Friday, August 28, 2020

8 Keys To Success In Your Next New Business Interview

business-meetings-interviewStartups and small businesses are different worlds from big enterprises, so the qualities you need to get a job in a new venture are different. Corporate environments are looking for depth of technical skills and experience, while small businesses need everyone to be customer-centric, with a broad range of perspectives and experiences, in addition to the specific skill requested.

Thus, in my experience, if you want to be that ideal candidate for an attractive position in a new venture or a small business, I recommend that you orient your resume and your interview discussion to all of the following attributes, in addition to your skills and prior experience:

  1. Focus on “people-smarts” rather than “technical-smarts.” The key to success in new businesses is good communication with other people, both peers inside and customers outside. Applicants who are people-smart demonstrate strong social skills, are good at reading body language, and are sensitive to emotions. They keep their ego under control.

    Sir Richard Branson, for instance, had no technical credentials, but he was able to found many technical companies, including Virgin Atlantic airlines, Virgin Galactic spaceflight corporation, and over 200 other companies. His forte is working effectively with people.

  2. Highlight your focus on results, versus time worked. Every startup and small business owner knows that the key to success is getting things done, not just working hard. Everyone has to take some risks, make a decision, or solve the customer problem. In a new business, show that you can deal with uncertainty, and still produce results.

  3. Communicate your willingness to think outside the box. In a new business, all the boxes have not yet been defined, so the founder counts on you to recognize the need for a new process, or when an existing process is not working for the business or your customers. The best candidates will be able to show how they go beyond when needed.

    People with this quality are always positive and confident, and have a low need for approval. They don’t need orders from above to start an initiative, and they are not always your best friend. You need them to solve your toughest new business challenges.

  4. Convince me that you have a “never give up” mindset. The small business world is fraught with many tough challenges, and persistent employees are required to keep the workload from falling back on you. Here is another opportunity for you to supplement your interview with stories that illustrate determination and ability to resolve difficult problems.

    For example, you might relate a story about a time in school when really wanted to be the top dog on your debate team or favorite sport, only to suffer an early humiliating defeat. You never gave up, and after hard work finally won that trophy you had dreamed about.

  5. Have built positive relationships with people in every job. Business leaders know that employees who build good relationships with team members and customers are more productive, increase customer loyalty, and foster the team culture that every business needs to stay ahead of competition. Relationships are more critical than skills.

  6. Demonstrate your ability to listen and ask good questions. In a new business, everyone has the responsibility to understand the whole business, customer expectations, and competitive alternatives. Business leaders put a premium on people with a natural curiosity for how the business works, and attention to market trends.

  7. Show your record of commitment and accountability. People who are willing and able to take responsibility for a required task, no matter what their job title, are extremely valuable. Use anecdotes from previous roles and your private life to illustrate this sense of commitment, and your willingness to go beyond the job description to deliver.

  8. Dress and interact appropriately for the business role. This simple action will convey your respect for the company and the interviewer, as well as build their trust for you and your ability to fit in. In a small company, it is critical that you fit in well with the other team members, as well as the culture of the customer segment targeted by your business.

Your resume may get you the interview, but how you match these attributes is key to landing the job in a small business or startup environment. Don’t let the fact that you are short on technical skills or years of experience discourage you from putting your best foot forward to compete for that ideal job opportunity. It may be the one that makes your long-term career worth all the effort.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 08/14/2020 ***



Wednesday, August 26, 2020

7 Keys To Transforming Your Invention Into A Business

James_Dyson_inventionDo you have an invention that you believe is worth a million dollars? In fact, it could be worth much more than that, if you are able to use it to kickstart a successful business. Unfortunately, many inventors I know are stuck at this stage, being great technologists, but not so great as entrepreneurs. As a result, their inventions languish and never make them a dollar.

In fact, contrary to popular opinion, my experience as a business advisor tells me that building a business may actually be the hard part, compared to coming up with an innovative new idea, or even inventing the solution to a hard problem. You see, inventing a business is about attracting money from investors and customers, rather than spending money on a challenging dream.

Most advisors I know can only name one or two inventors, like James Dyson or Thomas Edison, who single-handedly become successful businessmen as well. Dyson, for example, invented over 5,000 prototypes before he perfected his bagless home vacuum technology with a constant suction. Then he was able to turn his genius to business and now has a $6.5 billion net worth.

If you consider yourself the consummate inventor, but haven’t yet broken through on the business side, I urge you to consider the following alternative keys to long-term success that inventors before you have capitalized on:

  1. Team with a business and marketing partner. Many inventors like to work alone, and are convinced that if their solution is amazing enough, investors and customers will come. In reality, the days of people finding you by word-of-mouth are gone. You need people with the same innovation in marketing that you have shown on the technical side.

    The Apple computer was really “invented” by Steve Wozniak, but it was the marketing and sales efforts of Steve Jobs that really led to Apple’s success. Don’t let your ego or fear prevent you from achieving the amazing business impact that you know is possible.

  2. Don’t aim for perfection before rolling out your invention. For the serious inventor, a given solution is never good enough. There is always the urge add just one more feature or enhancement, which makes the product harder to use for the average customer, more expensive, and delay introduction. It also increases your marketing and support costs.

    I urge every inventor and entrepreneur to adopt the minimum viable product (MVP) strategy. This approach emphasizes getting the product to market early, and making enhancements based wholly on customer and competitor reactions, not what you like.

  3. Switch your focus to expanding the market infrastructure. Often the challenge on the business side is not in selling your technology, but in providing the infrastructure. For example, electric vehicle technology has been around for decades, but it took Elon Musk to focus on standardizing battery technology and making charging stations easy to find.

  4. Target a higher customer need and ability to pay. You may have a technology solution to eliminate world hunger, but hungry people rarely have money to pay for the need, and governments don’t make good customers. The Segway personal motorized scooter is a great piece of technology, but most people just didn’t find it worth the cost.

  5. Formalize your intellectual property position. Many entrepreneurs are reluctant to complete the work to secure a patent on their invention, citing cost and secrecy concerns, only to find that investors lose interest when they learn you have no long-term advantage over potentially aggressive competitors. A business must have a sustainable win position.

  6. Emphasize simplicity versus level of change involved. I find that inventors are fond of referring to their new technology as “disruptive,” or a major advance. They don’t realize that both investors and customers see big changes as more risky, big learning curve required, and slow to be adopted. Save your technical bragging for the experts.

  7. Sell or license your invention to an existing company. Of course, this alternative requires you to swallow your pride, give up visible ownership, and likely forgo that financial bonanza you have always envisioned. Yet the joys of avoiding business survival stresses, as well as a royalty stream to finance future inventions, can be very satisfying.

My advice for every inventor is to remember that your technology creation is necessary but not sufficient to create a million-dollar business for you and your team. Once you have an invention, it’s time to put the same passion and innovation into creating a business, or selling it to someone who can do the business work for you. Only then will the fruits of your labor come drifting in.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 08/12/2020 ***



Friday, August 21, 2020

7 Critical Resources For A Thriving Startup Community

thriving-startup-communityAs a mentor to aspiring entrepreneurs, I often feel the frustration of someone trying to build a startup in the wrong place and time, and wrongly attributing their struggle to personal limitations. It may not seem fair, but passion and commitment alone are not enough to make your startup successful – every business needs critical resources and favorable location-specific conditions.

Many of you are convinced that it’s all about finding investors, but my experience indicates that the critical resources needed go far beyond money. I saw these addressed well in a new book, “The Startup Community Way,” by Brad Feld and Ian Hathaway. These guys have been building startup communities like Techstars for over 30 years, so they know what works and what doesn’t.

I support their summary of the seven capital assets that are the core required to create a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem, and produce real economic value for your startup and the rest of us:

  1. Intellectual capital – ideas, information, technologies. Contrary to popular belief, innovative new ideas don’t often spring from a single mind. You need to be stimulated by easy access to many sources of learning and leadership, including universities, research, and other businesses. The best ideas evolve iteratively, and are tested by the ecosystem.

    Many successful entrepreneurs, including Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, admit to reading many books a year, as well as participating in panels and forums on national and global challenges. A commitment to constant learning will raise your intellectual capital.

  2. Human capital – talent, knowledge, skills, experience. I believe the best way to be successful in business is to surround yourself with people smarter and more experienced than you. Building a startup is not a solo operation. You need partners, mentors, and investors who can complement your own resources to make it a win-win for all involved.

    Most people I know credit Steve Job’s success to his ability to attract top technical talent, starting with Steve Wozniak who designed the first Apple computer. Apple has since capitalized on the top technical talent in Silicon Valley to stay ahead of the competition.

  3. Financial capital – revenue, equity, debt, funding. Key sources of financial capital for any startup community must include friends and family, local angel investors, and venture capital access. Despite the reach of the Internet and cold calls, there is no substitute for warm introductions. Of course, ultimately you must appeal to real customers to survive.

    Good entrepreneur communities learn from each other, and from advisors, how to acquire and manage financial capital, through organizations such as EO. Others look for more elusive sources of funding in the infrastructure, such as grants and bank loans.

  4. Network capital – relationships, connectedness. Networking events create opportunities for like-minded and supportive people to build partnerships. Cocktail party networking is not enough. Look for business-oriented and industry conferences, hackathons, and Startup Weekends, with outside speakers and experienced leaders.

  5. Cultural capital – mindset, behaviors, history. Vibrant startup launching communities have a buzz around entrepreneurship, where founders are role models, leaders, and even local heroes. People look to entrepreneurship as a viable career path, with a supportive view, an understanding of risk and reward, and a tolerance for failure.

  6. Physical capital – infrastructure, density, place quality. Startup neighborhoods develop more readily in larger cities, like Boston, New York, London, or the San Francisco Bay Area. These areas also have the diversity of genders, races, and points of view to encourage innovation and be productive as teams in a complex environment.

  7. Institutional capital – markets, system of laws, stability. While these factors may be less of a problem in advanced economies, I hear regularly from aspiring entrepreneurs around the world who are struggling with the lack of a supporting infrastructure. While the opportunity there may be large, it sometimes pays to relocate to a more friendly locale.

If entrepreneurship is your dream, it pays to look beyond your personal drive and location for the capital to make your chosen lifestyle fun and successful, rather than a constant struggle against huge odds. If you are already there, it’s time to help us all by gathering the right assets creating a viable startup community for the rest of us. All our futures and the next generation depends on it.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 08/07/2020 ***



Wednesday, August 12, 2020

7 Keys To Being Viewed As Indispensable By Your Team

indispensible-business-team-memberIn my experience at all levels within large organizations as well as small ones, the team members valued the most, and usually promoted first, are the ones seen by others as indispensable or “goto” people. The challenge we all face is how to be one of these, without overworking, while still getting the right things done. What do these people know and do that you can’t do or learn?

I’ve been trying for years to net out the key elements of this answer, and I was pleased to find some real help in a new book, “The Art of Being Indispensable at Work,” by Bruce Tulgan. He has long been an advisor to business leaders all over the world, so he brings a global perspective, as well as his own to this issue. I’ll paraphrase here the key principles that we both have observed:

  1. Build real influence by doing the right thing for others. You get influence by facilitating success in others around you, by always doing the right things, and adding value to every single opportunity. You know you have power when other people really want to do things for you, make good use of your time, and contribute to your success.

    A key prerequisite to influence is trust. For example, at the executive level, Warren Buffett is such a trusted business leader that Bill Gates and other luminaries constantly seek him out for help and guidance on projects that have long-term business potential.

  2. Take charge but stay aligned with the chain of command. First you have to make the effort to learn how things work and what is allowed in the organization. Staying aligned requires communication up the line, as well as down, and diagonally. It’s important to take your own initiative, but don’t go rogue and overrun other people or processes.

    In my career, I’ve known many people who were willing to take on more work, but were frustrated and ultimately failed, due to their inability to work the chain of command. It always pays to stay aligned with key forces, both inside and outside the organization.

  3. Know when to say no and how to say yes. Remember that “yes” is where all the action is – to add value and build up your real influence. But to be effective, every “yes” must be timely, and preceded by some due diligence and a focused execution plan in your mind on what and how to deliver. Learn when to say no (or not yet), with the same certainty.

    A good no, well decided at the right time, is a huge favor to everybody. No one wins if you simply cannot do the job, are not allowed to do it, or you really believe that the work requested is not a good business decision. This is where trust and honesty are critical.

  4. Work smart by professionalizing everything you do. Brute force doesn’t work in business. Professionalizing means following best practices in your field, capitalizing on repeatable solutions, and using available tools or job aids. In today’s ever-changing world, you must keep expanding your repertoire, and build relationships with experts.

  5. Don’t be a juggler, and finish everything you start. Constant jugglers and multi-taskers will inevitably drop the ball. Take control of your time, break the work into bite-sized chunks, find openings in your schedule for each chunk, and keep your focus on results, rather than hours expended. Remember that “done” is better than “perfect.”

  6. Keep getting better and better at working together. Relationships are the key, but focus your relationship building on the “yes” work, not politicking or socializing. Celebrate successes with a big “thank-you,” and redirect potential finger pointing into lessons for continuous improvement. Plan ahead for the next opportunity to work together better.

  7. Promote collaboration throughout the organization. In addition to being a “go-to” person, you need to create new “go-to” people out of every “yes,” as well as find and use “go-to” people yourself. Foster a culture upward spiral where serving others is what being indispensable is all about. Other organizations will notice and emulate your lead.

In fact, the strategies outlined here are a win-win for both you and your organization. You get more recognition as an indispensable employee, and the company gets more of the right things done, greater team productivity, and more success in the longer term. You might even find that your work is fun and satisfying for a change. Wouldn’t that be a pleasant surprise?

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 07/28/2020 ***



Friday, August 7, 2020

10 Strategies For Success Long-Term As Well As Today

strategies-for-successEvery one of you has had to deal with the conflicting requirements of optimizing your business in the short term versus the long term. In the short term you need customers to find you at any price, and in the longer term you need revenue, profit, and return loyalty. Even a million users on your social media site won’t pay the bills until you sell some advertising or a premium service.

In a larger public company, it’s all about making your quarterly numbers, versus investing in strategic growth alternatives that may not pay off until several quarters later. The challenge we all have as business leaders is balancing the focus between business today and tomorrow.

Based on my own experience in both large and small companies, I agree it can be done, with the essential principles outlined in a new book, “Winning Now, Winning Later,” by David M. Cote, former Chairman and CEO of Honeywell. Although his focus is naturally on bigger companies, I contend that his recommended strategies apply equally well to entrepreneurs and startups:

  1. Demand a mindset of deep thinking for the long term. Don’t allow you or your team to succumb to the mistake of narrowing the scope of thinking to solving today’s problem only. That keeps people from pushing themselves to develop the kind of new solutions that will permanently change the business for the better, versus short-term band-aids.

  2. Connect operations today with long-term goals. In my experience, even in startups, longer-term strategy often gets pushed off the agenda due to current challenges. Overtly connect every operational problem to your strategy, rather than putting strategy on a different plane and making it only an annual event. Don’t make growth a big-bang event.

  3. Separate serious business threats from daily crises. The natural human tendency is for people to treat all problems as short-term, and apply patches rather than solutions. Strategic threats, including new competitors, market changes, and environmental issues need deeper analysis and full resolution, before they jeopardize your business survival.

  4. Make process improvement a constant focus. Don’t wait for a short-term crisis, or a long-term one, to force process improvements. By being proactive, and empowering and rewarding your frontline employees for improving processes, you will enhance your business productivity and growth in both the short term as well as the long term.

  5. Build and model a high-performance culture. Every business team becomes inwardly- focused by default, comparing themselves only emotionally to others they know within the organization. It’s your job as a leader to be the model high performer, quantify the team view with metrics, and expand awareness to the best outside competition and new tools.

  6. Attract, train, and reward only the best leaders. This strategy requires allocating a significant portion of your time, even as daily crises grow, to the nurturing of the leadership pipeline, mentoring high potentials, paying them well, and rewarding results with positive short-term feedback, as well as strategic promotional opportunities.

  7. Constantly scan the horizon for growth opportunities. Distinguish growth opportunities from survival efforts, and make sure they are adequately funded, rewarded, and measured. Get outside the company regularly to get feedback on future customer needs, emerging technologies, and the views of influencers and experts in the field.

  8. Explore partners and M&A to solidify your strategy. These days, the market is moving so fast that it is rarely adequate to rely only on internal development to keep up with change. You need to be constantly assessing mergers and acquisitions, as well as divestitures. Hone your process for due diligence and integrating these new elements.

  9. Proactively prepare for downturns and recoveries. Make sure you are paying attention to macroeconomic and customer trends, and planning early moves, rather than waiting for the crisis. This means identifying initiatives early, communicating openly with your team, and asking for their help on the dilemmas of production cuts and layoffs.

  10. Initiate succession planning for all roles, including yours. Don’t let promotions and succession planning be driven only by your HR function. Everyone, including your Board, should have a role. Make sure internal top performers are vetted, as well as outside candidates. Can you name the top three candidates for key roles in your organization?

If you look deeply into the success of the most recognized business leaders today, such as Jeff Bezos, you will find that they practice many or all of these principles. Even though your work and solutions for short-term objectives often seem to conflict with strategic goals, I am convinced that, with focus, you too can balance these priorities, and build a legacy for all of us to be proud of.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 07/23/2020 ***



Wednesday, August 5, 2020

7 Ways Every Entrepreneur Should Evaluate A New Idea

Board-Artificial-RobotAs an advisor to entrepreneurs, one of the most common requests I get is for an evaluation of a next startup idea. I try to explain that even the most innovative idea will fail if it is not a good fit for you at this time, so the question I ask them is “why you now” rather than “why this solution now?” The right person can make any idea a business success, and the wrong one will always struggle.

The reality is that I can’t judge any idea in your context, because I don’t know your passions, knowledge base, and experiences. If you show me a written business plan, I can assess it from a technical perspective, but that doesn’t tell me if you are the right person to create the business. Thus I can only recommend some context for you to make your own idea and business decisions:

  1. Play to your passions and personal interests. Pick an arena that gets your creative juices flowing, rather than one that everyone says is the next big thing. If your goals in life revolve around social change or the environment, aim in that direction for your startup, rather than maximizing revenue and profit. If you are not motivated, you won’t succeed.

    Entrepreneur Tony Hsieh, who founded Zappos, was passionate in his belief that he could “deliver happiness” to customers, before making a profit, through innovative moves like surprising 80% of customers with free overnight shipping. He succeeded well in both.

  2. Trust your background and intellectual strengths. The most successful entrepreneurs focus on solving a problem that they personally have experienced, and are convinced they fully understand. Also the same applies to dealing with the business elements, such as marketing, business operations, and finances. You may need a partner on this one.

    Bill Gates learned to appreciate the power of computers at a very young age, but was frustrated that available models were large and hard to program. He invented BASIC and Windows, snagged Steve Ballmer for marketing, and Microsoft helped change the world.

  3. Consider your access to resources for startup efforts. Take a realistic view of your ability to assemble the necessary funding, and attract the right people. Your strengths in physics and electronics may be excellent, but most of us could never attract the funding required for a new microchip process. Maybe you need to start with a smaller idea.

    Experts estimate the cost of the first next-generation chip factory to be at least $10 billion. Unless you have deep pockets, you probably need some strong connections and support from the people at Intel or AMD before committing your entrepreneurial life to this effort.

  4. Assess the time and effort you are willing to commit. Most startup ideas will fail, if you approach them like a hobby that you can work on occasionally and on weekends. It’s hard to win when other entrepreneurs, such as Elon Musk, are known to work hundred-hour weeks, and don’t have a family to balance. Your time is a critical limited resource.

  5. Count the depth of your relationships with key people. Most successful startups have deep relationships with experts who can mentor and support them, or provide access to critical resources and funding. There is no entitlement in this business. You need to enjoy building the new relationships you need, and nurturing the ones you have, to succeed.

  6. Check your interest in learning how to fill the gaps. No matter how experienced and knowledgeable you are, every startup is a new learning process. If you don’t enjoy learning, stick to ideas and businesses that are “cookie-cutter” versions of what you already know. Your success depends on enjoying the journey as well as the destination.

  7. Test your ability to communicate value to others. Some of the highest potential ideas and businesses require a massive educational and sales effort, which may not be your forte or interest. Very few ideas these days have such obvious value that “if we build it, they will come.” Most startups require leading a team of people, and engaging customers.

So before you make those cold calls to me, or any other constituency, for an assessment of the viability of your next great idea, my advice if for you to take a hard look at your own drivers and resources, per the items listed here. I’m convinced that there are more than enough startup ideas around, such that you can pick one to match your profile, and we all win with your success.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 07/21/2020 ***



Sunday, August 2, 2020

5 Ways To Build Startup Resilience And Avoid Failure

entrepreneur-resilienceOne of the characteristics that every good investor looks for in an aspiring entrepreneur is resilience, or the ability to learn from and bounce back after a failure. You don’t have to have previous startup problems to show resilience – everyone should have a story of tackling a tough challenge with minimal success, but using the failure to move on and achieve an objective.

With startups, almost every entrepreneur I know has failed at least once, often several times, but never gave up, and ultimately achieved their goal. Evan Williams, for example, before cofounding Twitter, started a podcasting platform named Odeo. The platform couldn’t compete with Apple’s podcast section of iTunes, so he recast his efforts into microblogging, and the rest is history.

The challenge is how you can enhance your own ability to bounce back, and highlight that attribute to your team and outside constituents, including investors and business partners. If done well, such failures can actually give you an advantage, rather than a disadvantage. In my experience, here are some key preparation strategies that work:

  1. Practice and highlight your conviction to never give up. Many experts tell me that more startups fail simply because their founder gives up, than for any other reason. Real entrepreneurs have told me that they become energized when told that they are facing an insurmountable barrier. Their satisfaction comes from proving nay-sayers wrong.

    Howard Schultz, who built Starbucks into a billion-dollar success, started with a strong conviction that people would pay for “an experience” of fresh-brewed cappuccino by the cup, rather than buying equipment. He never gave up, despite multiple setbacks.

  2. Actively seek and learn from the counsel of smart people. Some entrepreneurs, unfortunately, become more and more isolated in hard times, or surround themselves only with friends and supporters. Make sure you actively interact with and show appreciation for people smarter than you, even if they don’t always agree with you.

    Both Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, although extremely successful in their own domains, share a great relationship as mentors for each other in learning how to deal with today’s challenging business and social problems. People who listen are always more resilient.

  3. Demonstrate decisiveness rather than paralysis by fear. Making any decision is almost always better in business than no decision. You have to look at making decisions as a positive learning opportunity, rather than a chance to fail. Every investor wants to see entrepreneurs who are willing to take responsibility for action, and get it done.

    When it’s time for a decision, your gut instinct should never be your only input. All of us have access via the Internet to multiple expert sources, insights, and data to support our own experience, to make more relevant and timely decisions.

  4. Maintain an optimistic outlook, rather than pessimistic. Optimism is a mindset fueled by confidence in yourself and an ability to gather and filter knowledge. Confidence is built by finding your purpose, playing to your strengths, and taking tough challenges in small steps to show progress. It also helps to emulate the success of others with similar goals.

    Don’t be lulled into thinking that optimism is a personality trait you either have or don’t. Optimism can be learned, by really looking for your successes, rewarding yourself for your progress, and using a mentor to steer you in the right direction.

  5. Use metrics in lieu of feelings to measure progress. Don’t let your feelings get you down, with no quantification of what failed, or what you need to do to come back. People who set quantified goals and objectives for themselves and their teams, and measure results, always know where they stand and are not surprised by feedback from others.

The ability to bounce back also requires continuing attention to your physical needs and feelings. Don’t forget to maintain a healthy balance between business and personal demands, including family, sleep, and time off for enjoyable activities. Make sure that you take the time to internalize the strength that comes from struggling, and the insights that come from failure.

Then you too can become one of the rare entrepreneurs, sought by every investor, who continually bounce back stronger from every failure until they achieve success beyond everyone’s wildest dreams.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 07/19/2020 ***