Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Women In Business Catch Up After The ‘Mancession’

It looks like women have caught up with men in numbers in the workplace. For the first time in history, women in the USA now outnumber men in the workforce, and there are now more women in supervisory positions than there are males. The question is whether they will handle the downside of working any better than men.

According to an article by Ella L. J. Edmondson Bell, PhD, titled The 21st Century Workplace -- Are Women the New Men?, the economic downturn has hit men harder. They held nearly 80 percent of jobs that have been lost during what is now being called the "mancession." Will women now inherit the stress, pressure, exhaustion, burn out and heart attacks commonly associated with male leaders in business?

Some predict that this new female-dominated workplace will mean a softening of the corporate culture, with more benevolent leaders. Others foresee just the opposite. Ella says many women don't want to be seen as "soft" -- and others simply aren't. No one would call Carly Fiorina, the head of Hewlett Packard from 1999 to 2005, a wilting lily. According to her memoir, Tough Choices, she was sometimes referred to as Chainsaw Carly.

All this is especially relevant on the entrepreneurial side, since statistics show that women are starting businesses at more than twice the rate of their male counterparts. Some would argue that the growing success rate of women entrepreneurs shows that they are resourceful, and better able to succeed, despite the odds.

While I’m sure we will continue to see progress on the female side, I predict that they will struggle with the same major challenges faced today by men. These include:

  1. Funding your dream. Raising money is hard, whether you are counting on friends, investors, or banks. I rarely see women at angel investment groups, either asking for money, or offering to fund new ventures. Men seem more focused on this one.

  2. Need for increased confidence and mindset skills. Many women and men are paralyzed by perfection, plagued by pessimism, and the need to satisfy others, rather than themselves. We need more women leaders.

  3. Motivation to succeed. Every entrepreneur needs to love what they do, and believe so strongly in their product or service that they can weather the tough times. On this one, it’s easy to spot the ones with passion, from either gender.

  4. Manage time and priorities. Women, often more than men, try to do too much. It’s hard to balance the continual demands of the business, personal relationships, and home life. Every entrepreneur needs to prioritize the important tasks ahead of urgent tasks.

  5. Never stop learning. After you start your business, the learning really begins. True entrepreneurs look at failures as their best learning experiences. Networking, and using your network is the next most important element of learning.

I don’t see any challenges which are so gender specific that they can’t be overcome by any entrepreneur. Yet I don’t think women should be convinced that the battle for equality is almost over. There is still the question of why there are so few women in high places, and why the average income for women in business is about 68% of men’s income.

What I am hoping is that women will not just be the new men, and suffer from the same maladies and limitations. I’ll be looking for women to create the “new business culture” that every worker wants – better role definitions, more effective and productive leadership, and better work-life balance. That would make women entrepreneurs the new women, rather than the new men!

Marty Zwilling



Sunday, March 27, 2011

Startups Need International, Without the Pitfalls

By Ernst Gemassmer

Fortune 500 companies such as IBM, Proctor and Gamble and others derive more than half of their revenues from international activities. We have heard that there are significant tax advantages in doing business offshore. All this sounds very enticing and many budding entrepreneurs can’t wait to fly to Paris or Shanghai to tap into the international markets. However, the startup CEO must evaluate a number of potential pitfalls, before jumping on the international bandwagon.

  1. International requires patience. Relationships have to be built one-by-one in each country. Business contacts enjoy playing tour guide, having a meal together and getting to know you. So, do take time to get to know your partner and their country and its customs. Under no circumstances should you put your partner under pressure to sign a contract before your departure date. The partner should feel that you have all the time in the world to build and cement the relationship.

  2. International requires capital. International travel is lengthy, exhausting and expensive. Local legal as well as accounting counsel is required in most countries. Hiring local staff requires establishment of a legal entity, which can be both expensive and time consuming. The hiring/firing process is lengthy, expensive and complex. Termination of a wrongly hired person can be a very expensive process.

  3. The rules of the game are different in each country. These differences include: language, safety, currency, packaging requirements and numerous other considerations. Also, be aware of details pertaining to imports, such as duties and related paperwork, you may even be required to obtain import permits. If a country has currency problems, i.e. a shortage of foreign currency, you may succeed in obtaining an import license, but not the required foreign exchange cover. So, choose your target countries carefully.

  4. Entering Europe is not a single effort. The classic mistake is to place an office in London and think that you have entered the EU (European Common Market). Although communication between the US headquarters and the London office may be good, proximity to local markets on the European continent are generally not achieved from London. Local presence in key markets is highly recommended, either through business partners of subsidiary/joint venture operations.

  5. Manufacturing offshore could impact intellectual property. This comment applies especially to manufacturing in China. Even a trusted manufacturer generally employs numerous subcontractors and this can easily lead to unauthorized copying as well as loss of intellectual property rights, despite patent protection. However, the financial benefit may exceed the risk of losing partial patent protection.

  6. Products must be adapted to local conditions and regulations. Documentation and software have to be translated into each local language. If you purchase a consumer electronic product in Europe, instructions come in numerous languages and tiny print. Electrical and safety requirements have to be met. Remember that even electrical plugs are different in most countries.

  7. Carefully choose the head of international operations. Managing international operations includes several different functions, ranging from sales to a thorough understanding of finance, technology and legal. In addition the international manager must be a good communicator and diplomat both internally and externally.

The above points might discourage a new company from venturing into the international marketplace. However, my intent is to make the entrepreneur recognize and evaluate the challenges and the opportunities, before embarking into the global world.

As an emerging company, you will probably participate in one or more US trade shows. Frequently ‘international scouts’ will seek you out and promise to develop certain market places in exchange for exclusive business relationships. Do not, under any circumstances enter into exclusive relationships, as they can be difficult and expensive to sever later on. However, it is advisable to promise a potential partner a ‘head start’ in exchange for a volume commitment.

Good luck with your entry into the exciting, challenging as well as rewarding international marketplace.


Today’s article is presented by one of the founders of our Startup Professionals team, Ernst H. Gemassmer. He has long helped entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, as well as providing turnaround assistance as interim CEO for several companies in Europe. You can contact him directly at ernst@startupprofessionals.com.



Sunday, March 20, 2011

Social Networks Don’t Automate Personal Contacts

By Ernst H. Gemassmer

We all intuitively believe in maintaining personal and business contacts, but most of us don’t do well in this area. It takes real time and hard work to maintain contacts. Social networking can help, but a large list of online friends and followers is no substitute for a smaller list of personal and ongoing business relationships.

As background, I attended several educational institutions both in the US and abroad. My professional life started with a BS in Chemistry, an MA in International Relations and a Master of Business Administration. This provided me with a good education and numerous important contacts around the world.

Over the years I also lived in different parts of the US and abroad, meeting all the usual challenges of raising kids, changing jobs, buying and selling houses and trying to stay fit. I was totally focused on family and jobs. This was often challenging since a significant amount of my time was spent on business trips around the world, participating actively in the emerging global economy.

Changing jobs as I moved up the corporate ladder generally involved a move to a new location with all the associated tasks and challenges. Old colleagues, neighbors and friends were soon forgotten and I made almost no effort to stay in touch. The new environment kept me so busy that I had a good excuse for not keeping up with them. The higher I climbed in a corporate hierarchy the less time I had, or claimed to have, for thinking about the past, or keeping in touch.

For expediency I started to use various consultants to investigate and address current issues and provide me with information to make critical business decisions. It was simpler and more expedient to use third parties, rather than relying on my personal contacts. Using so called experts and well known consulting firms provided a degree of legitimacy, which would have been harder to achieve with less well known personal contacts.

Eventually I retired and had an opportunity to think about how I treated my personal, academic and professional contacts. Now that I had spare time I started to re-engage with educational institutions, professional organizations, neighbors and old friends. However, I found out quickly that special groups had formed over the years, and I was not involved in their formation, development or growth. Thus, it became a real challenge to re-engage with them and took a lot more effort than I had anticipated.

Many of my younger friends use various social networks on a daily basis and think that they will thereby avoid this problem. Obviously they disseminate a lot of information through these networks. However, these ‘updates’ are in small snippets or photos and lack detailed information. They are also somewhat impersonal since they are directed at such a wide and relatively public audience.

In my personal opinion such networks are useful tools, but do not replace dedicated personal contacts. If I had to do it over again, I would dedicate a certain amount of time, all the time, to keeping up with the development and evolution of all of my contacts. Don’t let the technology fool you into thinking you can take shortcuts. Believe me, the personal touch still pays big dividends!


Today’s article is presented by one of the founders of our Startup Professionals team, Ernst H. Gemassmer. He resides on the West Coast, and has long helped entrepreneurs there, as well as providing turn-around assistance as interim CEO, and International coaching. You can contact him directly at ernst@startupprofessionals.com.



Sunday, March 13, 2011

Entrepreneurs Need to Find the Best ‘Curators’

Every entrepreneur is flooded with information from all directions, but despite their best efforts to absorb it, they likely miss the information really needed to start a business. These days, we all have to rely on a few trusted sources to digest and filter information, net out the relevant messages, and steer us with links to accurate details.

These trusted sources are a new breed of professionals who may soon carry the new title of “information curator,” evolved from the “museum curator” role, where a domain expert filters and communicates the important elements of a past civilization or technology. The evolution and the real value of curator are outlined in a great new book “Curation Nation,” by Steven Rosenbaum.

In the past century, curators for business information were specialized news magazines like Forbes and Inc., and books for entrepreneurs like “Think and Grow Rich.” But with the speed of the Internet, these have become as old-fashioned as museum curators.

Modern digital curators for early-stage entrepreneurs are the expert bloggers who put “content into context.” They write and tweet every day, with the single guiding credibility and personality that the new social culture demands. Here are a few that I aspire to:

  1. Venture Hacks, by Babak Nivi and Naval Ravikant. These are both experienced entrepreneurs and angel investors. VentureHacks also created AngelList, a mailing list of prominent business angels that facilitates entrepreneur fundraising.

  2. Both Sides of the Table, by Mark Suster. Mark is a serial entrepreneur who is now active in the venture capital community for early-stage startups. He definitely has experience on both sides of the ‘entrepreneur versus investor’ table.

  3. Lessons Learned, by Eric Ries. He brings a strong technology base to the table, as a former CTO, and creator of the Lean Startup methodology. He is the co-author of several books including “The Black Art of Java Game Programming.”

  4. OnStartups, by Dharmesh Shah. Dharmesh is the founder and CTO of HubSpot, as well as a blogger and speaker on the topic of startups and Internet marketing. He also co-authored the book "Inbound Marketing" about the power of social media and blogs.

Then there are the aggregator curators that bring together the best of the best from a wide variety of sources, without the single guiding light to make sure they are consistent and integrated. These are great for understanding the big picture, spotting trends, and product reviews.

  1. TechCrunch, founder Michael Arrington. This popular site has an outstanding group of writers and contributors for profiling startups, reviewing new Internet products, and breaking tech news.

  2. Business Insider, Silicon Alley Insider, founder Henry Blodget. The Business Insider aggregates, reports, and analyzes the top entrepreneur and startup stories and blogs daily from across the web, and delivers them in a very readable format.

  3. Forbes.com, Entrepreneurs, executive editor Brett Nelson. An invitation-only group of writers and bloggers comment daily on current events, trends, and all aspects of the entrepreneur role in the entrepreneur section and expert blogs.

  4. Huffington Post, Small Biz Blog, co-founder Arianna Huffington. Contrary to popular opinion, HuffPo is not just a place for political commentary. For many people, it also serves as a one-stop news source about small businesses and entrepreneurs.

If you are overwhelmed by the daily flood of content, and have realized that Google and the other search engines can’t achieve the filtering and required value judgments, then you need to look for an effective information curator like the ones outlined above. You may even decide that the more exciting opportunity is to be a curator yourself in our new curation nation.

Marty Zwilling