Monday, April 30, 2018

6 Strategies for Showing Authenticity in Leadership

authentic-bill-gatesEvery business owner and startup founder knows they are expected to lead the charge in starting and growing their business. In my experience as a business advisor and mentor, I find that most believe they are doing a convincing job, but in many cases, their key team members are not so sure. In reality, leadership is a function of what your team believes, not what you believe.

This is an area where perception is more important than reality. I find that leadership is a hard thing to fake. Authentic leaders start with a strong sense of values, and some deep beliefs in their mission and purpose, but just as importantly, they are able to personally inspire and build trusting relationships with the people around them who can make things happen in the business.

I found this concept of authentic leadership outlined well in a recent book, “Impromptu,” by Judith Humphrey. She has coached thousands of leaders over the years on how to inspire and influence people when they speak, both formally and informally. She offers a half dozen sharing strategies for demonstrating authenticity that I believe everyone in a leadership position should practice:

  1. Share your presence. The starting point of projecting authenticity is to be mentally and emotionally present and focused on people when you are physically present. We have all had bosses who seem to always be in another world, or take constant interruptions, when you are looking for attention. Make sure your authentic self is always perceptibly present.

  2. Share your ideas. Authenticity also means having the courage to share your thinking. Some business leaders feel more comfortable or obliged to echo what others think, or give you the company line, but never seem to have a view of their own. With classic leaders, like Steve Jobs, the team always knew his bold ideas for design and direction.

  3. Share your beliefs and values. Recognized leaders inspire others with their beliefs and values. Many years ago, I had occasion to work directly with Bill Gates at Microsoft on DOS. People on his team clearly waited for his technical insights, and couldn’t wait to make them a reality. His approach was not always polite, but it was definitely authentic.

  4. Share your feelings. If you announce a reorganization or business pivot in a purely factual manner, you will come across as unfeeling and insensitive. It’s important to use your own words, with real passion, to be viewed as authentic. Just don’t let that passion turn negative, by venting or making excuses about poor customers or the economy.

  5. Share your vulnerabilities. Authentic leaders are forthcoming about both their strengths and weaknesses. I once worked for a startup CEO who always pretended to have all the product answers, even when it was clear to everyone that his technical depth did not match his marketing passions. Humbly asking for expert help makes leaders stronger.

  6. Share your stories. Personal stories are always more effective in delivering a message, and in establishing the authenticity of the speaker. Team members find it easy to relate to stories about learning experiences and family challenges. Everyone wants to grow and develop their own abilities, and tend to follow people who are models of that ability.

With these initiatives, I believe every one of us can become a better leader, and be perceived that way by our peers and team members. While we are talking about perceptions and authenticity, another key element to watch is your body language. The wrong body language can easily undo all your efforts to create openness, warmth, and interest in the other person.

For example, if you intend to project openness, never cross your arms, or stand and hover above a peer or team member who is sitting down for a discussion. Don’t forget the power of good eye contact in making you appear approachable, likeable, trustworthy, and believable. There are many other body language elements that will reinforce or dilute your efforts to improve leadership.

Unfortunately, I still find too many entrepreneurs who are convinced that building a business is primarily about getting the technology right, and finding the money. In my experience, it’s more about finding the right people, and being able to be the leader that they need. That’s why the investors I know say they invest in the jockey, not the horse. Be the best jockey that you can be.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 04/17/2018 ***

0

Share/Bookmark

Sunday, April 29, 2018

5 Skills To Hone For Seeing Future Trends In Business

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

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

  1. Always on the alert, sensing for signals and meaning of change. Technically, this is known as perceptual acuity. Smart entrepreneurs compare perceptions with a diverse group of leaders and experts on a regular basis. They search for impending changes across multiple environments, and reflect on these to spark new ideas for growth.

  2. A mind-set to see opportunity in uncertainty. Uncertainty is an invitation to go on the attack and entrepreneurs need to be always ready to take their business to a new place in the changing landscape. They should never be defensive, and accept reality when core competencies are actually a hindrance to moving in a more promising direction.

  3. The ability to see a new path forward and commit to it. Leading entrepreneurs don’t wait for everyone to agree with their view of where to take the business, and have the courage of their convictions. They pursue new opportunities with tenacity, identify the obstacles they need to overcome, the blockages that stand in the way, and attack them.

  4. Adeptness in managing the transition to the new path. These entrepreneurs stay connected to both external and internal realities to know when to accelerate and when to shift the short-term/long-term balance, with a sharp eye on cash flow and debt. They create and meet short-term milestones to win credibility with investors and stakeholders.

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

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

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

  • Set aside ten minutes of each weekly staff meeting for that purpose.
  • Seek contrary viewpoints from people you respect, rather than compiling support.
  • Regularly dissect the past, to look for change signals you and others missed.
  • Continually increase your mental map of key changes in multiple industries.
  • Evaluate who might use an invention, patent, or new law to create a bend in the road.
  • Use outsiders to multiply your capacity to scan for disrupting patterns.
  • Watch the social scene, looking for new consumer behaviors and trends.
  • Be a voracious reader in all forms of media, both online and offline.

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

Marty Zwilling

0

Share/Bookmark

Saturday, April 28, 2018

4 Initiatives For Engaging Potential Startup Leaders

engaging-startup-leadersEvery startup founder rightfully starts out as the single leader of the startup, but as the business grows, many entrepreneurs struggle with relinquishing any control, or fail to recognize and allow other leaders to emerge. The result is that the business becomes dysfunctional as growth stagnates, and entrepreneur health and happiness decline.

The right alternative is to focus on finding and delegating some control to the hidden leaders in your startup. These leaders are those exceptional team members who have proven themselves or developed the strength of character, behavior, and learning to be the drivers of the next phase of your business growth.

Yet, unless you know what to look for, the natural human tendency is see all team members in the same light, or see them as never changing from the day they joined your team. In a classic book “The Hidden Leader,” by Scott Edinger and Laurie Sain, I found four great initiatives for recognizing the behavior and results of team members who are likely the leaders you need:

  1. Seek out those who demonstrate real integrity. It’s important to recognize consistent individual integrity in everyday work actions – by noticing how each team member makes decisions, handles challenges, collaborates, and more. Of course that means that the entrepreneur has to foster a culture that enables and rewards integrity.

  2. Recognize team members who build win-win relationships. Team members who demonstrate great interpersonal and collaborative skills, including giving credit to others, initiating business discussions, and forging emotional connections are demonstrating emotional maturity. Entrepreneurs need to recognize and nurture these as future leaders.

  3. Demonstrate a focus on business results. Few things make a difference in a startup like hidden leaders who are focused on results. Normally this indicates the ability to take the initiative and maintain the big picture perspective, both of which are required to be a leader, if kept in balance. The result is higher productivity for everyone in the business.

  4. Driven first by the needs of your customers. Team members who are truly customer purposed, meaning proactively envisioning how every task affects the value provided to the customer, are potential business leaders. This includes a customer service focus, but goes beyond today to include more visionary preparation for tomorrow’s customer needs.

Once an entrepreneur recognizes potential or hidden leaders, the challenge is to engage and capitalize on their performance and leadership potential. Here are some key recommendations for entrepreneurs that the authors and I agree are required to further develop this emerging leadership potential:

  • Up the ante on your communication practices. Leaders on the team want to act out the value promise of your business, and bring your strategy to life. But they can do so only in an environment where the value promise is clearly understood by them, and everyone on the team. Personally discuss your strategy and goals with new leaders.
  • Make sure that startup goals are aligned with tactics. Cultures that align strategies and goals with tactics allow everyone to see the relationship between what they do and the contribution of others. With good alignment, power and leadership can be shared among people at many levels. Everyone feels confidence and a sense of leadership.
  • Embrace change and innovation as positives. Change is inevitable in a startup, and it needs to be a part of the culture for leaders to emerge. Find ways for new leaders to test their hypotheses in small, controllable experiments. Reward well-managed efforts, even if they do not work. Encourage innovative approaches, which can make everyone a leader.
  • Foster a culture of high engagement and commitment. This starts with a clear set of values and purpose. High levels of engagement will nurture hidden leaders in all corners of the business. When commitment is high, team members seek out leaders who can make the startup and everyone look good. Incent everyone to do their best work.

A startup is usually initiated by a single leader, but it requires many more to grow and scale. For maximum speed, team morale, and commitment, these new ones need to be developed from hidden leaders on the inside, and complemented by proven leaders recruited from the outside. Make this combination a key element of your sustainable competitive advantage.

Marty Zwilling

0

Share/Bookmark

Friday, April 27, 2018

How To Pick A Business Model That Is A Match For You

business-model-for-youIt’s painful when you start a new business for the wrong reasons. As a mentor to aspiring entrepreneurs, one of my challenges is to make sure their idea is a match for them. For example, I have a friend who is a self-proclaimed “foody” who wants to start a restaurant, but really has no interest or skills on the business side. Loving food does not necessarily lead to a happy business.

Of course, one solution is to find a partner who has the skills you are missing. I actually worked with Bill Gates back in the early PC days, and I’m convinced that Microsoft may have failed to grow without his partner Steve Ballmer. Bill Gates ran the technical show, but Steve Ballmer, business trained at Procter & Gamble, carried the marketing and financial side of the equation.

Many technical entrepreneurs still tend to believe that their technology and passion are ninety percent of the equation, and the business will happen by default. In my view, this mismatch of interests compared to key business drivers is the primary reason that the majority of new ventures ultimately fail. Here are some key questions I ask to get you started on the right track:

  1. Is there a real business need for your proposed solution? A business need implies customers with money to spend, that have a painful existing problem. Remember that customers buy solutions, not technology, and they rarely pay for “nice to have.” Your passion alone, for your food or your product, probably won’t change the world.

  2. Are you knowledgeable and comfortable in this domain? Don’t step into an arena you don’t know, just because it looks like fun or easy money. Match the business to your comfort level, such as franchising, multi-level marketing (MLM), freelancing, or a new product. Don’t forget that all business types require management and execution skills.

  3. Is your intent to maximize profit or maximize social impact? The business implications and expectations are quite different for non-profits versus for-profit entities. For example, I often find social entrepreneurs looking for investors. You can’t interest investors if you don’t intend to profit. Non-profits need donations and philanthropists.

  4. Are you primarily motivated by family or peer expectations? Don’t try to be a business owner just to prove something to a loved one, friend or sibling. There are no business types that I would recommend here, except maybe an existing family business that is already successful. If you must proceed, at least pick something you love.

  5. Do you have money for bootstrapping or require financing? If you really want to run a business your way without a boss or professional investor hovering over you, then start small, fund it yourself or through friends and family, and grow it organically. Banks and investors will expect a proven business model and some traction, so be realistic.

  6. What is your sustainable competitive advantage? Working harder for less margin is not sustainable. A thriving business requires value-creating products, processes, and services that cannot be matched by competitors now, with a plan to maintain that position. It’s no fun for me to mentor business owners who are suffering continuously.

  7. Are you working alone or with an experienced team? Many aspiring business owners prefer to work alone, and avoid the problems of partners, investors, and large teams. There are business models for these, including consulting and freelancing, which can simplify your life, and limit your risk, but also have limited growth and upside potential.

Thus you see there are new business types and approaches for every personal motivation and lifestyle expectation. In any case, don’t expect the work to be automatically easier or more satisfying that a corporate job. Success in any business requires a serious commitment, and learning from setbacks. Switching business models is not a shortcut to success and happiness.

I often recommend to aspiring business owners that they first take a job with another business in the same realm as the one they envision, to get some practical insight into the challenges, make contacts, and learn more about their own motivations. Then take the big step of starting your own business, with fewer surprises, some good connections and likely more accumulated savings.

Overall, it is important to remember that happiness breeds success more often than success breeds happiness. Every aspiring business owner should play to their strengths and interests, rather than listen to well-meaning advice from friends and experts. For long-term satisfaction, make sure you are driving your business, rather than letting the business drive you.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 04/11/2018 ***

0

Share/Bookmark

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

4 Breakthrough Thinking Strategies Force Innovation

elon-musk-innovationWhy do a few entrepreneurs, like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, seem to come up with all the real innovations, while the majority of business leaders seem stuck in the rut of linear thinking? I have always wondered if innovation required some rare gene mutation, or whether I might be missing a simple formula for unlocking the ability in any intelligent business person to innovate.

While searching for an answer, I found insight in the classic book, “The 4 Lenses of Innovation,” from Rowan Gibson, one of the most recognized thought leaders in business innovation. According to Gibson, you don’t have to be born with special genes to be innovative. He connects breakthrough thinking to four initiatives, which I believe every entrepreneur should practice:

  1. Questioning deeply-held beliefs and assumptions. The willingness to challenge accepted approaches and propose non-obvious alternatives is one of the fundamental driving forces for innovation. This is a thinking pattern and a culture which all entrepreneurs needs to instill and nurture in every startup team member.

  2. Spotting and exploiting emerging trends. Innovative entrepreneurs have to start with a mindset of welcoming change, rather than trying to resist it. They don’t have to be futurists, they just have to be in the current time, not behind the times. Then they have to look for change, and continually hone their skills to turn discontinuity into opportunity.

  3. Redeploying skills and assets in new ways. Innovators leverage existing skills and assets in new ways, new contexts, and new combinations, rather than assuming that new resources are needed for new opportunities. Strategic partnerships with other companies are a good way to extend the boundaries of your business and recombine resources.

  4. Paying attention to unmet needs and frustrations. It all starts with a customer perspective to uncover problems and frustrations, and then design solutions from the customer backward. But customers also tend to think linearly, so they don’t always know what they want. It’s up to you to match what is possible with what is needed.

The next step to breakthroughs for entrepreneurs is to take advantage of the powerful digital tools available to foster innovation and ideas, like Qmarkets and BrightIdea. There is also the wealth of social media digital tools, like Facebook, Twitter, and Yelp, which allow feedback, engagement, and collaboration with customers like never before.

Other smart entrepreneurs are building digital feedback loops directly into their products to understand exactly how customers use the products, as well as solicit real-time improvement feedback. Today entrepreneurs are already implementing the Internet of Things (IoT), where every device can be connected to the Internet, to provide insight and feedback to your company.

Finally, even with the right mindset and digital tools, creative ideas for entrepreneurs still don’t usually occur spontaneously, or come in a flash of inspiration. Every entrepreneur needs to adopt a more rigorous process, like this eight-step one developed and tested by Thomas Edison and many others to accelerate the production of big breakthrough ideas:

  • Select a specific challenge and focus on solving it.
  • Research the subject to learn from the work of others.
  • Immerse yourself in the problem, to explore possible solutions.
  • Recognize when you reach a deadlock, and capitalize on the creative frustration.
  • Back away for a while to let the problem incubate in the unconscious mind.
  • Be sensitive to any insights which might shift your perspective.
  • Extrapolate the insight into a new idea or solution.
  • Test and validate the new solution to make it work.

With the right mindset, tools, process, and a little practice, any entrepreneur can lead their startup to new levels of innovation, competitiveness, and success. So don’t wait for the next Einstein, or a magic Eureka moment, to get you into the game. You too can make business innovation look easy.

Marty Zwilling

0

Share/Bookmark

Monday, April 23, 2018

The Peter Principle Can Kill Your Business And Career

emoji-Peter-PrincipleAs a former IBM executive, I used to think that big-company executives would be ideally skilled and experienced in business to run a small company or a startup. Yet that rarely happens, and when it does, like John Sculley moving from Pepsi to Apple, the results don’t turn out so positive. I see this as a variation on the “Peter Principle,” as well as considerably different skills required.

Back in 1968, Dr. Laurence J. Peter first published evidence that promotion strategies in most companies are based on performance at the current task, with the result over time putting people in new tasks over their head. Even worse, top performers are moved to management positions, which are often not their forte or interest, but have higher salaries and more career prestige.

Once topped-out and frustrated in a big company, many of these people seek key positions in a new business or startup where they can again be top dog and feel in control. Even though their resume may look great, I continue to advise small businesses to fill every team position based only on demonstrated current results, motivation, commitment, and not based on any past title.

This is easier said than done, especially in new ventures where the founder is personally inexperienced in hiring and managing employees. Thus based on my considerable experience in both domains, I offer my recommendations on what to look for and how to select people with minimize exposure to the devastating effects of the Peter Principle, past and present:

  1. Favor people who can both communicate and perform well. Small businesses can’t afford two or more people for every task -- one to do work, and others to communicate results to all constituents. As the founder, you won’t have a finance chief, a marketing staff or a requirements manager. Everyone must know how to listen, talk and write.

  2. Put a premium on customer-facing and relationship building. In a big company, you often need highly-skilled specialists, doing accounting, research and design, or quality support. These people can excel without ever selling or knowing a real customer. In a small business, everybody is in sales, and the customer is always the main focus.

  3. Prioritize current skills and a demonstrated ability to learn. People who haven’t changed in a while find it harder and harder to do so. If you don’t hear an enthusiasm for new challenges, you won’t find the flexibility you need to anticipate and create the pivots required for success. People trapped by the Peter Principle won’t be happy fixing chaos.

  4. Keep the focus on results - don’t hire or reward for effort. A common refrain I hear from team members in over their heads is how many hours they work and how busy they are. If you hear that in the interview process, change the subject to results, and then move on quickly to the next candidate. Set your metrics and rewards to map to results.

  5. Promote an “up or out” growth culture to prevent role stagnation. Look for team members that see every job as a step, rather than a destination, as the company grows. Make it clear through words and actions that you expect upward growth, and no-growth is a failure for both of you. The alternative is to lose your best people to new ventures.

  6. Look for an ability to manage people, as well as do the work. Some people are great workers, but are barely able to manage themselves. The best are comfortable in both roles, and approach every task from both perspectives. Many big company executives rely on their staff to do the real work. This doesn’t work in a small and growing business.

  7. Provide mentoring and self-learning opportunities. Most small businesses don’t have the time or resources to send team members to formal training classes, either in-house or off-site. Yet every new team member can be assigned an in-house mentor, provided with online seminar opportunities and given special assignments to facilitate new learning.

Another difficult challenge for new entrepreneurs and small business owners is being able to deal immediately with the Peter Principle in current team members, once they see it or recognize a hiring or promotion mistake. It’s as hard as every other pivot you will have to make as a new business, with the same penalty that the longer you wait, the higher the cost of recovery.

If you as the leader don’t deal quickly with incompetent people in key team positions, they will paralyze your business. The best people see the problem and beat a path to the exit, to take new outside opportunities, and only the ineffective ones will remain. That will make you the final proof of the Peter Principle.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 04/09/2018 ***

0

Share/Bookmark

Sunday, April 22, 2018

6 Ways To Be A Business Leader As Well As A Developer

Steve_Wozniak_by_Gage_SkidmoreAlmost every entrepreneur starts their journey by developing a solution, based on their idea of a new technology or required service. These idea and developer skills are necessary, but not sufficient, to build a business. A real business requires leadership – thought leadership to attract customers and mind share, as well as people leadership around a team, partners, and investors.

One answer is for the developer to find a partner, like Steve Jobs, who is a leader to build and run the business, and two heads in a startup are almost always better than one. But in my experience as a startup mentor, I find that the happiest and most successful entrepreneurs in the long-term are those that continually stretch themselves to get comfortable in the leadership role.

In fact, being a leader is often outside the experience and training domains of both experienced developers and experienced business professionals. As pointed out in a classic book by leadership expert Herminia Ibarra, very few people are born knowing how to “Act Like A Leader, Think Like A Leader.” But we can all learn and step up if we get the right guidance.

I really related to Ibarra’s direction on how to build your leadership skills by learning to complement your insights with outsights, defined as the valuable perspectives you gain from external experiences and experimentation. Every entrepreneur already knows that building a startup is all about experimentation, new experiences, and problem solving.

To get you started, here is my summary of a half dozen of her key tips, re-focused to the leadership success elements for entrepreneurs, even though the same principles apply to business professionals in larger companies, and even non-business domains:

  1. Don’t be afraid to challenge your own identity. Because doing things that don’t come naturally can make you feel like an imposter, authenticity becomes an excuse for staying in your comfort zone. The trick is to work toward a future version of your authentic self by doing just the opposite, stretching way outside the boundaries of who you are today. Emulate the leadership attributes of entrepreneurs you admire, such as Richard Branson.

  2. Let go of performance goals that limit new learning. We all like to do what we already do well, so it’s easy to focus on achieving higher performance in that domain. Take the risk of setting goals in the leadership domain that will force non-linear learning. This is called avoiding the competency trap, and lets you bridge to new competencies.

  3. Manage the stepping up process. Let the gap between where you are and what you want to achieve be the spark that motivates you to action. Stepping up to play a bigger leadership role is not an event; it’s a process that takes time before it pays off. It is a transition built from small changes. Map out the steps, and celebrate each success.

  4. Practice your new learning in extracurricular activities. Professional roles outside your startup can be invaluable and less risky for learning, practicing new ways of operating, raising your profile, revising your limited view of yourself, and improving your leadership capabilities. It can then be exhilarating to bring these outsights back home.

  5. Create and use new networks to tap new ideas. When you connect to people in different worlds, you will access different perspectives to broaden your own. Avoid the network trap of sticking to the same old players for insight, motivation, and advice. Leaders need at least three different networks – operational, strategic, and personal.

  6. Start acting and thinking like a leader now. Stretch yourself to take action now, and recognize that you may not see at first how all the dots connect as you start branching out beyond your comfort work zone, habitual networks, and historical ways of defining yourself. Slowly but surely a more central and enduring leader identity will take root.

Thus if you have mastered the art of developing solutions, but struggle with building a business, it’s time to focus on your critically important leadership skills. Stop hiding in your comfort zone, and branch out for some new outsights. You too can find an entrepreneur identity in yourself that you never thought possible, and business success that you once only dreamed about.

Marty Zwilling

0

Share/Bookmark

Saturday, April 21, 2018

7 Exponential Scaling Tips For Large-Scale Movements

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

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

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

  1. Build a community of evangelists. Become a conduit for people to talk to each other, and feel like part of a special community. According to Seth Godin, it’s also necessary to engage them with the message from you, the leader, about where you want to go, and the change you want to take place in your world. This incents word-of-mouth on steroids.

  2. Nurture partnerships with many other organizations. Playing well with other organizations in cyberspace and in the real world is more effective than trying to move the mountain alone. Build a list of specific organizations that can help you, and how to engage them. Organizations bring their own communities to exponentially grow yours.

  3. Incent friendly competition with prizes. People love to compete. Give community members incentives, rewards, and challenges as a way to square off against one another, and they will show up. Diamandis created the XPRIZE and Singularity University which created huge movements, and exponential growth for related businesses.

  4. Go into battle against a common rival. One of the best ways to strengthen a community is to take a stand, and find a common enemy. Attacking an issue that affects many potential customers allows you to focus on providing solutions, and lets your community do the selling. Refrain from ranting and raving or bashing the enemy.

  5. Deliver edgy product demonstrations. New products being used in innovative and unusual ways spark buzz and attract followers. The opportunities are endless, with the Internet of Things, wearable technology, driver-less cars, and new fashion trends. Get your community involved in both the idea and the delivery.

  6. Host events to bring your community together. Events can also be in cyberspace, or anywhere in the real world. These encourage members to band together and share experiences based on common interests, and strengthen ties to your brand. Don’t forget that when planning an event, your ultimate goal is incite people to advocacy and action.

  7. Maximize your online brand and media presence. Don’t forget the basics of search engine optimization, social media engagement, video marketing, and courting influential bloggers. Your online brand is what your community thinks of you when you are not available. Creating and updating quality content is required to maintain visibility online.

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

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

Marty Zwilling

0

Share/Bookmark

Friday, April 20, 2018

10 Strategies For Rebounding From Startup Failures

failure-is-not-an-optionIf 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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

0

Share/Bookmark

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

10 Points For A Memorable New Venture Funding Pitch

pitch-to-investorsThe 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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?”

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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 2019, with 12% compounded growth.” Investors don’t need to know the implementation details of your patent or customer support plan.

  9. 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.

  10. 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

0

Share/Bookmark

Monday, April 16, 2018

How To Make Your Business Exit Planned And Positive

business-exit-strategyBelieve it or not, it pays to think about your exit strategy before you start a business, just like buying a house. Is it an investment, do you want to flip it, or do you plan to live there forever? For entrepreneurs seeking investors like me, it’s especially critical, since investors want to see an exit event plan, like going public or acquisition, to get a return and their money out for that investment.

In fact, every element of your company and your personal strategy should be tuned to that exit (or lifetime commitment). Your team, your customers, and certainly your investors, will be listening for a consistent message and will respond accordingly. Here are the key points I recommend as an advisor to business owners relative to their exit strategy:

  1. Focus first on your personal strengths and interests. Running a startup is quite different from running a mature company. Most entrepreneurs don’t relish the thought of managing repeatable processes, greedy stockholders, and endless regulation reports. Yet they often fall into these roles by not grooming a partner or planning for acquisition.

  2. Establish a personal goals roadmap and desired legacy. Exiting any business need not the end, and may be the beginning of something even better, like Bill Gates philanthropy, or your next plan to change the world. For many entrepreneurs, the real joy is the next startup challenge, or the potential to help other entrepreneurs as an investor.

  3. Seek relationships early with the right people for your exit. The best business people make things flow smoothly from one stage to the next. They don’t wait for a distress situation in the business or your personal life, and hope that the ideal people magically appear to facilitate your ideal solution. Start now with a mentor and business advisors.

  4. Set metrics to track progress toward the desired exit. If your intent is to be acquired or go public, you need to show consistent and dramatic growth, as well as opportunity. If your legacy objective is long-term social impact, progress may well be measured by a totally different metric, such as positive impact on climate change or world hunger.

  5. Build the business team to complement your direction. Make strategic team hires and organizational decisions consistent with your personal exit objectives. For example, if your intent is to go public, it makes sense to bring in executives early who are known and respected by the investment community who are key to making this happen.

  6. Maintain a convincing story with a supporting data. Well ahead of any planned move, you need to assemble hard data to and a presentation to support your historical performance and exit strategy. If it’s a sale or IPO, your valuation depends on the credibility of this effort. Budget time away from running your business for this effort.

  7. Manage the customer base and profitability for evidence. Some unicorns, such as Uber and Airbnb, achieved their goal with a focus on growing the customer base, versus profitability, to increase their valuation and attractiveness to important players. Whichever you choose, you need to manage customer and valued-supplier reaction to any change.

  8. Track the market and your industry and retain flexibility. Some business owners shy away from creating an exit strategy because they believe that once their plan is developed, it’s written in stone. In fact, smart ones always have a Plan B, and monitor market and financial appetite shifts, as well as the potential for personal interest changes.

Despite the common business sense of these recommendations, according to data from a recent UBS Investor Watch and other experts, 50 to 80 percent of business owners today still don’t have any formal exit strategy. That means they may well be executing the wrong strategy for their own happiness, or are candidates to be pushed out of their own business on terms they don’t like.

Contrary to the popular belief that working on your exit strategy is negative thinking, I find no downside to efforts in this direction. Thus if you are like most business owners, who look forward to a life of pride and profit even after their current effort, it’s time to take some steps to make the transition and ultimate legacy more than a wistful dream.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 04/03/2018 ***

0

Share/Bookmark

Sunday, April 15, 2018

10 New Venture Survival Lessons From Early Explorers

Scott's_party_at_the_South_PoleDid you ever wonder why some entrepreneurs always seem to have all the luck and success, while others never seem to catch a break? As an angel investor, I quickly learned that luck has very little to do with it, and I now look for some personal characteristics and leadership styles that separate the potential winners from the losers.

These differences are the reason that investors say that they invest in people, rather than ideas. As I was reminded again by the classic book from Dennis Perkins, “Leading at the Edge,” this isn’t a new concept. He illustrates this by comparing the acts of numerous teams which faced the edge of life and death as early Antarctic explorers in the 1800s.

He was able to identify ten lessons from the common threads to survival in the winning explorer teams, which I believe apply equally well to the survival and success of business startup teams today:

  1. Never lose sight of long-term goals, but focus real energy on short-term objectives. Don’t be afraid to pivot, and commit to new objectives with as much passion and energy as the original. Andy Grove of Intel fame started making memory chips, but switched to microprocessors with a vengeance when Japan totally undercut his pricing.

  2. Set a personal example with visible, memorable symbols and behavior. Under the stresses of a startup, visible leadership cues can make the difference between success and failure. When McDonald’s was still a small company, Ray Kroc, the CEO, had a penchant for asking a store manager to help him clean up trash in their parking lot.

  3. Instill optimism and self-confidence, but stay grounded in reality. That means you must first find optimism in yourself. Then it extends to the hiring process. Herb Kelleher, while CEO of fledgling Southwest Airlines, said he only wanted people with positive attitudes. He also famously said," We don't do strategic planning. It's a waste of time."

  4. Take care of yourself: Maintain your stamina and let go of guilt. Evidence shows that effective entrepreneurs have high levels of energy, and handle stress well. But no one is superhuman. I once worked for a CEO of a startup company who insisted on working 20 hours a day, until a health crisis almost killed her, and did kill her company.

  5. Reinforce the team message constantly: “We are one – we live or die together.” Teamwork is the hallmark of high-performing startups. Establishing a shared identity is the first step to creating unity. The Google team stayed tight as they developed the technology, first working out of Larry Page’s dorm room at Stanford, then a garage.

  6. Minimize status differences and insist on courtesy and mutual respect. CEOs who talk, and really listen, to everyone in the organization gain the highest reputation. Not surprisingly, based on the success of their companies, both Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk scored in the top ten most respected CEOs per the most recent Glassdoor Survey.

  7. Master conflict – engage dissidents, and avoid needless power struggles. Some entrepreneurs go to great lengths to avoid interpersonal friction, or engage the wrong way. Those of you who viewed the movie The Social Network, saw an example of new entrepreneurs dealing with conflict poorly, almost leading to the demise of Facebook.

  8. Find something to celebrate and something to laugh about. Especially under the constant pressures of a startup, the ability to lighten up, celebrate, and laugh can make all the difference. Herb Kelleher, mentioned earlier, is one leader who also understood the power of humor in business, with his own antics, and focus on “fun ware.”

  9. Be willing to take the Big Risk. Risk aversion does not always result in disaster, but neither does it create change. Risk takers make things happen. Think of the risk taken by CEO Todd Davis of LifeLock when he posted his Social Security number online, to assure customers the he could protect them from identity theft. It worked.

  10. Never give up – there’s always another move. Rather than expecting things to go right, entrepreneurs have to assume things will go wrong, and solutions are elusive. Colonel Sanders started at a late age to build his chicken recipe into KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken). It took two years of persistence to get the money. The rest is history.

Investors (and team members and partners) find that it’s more effective to assess an entrepreneur’s fit to these personal characteristics than it is to assess the real potential of an idea, or the probability of good luck. We listen to you and judge how many of these are practiced by you. When it’s time for due diligence, we will talk to your team. Their perception is the only reality. What do you think they will say?
Marty Zwilling

0

Share/Bookmark

Saturday, April 14, 2018

9 Communication Tips That Can Boost Your Career Value

Business_Communication_Duplicat_modelEvery business professional and entrepreneur believes they are good communicators, but how do they know? It’s really the perception of the recipients that counts, and poor communicators are almost always poor listeners, so they don’t hear the shortcomings. Warren Buffet once told a class of business students that better communication could boost their value by fifty percent.

That’s certainly worth going after, so it is time for all to take a hard look in the mirror, recognize the need to improve, and make the commitment to change. But looking in the mirror doesn’t help unless you know what to look for. I see real help the classic book, “What MORE Can I Say,” by Dianna Booher, one of the most recognized business communication gurus, which clearly calls out the parameters of effective business communication.

In that context, she offers a nine-point checklist for success in the art of communication and persuasion that I believe every professional should use in their own self-evaluation. I’ll paraphrase a few of her insights here to get you started:

  1. Generate trust rather than distrust. Effective communication requires trust in you, your message and your delivery. We tend to trust people that we think are like us, or we have social proof that others trust, or we feel reciprocal trust from the sender. People who are optimistic, confident, and demonstrate competence generate trust. Are you one of these?

  2. Be collaborative rather than present a monologue. Collaborating for influence has become a fundamental leadership skill. Be known for the questions you ask – not the answers you give. Statements imply that you intend to control the interaction, whereas questions imply that other input has value to arriving at a mutually beneficial decision.

  3. Aim to simplify rather than inject complexity. Simplicity leads to focus, which produces clarity of purpose. People distrust what they don’t understand, what they perceive as doublespeak, or things made unnecessarily complex. Influencing people to change their mind or actions requires building an intuitive simple path to your answer.

  4. Deliver with tact and avoid insensitivity. Some word choices turn people off because they are tasteless, tactless, or pompous. Phrase your communication to avoid biases that might create negative reactions. Consider using other authority figures or quotes to deliver a more persuasive message while eliminating any sensitive implications.

  5. Position future potential instead of achievements alone. The allure of potential is normally greater than today’s actual achievements. This is especially true for career advancement, motivation, and the power of systems. For customers and clients, let them have it both ways. Consider what you can package as your own untapped potential.

  6. Consider the listener perspective rather than the presenter. Listeners tend to average all the pieces of information they hear and walk away with a single impression. More is not always better, so reduce the length of presentations and speeches. Perceptions are more important than reality. Avoid the over-helpfulness syndrome.

  7. Tend toward specifics rather than generalizations. Many executive speeches miss the mark because they aim for the general constituency and hit no one. People need to know how a message relates to them personally, not just what has to be done and why. Your challenge is to make the future seem attainable and applicable to each listener.

  8. Capitalize on emotions as well as logic. Emotion often overrides logic, but logic rarely overrides emotion. For many listeners, a logical explanation merely justifies and supports an emotional decision that has already been made. Recognize and calm first any emotional reactions of fear. Engage multiple senses to reach a listener’s emotion.

  9. Lead with empathy before your own perspective. Empathy starts with active listening to what’s being said and what’s not being said. Listen for the gaps and distortion between perception and reality, and then focus on closing these gaps before any persuasion to your own perspective is attempted. Let others help you listen, and tune your response.

As the economy continues to flourish, and the competition gets tougher, you need every ounce of communication skill you can muster to land the career and business opportunities that will be coming your way. Standing still means falling behind. Are you listening and changing at the right pace to get your fifty percent advantage?

Marty Zwilling

0

Share/Bookmark

Friday, April 13, 2018

10 Strategies For Building A Business With Influence

Elon_Musk's_Tesla_Roadster_in_spaceSuccessful entrepreneurs often start with a “random” idea, but they quickly focus their efforts and follow a “system” to organize their startup and maximize the clout of their activities. Too many entrepreneur “wannabes” never get past the idea stage, or strike out randomly in many directions, hoping that their passion will convince people to follow them and make their business grow.

There are many systems for business out there, but all of them need a way to keep score on progress and impact. If your business is to be a thought leader in the social media world, the dominant system of grading how much influence you have online today is your Klout score, as explained in the classic book on this subject, “Klout Matters,” by Gina Carr and Terry Brock.

I’m not convinced that maximizing Klout will maximize your clout in every business, but I do agree that social media must be a part of the system that every entrepreneur needs to implement today to build their business. I especially agree with the ten strategies that these authors outline for building systems leading to businesses with clout in today’s world:

  1. Clearly define your purpose. You have to clearly understand what you want to achieve before you are likely to achieve it. If you can’t write it down, you probably don’t understand it. Key factors gating your success will always be your level of competency in your chosen field, level of demand for that skill, and how easily you can be replaced.

  2. Find those arenas where your needs are met. If you want to be a thought leader, find where your potential followers hang out. If you have something to sell, build relationships in the community of buyers. Experimentation is an important part of this process. You will need to test groups constantly to make sure you are in the right one.

  3. Allocate some time to spend on social media. Social media is critical today to almost every business. But make sure the time you spend is quality time, focused on your objectives, and balanced in relation to all your other business requirements. Spend time learning new techniques, and time measuring the return from your efforts.

  4. Be a great resource for others. What we all need is trusted advisors who can help us decipher the clutter. As you become an expert in your field, you need to offer yourself as a trusted advisor, and you will quickly gain a loyal following. Writing, audios, and videos are all great ways to do this, since these all facilitate the one-to-many multiplier.

  5. Provide a unique point of view. Be creative and add value to what you offer your target market. This is true for thought leaders, entrepreneurs, as well as anyone who is looking to be hired in a job. Adding value builds influence and subsequently can build your business, as well as your Klout score. People don’t follow followers or repeaters.

  6. Continue to learn and grow. One of the most important skills that every leader must nurture is how to learn. Some people learn best from conferences, while other learn best from blogs and other information online. Standing still is falling behind, and you can’t afford to fall behind in today’s fast paced business environment.

  7. Forget the old “spray and pray.” A popular old marketing concept was that if you did enough broadcasting of your message to enough people, you would find success. Today you need to talk with, not at, your customers and constituents to get ideas. The best thought leaders have learned how to listen and acknowledge their community.

  8. Build a team. Operating alone in today’s complex business world, including the many social media channels, is not physically possible as your business grows. The good news is that with new technology and the Internet, you can tap into the services of, and build relationships with brilliant people around the world, to build an integrated virtual team.

  9. Seek exposure to new people who are relevant. People come and go in the real world and on social media. Thus it is important that you continually expand your network to engage new people who are building influence in your community. Only in this way will you be exposed to new thoughts and ideas, and enhance your own digital influence.

  10. Focus on a specific niche. You need to find a niche where you have both passion and competency. More passion is not a substitute for focus and competency. Make sure the niche is large enough, and includes people with money, enough to provide an income for you to continue your efforts and be successful.

Influence is more important than ever in today’s connected world as brands, companies, and individuals vie to become the next big phenomenon. Do you have any idea how much influence your company commands today, and what is your business doing to extend that influence to the bottom line?

Marty Zwilling

0

Share/Bookmark

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

7 Modern Ideas That Will Make Your Website A Winner

winning-web-designYou can’t make any business work if your customers can’t find you, or don’t even know what you offer. Thus I was surprised to read recently that 30 percent of small businesses don’t even have a web site. As an advisor to new entrepreneurs, I’m also surprised at how many potential business owners tell me that they don’t know where to start in putting together an effective web presence.

You don’t have to be a Google expert to find a wealth of basic website creation tools, and many are free, or available for a low cost. Of course, there are also dozens of experts out there who are anxious to do the work for you, for a more formidable price. The real challenge, in all cases, is not basic site creation, but content that sets you apart from the crowd of potential competitors.

I can speak from experience that content makes all the difference. Here are some modern approaches that have worked for me, and for many other small businesses I know that continually stay ahead of the crowd:

  1. Add a blog to highlight your product or service expertise. You don’t have to be a trained writer to add case studies, personal experiences and recommendations, to make your offering stand out over the marketing hype on other sites. In addition, blogs provide real “Google juice” through inbound links, updated content, and mobile access.

  2. Link to or create relevant industry forums and participate. A forum is a two-way user discussion on the subject of your business. Your hosting or visible contribution adds authority, content, and traffic to your website and your business. Plus, owning such a forum can give you a valuable and highly targeted contact list of potential customers.

  3. For example, Dharmesh Shah, one of the co-founders of Hubspot, created and manages the popular LinkedIn discussion group, On Startups. This activity gives tremendous credibility and links to his website as well as himself.

  4. Define your website as the hub of your social media reach. Many businesses now have multiple social media accounts, including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter. But finding your various accounts is often a haphazard and frustrating effort for interested visitors. Make your website the coordination point for both you and them.

  5. Keep site visitors updated by posting eNewsletters. A newsletter is nothing more than a regular activity and change summary, usually monthly, via website and email that help with customer retention, and remind your customers that you are the expert in your industry. Through your website, you can also supplement text with video and audio.

  6. Escalate the engagement with customer contests. Websites are ideal vehicles to deliver creative contests and entice new prospect traffic. People love to submit stories, vote on entries, and receive the recognition of even small prizes or product rewards. These contests should be extended and connected through your social media.

  7. For example, if you run a photography services website, you could offer prizes and publicity for the best pet photograph submitted in the next week. Readers would win by getting visibility for their favorite pet, and your site would win thanks to the traffic and new customers.

  8. Supplement text content with video and audio. Simple videos, less than five minutes in length, are ideal for today’s “show and tell” customer mentality and short attention spans. You can do these yourself and upload to YouTube for display on your website. Keep the atmosphere relaxed and fun, to increase traffic, and maybe even go viral.

  9. Add creative elements, such as widgets and badges. A widget is a mini-app that displays or updates data on the web to share something of value and interest, such as your daily special deal or a promotional opportunity. A badge is a simple graphic designed for fun, to show support, or promote certain standards online. Both of them highlight you, and extend your reach to other sites.

There are many more items of effective content that could be on this list. But don’t let the number overwhelm you. You don’t need to tackle them all – just pick a few that you think you can do well, and consistently. The key is new and relevant content on a regular basis to attract the attention of search engines and new customers. Don’t be in stealth mode or invisible to your customers.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 03/28/2018 ***

0

Share/Bookmark

Monday, April 9, 2018

10 Strategies To Accelerate Your New Venture Growth

growth-highly-scalableInvestors will tell you that they love to put money into startups that are scalable, and ready to scale. But what does that really mean? Simply stated, it means that your business has the potential to multiply revenue with minimal incremental cost. Ready to scale is when you have a proven product and a proven business model, about to expand to new geographies and markets.

A software product is a classic example of a scalable solution, since it costs real money to build the first copy, but unlimited additional copies can be quickly cloned for almost no incremental cost. Most consulting services, like marketing, are not scalable, since they must be delivered by experts, and cloning experts is slow and expensive. Investors don’t invest in services startups.

Here are some pragmatic tips on how to make your startup more scalable and investable:

  1. If you need investors, start with a scalable idea. Just because all your buddies think an idea is cool, that doesn’t mean it is scalable. Investors like ideas based on market research from outside experts, like Gartner Research, proclaiming a billion dollar opportunity with a double digit growth rate. These are more likely scalable and investable.

  2. Build a business plan and model that is attractive to investors. I see too many business plans that are really product plans for customers, touting free services and long feature lists. It’s hard to build and scale a business on free high-support products. Scalable businesses have high margins (over 50%), low support, and minimum staffs.

  3. Use a minimum viable product (MVP) to validate the model. No product, even with a large opportunity, is ready to scale until you can show it working, with multiple customers paying the full price, to validate the business model. Count on multiple pivots with real customers, before you get it right, before you ask for investor money to scale.

  4. Build a strong team to take yourself out of the critical path. If you are still spending most of your time working “in” your business, rather than “on” your business, then you are not yet ready to scale. Show that you have and can continue to hire the right people to run the scaled business without you being everywhere and making every decision.

  5. Outsource what is non-strategic to optimize leverage. Smart entrepreneurs never outsource their core competency, and never rely on intellectual property they don’t own. They also don’t try to do everything in-house, since growing all the expertise you need is slow and expensive. Scaling requires leveraging outside resources.

  6. Focus on marketing and indirect channels to get the message out quickly. Direct marketing is generally not scalable, especially on low-cost high-volume products. These days, heavy marketing is always required to make your startup visible and scalable amid the flood of information from all sources to all customers. Word-of-mouth does not scale.

  7. Automate to the max. A startup that is labor intensive and staff intensive is not scalable. Start early looking at production automation, proven process technologies, and minimum staff approaches, before you begin scaling. Document processes and build online training videos so new people can come online quickly and consistently.

  8. Attract and relish investor funding. Organic growth (reinvesting profits only) will not allow you to build the “hockey stick” growth curve desired by premium buyers at exit, or financial analysts positioning you for public stock sale. You will give up some control with investors, but their expertise and experience is usually more than worth the cost.

  9. Consider all possibilities for licensing and franchising. Many markets already have major players, so figuring out how to make them partners is much more effective for scaling than trying to out-market them. In other areas, once you have a documented and proven model, franchising will let you scale much faster than managing every location.

  10. Define a business that is open-ended and continuously improving. If your startup sounds like a one-trick pony, it won’t be perceived as scalable. Don’t try to solve every customer problem at the same time, but build a strategy and plan that shows continuous innovation, leading to follow-on complementary solutions well into the future.

Let me make one thing clear – not everyone needs or wants investors, or a highly scalable business. Ninety percent of small businesses today are family businesses, which can be very successful, satisfying, and small by design. It’s a strategic decision. If your passion is to change the world, or even dominate an industry, scalability is the only way to multiply your arms and legs, and the hours in your day. Are you feeling the need yet in your own startup?

Marty Zwilling

0

Share/Bookmark

Sunday, April 8, 2018

10 Business Strategy Elements That Expedite Success

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

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

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

  1. Facilitate small choices that get you closer to the finish line. Provide prioritization guidelines to align day-to-day choices with the big choices. To make the right big choice, everyone needs to know who to focus on, and how to offer unique value to customers in the chosen segment. When to say no is also a critical part of any strategy.

  2. Keep the big choice clearly visible in all your actions and communications. People shorten and package messages all the time, causing message distortion which can hide the core of your big idea. So don’t pass messages down the line. Talk directly to every key constituency often, and make your messages as sticky as possible.

  3. Draw a finish line so key people know the real objective. Capture the core of your strategy and show everyone in an inspiring way what strategy success looks like. Everyone works harder when they know who’s winning and the distance to the end. The right finish line also motivates and gives purpose to those traveling the execution road.

  4. Define lead indicators, and regularly re-measure distance to the finish line. Everyone needs a limited set of lead indicators to provide feedback, and allow recalibration based on things learned along the way. Remove old signposts to prevent confusion, and work to prevent information overload.

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

  6. Climb the micro-commitment ladder with full engagement. Don’t settle for small commitments on big things. Go after big commitments on small things. The highest rung on the commitment ladder is “Yes, I will get it done no matter what.” This is the only level that represents full ownership of the task, and execution responsibility has really shifted.

  7. Go beyond self-interest to boost belief in others. The key to success is belief. Celebrating small successes along the road make people believe they can achieve a big success at the finish line. Success is a self-fulfilling prophecy, causing people to dig deeper, recover faster, and keep going longer.

  8. Constantly tackle complexity as your business grows. Complexity is the CO2 of the modern business world – the biggest performance killer in organizations. Embrace simplicity to create the most productive working environment. Be constantly on the lookout for best practices and tools to improve your strategy execution.

  9. Experience the power of habits to automate decisions. Each overt decision we make demands mental strength, and when there are too many decisions to take, our reserves run out. Remember how draining your first day on a new job was. Quickly the small decisions become habits. Group habits become your company culture.

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

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

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

Marty Zwilling

0

Share/Bookmark

Saturday, April 7, 2018

10 Human Obstacles To Business Innovation And Change

creativity-human-thinkingSuccessful entrepreneurs are the ones who think the most creatively, not only in their initial product or service, but more importantly all through the stages of growth from startup to maturity. But even the best of them can easily slip into some bad decision habits that limit or hurt their business, due to natural human tendencies and the pressures of business challenges.

Obviously, the business of business has been around a long time, with many “best practices” well-defined and well documented, so creativity that ignores these is usually not a good thing. Thus every entrepreneur struggles to achieve that balance between methodically following “proven” processes, versus a new and creative approach which may be a real differentiator.

In my experience as a mentor, I find that keeping creative thinking in the balance is a challenge for every startup, due to the natural employee tendency to resist change. I agree with the classic book by Ros Taylor, “Creativity at Work: Supercharge Your Brain and Make Your Ideas Stick,” which outlines some key psychological impediments to creative business thinking and change:

  1. Just use the data metrics. Shocking statistics, like unexpected losses last quarter, can generate a knee-jerk cost cutting decision, when further analysis and creative thinking might better close the gap with new revenue sources. Using data metrics alone for decisions, without seeking the root problem and alternative solutions, kills creativity.

  2. Let’s just be optimistic. Optimism is essential for long-term success, but it can delay or cloud short-term decision requirements. Entrepreneurs have to be careful not to look too hard for evidence that confirms their passion and positive perspective. Be a realist when making a decision and an optimist when implanting it.

  3. The way we do things. It’s human nature to believe that the way we have first learned and long done things is the best way, and other ways won’t work as well. It stops us from having to learn anything new. One of the reasons change is hard is that people have to unlearn the old way first, which is twice as hard as just learning something new.

  4. Tricked by recency. We tend to remember the first and the last things we hear – the primacy and recency effect. Sales people tend to remember the latest product when selling to clients, not the one best for that customer. So when decisions are to be made, we tend to remember recent information and issues. Not always to good effect.

  5. Group think will give the best results. Group results are often dominated by an autocratic leader, or represent assimilation of the lowest common denominator. Most people tend to be compliant, rather than risk conflict. Creative ideas are the outliers, and tend to be eliminated first, rather than evaluated fully. Diversity challenges group think.

  6. Low appetite for risk. With humans as well as with animals, you tend to get what you reward. If you reward ‘right first time behavior,’ you might get fewer mistakes but you will also get fewer attempts at trying new things. ‘Fast failure’ and ‘minimum viable product’ are startup concepts geared to facilitate creativity while still mitigating risk.

  7. Polarized thinking. Early failures tend to swing later decisions entirely in the opposite direction, which can have equally traumatic results. Some people tend to manage challenges with “either/or” thinking, rather than creative “both/and” thinking to try to solve the problem. If there are polar opposites, look for the positives on both ends.

  8. Generate more stress. The more critical a problem becomes, the less creative our decision making will be. Concentration is impaired by stress, judgment and logical thinking deteriorates, we tend not to communicate well, we tend to stop gathering data, and we tend to make quick, impulsive, short-term decisions. Work on reducing stress.

  9. No feedback or results analysis. Every decision needs review and continuous feedback from constituents for validation and tuning. In the world of business today, the only constant is change. Even good decisions today will require adjustments as the environment or customers change. Avoid the tendency to fix blame and look for excuses.

  10. Failure to learn. Experience is inevitable; learning is not. Review and measuring decision results facilitates learning, just like sales metrics facilitate a better understanding of sales. Creativity without learning will be short-lived and ineffective. Learning required effective listening, and creative thinking to make sense out of tough experiences.

It’s time to get past the myths and mystery about creativity. Creative people don’t have to have eccentric personalities, work in the arts, or work in isolation, to achieve results. It is possible to be creative on demand, and to demand creativity in your startup. In fact, if you don’t, your startup will too quickly join the ranks of the corporate world that you love to hate. Think about that one.

Marty Zwilling

0

Share/Bookmark