “They can get any color they want, as long as it’s Black.”

And, slowly, Ford began to lose market share.

Shockley, the Nobel-Prize winning inventor of the transistor, began to spout racist comments. So did the great baseball legend Ty Cobb. Nixon laced his white House – recorded – conversations with angry expletives against anyone he disliked – a long list.

The CEO of Pfizer and Home Depot were jettisoned by their boards for acting and speaking too abrasively. And yet, if you ask them, they will tell you how much they cared, how vivid their vision was, and how difficult it is to “soar like an eagle when you’re surrounded by turkeys.” That is a statement I’ve heard from many an entrepreneur.

Their passion was ultimately seen as toxic. A strength becoming an uncontrolled weakness.

The CEO of Home Depot, by the way, is now CEO of embattled Chrysler. He now speaks like a statesman: caring, visionary, patient and thoughtful.

There is a valuable lesson there for all of us. Meaning well isn’t enough. Your words must do well, or they could be your famous last words.

Michael A. Barr

Today’s article is presented by the newest member of our Startup Professionals team, Michael A. Barr. His executive coaching is just one of a long list of business and academic credentials he brings to the table. Check him out on our website. You will be hearing more from him. We have a lot to learn.

Marty Zwilling


Friday, April 17, 2009

Entrepreneurs: Credible and Incredible

As an entrepreneur, your credibility is more valuable than money – with investors, your team, and your customers. If you don’t have it, you won’t succeed with any of these. If you have it, don’t let it slip away from you.

What is credibility?

The word is derived from the Latin "Credo", which means "I believe," "I trust you." It is also closely related to the word "credit."

Are you credible?

Do people trust you? Do they believe in you? I was talking to Marty Zwilling, founder and CEO of Startup Professionals about credibility. He noted that it is difficult to ask someone that question. "How would they know?" he asked.

Sometimes the answer is dramatic. Apple Computer's board threw out Steve Jobs in 1985 and brought in John Sculley, a marketing executive from Pepsi. The message he sent was that we have a great product here - all we need is to sell it as we sell soft drinks. After eleven years of that kind of management and the much-ridiculed Newton, Steve Jobs came back and the company has soared.

What has made Jobs credible? Vision; innovation; evangelistic passion and legendary presentation skills.

Sculley was a very successful marketer at Pepsi but many critics claimed he simply did not understand the special culture that was and is Apple.

What is credible in one context may not work in another. Al Gore ran a campaign that some people found somewhat aloof and didactic - perhaps a tad too knowledgeable. Now watch him talk about global warming: he is passionate, intense, and caring. His work is now familiar to millions and he won the Nobel Prize

What makes you credible?

Whether you are looking for a job or an investment that question is key. Ask yourself that question. We often take it for granted - and ignore the answer if it doesn't please us. Ask yourself:
  • What are the elements of my credibility: hard skills?; soft skills? a combination?

  • Do I really understand my constituencies? Do I care about them?

  • What is my reputation with them? Can I improve it?

  • Do I ask for feedback? Do I act on it?

  • Do I speak with people, or at them?

  • What did I intend? What was the effect?
As entrepreneurs and entreprenettes (Sarah Shaw's word!) in good economies and bad, focus on credibility. Brin and Page, co-founders of Google, pitched their ideas at a time when there were already many search engines in the market. Dale Carnegie published his great work in the midst of the Great Depression.

The credible can sometimes be incredible, or as Steve Jobs would put it “Insanely great!”

Give us some feedback on elements you believe go into making a credible person.

Mike Barr

Today’s article is presented by the newest member of our Startup Professionals team, Michael A. Barr. His credibility is just one of a long list of business and academic credentials he brings to the table. Check him out on our website. You will be hearing more from him. We have a lot to learn.

Marty Zwilling


Friday, April 10, 2009

Entrepreneurs: Your Words Have Power

Two young dropouts from Stanford went to see an angel. Investor, that is. He listened to them and looked into their eyes. Ten minutes into their presentation he stood up, apologized for having to run, and asked if one hundred thousand dollars was enough. Google was on its way.
My name is Mike Barr. I've been coaching business people for many years. What I've seen is that if you understand your audiences and yourself, your words will have power.

As you have heard in this space before, people invest in people. Malcolm Forbes said he invested in three things: management, management and management. He too would glance at the business plan with its hockey stick projections and then he'd look at the presenter and ask a lot of questions.

How would you come across in front of a busy, savvy, skeptical investor who has given you maybe ten minutes to deliver your pitch?
  • Are you as good as your business plan?
  • Are your PowerPoint charts stealing your thunder?
  • Do investors see you - your credibility, your smarts, your emotions?
As a coach, I listen to entrepreneurs as if I had a checkbook in my hand. I listen to them from various balanced perspectives: those of customers, investors, potential recruits, and the press. And I give them feedback to make sure they see their strengths and challenges as these audiences see them.

I tailor my feedback to them. I encourage them, and I bring out the best in them: confidence, power, and persuasion. I help them bring their business plan to life. The Johnson Brothers started a company on one word: purity. Steve Jobs and his partner started a company that would give power to the people. Ben and Jerry made an ice cream named Cherry Garcia. Ray Kroc turned the burger joint into a global experience.

A few memorable words can become your startup's signature:
  • Nike: "Just do it!"

  • "BMW. The Ultimate Driving Machine."

  • L'Oreal: "because I'm worth it."

  • Volvo: "A car to believe in"
What are your key words? How do you deliver them? What is their impact? I believe that if your business plan comes alive through your energy, enthusiasm, hard work and creativity, your startup will soar, attract investment and delight customers.

The more it is built around how others see it, the more credible it is. And the stronger you and your words become.

Mike Barr

Today’s article is written by the newest member of our Startup Professionals team, Michael A. Barr. His expertise in executive coaching is just one of a long list of business and academic credentials he brings to the table. Check him out on our website. You will be hearing more from him. We have a lot to learn.

Marty Zwilling


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Rich Christiansen – Parallel Entrepreneur Interview

Recently, I was introduced to another prolific entrepreneur, Richard Christiansen, this time from the Salt Lake City, UT, area. Rich just published his first book, co-authored with his partner Ron E. Porter, titled Bootstrap Business: A Step-by-Step Business Survival Guide, which details an excellent set of learning principles for every entrepreneur. Here is some feedback from Rich:

Marty: Hey Rich, welcome to Startup Professionals interviews. Tell us what you do.

Rich: I consider myself a parallel entrepreneur rather than a serial entrepreneur. My true passion and talent is in the startup and launch of technology oriented companies. I have founded or co-founded 28 businesses – 10 outright failures, 7 moderately successful, 3 in process, and 8 have become million dollar businesses. A year ago we created
CastleWave, LLC as part of proving the principles of “Bootstrap Business”. From $5,000, it has grown to be a $1.2M business with over 50% margins in one year.

Marty: When and why did you decide to be an entrepreneur rather than an employee?

Rich: I call myself a perfectly good executive gone bad. I spent the first half of my career as an executive in the technology industry: General Manager of Mitsubishi Electric’s PC division, General Manager of, and Product Line Manager at Novell. At some point in my career I realized the demands of the corporate world were not in alignment with my true potential and desires. I wanted to see the market forces more intimately, so I became a full time entrepreneur.

Marty: Was your first business venture a positive and learning experience?

Rich: My first entrepreneurial ventures were miserable, awful failures. I wish so badly that I would have had the contents of this book when I started. It would have saved me from many mistakes. However, the cool thing about bootstrapping is if you do it smart and carefully, you can have as many attempts as you want. Many people view failure and success as a permanent condition. At some point when you realize that multiple failures actually lead to your success, it becomes exhilarating, liberating, and empowering.

Marty: What’s the most challenging aspect of being an entrepreneur from your perspective?

Rich: It's the balance. It's having the mindset of die, never die, never die coupled with the nimbleness to say, “That didn't work!” and jump to the next opportunity. One of the things many people struggle with is being eyeball to eyeball with the market forces; not having a buffer layer. Being very intimate with the realities of what's going on in your business and the potential failure points is crucial.

Marty: How has the business world changed since you first started?

Rich: With the onslaught of social media and advancement of technology, it has made the ability to accelerate the growth of a business crazy - in a good kind of way! When I first started creating companies I could not have imagined being able to accelerate a business and have the type of margins that we presently create. There's never been a better and easier time to compete and win as an entrepreneur.

Marty: What is a key personal attribute you see in successful entrepreneurs?

Rich: Tenacity and unalterable determination. One of the most frequent asked questions that I get is, “What do I have to do to succeed?” I have a really hard time boiling that down to just one thing. However, I have come up with 3 must-haves. The first is a willingness to keep trying. The second is a really strong, good support system. And third, a purpose or vision that carries you through the hard times. Money is a very poor motivator - you must have a greater purpose that drives you.
Marty: Any advice you would like to give to someone contemplating a startup?

Rich: It's worth it. Surround yourself with honest, supportive individuals. You don't want ‘yes’ men, but you don't want naysayers – the trick is a good balance. The prize seldom goes to the most beautiful, the fastest, or the strongest, but he who refuses to die. However don't risk what you can't afford to lose. If you end up losing financial security, family, friends, trust relationships - you have wagered too much.

Marty Zwilling

P.S. Rich’s book has inspired me to publish a “Lessons Learned” story from the field occasionally, written by one of you. This should relate a particularly positive or negative personal startup experience (max 500 words). As an incentive, I’ll ship a free copy of “Bootstrap Business” to the author of every “Lesson Learned” story I publish here.