Monday, November 28, 2016

7 Poor Leadership Habits You Must Avoid At All Cost

head-business-stressLike many other career-minded business professionals, are you still waiting impatiently for that appointment to a leadership position, so that you can begin demonstrating your real leadership ability? In reality, you are already being evaluated for leadership by the habits and attributes you demonstrate today, so now is the time to sharpen your focus and behavior, not later.

Everyone knows that leadership means taking the lead, but some forget that there are negative behaviors that can override even the best initiatives. Leadership is not about how well you give orders as the boss – it’s much more about what you do than what you say. In that context, here is a list of things from my experience that you need to stop doing now, to qualify as a leader:

  1. Don’t ever play the blame game. Blaming something or someone for any failure, however slight, is a sure way to get you branded as a non-leader. Everyone makes mistakes, so accepting responsibility and learning from the consequences, rather than denying culpability, is what separates winners from the losers in the longer term.

  2. Stop stressing out and worrying out loud publicly. Team members expect leaders to calm their worries, not create or amplify them. At best, worries expressed by others come across as excuses for possible later failures. Every leader has qualms and fears, but only verbalizes their own positive ideas for moving ahead to overcome the challenges.

  3. Never highlight the negatives of others or the company. Leadership is all about highlighting positives, rather than punishing negatives among team members. People who speak critically of co-workers, friends, and customers, are positioning them as scapegoats for later failure. Leaders seek private discussions for negative feedback.

  4. Avoid the perception of being too busy to help others. Real leaders always find time to be accessible and listen to others, and make genuine offers to help. Being “too busy” or overwhelmed is the most common excuse for leadership failure. Your skills in prioritizing, managing time, and delegating are the antidote to the busy perception.

  5. Don’t use multitasking as an excuse for mediocrity. In every job position, the leader is one that you can count on to demonstrate integrity and quality in everything they do, no matter how many distractions or related tasks must be managed. Mediocrity is a disease that will quickly infect others, and can ultimately bring down your whole company.

  6. Procrastinating and keeping your work area unorganized. If it looks to others like you're out of control in your present assignment, you'll never be considered for a leadership position or more responsibility. Doing things haphazardly and procrastinating is error-prone and not productive. Co-workers are always looking for positive role models.

  7. Failure to communicate regularly and effectively. If you find yourself with a thousand emails in your inbox, or regularly don’t bother to follow-up or call people back, it’s unlikely that anyone will consider you for a leadership position. Communication must be consistent, timely, and efficient in all media types, whether written, oral, or texting.

Some of these behaviors slip out of all of us in extreme environments. The challenge is not to let them become habitual, and to exhibit more good habits than bad ones. Otherwise you and the people around you will see only bad habits, and not your accomplishments. Your reputation and morale will suffer, your consideration for promotions will decrease, and productivity will suffer.

Leadership habits and attributes don’t happen as part of a promotion, or automatically appear after years of work. The best habits are learned by proactively taking small steps forward every day, learning from failures, and highlighting the strengths you already have. Anyone can improve their own behavior over time, and suddenly finding themselves an “overnight success.”

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 11/14/2016 ***

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Friday, November 25, 2016

5 Keys To Success In Rolling Out Software Worldwide

Global_development_teamBy Ernst Gemassmer, Chairman, Startup Professionals

With the pervasiveness of the Internet, the world is smaller. The cloud makes software easily accessible, without waiting for CD shipments to arrive and be installed. The good news is that the reach of your new software application is instantly worldwide, and the bad news is that most people still prefer to work in their own native language. That means that you need to face the issues of translation and localization sooner rather than later.

The process of localization is still a time consuming, manually intensive, and expensive effort. Localization is not only desirable, but essential to gain and keep market share in specific countries.

In my experience, there are many considerations which are critical to the productivity and success of this effort. These include the following:

  1. Plan for international from the beginning. Even though it usually makes sense from a marketing perspective for a startup to stage software rollout to various linguistic groups, it makes no sense to design and implement your application that way. All implementation should be done in Unicode, with user interface, currency, date formats, and database considerations for all the languages required.

  2. Begin parallel translation early. It may seem less expensive to wait until all your screen layouts, online help, and written manuals are ‘final’ before arranging for translation, but the reality is just the opposite. Late translation will uncover design issues that are expensive to fix, and the inherent time delays and testing can set back delivery up to six months. Even though this process might require some re-work, a sizeable reduction in localization time can be expected. Note that this will require close and trusted cooperation between engineering/development and each localization group.

  3. Optimize the costs of localization. The cost of localization can vary widely, depending on the approach taken. Assuming that your company has an internal localization coordinator, who has personal contacts with localization firms in different countries, the direct cost of localizing into a single language could still be up to $50,000. However, if you utilize an outside firm to handle the entire process, the cost will be significantly higher. My advice is to select and work directly with a localization group in each selected country, avoiding middlemen. It is essential to develop trust between your company and the respective localization group.

  4. Prior experience is critical. For a startup, find an international partner, or hire a new team member who has done it before. As your company grows, this person should reside at corporate headquarters and report solid line to the head of international operations. In addition this person should report, dotted line, to product development or engineering. Ensure that the localization person is a good and patient communicator and is fully accepted by the engineering/development group.

  5. Measure the return versus the investment. There are literally hundreds of interesting locales in the world for every application, but not every one is a real market opportunity. Do your homework on potential, and then track the results, both with respect to incremental sales, as well as the costs of localization and maintenance.

There are many other pitfalls of poor localization practices, including high maintenance costs and costly delays in reaching attractive markets. Also, you must remember that localization costs are up-front costs, which must be fully funded before any incremental sales revenues can be achieved.

I have personally implemented the above recommendations repeatedly. The most successful project resulted in release of localized products, for all the major languages in Europe, within four weeks of US product introductions.

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Monday, November 21, 2016

13 Red Flags To Avoid In Your Investor Funding Pitch

Red_flag_wavingAfter listening to hundreds of startup pitches, and reading even more business plans, most new venture investors develop their own favorite list of “red flags” that signal the beginning of the end of their interest. Others, like Guy Kawasaki, have irreverently called some of these “entrepreneur lies,” but I prefer to think of them as innocent enhancements or omissions that can kill your deal.

At any rate, here is my own list of red flags, from my years of experience advising and investing in aspiring entrepreneurs, which cause me to lose interest and start looking for a way out the door:

  1. Omit the facts on key management team experience and skills. Don’t forget that investors look as much at the people as the idea. They expect to hear about founders and team member’s prior experience in building a startup, and knowledge in the relevant solution domain. Not highlighting people is as deadly as not highlighting the solution.

  2. Lead with your intent to offer the solution free to customers. Of course, customers love free, but investors hate it. They know it’s especially hard to provide a financial return with a free business model. It takes a huge upfront investment to attract users, before advertisers are interested. Facebook spent over $100 million to kickstart the process.

  3. Emphasize their social commitment, but never mention profit. Even non-profits need money to scale, but their pitch should be to philanthropists, not equity investors. Many companies, including Patagonia and Zappos, have used their social focus to enhance their business, but highlight financial return when talking to investors.

  4. Terms “paradigm shift” or “disruptive technology” used more than once. These terms are so overused as hype that any meaning has been lost. In reality, fundamental changes in technology frighten away more customers than they attract, and take longer and more money to come to fruition than any investors wants to commit. Skip the hype.

  5. Target market sizing higher than $10 billion. It’s true that investors like large markets, preferably in the billion dollar range and growing, but sizing a startup market greater than the GNP of many countries is just not credible. Every startup needs focus, due to limited resources, so setting irrational goals implies overall poor business acumen.

  6. Sales projections are less than one percent market penetration. First, no investor is interested in a startup that sets their sights so low. Secondly, this projection usually comes with an assertion that everyone on the planet needs this, so less than one percent in five years is still a huge number. Entrepreneurs in this category are usually dreamers.

  7. Claims of no competitors or hundreds of competitors. Investors are wary of crowded markets, and untapped markets. Usually “no competitors” means there is no market for your solution, or you haven’t bothered to look. None of these cases are credible. I recommend a focus on the top three competitors, or top three competitor groupings.

  8. Spends time denigrating key competitors. Smart entrepreneurs highlight their own positives in competitive positioning, rather than competitor negatives. “Competitor X solutions are too expensive and too slow” should be “My solution provides double the performance at half the price.” Investors fear negative vibes will infect the business.

  9. Touts “first-mover advantage” as the primary barrier to entry. Investors read this as an excuse for no real intellectual property or innovation. When a big company is a first-mover, they have the resources to hold their lead, but when a startup shows real traction, they can be easily overrun by competitors with more money. Sleeping giants do wake up.

  10. Proclaims gross margin assumptions less than 50 percent. Many naïve startup founders believe that they can make good money with low margins. This may work for a year or two, until you grow to need employees with benefits, facilities, and more complex processes. Investors assume that even if you survive, returns to them will be unlikely.

  11. Declare a $10 million valuation with no revenue or customers. Equity investors are buying a chunk of your company at today’s value, not what you think it may be worth in five years. The average valuation for Angel investments is about $2.5 million, so early numbers in that range may be negotiable. Higher numbers cause investors to walk away.

  12. Annual revenue projections exceed $100 million before fifth year. Revenue projections should never exceed rational business growth constraints, or they defy credibility. Even Google, one of the most successful recent companies, only achieved $85 million in their fifth year. Numbers above this threshold will not attract investors.

  13. Use the term “conservative” multiple times in their pitch. Investors are not looking for conservative entrepreneurs. They expect aggressive projections (not crazy) on opportunities, volumes, and revenue. Investors know that entrepreneurs with a conservative mindset usually fail to meet even their under-stated numbers.

Remember, you only get one chance for a great first impression with investors, so don’t let any of these red flags destroy yours. I highly recommend that you screen your business plan and your executive presentation carefully for variations on any of these themes, and remove them. Your credibility is paramount, so don’t jeopardize it with hype and too much passion. Your future depends on it.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 11/03/2016 ***

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Saturday, November 19, 2016

Proper Staffing is Key to Effective Global Expansion

By Ernst Gemassmer, Chairman, Startup Professionals

globalisation-business-expansionSome time ago you needed to achieve success and size before venturing into international markets. However, international customers have found you through social media, US trade shows and technical papers. In order to manage international growth your company needs to be directly involved in international expansion rather than relying on distribution partners. In this article I would like to share with you recommendations for staffing, based on my personal long-term hands-on experience in this arena.

  1. The head of international must be experienced in building international businesses and must operate from corporate headquarters. It is both costly and in many instances complicated to enter foreign markets. Mistakes can delay market entry, result in fines or certainly delay establishment of a local presence. Thus, it is essential to appoint a ‘head of international’ with significant hands-on experience to chart your course in the global world.

    In my own experience, a significant amount of time was spent in explaining and obtaining approval from corporate staff for the actions required in building international. In many instances recommendations involve up front costs with no guarantee of precisely when specific revenues can be achieved. It is therefore essential that the head of international reside at corporate headquarters.

  2. Do not delegate selection of candidates to headhunters/search firms. Finding, selecting, and appointing the right individual to head up in country or even regional roles is critical. Mistakes can be costly. In my experience it is essential for the head of international to clearly define his needs, hire a professional to locate individuals and perform the initial screening.

    However, final selection of key international managers must be made by the head of international, in close cooperation with corporate management. Despite the costs involved, inviting the finalists to headquarters is essential.

  3. Thoroughly understand the specific laws relating to hiring and termination in each country where you plan to operate. Labor laws and prevailing practices differ in most countries. If you choose to operate in a specific country, you must meet local legal requirements and prevailing practices. Again the head of international will spend a significant amount of time explaining and justifying differences to his corporate colleagues.

  4. Retain the services of a local (in country) law firm specialized in labor laws. Since labor laws differ so much from country to country it is essential to obtain advice from local labor counsel. Not following this advice can and will be costly. Special attention must be paid to the construction of an offer letter. In those cases where a termination becomes necessary, you should also obtain guidance and direction from a local labor attorney.

    In my personal experience the head of our Italian operation resigned and we accepted his resignation. He then chose to sue us claiming that his supervisor, based in Germany, created a difficult work environment. Our Italian labor counsel recommended settlement, instead of going to trial. The cost to us was nine months of pay.

  5. Ensure that your pay practices for foreign employees are in line with local legislation and prevailing practices. Pay practices, commission and bonus plans need to be in line with prevailing local practices. If they are not, fines and difficulties with the local tax authorities can arise.

Having successfully staffed your international operations, you can now expand your markets greatly. However, remember to think long term, plan globally but act locally.

A successful head of international will spend time keeping updated on local conditions through participation in industry meetings, chamber of commerce memberships, as well as developing and maintaining corporate contacts. He is a broad-based general manager, has knowledge of most functional areas, is a diplomat and not just an international sales manager.

Don’t be afraid to venture into international markets. Most successful companies achieve over half of their revenues from markets outside the US.

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Friday, November 18, 2016

10 Obstacles To Product Adoption That Kill Businesses

business-failure-chartWhen entrepreneurs introduce new products to the market, their passion and conviction often leads them to assume that every potential customer will see the immediate need and value, and will quickly adopt the solution. They are devastated when their business growth never starts or stalls, and they have no idea how to get it moving again.

As an advisor to many startups, I often spend hours with business owners helping them anticipate every possible obstacle to the adoption of their solution, and developing a rollout plan to include antidotes. I just finished a new book, “Jobs to Be Done,” by Stephen Wunker, Jessica Wattman, and David Farber, which details well my perspective on these challenges and counter strategies.

While the authors mission is broader in intent, to provide a roadmap for customer-centered innovation, they definitely codify the principles I espouse in anticipating the primary obstacles to new solution adoption. Here is a summary of their key observations, with our joint specifics on what to expect, and how to overcome these obstacles:

  1. Customers don’t buy what they don’t know and understand. In today’s information overload, marketing is everything. Word-of-mouth is great, but it’s not a launch strategy that stands alone. The more revolutionary the solution, the more important it is to educate customers on a solution’s existence and value. Use every marketing channel available.

  2. Getting people to change behavior can be difficult. If your solution alleviates a high level of existing pain, customers more readily change. Yet most of the startups I see these days are providing a solution that is easier to use, more fun, or more productive. In these cases, you need testimonials, usage details, and return-on-investment examples.

  3. Multiple decision makers required to close a sale. Many healthcare solutions, for example, may appear to have great value to patients, but require doctors to feel safe, and insurance companies to approve. Entrepreneurs need to focus on selling each of the constituents in the chain, recognizing that more time and money are required for growth.

  4. Direct and indirect costs of the solution seem high. The most elegant products have the highest price tags, thus limiting market size. Every customer has a sense of what a solution should cost, based on competition, and the cost of doing nothing. A good tack is to sell exclusivity, or provide case studies to show return on investment and productivity.

  5. Solution brings risk to the customer, or high cost of failure. These days, people worry about the liability potential, or making a dramatic move that may be very expensive to recover from. These fears need to be offset by good marketing, education on benefits, and successful case studies. Expert testimonials and excellent support are essential.

  6. Products so innovative that they define a new category. Consider the Internet of Things (IoT) – a network of connected devices and sensors in a home or facility to allow control or access to almost everything. Just the concept requires learning, acceptance, and understanding value. Your business may die before all these elements come together and customers buy your offering.

Then comes a second set of longer-term obstacles to consider – things that cause customer sales to decline after an initial burst, or to stop usage after initial adoption. Here are the most common issues which cause this obstacle to growth:

  • Solution requires lagging support infrastructure. For example, electric vehicles offer attractive benefits for drivers and the environment, but they also need charging stations and government regulations to facilitate broad usage.

  • Adoption creates new pain points. Many new products sound great, but customers find them overly complex or difficult to use. Other new products are plagued with compatibility or performance problems, and customers quickly defer to new competitors.

  • The luster wears off cool new products. Sometimes cool doesn’t mean better. Very quickly, customers start to look for that usability, improvement in productivity or return on investment. Marketing alone cannot make a product great.

  • Products incorrectly targeted or not targeted. Initial hype can generate a sales spurt, but long-term growth requires a clear fit. The right market is the one that feels the most pain, and has money to spend. Nice-to-have for consumers with no money won’t work.

According to most experts, inadequate attention to these obstacles is the primary reason that more than 50 percent of newly launched products fall short of growth and revenue projections, and only 1 in 100 new products even covers its development costs.

Innovative solutions alone won’t make your business a success. You have to target and appeal to the right customers, and the right jobs that they need done. Is your business properly customer-centric?

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Huffington Post on 11/17/2016 ***

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Monday, November 14, 2016

Business Success Is All About Doing More In Less Time

Time-management

Every entrepreneur I know feels the pressure of the thousands of things that need to get done, all seemingly at the same time. There is just not enough time! The real solution is better productivity and less procrastination, to put you back in control of your business. You need to spend more time every day on important things for the future, and less on the urgent issues of the moment.

I just finished the latest version of a great book on how to do this, “Work Less, Do More: The 7-Day Productivity Makeover,” by time management expert Dr. Jan Yager. After reviewing her day-by-day recommendations to improve productivity in a single week, I have extrapolated her guidance to ten productivity tips specifically for entrepreneurs to regain that competitive edge:

  1. Focus on managing yourself rather than managing others. The key problem you need to solve is managing your distractions. These are the endless stream of email, phone calls, and daily crises which prevent really important accomplishments, like closing customers. Being a good role model is productive, but trying to control others is fruitless.

  2. Tackle high value tasks first rather than the easiest. Pareto’s law says you get 80% of your results from 20% of your efforts. Figure out what deserves your 20%, and focus on that. Start each day with the highest priority task you need done that day, and leave the emails and phone calls till the end of the day, if you have time.

  3. Take time to organize your work and integrate new tools. One of the top productivity killers is disorganization and wasting time finding key data. Take the time now to build a database of contacts, and structure your online filing system to include a total search capability. Find time to research and install the latest tools to expedite repetitive tasks.

  4. Strive for business excellence, but reject perfectionism. In today’s market, no solution is perfect for everyone, so achieving perfection is unrealistic and unproductive. I recommend that entrepreneurs test the market with a minimum viable product (MVP), before burning resources on the ultimate solution, only to find the market has changed.

  5. Fight procrastination and fear of failure. Fear of failure, or success, is at the root of most acts of procrastination. Psychologists assert that procrastinators actually sabotage themselves by postponing key activities. Incorporate your business today, register intellectual property, document partner equity agreements, and meet real customers.

  6. Balance your work time by taking time off to rest. Rest makes you more productive. Get enough sleep so you can remain active throughout the day and evening. Schedule time off work with your family, sporting events, and sign up for community activities you enjoy. Non-stop presence in your business is less productive and toxic to your health.

  7. Practice active listening to become more effective. Maximize your own productivity by listening more and talking less to your team and your customers. Let them tell you what they need and give it to them, rather than trying to tell them what they need. Do take the time to develop and communicate high-level business strategy and objectives.

  8. Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ to low-priority requests. Highly productive people make it a practice to under-commit and over-deliver. Productivity is perceived results per unit of time, and is not related to actual hours spent working, or working intensity. Startups require focus, so you need to say ‘no’ to many things, in order to do important things well.

  9. Define clear goals and metrics for your productivity. If you don’t know where you are going, no amount of work will get you there. An entrepreneur’s ultimate task is to define success in term of results desired – number of customers, revenue, and profit. Without business goals and objectives, there is no productivity to measure, and no success.

  10. Truly delegate responsibility and decisions. Delegation of tasks to others who can do the work better, faster, and cheaper is a huge productivity multiplier, if you truly remove yourself from the process. You must still maintain the communication relationship with all key constituents to measure results and make the decisions on strategy.

With these tips, you can indeed get more done every day, and get important things done in less time. The key is to get started today, with a goal of hitting all of these items in the first week, and in every week thereafter. You will quickly notice the change in your own productivity, and the team will follow your lead. Savor the satisfaction of success, and watch the stress melt away.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 10/31/2016 ***

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Friday, November 11, 2016

Some Things Haven’t Changed In The Business Workplace

Sales_team_meetingAs a business advisor and advocate for entrepreneurs, I find myself almost always talking and writing about change. Yet there are many things about business and work that haven’t changed for a long time, and don’t need to change anytime soon. I’m always surprised when someone doesn’t seem to grasp these basics, or thinks it’s fine to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

I was reminded of a number of these by a recent book, “The Thing About Work: Showing Up and Other Important Matters,” by Richard A. Moran. With a bit of humor, he provides some serious guidelines for struggling career professionals looking to move up, and new entrepreneurs looking to build a company. Moran seems to speak directly from my long-time personal business career.

He points out that “There are lots of things – some big, some not – that we can all do to improve our lives at work.” He manages to highlight a couple of hundred of these with colorful vignettes, but here are eight key ones I found particularly useful for new business professionals:

  1. You can’t win if you don’t show up consistently. Showing up still matters. This is not about clocking in to work. It’s about colleagues, managers, and clients knowing that you care, and know how to find you when they need you. You need to really get to know your team mates and treat work relationships seriously. Someone is always taking attendance.

  2. Peers and customers alike still expect responsiveness. Today it is rare to find people answering phones at work, much less proactively following-up. Yet peers and customers notice phone calls and e-mails not returned in twenty-four hours or less. They expect the same response you give to your best friends. Anything less makes you non-competitive.

  3. Making a to-do list is not the same as getting things done. Everyone is “too busy” these days, but only the best always can demonstrate their list of results. If your list of results includes all the meetings you attended and all the phone calls you made, it’s time to ask yourself “What did I really do today?” Businesses only move forward on results.

  4. Networking effectiveness is a measure of your potential. Productive networking traffic does not happen by default. It takes effort to get out there, do your homework on the best traffic lanes, and follow-up on potentially valuable relationships to make them productive. Networking relationships still drive most promotions, jobs, and new clients.

  5. Work-life balance is not about equity, but about escape. The battle between work and life is no contest – work still wins. If you are committed to devices, work is always at the top of the screen. Yet successful people find an escape to the “life” part of the world. It could be a family, sports, hobby, or TV. All business brains need time to rejuvenate.

  6. Don’t count on job descriptions to define your role. “That’s not my job” has never been a successful excuse in business. Especially as an entrepreneur, every job in the business is yours. Your willingness and your ability to tackle any challenge are the only things that customers, peers, and managers appreciate. Business is not rocket science.

  7. Not finishing things you start kills careers and businesses. Entrepreneurs who claim to be big thinkers are routinely dismissed by investors, in favor of others who execute. Thinkers, and people at work who never say no, accept and start task after task, but they rarely finish one. Crossing the finish line is the milestone in a project that really counts.

  8. The most important skill you need is project management. The person who can demonstrate that he or she can effectively manage a project can write their own ticket for success. That means starting the project, keeping people engaged, and bringing it to a positive completion. If you can manage any tough project, you can probably build a business.

Of course, there are many more work expectations that haven’t changed, but the 80-20 rule still applies. If you are good on the ones listed here, you probably can hold your own on all the rest. You probably already understand why successful entrepreneurs keep starting new companies, even after they sell their first unicorn, and why retirees miss work as soon as they stop doing it.

Are you spending as much time at work focusing on the things that don’t change as you are on the things that must change? I call that the work-work balance. Keep it up, or you may not have a life at work.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Huffington Post on 11/10/2016 ***

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Monday, November 7, 2016

How The IBM PC Made Me Appreciate Entrepreneurs

IBM_PC_5150Way back in the early eighties, I was privileged to be part of the original IBM PC development team, led by Don Estridge. He was a great leader, and one of very few who have even been able to dent the barriers to real change in a large corporation. We struggled with the differences between intrapreneurship and entrepreneurship, and I learned much about both.

For example, even though we were leading an entrepreneurial effort within IBM, we found it a challenge to deal with the inbred mainframe culture, reverence for process, and accounting practices of a large company. Despite a valiant effort, we only briefly succeeded in putting IBM in the personal computer business, but our efforts changed my view of entrepreneurs forever.

We all watched as several strong-willed entrepreneurs of the day, including Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Ed Roberts, without constraints, really drove the industry and changed the face of computing. For IBM, the Personal Computer was a paradigm shift from their big business legacy, built with new technologies for totally new markets, and battleships turn very slowly.

I’ve often asked myself why intrapreneurs like Don Estridge and peers from CDC, Burroughs, UNIVAC, and Wang are not household names today. They had the huge financial and technical resources of a large company, and they had the right dreams, but they also had a set of challenges that most entrepreneurs don’t have to deal with:

  1. Team members are not selected based on entrepreneurial acumen. Typically, team members must be sourced internally, with their performance and credentials based on prior corporate assignments and relationships. No consideration can be given to experience running a startup, breadth of skills, or even thinking like an entrepreneur.

  2. Partnering with outside entrepreneurial efforts is discouraged. The culture of a large technology company is to rely on internal development or large, stable, and proven external vendors. Dependencies on entrepreneurial efforts, like Microsoft and Intel, were frowned upon, no matter how innovative or relevant. Every such deal was an exception.

  3. Key operational and pivot decisions require corporate approval. Like startup investors several layers deep, parent company executives often demand approval rights and exert their power, without understanding the issues of starting a new business. Required pivots and budged changes are painfully slow and over-analyzed.

  4. Compensation and support carried the corporate burden rate. The burn rate was extremely high, with no one working for equity or deferred compensation. Legally and culturally, benefits, facilities, and work schedules for intrapreneurs have little flexibility. The alternative of an early spin-off from the parent with no return path was unthinkable.

  5. Measurements set on internal objectives, rather than market traction. In enterprises, performance objectives are usually tied to internal processes, rather than beating competitors, customer acquisition, and revenue growth. This approach, when applied to a new venture, often actually inhibits progress and market penetration.

  6. A single-minded focus and commitment is hard to maintain. In a corporate world, a small effort like the IBM PC was just one of hundreds vying for attention and resources. It’s easy for top executives to get distracted by the latest challenges or new opportunities. Intrapreneurs have a double visibility and selling challenge, both internally and externally.

  7. Corporate entities operate under strict competitive and accounting rules. For example, IBM was always under scrutiny for potentially impacting small competitors, equitable contracts, and meeting the reporting and disclosure standards for public companies. Internal legal reviews and required new processes were slow to finalize.

Even with these extra challenges, the IBM PC was developed and delivered in eighteen months – at that time faster than any other mixed hardware and software product in IBM’s history. This was done while breaking all the rules for using outside vendors, and publishing all the interface specifications for the first time, leading to a booming after-market for external entrepreneurs.

That experience helped me to understand the excitement, determination, and satisfaction of an entrepreneur, and it made me a better one when I later worked for and with several real startups back in Silicon Valley. But like most entrepreneurs, I’m still learning, and still anticipating the next round of technology and change. I still enjoy the journey as well as the destination.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 10/24/2016 ***

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Sunday, November 6, 2016

8 Keys To Getting Real Value From Business Networking

Business_Communication_Duplicat_modelThere is no skill more vital to an entrepreneur than effective networking. You can’t build your business alone, and networking is the best way to open doors, professionally and personally. For introverts like me, it’s not easy to step out of your comfort zone and meet new people, but if you approach the challenge correctly, I have found that it can actually be fun as well as productive.

I just finished a new book, “Hopping Over The Rabbit Hole,” by Anthony Scaramucci, a well-known entrepreneur, financier, and television co-host of Wall Street Week. He highlights the value and “how-to” of business networking strategy in eight key bullets which resonate with me, and I believe every aspiring entrepreneur practice these early:

  1. Push yourself to take the initiative, rather than wait to be found. If you wait for people to come up to you, they likely won’t be the right people. It pays to do your homework ahead of time on people you expect to find, or people you need to know. Otherwise listen to conversations around you, and join in ones where you can contribute.

  2. Try to find common ground outside of business. In business networking settings, it’s not very memorable to talk only about business. Remember that personal relationships are the ones that set you apart and will grow and last. Look for common family experiences, academic connections, or sports activities. Common interests lead to trust.

  3. Put yourself in a positive state of mind beforehand. Everyone is impressed with people who smile and exude authentic positive energy. Psych yourself up for this, if necessary, before you enter a room. Be the visual image of the people you need to meet, and the right people will gravitate toward you and view you as an influencer.

  4. Exchange connection info and follow up within two days. If you have interest in a real relationship, don’t let the initial connection fade. The follow-up should be simple and to the point, such as a quick email suggesting an opportunity to continue the discussion. Skip the hard sell here, and don’t be afraid to follow-up again in a few weeks if required.

  5. Networking and relationship building should be fun. Learn to relax and enjoy the process, but keep a clear head and remember to save your heated debates for one-on-one discussions in a more private setting. While the ultimate purpose of networking is to advance your career or business, don’t treat it with the formality or structure of work.

  6. Be prepared to give as much as you get from networking. If you start pumping someone you have just met for funding or referrals, he or she will realize that your intentions are shallow. Everyone has something to give to a relationship, no matter what your credentials. Open up and share what you can, before expecting anything in return.

  7. Never be intimidated by business titles and wealth. Successful business people are still people, like the rest of us. They have weathered hard times and failures, and love to talk and offer advice, if you are interested and willing to listen. No matter how shy you are, you must look the other person in the eye, and sincerely get to know them.

  8. Don’t try to be someone you are not, socially, or in business. Networking pretenses almost always lead to disaster. Integrity and trust are required before a new relationship can be productive. No matter how insecure you are, artificial efforts to bolster your image are not recommended. If you humbly treat people as equals, relationships will work.

Of course, business networking is just the beginning of your journey into entrepreneurship, In his book, Scaramucci offers much more – a firsthand, introspective, and candid account of his own failures, successes, and insights that led him to business and financial success. He offers inspiration and a concrete blueprint for achieving your dreams, despite unexpected adversity.

I’ve focused here on the how and why of business networking because I find that technical entrepreneurs, in particular, are often quick to discount and ignore the value of business relationships, in favor of technical conferences and peer experts.

As a technologist myself, I had to learn the hard way that while solutions can be built by a person or two, it takes a network to build a business. How robust is yours today?

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Huffington Post on 11/05/2016 ***

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