Sunday, August 25, 2019

7 Traits Of Today’s New Business Innovator And Model

Elon_Musk_at_a_Press_ConferenceIn the beginning all businesses are just people playing out an idea. It’s never the other way around – there is no idea so big that it doesn’t need people to make it succeed. Investors know this, hence the saying “Bet on the jockey (founder), not the horse (idea).” A great jockey is a great role model.

Like it or not, everyone looks to the entrepreneur as the jockey role model in a new business. Typically this energizes new startup founders, but some struggle trying to live up to their own, as well as everyone else’s expectations. In reality, nobody really expects anyone to be superhuman, but it can feel like that.

We certainly wouldn't expect superhuman behavior from the people looking to us for guidance, nor would we want them to expect flawless behavior from themselves. If not flawless behavior, what characteristics and actions do they look for? Here are some frequently mentioned ones:

  1. Demonstrate confidence and leadership. A good role model is someone who is always positive, calm, and confident in themselves. You don't want someone who is down or tries to bring you down. Everyone likes a person who is happy with how far they have come, but continues to strive for bigger and better objectives.
  1. Don’t be afraid to be unique. Whatever you choose to do with your life, be proud of the person you've become, even if that means accepting some ridicule. You want role models who won't pretend to be someone they are not, and won't be fake just to suit other people.
  1. Communicate and interact with everyone. Good communication means listening as well as talking. People are energized by leaders who explain why and where they are going. Great role models know they have to have a consistent message, and repeat it over and over again until everyone understands.
  1. Show respect and concern for others. You may be driven, successful, and smart but whether you choose to show respect or not speaks volumes about how other people see you. Everyone notices if you are taking people for granted, not showing gratitude, or stepping on others to get ahead.
  1. Be knowledgeable and well rounded. Great role models aren't just "teachers." They are constant learners, challenge themselves to get out of their comfort zones, and surround themselves with smarter people. When team members see that their role model can be many things, they will learn to stretch themselves in order to be successful.
  1. Have humility and willingness to admit mistakes. Nobody's perfect. When you make a bad choice, let those who are watching and learning from you know that you made a mistake and how you plan to correct it. By apologizing, admitting your mistake, and accepting accountability, you will be demonstrating an often overlooked part of being a role model.
  1. Do good things outside the job. People who do the work, yet find time for good causes outside of work, such as raising money for charity, saving lives, and helping people in need get extra credit. Commitment to a good cause implies a strong commitment to the business.

True role models, like Richard Branson of Virgin Group and Elon Musk with Tesla, are those who possess the qualities that we would like to have, and those who have changed the way we live. They help us to advocate for ourselves and take a leadership position on the issues that we believe in.

We often don't recognize true role models until we have noticed our own personal growth and progress. That really implies that it takes one to know one. Thus, if you are asking the question, that may mean you are well along the road to being that role model already. Don’t stop now.

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, August 24, 2019

How New Ventures Can Avoid Conventional Media Costs

superbowl-advertising-metlife-stadiumThe power and influence of paid media advertising, including print ads, TV commercials, radio, and even online digital campaigns is waning, in favor of unpaid earned and owned messaging from your website, social media, key market influencers, and existing customer word-of-mouth. But startups need to remember that even zero paid media doesn’t mean that marketing is free.

The case for zero paid media as the new marketing model was highlighted in the classic book, “Z.E.R.O.” by Joseph Jaffe and Maarten Albarda, both experienced marketers working with new companies, as well as larger firms. They advocate investing in their new framework, where the Z.E.R.O. initials take on meaning as follows:

  1. Zealots, disciples, and influencers. New products and startups often require a culture shift to drive acceptance, which can best be accelerated by zealots or a visible chief disciple, like Steve Jobs. Other sources stronger than paid media today include key social media influencers, such as “mommy bloggers” and popular YouTube events.
  1. Earned media. This is media exposure from a neutral third-party, such as an unpaid news story on your product or service to highlight innovations or social value. This exposure is highly credible, since you don’t control the message, and extremely valuable since it is not viewed as part of any advertising context.
  1. Real customers. Marketing media content from real customers in real time is now commonplace via sites like Yelp, Foursquare, and online reviews. This word-of-mouth media source is also highly credible and valuable, since it comes from “peer” customers, rather than you as the source, or any paid source.
  1. Owned media. This includes your website, blog, and presence on social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, and many more. These usually provide a customer’s first impression of your offering, and should not be blatantly self-promotional, but instead informative, educational, and even entertaining.

As I mentioned, this framework is powerful, but none of these elements are free. A while back in a blog article, I pointed out that none of these justify a startup business plan with little or no budget for marketing. All require planning, deliberate actions, and quality content and event creation which will likely absorb all the savings from reduced paid media campaigns.

In any case, reframing the conversation from paid media marketing to the new framework requires a balance, and measurements along the way to better manage return on investment. In the book, Jaffe introduces three new sets of metrics for gauging progress:

  • Medium-term metrics. This is essentially a series of interim forecasts not dissimilar from mile-markers in a marathon race that advise whether it’s time to pick up the pace or slow down to smell the roses. Examples include counting members of an advocacy program, app downloads, tenured customers, or subscribers to an e-mail list.
  • Long-term sales. We often talk about short-term sales and long-term relationships in mutually exclusive terms. They are polar opposites in terms of their time frames, but how about building a bridge of compromise between them? Whereas every short-term initiative is akin to a traditional campaign, the long-term sales effort is the commitment.
  • Short-term wins. Accountability is not optional, as it’s still important to have something to show for your efforts quickly. Only this time, consider the large “W” (big win), the small “w” (small win) or in some cases even the small “l” (small loss), which represents failing fast or failing smart, insights, lessons, learnings, or pleasing initial results.

I’m not suggesting that paid media channels should be seen as dead to young companies, since even the revolutionaries, like Google, Facebook, and Apple, still rely on paid media to optimize their own efforts. And paid media are hardly standing still, continually figuring out ways to be more effective, using big data and other innovations to get more customer attention.

Thus while I see startups quick to jump on the zero paid media bandwagon (for budget reasons), I recommend a balance. First, go for that earned and owned media channel, using the same budget parameters you might have previously allocated for paid media. Later, you can lower the budget as the metrics show results, or apply the remainder to paid media as a follow-on step.

In all cases the tone and resources must be focused on capturing today’s customers, who are looking for engagement and connection, rather than the traditional loudest noise. Z.E.R.O. marketing is not zero marketing.

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, August 23, 2019

8 Actions To Ignite Engagement For You And Your Team

Engaged-Team-Business-MeetingBased on my own experience as a business professional, employees who are not seriously engaged in the business should be totally obvious to everyone, including the manager or CEO. Yet many managers and executives seem to ignore the situation, or have no idea how to fix it. The result is that the performance of whole team is degraded, and the business suffers as well.

For example, in one assignment my desk was near another professional, and I could not help but overhear this person on the phone discussing personal business most of the time, despite the fact that he always complained of being overworked, and missed most of his project deadlines. I and many others reported him regularly, and we were all frustrated that nothing was ever done.

I might have been convinced that this was a rare exception to the norm, until I saw some Gallup survey reports showing that 68 percent of employees are not fully engaged at work. From my experience as a business professional, and later years as an executive, I’m convinced that all of us, especially management, have a role in fixing the problem, with actions including the following:

  1. Top management must be the role model for engagement. That means a visible and timely acknowledgment from the top to change “business as usual,” with specific actions to improve the culture and resolve known issues. Asking HR to fix the problem won’t work. Don’t be the manager who can’t be found, or is “too busy” to focus on engagement.

  2. Provide positive feedback and rewards to engaged employees. Take daily time to provide genuine and specific feedback on things done well, as well as items needing attention. Praise alone, especially in front of peers, is one of the most powerful engagement motivators. Monetary awards and bonuses are good, but not sufficient.

  3. Add a higher purpose to your vision and shared values. Today, every employee wants to feel a sense that they are bringing more than profit to a company – they want to feel a sense of positive contribution to the environment and society as well. For example, Whole Foods and Patagonia raise engagement by focusing on health and sustainability.

  4. Measure your investment in engagement as an asset. Too many companies think of employee development efforts and benefits as an expense that must be minimized. They don’t recognize that employees drive customer growth, improve productivity, and drive company success. They, like you, are the key assets of every thriving business.

  5. Share business realities and issues with employees. Keeping employees in the dark on business problems and customer issues is a sure way to lose their trust and their engagement in the business. You cannot ask workers to take on more responsibility, without demonstrating full transparency and treating them as a key part of the team.

  6. Hire and mentor people who show engagement in prior roles. People willing to engage are actually more valuable than those with deeper skills or prior experience. After the hire, the keys are mentoring and continuous training, as well as providing growth opportunities to retain the best. The result is a culture of engagement and performance.

  7. Promote a more collaborative leadership style. Of course, top leaders must retain the final say, but efforts to work collaboratively will encourage and reward engagement, and expose the ones who are not engaged. When employees feel they are not heard, or have no say in the business, they have no incentive to take risks or do their best work.

  8. Admit and demonstrate that you have learned from them. Active listening is the key message here. You can’t learn while you are talking, or not engaged yourself. Great leaders have found that mentoring works both ways, and taking the time connect to each employee, over lunch, or outside of work, will pay big dividends in their engagement.

Indeed, I find that many employees are also overwhelmed by the rate of change they see in business today, making them hesitant and fearful of fully engaging. Sometimes the best thing you can do is not to try to force them to change, but simply be there for them as they struggle to change themselves.

Engagement in business is largely about relationships, just as it is in your non-business life. How good is your relationship with your employees, and how hard are you working on making it better?

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 08/08/2019 ***

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Wednesday, August 21, 2019

5 Lifecycle Stages Of A New Venture Test Your Culture

company-cultureSuccessful startups seem to follow similar paths to greatness, and unfortunately all too often that path leads them back down the hill much faster than they went up. Big company powerhouses, like IBM and Xerox, took fifty years to make the cycle, but new companies today, in the age of the Internet, often make the cycle in five to ten years, or even less. Consider MySpace and Webvan.

Thus it behooves every entrepreneur to start watching these things more carefully from the very start. By definition, most startups begin as a result of some innovation in product, process, or service. The problem is that innovations in most business areas are coming so fast these days that yours can be overrun while still being scaled across geographies and other products.

In other words, the challenge today is to build a culture of continuous innovation, as well as continuous scaling, and continuous consolidation, all concurrently. That’s a tall order, especially when your business culture has to fit into the myriad of international and local cultures that are part of every market these days.

In the classic book, “Fish Can’t See Water,” Kai Hammerich and Richard D. Lewis explore these cultural issues, both national and international, that can make or break your company strategy. Incidentally, I love that book title, which seems to me applicable to most aspects of business (and even people), as well as business culture.

To set the stage for all the cultural issues and timing, the authors start with a summary that I like of the five lifecycle phases every company is likely to experience over the long-term or short-term, regardless of culture:

  1. Innovation. This business phase is where every entrepreneur starts. It’s a volatile period for every company, where most struggle with getting commercial and technological traction, usually based on a single product or service. A particularly critical moment is when the founders hand over the leadership to a more managerial regime.
  1. Geographic expansion. This phase is characterized by rapid expansion either regionally or globally for growth (scaling up). This is where the culture of the startup has to adapt to the cultures of the markets served. A common practice is to hire local employees who know the geographic culture, even though this may well dilute the company culture.
  1. Product-line expansion. For additional growth, most companies expand the product portfolio to cater to more customers, and sell more to existing customers. The challenge during this phase is to stay innovative and agile. This usually marks the end of organic growth, as partnerships and alliances aid growth, but again dilute the focus on culture.
  1. Efficiency and scale. As the business matures, there is a natural drive towards more efficiency often through sheer scale and a desire for a stronger market share. Companies with an innovative and creative bias, which thrived during the innovation phase, usually struggle in this period. The emphasis is on global processes and tight execution.
  1. Consolidation. This is the end game for an industry, and many companies, characterized by mergers and acquisitions to a few dominant players. Value creation for major shareholders is frequently hampered by integration issues and culture clashes. The crises definitely hits here, if not earlier, and even the survivors can be dragged down.

In fact, crises can and do hit an any phase, due to poor execution, complacency from success, less competitive strategy, change of leadership, and many other reasons. It’s important to note that a company under crisis often will revert to its core national culture, which only further exacerbates the problem.

Thus it’s important to set your company culture early to be a global company, without a specific national bias, since the speed of change is so great. You need the global outlook, even though digitalization and Web 2.0 means you don’t have to have a physical presence in other countries to participate in the global market.

As companies grow in today’s high-speed Internet environment, with constant pivots and new products, they won’t even see the lifecycle phases flashing by, and in fact may be experiencing all of them concurrently. There is no time to be changing your culture to match the lifecycle. How hard are you working to avoid the “fish can’t see water” syndrome?

Marty Zwilling

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Monday, August 19, 2019

5 Tips to Gain From People Who Don’t Think Like You

exchange-of-ideas-debateOne thing we all have to learn in business is how to work with and lead people that are not like you, and don’t think like you. In my experience as a business advisor, that’s probably the biggest hurdle to success encountered by every new business owner. Your biggest challenge may be members of your own family, some of your best customers, or a key business partner or investor.

For example, like me, you may be an aggressive, logical, and “get things done” type of person, who created a new product, but is easily frustrated by others around you who are committed, but tend to make decisions slowly, or rely more on emotions than the facts in any situation. For me, it was a session with Myers Briggs that finally opened my eyes on how to deal with different people.

Some notable business people never figured it out, and allowed differences to lead to business or personal setbacks that probably didn’t need to happen. Examples include the Theranos failure brought about by Elizabeth Holmes’ inability to work with her team, the early Apple setback due to differences between Steve Jobs and John Sculley, and the travails of Uber under Travis Kalanick.

The reality is that the business world is becoming more a global space, so all of us have to learn to understand and capitalize on people of different generations, cultures, points of view, and priorities. You have to manage your business with more people not like you, as well as a more diverse set of customers. Here are some key principles that I have found to make this work:

  1. Build more relationships with people who are not like you. If you limit your relationships in business to people who are just like you, your business potential is severely limited. Get to know your business associates as people, to understand their personality, strengths, and motivation, before you deal with them on business issues.

    Only by first understanding their differences can you fully appreciate that what others bring to the table, even if it is contrary to your view. Don’t let the current focus on emails, procedures, and message exchanges convince you that work is a mechanical process.

  2. Don’t assume others are intentionally being difficult. They are simply being who they are, and they are as frustrated with you as you are with them when things aren’t working. They are thinking and making decisions based on their unique personality, cultural background, and their previous experiences. Your challenge is to adapt to them.

    For example, I have found that some people are most effective after talking you through a situation, while you may prefer to jump to action quickly. By better understanding each member of your team, you will know when to listen and when it’s time to push for action.

  3. Never try to change people – capitalize on their strengths. It’s easier to adapt your own style than to try to force others to be like you. People can change themselves, if they respect you as a role model, and feel your courtesy and respect for their position and ability. Always be civil and diplomatic, and don’t allow emotions to cloud the situation.

    I often recommend to technical entrepreneurs (logical) that they team with a cofounder who has a business perspective (emotional customer appeal). One of these without the other is a recipe for disaster. At the same time, each can always learn from the other.

  4. Encourage business disagreements and healthy conflict. Real innovation can only come from people who think and see things differently. Disagreements should lead to constructive discussions, real learning, and better solutions. The challenge is to remain non-judgmental, non-defensive, and not feel the need to win every argument.

    The best way to stay in control, and get maximum benefit, is by asking open-ended and relevant questions. This will allow constituents to feel that you respect them and are debating their ideas rather than judging them because of their views.

  5. Don’t generalize the discussion – stick to the problem at hand. Often it’s tempting to bring up prior issues to make a point, but this approach is fraught with the danger of escalating emotions and potential misunderstandings. Successful work relationships require focus, cooperation, and listening, and often benefit from different approaches.

    Save the generalized discussions and feedback for scheduled mentoring and coaching sessions, rather than the daily impromptu strategy or problem solving meetings. Demonstrate to your constituents that you can do both, and understand the difference.

All my experience tells me that diversity in business is a plus. People with different values and different perspectives from your own lead to better decisions and innovation – ultimately growing your business success and your satisfaction. The sooner you learn to deal with it, the quicker you and your business will benefit. Look around you and check your use of diversity in your business.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 08/06/2019 ***

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Sunday, August 18, 2019

8 Steps To Stop Killing Yourself As A Micro-Manager

boss-will-not-delegateFor a few, delegating comes easily, maybe too easy. For others who are perfectionists, letting go of even the most trivial task is almost impossible. If you are in this second category, you probably don’t like the references behind your back that you are a “control freak” or a “micro-manager.”

London business school professor John Hunt notes that only 30 percent of managers think they can delegate well, and of those, only one in three is considered a good delegator by his or her subordinates. This means only about one manager in ten really knows how to empower others.

The challenge is delegating the right things, and not delegating the wrong things. If you don’t get it right, you are busy, but working on the wrong things. Almost every entrepreneur needs to improve their skills in this area, so I did some research on the basics. Jan Yager, in her classic book “Work Less, Do More,” has outlined eight key steps to effective delegation which I endorse:

  1. Choose what tasks you are willing to delegate. You should be using your time on the most critical tasks for the business, and the tasks that only you can do. Delegate what you can’t do, and what doesn’t interest you. For example, non-computer types should consider delegating their social media, website, and SEO activities.

  1. Pick the best person to delegate to. Listen and observe. Learn the traits, values, and characteristics of those who will perform well when you delegate to them. That means give the work to people who deliver, not the people who are the least busy. This requires hiring people with the right skills, not the least expensive or friends and family.
  1. Trust those to whom you delegate. It always starts with trust. Along with trust, you also have to give the people to whom you delegate the chance to do a job their way. Of course the work must be done well, but your way or the highway is not the right way.
  1. Give clear assignments and instructions. The key is striking the right balance between explaining so much detail that the listener is insulted, and not explaining enough for someone to grasp what is expected. Think back to when you were learning, when you were a neophyte.
  1. Set a definite task completion date and a follow-up system. Establish a specific deadline at the beginning, with milestones. In this way you can check up on progress before the final deadline, without fuzzy questions like “How are you doing?”
  1. Give public and written credit. This is the simplest step, but one of the hardest for many people to learn. It will inspire loyalty, provide real satisfaction for work done, and become the basis for mentoring and performance reviews.
  1. Delegate responsibility and authority, not just the task. Managers who fail to delegate responsibility in addition to specific tasks eventually find themselves reporting to their subordinates and doing some of the work, rather than vice versa.
  1. Avoid reverse delegation. Some team members try to give a task back to the manager, if they don’t feel comfortable, or are attempting to dodge responsibility. Don't accept it except in extreme cases. In the long run, every team member needs to learn or leave.

Almost everyone who has grown their startup from a one-person entity to a going concern with many employees has struggled with letting go of any task. On the other hand, executives who come from a large company to a startup tend to delegate too much, resulting in high costs and lack of control.

Finally, every entrepreneur needs to set aside their fear of delegating. If you do it right, as outlined above, every task will likely be done better than you could do it. The only thing you can't delegate is “the buck stops here” role. That can only be done by the person in charge, and it better always be you.

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, August 17, 2019

7 Common Themes That Indicate An Extraordinary Leader

extraordinary-business-leaderIn building successful businesses, I find that creating a new and innovative product or service is usually the easy part. The hard part is providing the leadership required to align and motivate all the constituents and players – from engineers, to investors, vendors, and ultimately customers. Great entrepreneurs are not just idea people and then managers, they are extraordinary leaders.

Most investors admit that they invest primarily in people, not ideas, and they inherently believe that they can sense this leadership ability needed to get the rapid growth and 10x return we all strive for. Yet beyond a list of noble attributes, like vision, courage, and integrity, it’s hard for them to define what separates an ordinary entrepreneur or manager from an extraordinary leader.

I saw a new approach in the classic book “Leadership Transformed: How Ordinary Managers Become Extraordinary Leaders,” by Dr. Peter Fuda, which identifies seven leadership themes, presented as metaphors. I believe these will really help anyone recognize great leaders, and even more importantly, accelerate their own entrepreneur leadership transformation:

  1. Demonstrates a burning ambition and a burning platform (fire metaphor). These are the forces that initiate and sustain transformation efforts. The top two on the personal side are “urgency” and “desire,” but these have to be matched on the business side with the willingness to burn the platform (change any aspect of the business) without a crisis.
  1. Sense of accountability and momentum (snowball metaphor). This means no excuses and no rationalization, sweeping team members into mutual accountability. The leader then builds momentum from small successes into a snowball that will grow into a large, powerful, and eventually unstoppable business. Have you addressed all sources of drag or friction on your snowball?
  1. Artfully applies tools, and strategies for change (master chef metaphor). New entrepreneurs are really amateur chefs learning to cook a new business. Existing business frameworks are the recipes, and great entrepreneurs creatively use new tools and strategies to hone these frameworks, just like a master chef.
  1. Works with other team members on mutual aspirations (coach metaphor). It is not about leaders becoming coaches; it’s about leaders letting themselves be coached by others – advisors, team members, and even customers. A team’s captain is dependent on the support of their teammates, requiring trust and respect from both parties, and humility on the part of the leader.
  1. Does not mask authentic self, values, and aspirations (mask metaphor). Too many entrepreneurs put on a mask to conceal personal imperfections, or they adopt an identity not aligned with their authentic self, values, and aspirations. This façade is a burden soon recognized, so dropping the mask is more effective, as well as more comfortable and more fun.
  1. Enhance their self-awareness and edit their own performance (movie metaphor). Great entrepreneurs recognize that leadership is like a movie, and it can be honed and improved by disciplined reflection (see yourself as others see you), edited for impact, and directed by experts on your team. Reflect on how often you operate from judgment as opposed to perception. Think about who could help you reflect-on-action.
  1. Embed their personal journey within the business journey (Russian dolls metaphor). Business is really a set of journeys that interact with an entrepreneur’s personal journey. Up-line this may be your interaction with your Board, investors, and family. Down-line it’s the leadership model you use with your internal teams and external partners. Focus on improving your up-line and down-line dolls with your personal journey.

In addition, here are five strategies that Dr. Fuda and I both agree will lead to a more empowering approach to entrepreneur leadership, and help you optimize all the themes described above :

  • Shift your focus from your business content to market context.
  • Spend more time showing others what is required, rather than telling them.
  • Focus more on collaborating with others, rather than competing.
  • Evolve from guru to guide, and coaching others to find answers for themselves.
  • Move from critic to cheerleader, from what is going wrong to what is going right.

If you are an investor, you need to recognize and mentor entrepreneurs to extraordinary leadership. If you are a startup founder or executive, you need to strive continually to change yourself and your business to build and maintain the leadership you need to out-perform your competition, and generate the results to meet personal and financial objectives. How many of these themes and strategies are you practicing today?

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, August 16, 2019

8 Keys To Delivering Exceptional Customer Experiences

customer-experience-exceptionalMost businesses spend big money testing their brand logo, catchy marketing phrases, and demographics, but spend little time training and validating that their employees can and do deliver exceptional experiences to their customers. The result, according to an often-quoted Gallup survey, is 70 percent of workers not fully engaged, and poor customer experiences.

The customer experience is really your brand, since that is what customers remember and communicate to others, rather than your marketing. Thus the real challenge in building your brand is building the level of engagement and delivery of your team. Gregg Lederman, in his classic book, “ENGAGED!: Outbehave Your Competition to Create Customers for Life,” offers eight key principles for defining and managing the experience to keep it consistent and profitable:

  1. Keep every employee on stage, delivering an experience. At work, all team members (everyone who gets paid for doing a job at the company) are on stage responsible for delivering a branded experience to coworkers and customers. They have to out-behave and outperform your competition. Is your team performing like they are on Broadway?
  1. Keep your team happy to create engaged customers. An unhappy team member can’t create an engaged customer. Yet less than half of the people working today claim to be satisfied and happy at work. How many of your employees would say that what they think, what they say and what they do are in harmony? Money does not buy engagement.

  1. Don’t just announce your culture, make it visible. Your mission, values, brand positioning, and guiding principles are invisible, unless your employees know specifically how to act them out through their day-to-day behavior. You have to define these behaviors, measure them, and reward them. Walking the talk is the place to start.
  1. Focus on culture change rather than culture talk. Culture is changed by how we act (perform) and interact (employees and customers). Define and document a common mindset and make related behaviors non-negotiable. Everyone must know and do these things consistently. The secret to success is 1% training and 99% reminding.
  1. Turn common sense into common practice. The only true employee-driven measure of whether the workforce is “living the brand” is the perspective of others in each work area. Use a company-wide assessment at least twice a year to understand and remind the team to out-behave the competition. No more gamed employee satisfaction surveys.
  1. Build relationships and stop surveying customers. Every senior leader needs to have regular quality conversations with customers. These enable leaders to learn firsthand about how the company is living the brand and when it is not. Relationships will get referrals, drive more sales, and build loyalty. Use the feedback to improve and grow.
  1. Incent engagement with training and recognition, rather than rewards. Employees get much greater value from the power of recognition and much less from the actual rewards. Reward programs don’t drive sustainable culture change or business results. Provide recognition for the right behaviors consistently, and the results will accrue.
  1. Build trust in you as the leader by managing the experience. Without solid leadership people simply won’t follow. Earn trust by making the right experience a part of the day-to-day conversation, and reminding people by your actions what you expect. Demonstrate a culture of responsibility and accountability.

Lack of engagement is very expensive. According to Lederman, engaged organizations grew profits as much as three times faster than their competitors. Highly engaged organizations have been shown to reduce staff turnover by 87 percent, improve performance by 20 percent, and increase customer satisfaction by at least 12 percent.

Overall, successful startups and world-class companies are known to have fiercely loyal customers driven by fully-engaged team members, resulting in proactive referrals and more purchases. That’s the brand you want, and it needs minimal focus on the logo and advertising to survive and out-perform your competition. How would you rate your customer experience today?

Marty Zwilling

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Wednesday, August 14, 2019

10 Keys To Your New Venture Success And Satisfaction

Entrepreneurship-success-satisfactionAs the economy flourishes after some tough economic times, more and more people seem to be turning to entrepreneurship as an alternative to traditional employment. I applaud this trend, but caution all of you thinking this direction to approach entrepreneurship with your eyes wide open. It is not for everyone, as the entrepreneur’s path is fraught with challenges.

Many experts have tried to clearly lay out the criteria for survival in a way that allows you to judge your own situation and your own temperament, and make a rational decision before starting down this path. I recommend the ten points in a classic book by Bill Murphy, Jr., titled “The Intelligent Entrepreneur,” outlining the keys to successful entrepreneurship, as follows:

  1. Make the commitment. Entrepreneurship can be learned. But you have to be committed to the process of building your own thing and the act of creating something, rather than just coming up with an idea. It will likely take several ideas, with the learning process of failing on a couple, before you can call yourself a successful entrepreneur.
  1. Find a problem, then solve it. Rather than finding a new idea first, try finding a problem first. Problem solvers make successful entrepreneurs. Idea people are dreamers, who often don’t enjoy the hard work of a solution in a specific timeframe to make money.
  1. Think big. Thing new. Think again. In other words, make sure your solution will scale up. Professional investors will tell you they look for business plans that can credibly project revenues of at least $20M within five years, or they won’t justify an investment.
  1. You can't do it alone. Have a support team of people you know and trust. An idea person and a problem solver make a great team. Successful entrepreneurs have to work well with people, whether they be partners, investors, employees, suppliers, or customers.
  1. You must do it alone. But the dichotomy is that there are things that you have to do alone. “The buck stops here.” You have to be decisive, accept responsibility, and provide the vision. Vision is not a group-think activity. Sometimes decisions have to be made quickly, and with very little hard data, so you need the confidence in your gut.
  1. Manage risk. Without risk, there can be no innovation. Not every idea can, or will, be a winner. Fear of failure will kill innovation, but reckless disregard for risk will kill a business. The successful entrepreneur is able to find the balance between these two extremes.
  1. Learn to lead. In a startup, the entrepreneur leader has to do two things. First, drive the business creation process, and secondly, inspire all the others. The others include the rest of the team, investors, and customers. That means hands-on leadership and effective communication.
  1. Learn to sell. Don’t believe the old myth that “if we build it, they will come.” Selling is a learned skill, and takes effort, just like building a product. Everyone in your startup, especially the entrepreneur, needs to understand sales, and needs to be a salesman.
  1. Persist, persevere, prevail. Experts say the prime cause of failure in business is quitting too soon. The successful entrepreneur never gives up, and uses creativity to overcome all obstacles, including personal, financial, and technical ones.
  1. Time, not money, is the key resource. Entrepreneurship is a lifestyle, not a job. Be prepared to play the game for life. There are no quick fixes, or quick get-rich solutions. Learn to manage and balance your time; it’s the one thing that belongs to you alone. Great entrepreneurs have a life outside of work, and find time to give back.

Reporter Bill Murphy compiled his book based on three real-life success stories of Harvard graduates, all of whom proved the points by their failures as well as successes. There is no magic here, but I believe these rules can shorten the learning curve and increase the success rate for every budding entrepreneur. They can also help you be happy and have some fun.

Marty Zwilling

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Monday, August 12, 2019

6 Keys To Convince Investors Of Your Competitive Edge

Entrepreneur-investor-pitchMost entrepreneurs are quick to assert to potential investors that their product or solution will kill the competition, but unfortunately your opinion alone is not enough to convince most experienced investors. They want quantifiable facts and figures on how your offering compares to recognized key players in your domain, and quotes from recognized third-party experts to back you up.

Of course, we all know there are no guarantees, and we like your passion and commitment to future results. We certainly want to hear about any positive feedback you have from potential customers on your idea, your prototype, and your business model, but that better not be the end of the story. We want to see a documented business plan that clearly addresses this challenge.

First of all, you need some convincing market research that your solution addresses a real and growing problem. A competitive advantage to a non-problem or tiny niche is not interesting to investors. They want to be convinced that you are attacking a large opportunity, preferably in the billion dollar range, that will continue to grow at least ten percent per year, without a solution.

Secondly, they want to see your competitive analysis of how you stack up to the top players in the space, by name, with quantitative comparisons and customer value. Skip the fuzzy marketing terms, like “easier to use” and “more functions.” Avoid the temptation to narrow the scope so far as to conclude that you have no competitors, since investors might conclude you have no market.

There are a myriad of other important ways that you can demonstrate your competitive advantages in your presentations, discussions, and business plan, including the following:

  1. Highlight your intellectual property. We all know the challenges involved in getting and protecting a patent, but patents are still strong evidence of a competitive advantage, generally sustainable for twenty years. Don’t forget other intellectual property, including trade secrets, trademarks, copyrights, domain names, and your expert publications.

  2. Capitalize on the experiences of you and your team. Competitive businesses have great teams, as well as great products. If you already have a proven team in a previously successful business, this puts you ahead of most startups, and investors will give you extra consideration. Past leadership success is definitely a competitive advantage.

  3. Promote any inside relationships or customer base. Many markets, including government and education, are especially difficult to penetrate, and connections to public leaders are very valuable. If you already own a known brand, or an existing customer base that is relevant, any market lock or carryover can be a large competitive advantage.

  4. Quantify any dramatic changes to the cost or value equation. Most investors agree that cost reductions need to exceed 20 percent to break loyalty ties and convince customers to change. Thus any order-of-magnitude cost reductions or customer value increases are very important. Reducing margins to lower prices won’t help your case.

  5. Present a clear differentiation and a laser market focus. If your product or strategy is targeted too broadly, or attempts to combine several existing products, it will likely confuse customers and not be competitive to any one segment. Your best competitive position is picking a clearly needy market niche and serving it better than anyone else.

  6. Outline a long-term strategy of maximum depth. While you must start with a narrow focus, make it clear that you are not a “one-trick pony.” Highlight your innovative technology, giving you a great initial product, and documenting a long list of follow-ons as the business scales. This is clear evidence of a long-term competitive advantage.

To survive for any length of time against competitors, you need a “sustainable competitive advantage.” This requires that you demonstrate a competitive lead today, as well as a plan and strategy to maintain that lead over time as the market evolves, and competitors with deep pockets try to replicate your advantage.

Thus, the ultimate competitive advantage is the agility and insight to stay one step ahead of your competitors and changing market needs. No one said it would be easy, but I’m confident you’ll find the payback well worth all your efforts.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on CayenneConsulting on 07/26/2019 ***

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Sunday, August 11, 2019

Driving Your Team With Fear Has Negative Consequences

fear-in-businessTrying to be a business leader by instilling fear in your employees and partners is never a good approach, but it is particularly devastating in a startup. Yet I see this approach used all too often by new entrepreneurs, most of whom are not natural tyrants, but who are fighting to mask their own internal fears and insecurities about starting a business.

The classic book on this subject, “Leading Without Fear,” by Laurie K. Cure, PhD, convinced me that fear is a natural reaction to the risks associated with a new venture, and people handle this fear in different ways. Some are able to read the danger signals, and catapult themselves and everyone around them into action without fear, resulting in progress and success.

Others intentionally or unintentionally project their own fear into a weapon that gets used on their team and constituents to get things done and assure accountability, at least in the short term. According to Cure, there are three main reasons that entrepreneurs resort to propagating fear:

  1. Need to establish a sense of urgency. Sometimes it seems like instilling fear is the quickest and most effective way to instill a sense of urgency in other team members. In fact, it does work in the short term, but in the longer term it breeds mistrust and cynicism, which quickly erodes morale and leads to reprisals worse than the challenge.
  1. Don’t know any other way. Often new entrepreneur leaders reach a point of desperation in dealing with people, and hope that they can somehow shame, anger, or scare people into behavior change and desired results. This approach usually stems from primal reactions during early childhood, or a specific cultural background.
  1. Engulfed in the flames of their own fear. Others use fear because they are simply afraid, and unable to hide it. It requires extreme discipline not to project your fear onto others. When leaders are in fear, be it for their own security, sense of affiliation, or self-esteem fears, they become blind to how they might be using fear in their own leadership.

Smart entrepreneurial leaders avoid these reasons, and don't use fear because of its devastating consequences on their long-term business success. Here are a few of the consequences:

  • Fear drives the team into fixed and safe positions, allowing competitors an easy advantage.
  • Fear short-circuits change, creativity, and innovation, which are the life-blood of startups.
  • Fear limits rational discussion of alternatives, leading to poor decisions and inaction.
  • Fear fosters suspicion, mistrust, and cynicism of the leader and the startup.
  • Fear tends to turn the focus inward to survival, rather than outward to customers.

Based on the insights I see from Cure’s book and others, I recommend the following strategies for reducing fear in your own mind and in the minds of your constituents:

  1. Increase your own self-awareness. This is essentially your ability to know yourself, your motives, desires, and personality. Who are you, and why do you do what you do? It is only with self-awareness that you can grow and learn. Self-awareness simply requires an ongoing practice that you can engage in and make a part of your lifestyle.
  1. Be clear on all your goals, and communicate these regularly to your team. If either you or they don’t know the goals, neither of you will know when a threat is imminent, or if everyone is in alignment. When you are out of alignment with the team in terms of goals, everyone feels torn, dissatisfied, and fearful.
  1. Focus more on the positive side of risk. Everyone’s brain has a reward pathway that creates a sense of euphoria and pleasure when you overcome high odds, or do something innovative. Stop focusing so much on the things that can go wrong, and anticipate the joys of progress and success.

All entrepreneurs have to take risks and provide leadership to succeed, but driving yourself and your team with fear is not the answer. The best leadership is providing real motivation from the work itself, and the drive to build something lasting. Fear has no role in either of these.

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, August 10, 2019

10 Startup Quandaries That May Redefine Your Business

Here-Opportunity-Right-FalseMost entrepreneurs struggle with many startup founders quandaries in building their business, and these key dilemmas are probably the biggest source of pain and failure for the entrepreneur lifestyle. People may jump into the lifestyle to be their own boss, achieve great wealth, start a new trend, or all the above. The dilemma is that these goals are usually mutually exclusive.

For example, is the person who starts a new trend likely to be the one who controls it through the growth phase? In a famous Harvard study of 212 new ventures a few years ago, USC professor Noam Wasserman found that half the founders were no longer at the helm after three years, and over time 80% were forced out. That’s not an attractive statistic if you crave control and power.

Don’t wait for the harsh reality of the demanding business world to start thinking about these tradeoffs. The research from Wasserman and others outlines the following top ten dilemmas that every founder needs to deal with sooner or later in their career as an entrepreneur:

  1. The make money or serve humanity dilemma. Your great idea for the next Facebook may make you wealthy, but it probably won’t help the hungry. The answer is to look hard inside yourself, to see what makes you happy and satisfied. If living on Raman noodles while you make the world a better place is fine, skip the investors and growth race.
  1. The right time to start dilemma. The right time to jump is a function of favorable career, personal, and market circumstances. While it’s unlikely that all three of these will ever be true at the same time, most experts don’t recommend jumping at the first opportunity, but first gaining some skill, financial, and business experience first.
  1. The founding team size dilemma. Should you start a company solo or find co-founders to help you? With one or more co-founders, you gain complementary skills, spread the workload and responsibilities, and reduce the risk. The downside is loss of control and financial dilution. In my view, two heads are always better than one.
  1. The co-founder relationship dilemma. While long-time social friends and family may seem like the natural choice for co-founders and team members, these relationships often get in the way of hard business decisions or necessary business adjustments. Old co-workers or new friends with complementary skills usually make the best partners.
  1. The founder’s title and role dilemma. Usually co-founders expect to get a C-level title associated with their area of interest, like CFO for the financial expert. Make sure these titles are handed out only to people who are willing and able to accept the responsibility and workload of the associated role. It’s tough to downgrade titles and roles later.
  1. The compensation model dilemma. Every founding member wants to be compensated richly for the risk and the unknown. You have very little money, and you don’t want to give away your equity. Recognize that the best people don’t work for free. Giving equity is realistic, but base it on contribution and role, with vesting after time and milestones.
  1. The right investors and right time dilemma. You don’t want to take money from friends and family, but it’s too early for angel investors and VCs. No one wants to put in money until you have a product, and you need money to build the product. Bootstrap if you can, otherwise climb the pyramid of family, friends, angels, and VCs.

  1. The right motivated employees dilemma. Very early, you need generalists who can cover multiple areas, but you can’t pay for experience. Later you need specialists and managers. Offer low cash early, with bonuses or stock options for milestones, to people in your personal network. Later use LinkedIn and other job sources for professionals.

  1. The founder succession dilemma. Startups are usually founded by product or service experts who don’t enjoy the various growth phases. Should the founder keep the company small, try to adapt, or step aside in favor of a seasoned business executive? Transition to a specialist role, plan to exit, be prepared to be pushed out, or plan to fail.

  1. The control and growth dilemma. If you take investor money, expect a push for hockey-stick growth and a liquidity event, like going public (IPO) or sale (M&A), to get the payback. If you prefer a private company with organic growth, keep control within friends and family, and prepare for the long haul. Otherwise exit and startup with another idea.

Not facing these dilemmas squarely and honestly is one of the biggest pitfalls facing every entrepreneur. You can’t have it all, just like your startup can’t be all things to all customers. You have to focus on the things you can do and love to do, and do them better than anyone else. Turn these top ten dilemmas into your strengths, and you will have a competitive advantage, as well as the fun and satisfaction you sought to find in the entrepreneur lifestyle.

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, August 9, 2019

10 Business Areas Where Data Is The Key To The Future

big-data-business-areasEven though ‘big data’ has now been around for several years, the opportunities for startups seem to keep growing, just as the amount of data keeps growing. According to IBM, companies have captured more data in the last two years than in the previous 2000 years. This data comes from sensors, social media posts, digital pictures and videos, purchase transactions, everywhere.

Every day, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data — much of it unstructured and far beyond the capability of conventional databases. Hence one segment of the opportunity is the need for new database technologies, like Hadoop, a distributed file system originally designed for indexing the Web. Data capacity is measured in petabytes (1000 terabytes), or soon even yottobytes (1024).

A while back, Gartner formalized their ‘big data’ definition as a “3V” framework - high Volume, high Velocity, and high Variety information asset, requiring new forms of processing to enable enhanced decision making, insight discovery and process optimization. IBM adds a fourth “V” of Veracity to add trust and noise filtering to the challenge of Big Data analysis.

By any definition, the opportunities from ‘big data’ have the potential to create a next wave of successful technology companies that could change the way we all live and work. I will summarize here some of the key business domains with large opportunities, based on reports by Data Flair, Gartner, and other sources:

  1. Targeted marketing. ‘Big data’ can mean big profits. By understanding what you want to buy today, companies large and small can figure out what you'll want to buy tomorrow -- maybe even before you do. By transforming a single shopper's path into data points, companies can see how you move through a store, and how that tracks with sales.
  1. Protecting the environment. Analyzing the massive sets of data available on toxic emissions and weather patterns can help us understand environmental threats on a systemic level. We now have the sensors to track and model future environmental shifts -- and how to stop them. We just need ‘big data’ tools to do the analysis.
  1. Health care in the U.S. Health care is a large and important segment with huge data challenges, mostly not structured or linked. It has multiple and varied stakeholders, including the pharmaceutical and medical products industries, providers, payers, and patients. Each of these has different interests and incentives, with real money to spend.
  1. Social media and web data. Social media postings and e-Commerce transactions are just a couple of the sources of external data that are of great interest to many companies. Facebook now exceeds two billion users posting, the Internet has a billion websites, and there are 600 e-Commerce items ordered every second. That’s a lot of data to analyze.
  1. Automated device generated data. Another ‘big data’ opportunity is the vast amount of sensor data—machine generated data—that exists and is growing at an exponential pace as more machines become internet-enabled. Examples include data generated from traffic cameras, parking meters, toll collection, and black boxes in airplanes.
  1. Scientific research in overdrive. Data has long been the cornerstone of scientific discovery, and with ‘big data’ -- and the big computing power necessary to process it -- research can move at an exponentially faster clip. The Human Genome Project, which took 13 years, could now be completed in hours. There are many more waiting.
  1. Global personal location tracking. Processing personal location data is a domain that includes child safety, law enforcement, tracking terrorists, and travel planning. The data generated are growing quickly, reflecting the burgeoning adoption of smart phones and other applications. This domain is a hotbed of innovation for startup opportunities.
  1. Global manufacturing. Manufacturing is a global industry with complex and widely distributed value chains and a large amount of data available. This domain therefore offers opportunities at multiple points in the value chain, from bringing products to market and research and development (R&D), RFID tracking, to after-sales services.
  1. Data is the new weapon of defense. The traditional battlefield has dissolved into thin air. In the ‘big data’ era, information is the deadliest weapon and leveraging massive amounts of it is this era's arms race. But current military tech is buckling under the sheer weight of data collected from satellites, unmanned aircraft, and intercepted messages.
  1. Public sector administration. The public sector is another large part of the global economy facing tremendous pressure to improve its productivity. Governments have access to large pools of digital data but have hardly begun to take advantage of the powerful ways in which they could use this information. Much change is needed here.

These large opportunities are why IDC says that worldwide revenues for ‘big data’ and business analytics will grow from $166 billion in 2018 to more than $260 billion in 2022, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.7%.

Compared to the plethora of dating site proposals that I see, big data is an exciting opportunity for entrepreneurs and investors alike. Be there.

Marty Zwilling

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Wednesday, August 7, 2019

8 Keys To Enjoying Work, And Enhancing Your Career

Enjoying-workAs a business advisor, one of the most frustrating things I see is the number of employees who are unhappy at work. Business owners don’t like it, the new generations think promotions will solve it, and productivity levels continue to suffer. According to the polls, only 32 percent of workers are engaged, and the rest spend much of their time wishing they were somewhere else.

Based on my own career with small companies as well as large ones, I assure you that it’s a lot more satisfying for everyone, as well as productive, working in a happy business environment. According to other surveys, there are many leading companies, including Google, Zappos, and Southwest Airlines, where happy and engaged employees are the norm, not the exception.

In my view, too many people put the total problem and the solution on the company to keep employees happy, when in fact it takes an equal commitment from both sides. Yes, companies have to enable a culture of purpose, employee value, positive feedback, and the tools to do the work, but people have to take ownership of their own life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

For me, ownership of the challenge meant developing and honing a set of personal habits that fostered a sense of learning, challenge, and accomplishment, rather than boredom, fear, and negativity. Here are some key recommendations that I espouse:

  1. Make a habit of initiating a real relationship with peers. It’s hard to stay positive and happy working with people you don’t really know. As an introvert, I initially found it to be difficult to approach new people, but I found it much easier in a work environment, where we had many common subjects. Getting to know the managers also helped engagement.

  2. Take satisfaction from a couple of simple wins every day. We’ve all hit some tough roadblocks, but don’t ignore the cases where you finished a task ahead of time, the right answer just popped into your head, or your idea made someone else’s day. Make it a habit to tally these up at the end of a day, and share your small successes with a friend.

  3. Add a positive productivity change that you learned this week. Most people are happiest when they are feeling smarter about their job. Make building new habits a recurring thing, rather than a process that ended when you graduated from school. The world we live in is constantly changing, so not learning means that you are falling behind.

  4. Focus on improving work habits that have the biggest payback. It’s easy to get discouraged about one bad habit that you know you have, such as not responding to all emails every day. Yet your creativity in solving customer concerns may have far more potential in boosting your career. Highlight your strengths, rather than fear weaknesses.

  5. Put time in your schedule for improving you. Get in the habit of scheduling some time for you every day – maybe just a few minutes at the beginning of the day before the first crisis hits. Your satisfaction and productivity will both go up for the rest of the day. Pick a relaxing and friendly environment, perhaps with a mentor or friend over a cup of coffee.

  6. Integrate new habits into a more healthy lifestyle. Positive new habits need to be associated with a healthy lifestyle, that includes the proper rest, exercise and recreation. Don’t believe the old myth of “no pain, no gain.” A more satisfying and happy work environment will propagate into better family, group, and personal relationships.

  7. Work on old problems incrementally, rather than big bang. If your operational mistakes are making you unhappy, ask for five-minute mentoring every day from one of your peers, rather than trying to carve out two weeks for an in-depth class. You will get the satisfaction of seeing multiple improvements, and make a good friend in the process.

  8. Use daily repetition to turn improvements into habits. Good habits are made permanent by regular reinforcement. Lead with your strengths, and stop worrying about all the things you could be. Your strengths will lead to successes that make you happier, and your peers will see you as a leader in these areas, giving you even more satisfaction.

In summary, more positive personal habits will raise your self-esteem, your confidence, your productivity, and your happiness. Best of all, these will improve your image and credibility in the eyes of your customers and your employer. That’s what I call a win-win opportunity.

Life is too short to go to work or come home every day unhappy. It’s really up to you, so stop waiting for everyone else and the business to change around you.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 07/24/2019 ***

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Monday, August 5, 2019

7 Common Causes Of Failure To Communicate in Business

Failure-to-communicateMost business mentors tell me that the single biggest problem they have to deal with in small companies is the lack of open, honest, and effective communication, both from the top down and from the bottom up. Some entrepreneurs forget that talking is not communicating. Fortunately these skills can be learned, and the barriers to communication can be overcome one by one.

Founders have to communicate their ideas and products to investors, business partners, and the rest of the team. Then, hopefully, come customers, distribution channels, and going public or merging with an attractive buy-out candidate. Communication is not just talking, but also listening, writing, body language, and “actions speak louder than words.”

According to a classic book on people management by Professor Derek Torrington, “Managing to Manage: The Essential Guide to People Management,” it is the listener who determines the extent to which a message is understood, and that is shaped largely by their own experience and background. From an entrepreneur perspective, here are the key barrier-to-understanding elements:

  1. Unclear frame of reference. Whenever you discuss any startup matter, the receivers will view it from their particular frame of reference, including their values, their priorities, and their background. The responsibility is on you the entrepreneur to decipher the receiver reference, and do the “translation” of your message to them.

  1. Stereotyping and biases. This is the other end of the spectrum, where the entrepreneur defaults to an extreme extrapolation of the listener reference base. Common problem stereotypes relate to age constraints, gender roles, and cultural performance implications. Effective communication requires compensating for language barriers, no stereotyping, and first focus on performance here and now.

  1. Cognitive dissonance. Psychologists use this term to describe the genuine difficulty the people have in understanding, remembering, and taking action on inputs that they find irreconcilable with the current reality, or with strong existing beliefs. The message heard may be unintentionally distorted, and you must repeat and rephrase often to be effective.
  1. Failure to build relationships. When people are listening to someone with confidence and trust, there is a predisposition to hear the message and agree. On the other hand, if the source is unknown or un-trusted, the message may be ignored or minimized. The solution is to work on relationships first, before attempting persuasive communication.
  1. Technical semantics and jargon. Jargon only has meaning if the symbols are already understood. If an abbreviation or phrase is not commonly used outside a specific group, or experts, it becomes negative communication, with people reading it as presumptive, insulting, or an attempt to deceive. The remedy is to use clear and concise language.
  1. Not paying attention and forgetting. We all have the human predilection to be selective in attention. Attention spans seem to be getting steadily shorter. Add the problem of noise, external and internal, which can blank out whole messages. Pick the right time and place for each message type, to maximize attention and retention.

  1. Information withheld. Sometimes an entrepreneur or executive tries to communicate without full disclosure, perhaps to minimize impact, or due to company policy. This is readily recognized by most constituents, negates the message, and erodes trust. In startups, the best policy is transparent honest disclosure across all levels of the team.

It’s important to remember that communication only happens when the other person really hears what you mean to say. It’s not a one-way street, and there are often barriers on both sides. To be successful, the entrepreneur has the responsibility of overcoming all of these barriers to make the interaction effective. The alternative is a lose-lose situation for both sides.

A climate of open, two-way communication is also the only way to ensure that those who do not understand feel free to ask for clarification. No questions does not always mean that everyone heard the message. How often do you ask for feedback to make sure your communication has been effective?

Marty Zwilling

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Sunday, August 4, 2019

6 Keys To Marketing That Many Entrepreneurs Overlook

marketing-pragmatic-keysMarketing is everything these days. You can have the best technology, but if customers don’t know you exist, or they don’t know how your technology solves a real problem for them, your startup will fail. Yet I see many technology entrepreneurs that focus on the basics of marketing too little and too late.

They skimp on the design of their website, procrastinate on the rollout to make sure the product is perfect, and get so excited about technology features that they forget about creating value for customers. In fact, this article was driven by a startup press release I saw a while back, highlighting a startup’s “geo-fencing technology” as a new basis for discount coupons. How many customers will have any idea what this means to them?

On the marketing side of the equation, there are so many “marketing gurus” and “marketing resources” out there, the real challenge for most of us is to sort out the basic do’s and the don’ts that apply to startups. I like the guidance from marketing coach David Newman’s classic book “Do It! Marketing,” which provides some pragmatic marketing tips for small businesses as follows:

  1. Don’t tell customers how great you are. Parroting a generic message that you have great service, great value, and a great selection says you have nothing unique. You need to clearly convey what makes your startup the only choice for your customers. Give yourself the “So-what?” test and check for a compelling value-based answer.
  1. Don’t fall into the marketing-speak trap. Don’t fall for the temptation to make big claims, empty promises, and mind-boggling jargon. Learn to speak a new customer-specific dialect based on current research and homework. Go directly to the source – your real live customers, and get their priorities, issues, pressures, and challenges.
  1. Don’t waste your time networking with strangers. Start networking smarter and smaller. Invite key people for coffee or lunch one-on-one, and get to know them and their business. Aim first and foremost to make them a friend, and the connections to others will come naturally. Working the circuit of big groups of strangers is minimally productive.
  1. Don’t waste your time following up. If you are focused exclusively on prospects who are actively seeking to solve the problem you are positioned to solve, you won’t need five or seven attempts to get their attention. Craft a no-follow-up sales letter, after you have positioned yourself as the right expert, with powerful testimonials. They will call you back.
  1. Don’t dumb it down for social media. Many entrepreneurs fear giving away their very best insights, strategies, or tools via social media – it might diminish the demand and the profit. In fact, when customers perceive real value in what you give away, they begin to imagine how much more they might get as a real customer.
  1. Don’t put all your faith in passion. Passion is necessary, but not sufficient to grow your startup. Be passionate about what you do, but develop a really strong plan, and a strong plan B too. The more you think ahead of failure, and think beyond failure, the better your chances for success are.

Instead of asking themselves “How and when will this generate sales?” entrepreneurs need to focus more on who they are marketing to and why. Then give them a compelling, specific, and relevant reason to buy from you.

One of the best approaches is to sell the same way that you buy. You look for value in a specific solution, or at least a conversation about your own problem, headache, heartache, or challenge. You don’t buy based on cold calls, spam e-mail, or phone calls that interrupt your dinner. Give your own customers the same consideration. Good marketing is not rocket science.

Thus marketing is the first thing you need to think about and act on in growing your business, as well as the last thing. The only actions that create results are those that make you stand out above the crowd, attract, engage, and win more customers than your competition. Have you reviewed your startup marketing actions recently for the right do’s and don’ts?

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, August 3, 2019

7 Emigrant Entrepreneur Traits We All Should Emulate

Sergey-Brin-with-Google-glassIn my experience as a business advisor and angel investor these days, I seem to more frequently hear from entrepreneurs and business owners with “can’t-fail” or “get-rich-quick” ideas. In my view, these are the least likely to succeed, partially because the people behind them have the wrong expectations and traits. The instant gratification approach just doesn’t work in business.

In addition, I’ve always wondered why an inordinate number of successful businesses today were started by people born outside the U.S., including Sergey Brin (Russia) at Google, Elon Musk (South Africa) at Tesla, John W. Nordstrom (Sweden), and Pierre Omdiyar (France) at Ebay. It seems like these emigrants would be least likely to succeed, with all their extra challenges.

Perhaps that’s why I was impressed with a classic book, “The Emigrant Edge,” by Irish immigrant and successful business executive, Brian Buffini. He details the natural disadvantages and advantages of emigrants, compared to native-born business leaders, and highlights seven common traits that we both believe should be adopted and practiced by every business owner:

  1. Develop and nurture a voracious desire to learn. In this rapidly changing world, there is no time for repeating the mistakes of others, or trying to repeat yesterday’s success. Successful immigrants have found that they need to go out of their way to meet and listen to others, have new experiences, and learn from different aspects of life and cultures.
  1. Maintain a “do-whatever-it-takes” mind-set. Life favors the persistent and the willing. It’s going that extra mile, and never giving up, that enables getting over the hump to success. Successful immigrants have been forced to get out of their comfort zone, do things they don’t necessarily want to do, take risks, and make difficult decisions.
  1. Feel a deep-seated willingness to outwork others. Those who come to this country with little more than hope to their name know that to get what they want they must work harder and longer than anyone else. With native born new entrepreneurs, I sometimes feel a sense of entitlement, or hear the search for how little one can work to find success.
  1. Demonstrate a heartfelt spirit of gratitude. Not only should we be grateful for small successes in our business, we should also be grateful for the setbacks because from these we learn more. Gratitude has the power to change your thinking from pessimism, to making a difference in the world. Immigrants know to be grateful for what they have now.
  1. Practice the boldness to invest in the future. Immigrants certainly can’t afford to let life’s many choices confuse them. If they have a desire to succeed, they have to be bold and focus on a desired outcome. That means forgoing short-term returns, and investing in themselves, their vocation, and in other people. They put in everything they have.

  1. Have the discipline and commitment to delay gratification. There’s no denying that instant access to most things is satisfying, but it has downsides too. Some business people develop the trait that if results are not immediate, it’s time to give up. Successful immigrants learn to sacrifice, and understand that slow and steady often wins the race.
  1. Remember always to appreciate every step of growth. Immigrants may have started with nothing, but everyone has grown from their beginnings. Sometimes these steps are so small that they are lost or unappreciated, when they should be remembered and celebrated. Successful people enjoy and appreciate the journey, not just the destination.

I’m convinced that every person who starts a business should think of themselves as an emigrant turned immigrant, or one who leaves a known home base, to more permanently settle in or create another, hopefully better place. Think of the seven traits outlined here as the “emigrant edge.”

The sooner you can unleash these traits in your life and your business, the sooner you too can experience business success.

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, August 2, 2019

5 Stages In Leading Paradigm Shift Levels Of Change

segway-human-transporterA refrain I often hear from technology entrepreneurs to investors is that their product or solution is so innovative that it will cause a “paradigm shift” in the industry. Their assumption is that customers and investors will be wowed by this into buying, ignoring the evidence that large-scale change takes a long time, most often fails, and scares away customers and investors alike.

For example, I still remember when Dean Kamen launched the Segway Human Transporter in 2002, predicting a transportation paradigm shift, and geared up to sell 10,000 per week for the next five years. Due to qualms of customers and governments, he sold less than 30,000 of the devices over the next five years. Most other new vehicle designers have suffered a similar fate.

Clearly large-scale change efforts, whether driven by an entrepreneur or an enterprise, need strong leaders and a proven approach to beat the odds of failure. I found some excellent guidance in this regard in a new book, “Beyond Performance 2.0,” by Scott Keller and Bill Schaninger, based on their work and a decade of research at McKinsey & Company.

They outline five stages, which I espouse, to leading paradigm shift levels of change and increase your odds of success from the historical thirty percent to at least double that number. While the author’s focus is slanted toward enterprises, I believe I have seen and can characterize comparable steps for small businesses and entrepreneurs:

  1. Aspire: Set strategic objectives and business health goals. Create a compelling long-term change vision with milestones and deliverables. Roll back the future to immediate and mid-term aspirations, while guarding against emotion and biases in the process. Test your goals and objectives on real customers and outside experts to validate reality.

    Objectively audit your business health for weaknesses and strengths in resources, leadership, skills, and experience. Build an action plan for any ailing areas needing immediate improvement. Choose where you must be exceptional in service and focus.

  2. Assess: Forecast required skillsets and needed mindset shifts. Looking at your desired rollout and growth, and understanding resource supply dynamics and availability, identify how any gaps will be closed.

    Explore the underlying mindset drivers of the required team behaviors. Isolate and reframe the critical “root-cause” mindsets for any unhealthy ones. Pinpoint helping and hindering behaviors related to health priority areas, such as hiring and training.

  3. Architect: Build an actionable plan and acquire delivery resources. Define and document the portfolio of initiatives to deliver on your strategic objectives and fulfill your production and skill requirements. Review the plan with your advisors and investors, as well as outside experts. Detail and sequence actions, and schedule resources to deliver.

    At the same time, you need to build or reshape the work environment to influence needed shifts in mindsets and behaviors. Hardwire health interventions into performance initiatives by linking desired behavior to measurements, rewards, and consequences.

  4. Act: Execute the plan and establish leadership drive. Take leadership control and allocate responsibility and feedback loops. Scale up your portfolio of initiatives, monitor progress and dynamically pivot as your plans are implemented. Constantly validate your solution fit, schedule, and business model with feedback from key customer advocates.

    Mobilize influencers, make the change personal for a critical mass of leaders, and maintain high-impact two-way communications. Keep the motivation level high for all constituents through internal and external marketing, social media, and events.

  5. Advance: Institutionalize new learning and leadership creation. Formalize processes and expertise to enable knowledge sharing, continuous improvement, and new learning to characterize the day-to-day working of the organization going forward.

Prioritize roles by value-creation potential on the go-forward strategy, match the best talent to priority roles, and operationalize the talent match process to ensure that it is regularly revisited.

Notice that each of these steps has both a performance and a business health component. In my experience, the difference between success and failure is keeping current and future business health a top priority. Hard work is not enough – especially when paradigm shifts and large-scale change are involved.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 07/19/2019 ***

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