Monday, August 20, 2018

7 Employee Practices That Will Make You A ‘Superboss’

boss-trust-yourselfEvery business executive and entrepreneur I know believes they are good or even great leaders, but as an advisor I often hear a different story from their team. You probably have a few stories of your own about a least favorite boss who was always too busy to listen, gave nothing but critical feedback, was prone to emotional outbursts, or simply was not really present in body and spirit.

I hear about many more who try to do all the right things, but just don’t seem to be the role model for leadership you crave, or be someone you would want to emulate. For example, entrepreneur Richard Branson, beyond his flamboyant and irreverent style, is known for seeming to viscerally understand the needs of his employees and being a conduit for fulfilling those needs.

I’m not convinced that anyone has to be born with a special set of genes to be recognized as a memorable leader. In fact, all managers and people in leadership positions just need to focus their efforts on their people versus themselves to get respect. Based on my experience, there are a few key people practices that can put you too in the super boss category. Here is my short list:

  1. Provide personal growth assistance beyond training programs. Help your employees build their individual strengths with customized coaching and special assignments. We all have strengths and weaknesses, and most of us as managers focus only on weaknesses. Be one of the few who highlight strengths with feedback, recognition, and new opportunities.

    In one of my own stints as an executive in IBM, I found that putting a high-potential employee on my own staff for a few weeks was highly motivating and taught me the realities of senior management responsibilities better than any class could.

  2. Inspire team members to set and achieve personal goals. Spend more of your time on personal as well as team communication, instilling confidence in people to set work goals that are consistent with their personal aspirations. Then provide the feedback, assistance, and rewards required to make these a win-win proposition for both you and them.

    For example, early in my career when I was seeking to increase my visibility, I had a great boss who asked me to lead an "extra credit" programming project that tested my ability, but ultimately gave me a huge boost with executives outside my area.

  3. Actively seek new opportunities for good employees. This may seem counter-intuitive to many managers who fear losing their best employees, since managers never seem to have time to focus on recruiting and mentoring new talent. They don’t realize that great team members will leave anyway, leaving only the least productive members.

  4. It's better to give exceptional team members a new opportunity than to wait for them to look elsewhere or be stolen by a competitor. Richard Branson was quick to allow one of his own employees take the lead with a new venture in Australia, even though it meant losing him on the home team.

  5. Make the task fit the person, rather than person fit the task. This is another aspect of capitalizing on strengths and satisfaction. In today’s rapidly changing market, it makes sense to let people find innovative ways to use their talent to help your business, rather than forcing them to do things the way they have always been done.

  6. Recognize depth of relationships as well as skill depth. In business, very little gets done by one person alone, so good connections and team building are critical to personal growth and success.

    You need to understand the cohort effect (experiences shared by a group), and mentor individual team members on how to initiate, manage, and utilize key relationships. I found in my career that an employee who knew how to work with other organizations could get twice as much done as a regular hardworking team member.

  7. Push people to rise to a challenge outside their qualifications. People are generally capable of much more than they will attempt by default, and great leaders look for signals to amplify that can lead to a win-win challenge. Formal qualifications should never be used as the limit of what you can expect from highly motivated team members.

  8. Be willing to create a position for exceptional new talent. The best business leaders are always on the lookout for new talent through networking, browsing social media, or acting as university liaisons. They don’t wait for openings on their team, and often create a new position to take advantage of special talent availability.

These days, you need regular change in any organization to maintain a level of innovation and creativity. What could be more satisfying than to be a cherished manager and lead a successful business?

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 08/06/2018 ***

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Sunday, August 19, 2018

How To Find Money Based On Your New Venture Progress

business-angelTime is too precious to waste trying to close a deal with the wrong investors at the wrong time. Luckily, not all investors are looking for the same thing, so it pays to know what type of investors are most interested in what your startup brings to the table.

The key is understanding how potential investors see you, and especially how they view the maturity stage of your startup. For example, if you have a proven product, real revenue, a big potential market, and are ready to scale up the business, every investor will be interested. On the other hand, if you are a new entrepreneur, still in the idea stage, professional investors will only tell you to come back later when you have traction (customers and revenue).

Thus your startup maturity and growth stage is the primary key to success with potential funding sources. Different types of investors tend to specialize in capitalizing on businesses at different stages. Venture capital firms look for the most mature companies they can find, Angel investors typically deal a tier lower, while friends and family are most likely to help you get started.

It never hurts to start networking personally with all levels of investors early, but sending out teasers and business plans to every name you can find on the Internet is a waste of your time and theirs. It will be much more productive to categorize your startup in one of the following five stages, and limit your investor focus accordingly:

  • “I have a great idea and I need money to turn it into a business.” For investors, this is the idea stage, where you may have a great idea, but no plan, product, or customers, and probably no success record in this business domain. No professional investor will be interested at this point, so count only on yourself, friends, family, and fools for money.
  • “My invention and prototype works, but I need funding to continue.” Investors call this the seed stage, where money is required to build a market and a real product. Government grants and industry partners are you best bet here, but Angel investors might give you $250,000 to $1 million, if you have the right business case and credentials.
  • “The final product works great, and all the early users love it.” You are now entering the rollout stage, with money required for marketing, hiring a full-time team, and a production process. At this point, most Angel investors and a few early-stage VCs will be happy to talk, assuming you have the business model validated, and a large opportunity.
  • “It’s time to scale up and I need money to keep up with demand.” Congratulations! Every investor wants to be part of your growth stage, after your first $1 million in revenue. They call first investments at this stage the “A-round,” and often follow with a B-round through G-round. Growth stage investments from VCs are usually $5 million and up.
  • “The ride has been fun, but I need my money out to start the next big thing.” This is the exit stage for the entrepreneur, and for all earlier investors. The new investors you need at this stage are investment bankers, private equity, or competitors, to buy you out via merger or acquisition (M&A), or to go public with an Initial Public Offering (IPO).

Obviously, maturity and growth are a continuum, so the rules are never absolute. My message is that your startup will attract a different class of investors, as it passes through each stage, just as it has to supplement and tune the team, process, and product to keep up with the needs of a growing company and customer base. Tune your investor pitch and funding expectations accordingly.

Another good indicator of your real stage is the valuation you can set for your company at any given moment, to determine what portion of your equity an investor will expect of his money. Prior to the growth stage, your company valuation is limited to goodwill based on intellectual property and team experience, since you have no revenue. Future opportunity size doesn’t count in the early stages.

Contrary to popular opinion, all investor money is not the same. Friends and family believe in you, and only want to see you achieve success. Angel investors probably will know your business, and want to be mentors along the way. VCs normally come with the highest expectations of board seats, controlling votes, and milestones to meet.

Don’t sign up for one, expecting the other. If you want to avoid all these stage and investment considerations, you can always bootstrap the business (fund it yourself, and grow organically). Otherwise, be sensitive to first impression you leave on every investor, and the efficiency of your time spent on funding. You will enjoy the lifestyle a lot more when you find the right investor.

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, August 18, 2018

10 Keys To Delivering Innovation As An Entrepreneur

medical_health_medicineAs a startup investor in this age of the entrepreneur, I see many more startups, but innovation is still hard to find. The most common proposals I hear are for yet another social networking site (over 200 exist), or another dating site (over 2500 in the US alone). Startups which display real innovation, such as alternative energy sources and new medical treatments, are still rare.

In my experience, finding real innovation in existing company environments is even tougher. Overall I like the principles in the classic book “Robert’s Rules of Innovation: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival,” by Robert F. Brands. He outlines the key steps which together spell INNOVATION, that I believe apply equally well to startups as well as corporate environments:

  1. Inspire. Whether we are talking about startups or corporations, innovation requires a leader who can inspire others to step into the unknown. Followers and linear thinkers need not apply. Inspiration requires a vision, and an ability to communicate it to others.

  2. No risk, no innovation. An entrepreneur looking for a sure thing will never innovate. Savvy investors tell me that startup founders who claim to have never failed are either lying or have never tried anything innovative. Failure is the best teacher.

  3. New product process. Innovation is not a random walk into the unknown. It starts with a vision, but benefits quickly from a structured process of idea generation, evaluation, prototyping, customer feedback, and success metrics. Set milestones and meet them.

  4. Ownership. A technical champion may drive a specific innovation, but the business leader has to own the result, in order to drive an appropriate business model, customer acquisition, support, and a growth strategy. Business risks are not just development risks.

  5. Value creation. Innovative technologies have no value until they are turned into solutions to real customer problems. Creating intellectual property, including patents, is the kay to long-term value and a sustainable competitive advantage.

  6. Accountability. Many innovations are jeopardized by team members and leaders who are hesitant to accept full accountability. This includes personal and team commitments to delivery schedules, quality assurance, manufacturing, and distribution requirements.

  7. Training and coaching. Proper hiring of people with a natural curiosity, open-mindedness, and ability to see the big picture is the way to create and enhance the right mind-set. Ongoing coaching from the top is essential to maintain the attitude and spirit.

  8. Idea management. Build and manage a pipeline of ideas. From time to time, include customers and sales members in ideation sessions. Make sure all team members have some connection with the product – has either used it, or sold it, or assembled it.

  9. Observe and measure. Tracking results are essential to optimal ROI. Product life cycles keep getting shorter and shorter, which mandates accelerated innovation cycles. Once a new product is launched, a key metric is the ratio of new product sales to overall sales.

  10. Net result and reward. Based on ROI, incentives should be developed for all participants. Reward your people. Frequently, the key motivator is less financial than it is recognition for a job well done. People are your best innovation resource.

Sustainable innovation is really the only sustainable competitive advantage. But innovation is hard, because people by nature resist change, and company cultures are most comfortable with status quo.

Yet survival in today’s world of rapid business change requires that you keep one step ahead of your competition. Innovation is what gives life to your business initially, and keeps it alive in the long term. Make sure your business can spell it.

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, August 17, 2018

7 Lead-Generation Tactics Thrive On Limited Budgets

lead-generation-strategiesContrary to popular opinion, viral marketing has not eliminated the need for old-fashioned lead generation to bring customers to a startup. Indeed, while the rules and technologies for lead generation have changed, Forrester and other experts still see it as the most effective way for businesses with limited budgets to maximize their return on marketing investment (ROMI).

One of these experts, David T. Scott, published a classic book that I recommend, ”The New Rules of Lead Generation,” highlighting the changes wrought by the internet and social media. His professional background includes having held marketing-executive roles at big companies as well as startups.

Here is my summary of the seven most successful lead-generation vehicles he and I still recommend today, despite the popularity of viral marketing: 

  1. Search-engine marketing.  For new product startups, search engine marketing (SEM) is still one of the most cost-effective and scalable lead-generation approaches. It’s also one of the most accountable, with in-depth data provided by search engines about performance. You can start an SEM campaign with as little as $50 today and get results very quickly.

  2. Social-media advertising. Social-media advertising relies on popular social media sites (such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter) to generate leads through pay-per-click ads and tweets on sites that target customers in specific demographics. You bid on the amount you are willing to pay for a click or promoted tweet (such as $2), and a daily budget (like $1,000).

  3. Display advertising. To use online display ads to generate leads, you post ads on websites frequented by your target audience or ones with content related to the ad. Display ads on mobile devices, including video and audio, also offer a new opportunity to reach target customers.

  4. Email marketing. This one has been around a long time but still works well if your target demographic is well defined and you do your homework to buy or rent a top-quality mailing list. New technology allows for psychographic targeting (such as finding people who like to travel) and geotargeting (specifying a certain neighborhood) for improved response and spam avoidance.

  5. Direct mail marketing. Some consider direct mail very expensive or dead as a lead-generation tool. Yet it is more alive than ever before. Nearly $50 billion is being spent annually on direct mail, according to statistics, and the amount has been increasing each year. Compared with other methods, it does require the largest up-front investment, mostly for printing and shipping.

  6. Cold calling. This is still one of the best vehicles if your business has a small, well-defined purchasing audience as do government agencies or medical establishments. You need to first purchase or build a targeted list of clients from a trustworthy source, then refine it with some new tools, like LinkedIn and Gist, before contacting them with a good script.

  7. Trade shows. Such forums are still the best opportunity for you to meet face-to-face with people who should be interested in your products or services and to display your goods in person. Pick the right shows, start small and work hard ahead of time on your marketing materials, giveaway tchotchkes and booth staffing.

In all cases, it is crucial to set specific goals for each lead-generation campaign, keep track of the overall costs and measure the return on your marketing investment in terms of cost-per-action and cost-per-sale. Don’t hesitate to use small test projects to compare the results of multiple approaches.

Technology and consumer feedback have indeed changed the landscape. Telemarketing and robocalls, once a popular approach to lead generation, have been the subject of continuing legislation, which many believe will soon eliminate these options. The last thing a new business needs is to antagonize potential customers or become embroiled in controversy.

Plus lead-generation strategies can be updated by the flood of new technologies and software, including use of near-field and Bluetooth communications, QR codes, social check-in promotions, mobile search, mobile web, text, SMS, MMS and geolocation.

Whether you are an entrepreneur with a new startup, or even a more mature business charged with improving your growth and competitive posture, don’t fall into the trap of assuming that the new social media initiatives and focus on viral will mitigate your need to do proactive lead generation. How many of these lead generation techniques are funded in your business plan?

Marty Zwilling

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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

7 Excuses For Giving Up Instead Of Persevering To Win

never-stop-tryingWhen I heard a friend and business mentor say, “Your startup won’t fail if you don’t quit,” I realized that every entrepreneur should adopt “never give up” as their mantra. Rather than quitting, there are always alternatives, like pivoting the business model or merging with new partners for support. Either could improve the statistic that half of startups fail within the first five years.

Nothing is more discouraging to aspiring entrepreneurs than the high failure rate. So why do most startups fail? Many experts say that running out of money is not the primary reason. The number one reason seems to be that the founders just walk away. Of course, they may be out of money as well, but that is often more of an “excuse” than a reason.

Here are some common face-saving excuses that I hear from entrepreneurs abandoning their startup, along with some suggested alternatives to the hard stop and exit:

  1. “I’ve lost my passion. I’m not enjoying this anymore.” This suggests that you've become discouraged with your current business model, possibly because of an unanticipated problem or pivots you made to avoid a competitor or make more money. My suggestion is to morph the current business idea back into one than you can love and enjoy rather than your quitting and accepting an employee role that's not your preference.

  2. “My idea is just too far ahead of its time.” You probably realize that the leading edge is very near the bleeding edge, where only early adopter customers dare to tread. On the other hand, if you wait for competitors to get there first, you may be left in the dust with no customers. Yet if you already have some early adopters, that's a good indication that real marketing and education will likely bring your product or service mass acceptance. So hang in there and get busy. 

  3. “I can’t find any trustworthy investors these days.” If you can’t bootstrap the venture yourself, find a partner, friend or family member, rather than a professional investor to carry some financial weight. Otherwise, look for advances from distributors, vendors or even future customers. Try bartering services you have for something you need. I’ve seen countless creative solutions to the cash-flow problem by entrepreneurs who don’t quit.

  4. “The people on my team are not really committed.” We all make people mistakes or set employees' expectations too high. So you made some bad hiring or partner decisions. Now is the time to face up to these issues and reset your expectations or move out the people who don’t fit. The sooner it's done, the happier you all will be.

  5. “I just don’t have the business skills I need to compete.” Acquiring business skills is not rocket science; they can be learned on the job, as well as supplemented by coaching from an experienced team and advisors. If you knew all the answers, you would be bored and lose interest (see number 1).  Half the fun lies in the learning challenge, so don’t quit now.

  6. “It’s now obvious that there is no market for what I created.” It has never been enough to build a solution and then wait for people with the right problem to find you. There are a wealth of tools available today, relying on social media and marketing, to create or foster the market your company needs. Big markets never spring up fully grown out of the ether.

  7. “My company grew too fast, and the pressure and costs are killing me.” Perhaps it's time to reset your course to focus on business basics, so you can lighten your load. Or maybe it’s time to scale back and focus more on organic growth. But quitting right as your company is encountering success is foolish. Professional investors would love to help you scale your business

Most people agree that entrepreneurs learn more from their mistakes and pivots than they do from easy successes. Investors tell me that they are wary of funding an entrepreneur who refuses to admit any prior failure. So it’s smart to admit your struggles, rather than let them defeat you or drive you to excuses.

It's worth remembering that nothing really important is all that easy. Starting a business is just like building a new relationship; it takes work. At times you might feel like running your business is not worth all the effort, but just walking away is not very satisfying. Learning, solving some hard problems and achieving success are a lot more fun than failing. Why not make “never giving up” your mantra?

Marty Zwilling

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Monday, August 13, 2018

7 Keys To The Investor Challenge For Your New Venture

box-of-hundred-dollar-billsAccording to the entrepreneurs I advise, the biggest challenge they typically face in starting a new business is funding. It consistently takes a huge amount of time and effort to find an investor you can trust, and that constrains your efforts in developing the solution you envision. People always expect that it should be easy to find investors, given their passion and excitement for the solution.

Yet according to recent data compiled by Fundable, 57 percent of successful entrepreneurs end up funding their startup, and that’s a good thing. If you want to run your own show, and not hand off a large chunk of future financial gains before you start, the only approach is to dip into your own resources, or even work for someone else a while and save until you are ready to break out on your own.

According to the same sources, another 38 percent get support from family and friends, so that leaves only five percent who rely on crowdfunding, banks, angels, or VCs. The hard work begins then, in finding a match for your domain and solution readiness stage, as well as an investor that matches your vision, values, and needs. Here are the steps I recommend to optimize your efforts:

  1. Prepare a killer pitch and backup materials prior to investors. Many entrepreneurs I know approach investors before they have a pitch. You only get one chance to make a great first impression, so you need ready answers to key financial and business issues. Do your homework on opportunity, competitors, financial projections, funding required, and hook investors the first time you can with an executive summary and ten-slide pitch.

  2. Request warm investor meetings from peers and advisors. The old cold call or broadcast email to anyone who has “investor” in their bio just doesn’t work. In my experience, an introduction from a mutual friend or business associate will double or triple your odds of closing a deal. In fact, advisors and peers are the ideal investor.

  3. Ask for help from people who really believe in your solution. Your advocates feel a real stake in your success, and will often do much of the legwork for you, if not becoming an investor themselves. In any case, they can expand your community of believers, which is a key to success in crowdfunding, or passing the due diligence of a professional.

  4. Participate in relevant industry events and thought-leader forums. You need all the visibility and credibility you can muster to attract investors, and working at this level will also give you valuable feedback on your strategy and solution. It’s also the place to meet future partners positively, and even competitors before they realize they should hate you.

  5. Schedule early high-profile customer calls for partnerships. As much as you need an investor, you need a few key customers to be your advocate and beta test site. These customers may also decide to fund you via royalty advances, or even a partnership. You benefit from their visibility, and they get personalized service and the features they need.

  6. Offer a realistic equity percentage to generate interest. Professional investors know that real help requires serious effort on their part. They will be turned off by single-digit equity offers and loan requests with low return potential. First-round funding requests should offer equity in the twenty to thirty percent range to justify serious ROI potential.

  7. Establish a positive and active relationship with investors. Investing in your venture isn’t a “fund it and forget it” scenario for any serious investor. In fact, investors will grow wary when there’s too much silence, or any effort to treat them as adversaries. Your reputation is dependent on sincere communications, inclusion, and common goals.

The ideal professional investor also changes as your startup matures. Angel investors typically are best for initial early-stage rollout funding, while venture capital firms typically are most valuable in later rounds, when you have real traction, higher valuation, and need larger investments for scaling the business across the country or across the globe.

Even if you decide to bootstrap or fund your own startup, the steps I recommend for preparation and execution are still valuable, since you are thus the key investor, and will benefit from the proper disciple on plan preparation, industry interaction, and customer involvement. Casual and random efforts can quickly turn your startup into an expensive hobby, rather than a business.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 07/27/2018 ***

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Sunday, August 12, 2018

5 Indications That You Can Survive Startup Failures

Steve-Jobs-resilienceYou can’t survive as an entrepreneur without resilience, because you are going to fail at least once, maybe multiple times. That’s the nature of trying something that’s never been done before. Resilience means not giving up, and being energized by what you have learned. As Thomas Edison said, "I have not failed. I have just found ten thousand ways that won't work."

If you need more evidence that great entrepreneurs survived through resilience, just look into the backgrounds of more recent entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk. They all experienced multiple setbacks along the way, but they persevered to become some of the most well known and respected entrepreneurs of our time.

In a classic book on the subject, “Stronger: Develop the Resilience You Need to Succeed,” by George Everly, Douglas Strouse, and Dennis McCormack, these experts on the subject of human behavior and resilience outline five key factors of personal resilience, which I believe every aspiring entrepreneur should understand and develop before initiating a startup:

  1. Maintain active optimism. Optimism is the mindset to expect the best outcome from every situation. This gives entrepreneurs the capacity to pivot from a failing tactic, and implement actions to increase success. The key to building active optimism is observing how others were successful in similar situations, and believing you can do the same.

  2. Courage to take decisive action. Decisiveness mitigates adversity, helps you rebound, take responsibility, and promotes growth. Building decisiveness requires eliminating fear, procrastination, and the urge to please everyone. Practice making decisions as a positive learning experience. Understand that any decision is usually better than no decision.

  3. Let a good moral compass guide you. We all need a guiding light when adversity strikes. The four points of honesty, integrity, fidelity, and ethical behavior work best in business and personal life. Solidify your moral compass by setting virtuous goals, keying off the norm of inspiring peers, practicing self-control, and celebrating every successes.

  4. Show relentless tenacity and determination. Decide that giving up is simply not an option. Learn that tenacity is self-sustaining when persevering actions are rewarded. Find tenacious role models, and garner the support of peers and friends. Great entrepreneurs become tenaciously defiant when told they cannot succeed. Then they get it done.

  5. Gain strength from the support of others. Interpersonal support is believed to be the single best driver of human resilience. In business, this means that the people you surround yourself with are crucial – team members, advisors, investors, partners, and peers. Avoid toxic people like the plague. Practice active listening and show appreciation.

Very few entrepreneurs are born with the resilience needed. Yet, it is something any startup founder can acquire as an advantage in the ever-more-competitive business world. A good part of it is fighting the urge to revert back to our comfort zones, and fall back into old habits. From the pain of failure comes wisdom, from fear comes courage, and from struggling comes strength.

Resilience also comes from paying attention to your own needs and feelings. Entrepreneurs need to engage in outside activities that they enjoy and find relaxing, to keep their body and mind fit to deal with the unending challenges of every business. In addition, it’s important to have a higher level purpose in life, such as insanely great design, to guide your resolve and your decisions.

The Steve Jobs story of resilience is a classic example of a higher purpose, woven into the five factors above, ultimately leading to success. His elegant design decisions may have failed him initially at Apple, but he went on to hone them at NeXT and Pixar, and finally won his legacy by coming back to Apple with winning innovative designs for the iMac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad.

Steve never gave up, and that’s the essence of resilience. That’s what I look for as an angel investor in entrepreneurs, and that’s what everyone looks for in a leader. What have you done lately to build and demonstrate your resilience?

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, August 11, 2018

10 Success Strategies Without Requiring Alpha Leaders

Alpha-business-leadersThe reigning theory in business has long been that “alpha” leaders make the best entrepreneurs. These are aggressive, results-driven achievers who assert control, and insist on a hierarchical organizational model. Yet I am seeing more and more success from “beta” startup cultures, like Zappos and Amazon, where the emphasis is on collaboration, curation, and communication.

Some argue that this new horizontal culture is being driven by Gen-Y, whose focus has always been more communitarian. Other business culture experts, like Dr. Dana Ardi, in her classic book “The Fall of the Alphas,” argues that the rise of the betas is really part of a broader culture change driven by the Internet, towards communities, instant communication, and collaboration.

Can you imagine the overwhelming growth of Facebook, Wikipedia, and Twitter in a culture dominated by alphas? These would never happen. I agree with Dr. Ardi’s writing, that most successful workplaces of the future need to adopt the following beta characteristics, and align themselves more with the beta leadership model:

  1. Do away with archaic command-and-control models. Winning startups today are horizontal, not hierarchical. Everyone who works there feels they’re part of something, and moreover, that it’s the next big thing. They want to be on the cutting-edge of all the people, places and things that technology is going to propel next.

  2. Leaders of tomorrow need to practice ego management. They should be aware of their own biases, and focus on the present as on the future. They need to manage the egos of team members, by rewarding collaborative behavior. There will always be the need for decisive leadership, particularly in times of crisis, so I’m not suggesting total democracy.

  3. Winning contemporary startups stress innovation. Betas believe that team members need to be given an opportunity to make a difference – to give input into key decisions and to communicate their findings and learnings to one another. Encourage team-members to play to their own strengths so that the entire team and organization leads the competition.

  4. Put a premium on collaboration and teamwork. Instead of knives-out competition, these companies thrive by building a successful community with shared values. Team members are empowered and encouraged to express themselves. The best teams are hired with collaboration in mind. The whole is thus more than the sum of the parts.

  5. In the most winning companies, everyone shares the culture. Leadership is fluid and bend-able. Integrity and character matter a lot. Everyone knows about the culture. Everyone subscribes to the culture. Everyone recognizes both its passion and its nuance. The result looks more like a symphony orchestra and less like an advancing army.

  6. Roles, identities and responsibilities mutate weekly, daily, and even hourly. One of the big mistakes entrepreneurs make is they don’t act quickly enough. Markets and needs change quickly. Now there is a focus on social, global and environmental responsibility. Hierarchies make it hard to adjust positions or redefine roles. The beta culture gets it done.

  7. Temper self-esteem and confidence with empathy and compassion. Mindfulness, of self and others, by boards, executives and employees, may very well be the single most important trait of a successful company. If someone is not a good cultural fit, or is not getting it done, make the change quickly, but with sensitivity. Pain increases over time.

  8. Every individual in the organization is a contributor. The closer everyone in the organization comes to achieving his or her singular potential, the more successful the business will be. Successful cultures encourage their employees to keep refreshing their toolkits, keep flexible, keep their stakes in the stream.

  9. Diversity of thought, style, approach and background is key. Entrepreneurs build teams, not fill positions. Cherry-picking candidates from name-brand universities will do nothing to further an organization and may even work against it. Put aside perfectionism, don’t wait for the perfect person – he or she may not exist. Hire track record and potential.

  10. Everyone need not be a superstar. It’s about company teams, not just the individual. In case you hadn’t noticed, superstars don’t pass the ball, they just shoot it. Not everyone wants to move up; it’s ok to move across. Become their sponsor – onboarding with training and tools is essential. Spend time listening. Give them what they need to succeed.

Savvy entrepreneurs and managers around the world are finding it more effective to lead through influence and collaboration, rather than relying on fear, authority, and competition. I believe beta is rapidly becoming the new paradigm for success in today’s challenging market. Where does your startup fit in with this new model?

Marty Zwilling

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Thursday, August 9, 2018

8 Ways To Ensure That Your Website Is Winning For You

Conversion-rate-optimizationIt’s hard to be successful in any business when your customers can’t find you, or they find you and still can’t figure out whether your solution works for them. Thus I was surprised to see in a recent CNBC survey that 45 percent of small businesses still don’t have a website. These are missing a major opportunity to be found instantly via the Internet, locally and around the world.

Even more disappointing are other statistics that show most websites that do exist have a very low “conversion rate,” or ratio of visitors to the site versus ones who meet your goal of buying a product or signing up for a newsletter. In fact, very few website owners even track their website activity, or use Search Engine (SEO) or Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) tools now available.

Highlighting the problem, and the solution, I just found a new book, “Making Websites Win,” by Dr. Karl Blanks and Ben Jesson. Their insights are based on their experience optimizing websites for hundreds of clients in 34 countries, and they provide many practical tips on how to easily double your own website conversion rate or more, including the following:

  1. Content must be written well, user-friendly, and credible. Usability problems kill conversions. By far the most effective technique for improving your writing is simply carrying out user readability tests on every piece of content, and really listening to feedback. Keep sentences short. For credibility, support facts with hard data and links.

  2. Tell people what you do, and make the benefits clear. Believe it or not, one of the biggest problems with many websites is that people can’t figure out quickly and easily what you really offer. Use plain language (no acronyms) on the first page and every page, to emphasize customer benefits, as well as product features. Skip the hyperbole.

  3. Provide irresistible offers to keep their attention. Even if your visitors can easily understand your value proposition, they may be turned off by the way the value is packaged and presented. Test your pricing and packaging options, and tune them regularly. Create a prominent and appealing offer or video to lock in a conversion.

  4. Recognize competitors but do not disparage them. If you don’t have a strategy for winning despite competitors, you are doomed. No company exists in a vacuum. Find your niche and highlight how your product meets the customer’s exact need, and is the best in the world. Make your solution and company symbiotic but better than competitors.

  5. Focus on lifetime customer value (LCV) versus transaction. Repeat purchases and referrals from friends are the fastest ways to grow your business. Furthermore, existing customers are the easiest to convert—provided they had a good experience the first time around. Use Net Promoter Score (NPS) to help you turn visitors into raving fans.

  6. Make it easy for a visitor to become a customer right now. In non-conversion exit surveys, visitors often report that they need to think about it and come back later. Such responses are common for purchases that seem complex and non-urgent. In such cases, remove the complexity, add the value of urgency, such as current discounts or specials.

  7. Use guarantees to remove visitors fear of commitment. A guarantee reduces the risk for the customer. A good guarantee acts as a kind of proof that your business is serious. It effectively says, “Our promise must be true. Otherwise we wouldn’t be in business.” Effective guarantees include: price-match, satisfaction, payment-deferral—even weather.

  8. Compensate for sales funnel elements outside of your control. If visitors have to go elsewhere, like financing, to close a deal, ensure that they are fully persuaded before they leave your website. Build a relationship, be memorable, and don’t rush them to leave. Meantime, get permission to edit those funnel parts that aren’t in your control.

I encourage every small business and entrepreneur to create a website early, and use these tips to make it more effective. The best websites are certainly not the most expensive, but do require thoughtful planning and regular updates. With some guidance from experts, and the many tools available, you can make your small business look better than your biggest competitor. Do it now.

Marty Zwilling

Disclosure: This blog entry was sponsored by Conversion Rate Experts and I received compensation for my time, but the views expressed here are solely mine.

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Wednesday, August 8, 2018

10 Tips To Strategic Decisions Made Without A Crisis

strategic-decisions-no-crisisStrategic decisions set the overall direction for your business, whereas operational decisions set day-to-day operations. Unfortunately, most of the entrepreneurs who contact me for guidance only seem to work on strategic issues when they are in a crisis, such as losing a major distributor or being swamped with customer complaints. It’s a bit late when strategy becomes operational.

I recommend that every entrepreneur and business owner carve out some time every week for proactively work on strategy. I call it working on the business versus working in the business. Working on the business should not be done in the same ad-hoc crisis style as operational decisions. I suggest a more formal analysis and decision process along the following lines:

  1. Identify potential next business steps based on trends. Force yourself to step outside the box and come up with a half dozen innovative changes which might improve the business. Ask your team to prioritize these alternatives, based on costs and other impacts. Part of the intent here is to get buy-in from the team that change is not all bad.

  2. Challenge your team with strategic questions and issues. The process of asking and answering strategic questions is key to getting everyone to think beyond today. Every entrepreneur benefits from out of the box thinking. The “5 Whys” is another iterative technique used to determine the root cause of issues and stimulate in-depth thinking.

  3. Ask for analysis and feedback based on long-term impact. Often, beneficial changes will have a short-term cost to achieve market growth or competitive advantage. Investors, for example, usually want short-term profit distribution versus re-investing for the future. Thus every analysis needs to chart impact over the strategic timeframe, with risks.

  4. Look for objective and current data to support your analysis. Many crisis operational decisions are made from gut instincts and emotional reactions. Strategic decisions need to be based on statistically valid samples of complete and consistent data, relative to the decision at hand. The best analysis done on bad data will still yield a bad decision.

  5. Factor in previous results, best of breed, and known failures. Unlike operational decisions, strategic decisions require going beyond your own experiences to look at competitors, industry experts, and failures in the marketplace. Make sure you don’t repeat your own mistakes, or the mistakes of others before you. Quantify risk levels.

  6. Don’t allow analysis paralysis to hamper strategic decisions. Always identify your top objective for any specific decision, and use that to drive everyone to closure. Many business owners over-think key directional decisions, to the point where a change never gets made, or conditions have changed by implementation. Time is money in business.

  7. Make strategic decisions based on your values and goals. After listening to the opinions, suggestions, and ideas of others, strategic decisions have to be made by you, tempered by your vision. Don’t try to please everyone with every decision. You need to be comfortable with your business and your legacy. Only you will be held accountable.

  8. Every strategic decision needs a “Plan B” for backup. Contingency plans make sense in every case these days, since technology and market factors are moving fast. In all cases, there are factors involved that you can’t control, such as regulatory, economic, or environmental. Having a Plan B must never be shortcut for not doing proper analysis.

  9. Define metrics to assess roll-out progress and value. Tie your implementation to metrics that will allow you to determine whether or not your decision truly achieves your goal. Establish milestones that you can tie to your annual and quarterly objectives. If you track your progress against measurable targets, you can adjust tactics as necessary.

  10. Communicate strategic decisions to all, with implementation plans. Strategies loudly proclaimed, but without a specific roll-out plan, will be ineffective or will fail. Everyone has to understand what has to be done, how to do it, and who is responsible for each element. Your task is to manage the rollout, and make necessary adjustments.

In today’s business world, making sound strategic decisions is increasingly critical and difficult, primarily due to the current high levels of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity in the marketplace. Thus it behooves every business owner to spend more of his or her time on strategic planning, and delegate more of the operational elements. Where are you on this split?

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on CayenneConsulting on 07/24/2018 ***

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Monday, August 6, 2018

7 Ways To Demonstrate Leadership In A Business Crisis

Business-crisis-leadershipWhen the business is struggling, most business owners I know feel like anything but a leader. They start second-guessing their own vision, and are prone to making snap decisions suggested by someone else, in lieu of their carefully crafted processes and metrics. Entrepreneurs who can keep their cool under fire are the long-term winners I look for as an experienced angel investor.

In fact, the best will probably tell you that entrepreneur struggles are the best leadership teachers in the long run. Sir Richard Branson, who has built hundreds of companies, is quick to note that his trails and failures have taught him the most about leadership, and may even have saved his life in other endeavors. The challenge is to anticipate and meet struggles in a productive way.

Effective leadership in a crisis does require a base level of stability and emotional intelligence, which I believe can be sensed by investors and the people around you, even if you don’t have any prior experience in this area. In addition, there are some practical strategies that I recommend, no matter how much you have previously learned or experienced:

  1. Act quickly when you see the team facing issues. When the business is struggling, you should expect anxiety on the team. Communicate with them immediately on the problem and strategy, rather than assume the less they know, the better off everyone is. You need to avoid emotion, don’t place blame, and be the role model for calm.

  2. Be visible, actively solicit and listen to team feedback. People need to know that it’s safe to express views, both positive and negative. Once you get beyond the negatives, most people have real contributions. Your front-line team can give you direct feedback from customers, such as pricing, quality, or support problems, with suggested solutions.

  3. Seek out advisors who will tell you what you need to know. You will get no real help from people in the organization who tend to tell you what you like to hear, or are always negative. Smart entrepreneurs build relationships with trusted advisors, both inside and outside the company, who can see the big picture and recommend practical changes.

  4. Take time to practice management by walking around. Direct contact with people at every level is the best way to learn, generate trust, get support, and expedite action. Don’t assume that your message to direct subordinates will be passed down the management chain, or that input from the team will get back to you by the same process.

  5. Don’t allow analysis paralysis to keep you from taking action. Encourage decisive action by all key players, and be the role model for what you expect. If everyone is accustomed to fixing problems with confidence, the business will prosper, struggles will occur less frequently, and customers will sense the integrity of an effective team.

  6. Eliminate any implied or actual penalties for missteps. Create a culture that encourages and rewards innovation and progress, with no stigma for failed experiments. Eliminate any contention between internal groups and functional areas, including sales, marketing, and development. Make sure everyone is willing and able to pull their weight.

  7. Negotiate alternatives with external partners and investors. New and existing partnerships can provide new sources of revenue, distribution, and support. Investors and major suppliers may be able to provide additional funding and credit to get you through the hard times. Your initiatives will also cement your own leadership perception.

With these strategies, you can feel like and look like the leader you want to be, even when times are tough and the business is struggling. In all cases, it does require that you put aside your ego, emotion, and pride, to listen carefully to the people who want to help, and don’t hesitate to make the critical decisions you have to make for your company, your team, and your customers.

These efforts will take you back to the reasons for taking on your own business in the first place – having full control of your destiny, being your own boss, and doing what you love. Don’t let the struggles, which come with every business, make you forget that.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 07/23/2018 ***

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Sunday, August 5, 2018

6 Guidelines For Proper Responses To Investor Queries

conclusion-of-the-investmentEntrepreneurs looking for investor funding often fail to realize that all money comes with strings. For example, if you have watched the Shark Tank TV series, you probably noticed that the Sharks always ask the entrepreneurs for their intended “use of funds.” Those who respond with one of the wrong answers, such as “I want to pay myself a salary,” usually go home empty-handed.

You may think this question is just an artifact of good television, but let me assure you that in my experience as an angel investor, it’s a standard “make or break” inquiry posed to every entrepreneur. Here are some guidelines that will help you with the right answers, not only in closing your next investment, but in planning when and how much money to ask for:

  1. Investors are most interested in helping you scale the business.  That means they normally only invest in startups with a working product that has already been sold to at least one customer for full price (beta tests, giveaways and best friends don’t count). They are willing to cover marketing, inventory and scaling, but not product development.

  2. Make your focus and priorities clear. A long list of everyday expenses is not helpful here. I recommend that you simplify your use to no more than three items or categories, with a percent allocation to each. An example might be 50 percent for marketing, 30 percent for inventory and 20 percent for staffing. Have backup charts for investors wanting more detail.

  3. Funding for founder salaries at this stage is a red flag.  Investors expect you to “bet on the future” with them. You may pay salaries to your team, but your salary should come from earnings, when they occur. Taking your cut before earnings exist implies that you are not willing to take the same risk of no return, as you are asking of investors.

  4. Make sure allocation amounts are reasonable.  These days, even viral marketing requires real money, for events and promotions. Startups whose marketing budget is trivial lose credibility and most likely the investment. Conversely, a huge marketing budget implies an intent to “spray and pray,” in hopes that something works.

  5. Use of funds must be tied to projected cash flow negatives. If you ask for a million dollars, your financial projections better show a negative cash flow approximating that number (with a 20 percent buffer). Investors are not interested in giving you money to keep in the bank for backup, for investing in real estate or a fancy new car.

  6. Tie use of funds to real traction milestones.  A valid milestone might be closing a specific big-name customer or channel, such as Walmart, or it might mean getting your first 100,000 social-media followers, by a given target date. Building a huge inventory before you have a confirmed customer is not a convincing strategy.

If you are really looking for research and development money, and you didn’t sell your last startup for $800 million, professional investors are not the place to start. Hopefully, you can find some friends or a rich uncle who believe in your potential. The other alternative is to find a strategic partner who knows the space well and will benefit from your solution.

Professional investors always look for a proven business model and an existing revenue stream to minimize the risk. Then they look at the people behind the model, the execution status and how they might get their money back. Your proposed use of their funds will be seen in these three contexts. They will look to your business plan for cash flows and specific return on investment projections.

In all cases, your goal must be to explain how the investment will help you scale up the business and become more profitable sooner. You should always be prepared to mention a plan B, if possible, to grow more slowly by reinvesting initial earnings over time. Confessing that you are in survival mode, desperate for money now, will not improve your odds with investors.

Whether it be in the context of a five-minute elevator pitch or a more formal presentation to professional investors, the projected use of funds should be summarized and prioritized into three “chunks.” These must remain focused on scaling the business.

Investors want to be convinced that your use of their money will maximize their returns in the first five years, as well as yours. After that, all you have to do is make it happen. Have fun!

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, August 4, 2018

10 Venture Realities Will Position Your Business Plan

business-plan-optionsIf you are one of the new age of entrepreneurs who hates the thought of doing a business plan as a first step in starting your new venture you will love this message. More and more professionals agree that a better strategy is to explore and fine tune your assumptions before declaring a specific plan with financial projections based only on your dream and passion.

In the process, you may save yourself considerable re-work and money, or even decide that your dream needs more time to mature, before you commit your limited resources, or sign up with investors to a painful and unsatisfying plan.

In a classic book on this approach, “Beyond the Business Plan,” Simon Bridge and Cecilia Hegarty outline tradeoffs and recommends ten principles for every new venture explorer. Here is my edited summary of their ten principles, which I like and may convince you that you don’t need a business plan at all, or at the very least will help you write a better one later:

  1. A new venture is a means, not an end. A new enterprise should be pursued primarily to help you achieve your goals, like providing a better life for others, satisfying a passion of yours, or enjoying the benefits of a technology you have invented. In that context, it could be a social enterprise, or even a hobby, and a business plan may not be beneficial.

  2. Don’t start by committing more than you can afford to lose. New ventures are usually exploratory and risky in nature, so don’t let any business plan process convince you to commit more than you can risk as a person, if your exploration fails. Start with an effectual approach, which evaluates risk tolerance, and suggests more affordable means to an end.

  3. Pick a domain where you have some experience and expertise. Don’t handicap yourself by starting something for which you have to build or acquire knowledge, skills, and connections from scratch. No business plan will save you if you are just picking ideas at random, or copying others, just because the story sounds attractive.

  4. Carry out reality checks and make appropriate plans. Before a business plan has any validity, some work is required to validate that your technology works, a real market exists, and your assumptions for cost and price are reasonable. Don’t be totally driven by your own passions, the emotional enthusiasm of friends, or even third-party research.

  5. The only reliable test is a real one. Market research techniques for trying to predict the market’s response to a new venture can be costly and are often unreliable. Testing for real is the assumption behind approaches such as Lean Startup. It is also what explorers do – they go and look, instead of trying to predict from a distance what they will find.

  6. Get started and get some momentum. Too much hesitation will kill any new venture, as markets move quickly and difficulties mount. Getting started helps to generate momentum and the sense of having done something, which provides encouragement, more incentive to keep going, and can carry your startup over obstacles. Early perseverance pays off.

  7. Accept uncertainty as the norm. You will never remove all uncertainties, so accept them, and plan your activities in an incremental fashion. Too often, a business plan is seen as a mechanism for eliminating uncertainty, lulling the Founder into complacency. Eliminate major uncertainties before the plan, and update any plan as you learn.

  8. Look for new and best opportunities. Many useful opportunities are either created by what you do early, or are only revealed once you have started and can see out there. So keep your eyes open and respond to new customers, new markets, and new partnerships. You will also find that looking hard also eliminates opportunities that are not acceptable.

  9. Build and use social capital. Social capital is people and connections. No entrepreneur can survive as an island. Social capital is as important as financial capital for all ventures. As with all capital, you can use only as much as you have acquired to date. If you have no social capital, no business plan will likely get you the financial capital you need.

  10. Acquire the relevant skills. Three basic skill sets are required for successful delivery of almost every venture. These include financial management, marketing and sales, and the appropriate production ability. If you don’t have the relevant skills and knowledge, take the time to build them or find someone to partner with, before you attempt any business plan.

If you do decide after exploring these principles to continue building a conventional business, especially with investors and employees other than yourself, I’m still convinced that a business plan is a valuable exercise. You should do it yourself, to make sure you understand all the elements of the plan, and facilitate communication of the specifics to your team and to investors.

In essence, building a complete and credible plan is the final test of whether your venture has “legs,” meaning that the opportunity matches your resources, skills, opportunity, and a level of risk you are prepared to handle. The entrepreneur lifestyle is all about doing something you enjoy, without undue stress, uncertainty, and risk. Are you having fun in your new venture yet?

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, August 3, 2018

8 Challenging Employee Styles Test Every New Venture

Counseling-AngryThe most valuable assets of a new startup are the people on the team, and the most challenging task of the entrepreneur and team leaders is to spend their leadership time and energy productively. Cash isn’t always the scarcest resource startups have to invest – more often it’s the leadership capital of under-experienced and over-stretched entrepreneurs and co-founders.

Most new startup founders start out by assuming they need to spread their leadership efforts evenly across all team members. They soon find that doesn’t work, and they fall back to dedicating their efforts to the performance issue or crisis of the moment. Unfortunately this often makes them enablers of team member bad behavior, and spiraling down to a dysfunctional team.

I found some guidance in the classic book, “Lead Inside the Box: How Smart Leaders Guide Their Teams to Exceptional Results,” by Victor Prince and Mike Figliuolo, two top thought leaders in the field of leadership development. While their experience and focus is more on large organizations, I was struck by how similar the considerations are to my experiences with startup teams.

The authors define a leadership matrix of four behavioral categories and eight team member subtypes. Every entrepreneur needs to take a hard look at their current startup team, based on the nature of each team member’s behavior, and future requirements, to assess their leadership challenge ahead:

  1. Domain masters. One of the most desired team member types for startups is the domain expert who is satisfied with their existing position and leadership. You count on these to deliver ongoing outstanding results. They require your lowest energy investment for the highest output. The challenge is to reward them well and not lose their loyalty.

  2. Rising stars. These team members are the ones who perform well in current roles, with minimum leadership, but they expect leaders to provide them with a stepping stone to larger roles and responsibilities. If they don’t see that happening, they are prone to leave your startup for better opportunities, or revert to a squeaky wheel or even a slacker role.

  3. Squeaky wheels. Team members who are capable of great results, but require an inordinate amount of hand-holding are often called squeaky wheels. An entrepreneur’s challenge with these is to wean them from their dependence on the leader, while continuing to generate solid results. Any other action will drive them to a lower category.

  4. Steamrollers. Some team members may get results, but at the high cost of damaging team morale and destroying the goodwill you and your team have accrued with others. Your challenge is to reduce the friction they are causing, while building their people skills and improving their ability to positively influence others. Their friction is usually toxic.

  5. Joyriders. These team members are always busy, and spend an inordinate amount of time at work, but focus on tasks they want to do, not tasks you need them to do. Your leadership task is to refocus their attention on their core responsibilities, and remove any possible distractions. Make sure they get rewarded for desired results, not time spent.

  6. Stowaways. We all know the team member who expends the bare minimum amount of effort required to keep getting paid. Stowaways need their leaders to engage them on a regular basis, and measure them against peers to make sure they are carrying their own weight. At the least, other members need to see you holding this person accountable.

  7. Square pegs. These are people who simply don’t have the skills they need to do the required job. The leadership challenge is to find the training or mentoring to fill the skill gap, or to find a new role that is a better match for the skills they do have. The leadership capital, and other costs to support square pegs is a huge startup resource drain.

  8. Slackers. At the bottom of the value chain are team members who have the skills to do the job, but lack the drive or motivation. The leadership challenge here is to unlock their motivation to apply themselves to their work, or remove them from your startup before they have drained the drive and energy from the rest of the team.

Effective team leadership, or leadership inside the box, is really only half the challenge that every entrepreneur faces. Equally important is leadership in the marketplace, with customers, outside partners, and industry thought drivers. The time and energy to do both is beyond most mere mortals. It’s time to take a hard look inside your box to see if you are spending leadership capital there that you can’t afford.

Marty Zwilling

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Wednesday, August 1, 2018

7 Signals Of A Future Startup Founder From Corporate

Howard-Schultz-StarbucksWhile spending years in a big company as an employee and an executive, I heard many people talking about jumping the corporate ship, dreaming of being an entrepreneur, and totally in charge of their own destiny. Fortunately for many of them it was all talk and no action, saving them from a world of grief, since some simply didn’t have the attributes and mindset to be an entrepreneur.

I’m not saying success is rare, but the list of famous entrepreneurs who started their career in a big company is small. The list would include Howard Schultz, a marketer working for a Seattle coffee bean roaster when a trip to Milan convinced him to jump ship to create upscale espresso cafes that he found all over Italy; and maybe Steve Jobs, who started on the night shift at Atari.

I made the jump myself from IBM several years ago, and now have a satisfying startup advising small businesses and mentoring entrepreneurs. I’ve accepted the challenge of being a bit more positive on how you can make the leap and enjoy it. It’s not very helpful to just say the grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence. Here are some attributes I look for in you:

  1. Have a passion for a new idea or cause to change the world. Being unhappy with a current job is not really a good reason to become an entrepreneur. I look for interests and plans that ignite a fire inside you every day, solves a real problem in the marketplace, and can attract customers with money to spend. Focus on customer value in every job.

  2. Comfortable interacting with people on business subjects. Most technical people I know love to discuss and debate technology, but avoid business subjects, including finance and marketing, like the plague. They simply don’t have the interest, or confidence in their ability, in these areas. At least half of every entrepreneur’s realm is business.

  3. Confident and ready to make better decisions than your boss. If you can’t wait to control results yourself, and without emotion see dysfunction around you, your employee to entrepreneur potential is high. In fact, if you can capitalize on all that you learn in a big company, such as people management and infrastructure, you are even better prepared.

  4. Already have dependents and employees who look up to you. Jumping the corporate ship to entrepreneurship to escape conflicts with your team or management, or instability in your family, is a very risky move and not recommended. Good entrepreneurs need to be a role model in all actions and attitude that others want to follow, rather than avoid.

  5. Willing to accept setbacks and advice as learning experiences. Entrepreneurs have to be able to deal with rejections from investors, negative feedback from customers, and competitor issues without losing control or motivation. Every new business fill face setbacks, and making excuses or pointing blame to the company is not an option.

  6. Have a demonstrated aptitude for managing money and budgets. Managing cash flow correctly is key to the survival of every entrepreneur. Corporate experience can be very helpful in this regard, if you have had success in managing a budget for your project, department, or division. Otherwise think twice before jumping to a new startup venture.

  7. Can leverage a retirement fund or accumulated savings. I often recommend to aspiring entrepreneurs who have no money that they spend some time as a corporate employee first, to accumulate resources. Expecting an investor to fund you when you have no “skin in the game” and no product is a hard road, and will likely not happen.

Everyone who feels stuck in a rut at work, is recently unemployed, or is hanging on to an existing job and sanity for dear life, needs to take a hard look at themselves relative to these potential positives. If you can’t find an enthusiastic yes for most of them, perhaps it’s time to appreciate the positives of a regular weekly corporate paycheck for predictable work you know how to do.

Overall, it’s worth your while to turn every ‘no’ on these items into a ‘yes,’ even if you plan to stay in the corporate environment. Every company I know will pay a premium these days for people with entrepreneurial attributes. Make these attributes your strengths, whether you see a future in a corporate career, an entrepreneur, or just to prepare for the new gig economy that we all face.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 07/18/2018 ***

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