Saturday, June 12, 2021

Entrepreneurs Are Needed To Make Web Searches Smarter

Web-3.0Soon you should be able to ask your browser or smart phone context-specific questions like "Where should I take my wife for a good movie and dinner?" Your browser would consult its intelligence of what you and she like and dislike, take into account your current location, and then suggest the right movies and restaurants. If you are the first to deliver this, your startup might be the next Google!

This has been a long-time dream of Tim Berners-Lee, the man who (really) invented the World Wide Web. He calls his dream the ‘Semantic Web’ (or Web 3.0), meaning it understands user context. He and many other experts believe that the Semantic Web will act more like a personal assistant than a search engine.

If you add the next generation of natural language processing (NLP), you will be able to ask Google Voice Search or Apple Siri the questions right through your smart phone. The system will compile your interests in your local storage, so the more you use it, the more it learns about you, and the more relevant will be the results.

These virtual personal assistants still have some work to do to meet the key attributes that we have grown to expect from a live personal assistant. Here is an entry-level benchmark for the new software personal assistants:

  • Simple and intuitive communication. A personal assistant must be able to understand intent and context, as well as learn common acronyms and shorthand phrases, whether written or spoken. Siri is a step in this direction, but still has very limited learning and context sensing abilities.

  • Technology environment savvy. A good assistant know how get things done efficiently, recognizing user hardware and software limitations. In today’s mobile hardware environment, that means able to set up meetings, convert text messages to voice, find contact information quickly, and search the Web intelligently for outside info.

  • Memorable personality. Every personal assistant has to deal with a variety of moods and people every day. This requires a pleasant, outgoing personality, with politeness and respect always. They must also be able to balance courtesy with assertiveness when necessary to insulate you from unwanted solicitation and other distractions.

  • Good organizational skills. A personal assistant must be highly organized and detail-oriented. That means total handling of the calendar, scheduling appointments, taking calls, logging messages, screening e-mail and doing other duties with some sense of priority and problem-solving.

I believe the current major drive to mobile devices and apps has slowed the progress toward this new semantic environment, but it’s coming. Of course, many are still fighting it as well, due to privacy concerns. In my view, the increasing consumer demand for personal marketing and personal assistants will soon overcome paranoia, and reasonable boundaries will emerge.

There are already many examples of startups edging into this space. On the basic search engine front, WolframAlpha is an amazing computational engine often used by Siri, which creates intelligent results, graphs, and reports from any natural language question. But we are a long way from agents that can do full natural language processing from voice and think on their own.

Current advertising and public relations startups are already poised along these lines, all the way from clothes shopping, art galleries, online advertising, to managing press releases. In some ways, these aren't that different from the old Amazon.com "recommendation engine," which suggests new products based on your surfing and buying habits, but they go much further.

Just think of the fertile ground all this opens for startups! If you’re looking for that ‘million dollar idea’ to build a plan around, here is your chance. But don’t wait too long, because the din for the Semantic Web is getting louder and louder. Catch the wave soon or it will pass you by!

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, June 11, 2021

6 Keys To Reducing Team Pain From Market Uncertainty

business-team-stressOver my years as an advisor to new businesses and startups, I have learned that the only certainty that I can offer entrepreneurs is the fact they will face many uncertainties. So my first advice is that if you can’t handle uncertainty, don’t even start down that road. On the other hand, entrepreneurs have a reputation for being one of the happiest and healthiest career paths around.

Your team members, despite what you may think is reasonable, often suffer more than you as a founder from uncertainty in the workplace. However, I’m convinced that you can mitigate many of these anxieties by your actions, so I was pleased to see similar insights in a new book, “Anxiety at Work: 8 Strategies to Help Teams Build Resilience, Handle Uncertainty, and Get Stuff Done.”

Authors Adrian Gostick and Chestor Elton, with their deep backgrounds as executive coaches and organizational consultants, recommend some simple methods, consistent with my own beliefs, to reduce the pain of uncertainty, and increase productivity, in your teams and employees:

  1. Make it okay for them to not have all the answers. As a business leader or manager, it’s important that you acknowledge as a role model that you nor anyone has all the answers. You must clearly delineate between issues where answers are known, such as process problems, versus market challenges, where forces are unpredictable.

    One approach I suggest is to encourage structured debates on issues, first admitting that your ideas may be wrong, and encouraging their input, without penalty if they don’t have answers, or their suggestions don’t work. This leads to a minimal anxiety environment.

  2. Loosen your grip during ambiguous situations. Many of us have a tendency to micromanage and become more controlling during high-visibility uncertain challenges. This typically causes more anxiety and stress for all, and reduces thinking outside the box, creative efforts, and the risk taking necessary to get to the best solution. Listen first.

    It’s also critical that you stay positive during stressful and uncertain situations. Your positivity will keep the stress level down, and the productivity level up for everyone on the team, including yourself. You will be the role model, and people will follow your lead.

  3. Ensure everyone knows what’s expected of them. Anxiety will be ratcheted up when team members see constantly changing or non-specific targets, or no guidance on how to achieve their goals. When times are uncertain, measurement timeframes should be short. Good job descriptions are a start, but regular feedback and active listening are a must.

    As a general rule, if an employee is asking questions about minutia, it’s fair to assume that they are unfamiliar with the process, and they need more training or coaching. Don’t assume that what is common sense to you is equally obvious to all team members.

  4. Keep people focused on what can be controlled. When team members concentrate their thoughts on what they can’t control, such as an economic downturn, anxiety grows. Don’t use unreachable targets to push teams to their limits. Help team members realize what they cannot change, and restructure their to-do lists to other valuable contributions.

    Help your team to recognize that sometimes, all they can really control is their effort and attitude. When you put your energy into the things that you can control, you'll be much less stressed, and much more productive, as a manager or an employee.

  5. Show a bias to action and how to accept risk. It’s always necessary to make decisions and move forward, even in the face of uncertainty. Analysis paralysis and perfectionism have no place in today’s rapidly changing environments. Make every forward movement a learning moment, no matter what the outcome. Show humility and own your mistakes.

  6. Don’t be afraid to deliver fair, tough coaching. The best constructive feedback includes specific ideas for improvement, instead of generalities, along with meaningful praise in the right measure. Constructive feedback minimizes uncertainty by clarifying expectations, and builds confidence that one can improve and be recognized.

Overall, it’s important to remember that business uncertainties lead to the opportunities for you to win competitively, and succeed in the long run. Your challenge is to resolve these challenges more quickly and more effectively for your customers. To do this, you need a team that is excited and motivated by the challenges. Make it a win-win situation for them and for your business.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 05/27/2021 ***

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Wednesday, June 9, 2021

10 Hints That Now May Be The Time For A New Venture

business-startup-ideasMany budding entrepreneurs struggle mightily with that first step – out of their comfort zone and into the unknown. They keep asking people like me whether the time is right, and the truth is that there’s never an ideal time to start your own business. It’s like starting a personal relationship, if you wait for exactly the right time, you’ll never do it.

I’ve talked to many experts, and everyone has his own view of the right personal attributes, and the right business conditions to jump in. In my own view, the recovering pandemic economy is ripe for new startups, but successful startups are more about the right person, than the right idea or the right climate. So the real challenge is looking inward to check your alignment with these clues:

  1. Running a business is a passion you crave. This is a necessary, but not sufficient reason to start a business now. It’s not the same as “I want to change the world (volunteer for a good cause)” or “I’m tired of the corporate grind (take a vacation).” It does mean you have a compelling new business idea, and a willingness to face risk.
  1. You know what needs to be done, and not afraid to make the decisions. This is the right context for being your own boss. You get great satisfaction from overcoming all obstacles, and you have no problem with living or dying by your own decisions. You have never had a problem putting together a plan and making it happen.
  1. The opportunity to make real money excites you. You have read all the stories of Google and Apple hitting on a great idea, beating the odds, and being worth millions in just a couple of years. You like the idea that most of the money you make will be yours, not just merged into corporate profits.
  1. You believe the economy has tilted the odds in your favor. The recent pandemic has definitely opened up opportunities for new products, and skilled people at lower costs are abundant. Many of the great entrepreneurs of the past started their companies near business recessions and disruptions.
  1. You get to set the deadlines, and manage your own priorities. You have always felt that you can do more than expected by current bosses, if allowed to do it on your own schedule with your own milestones. Your self-motivation is more effective for you than any arbitrary rewards and even salary increases.
  1. You get to do the interesting things, for a change. First of all, the business you intend to set up is your dream, not someone else’s. Within that context, you can delegate or find partners for things that bore you, like marketing, rather than feel that you have been assigned to do the least interesting work.
  1. A variety of challenges stretches your abilities to the maximum. If you love to learn new things, and are stimulated by change, you will love the new business environment. Every day is different, from dealing with creative elements, to financial challenges, marketing and sales, and customers of every type.
  1. Your office would be where you want it. Many entrepreneurs enjoy working from their home, where they are more comfortable, and can interact better with their family. Some like an old eclectic loft downtown, or a local coffee shop to minimize the commute. In these days of global links, you can run the business from halfway around the world.
  1. What you envision doesn’t seem all that hard to you. In fact, the cost of entry into most businesses has come down greatly in the last twenty years. You can now start an e-commerce site for $100, or develop software applications for smart phones for a few thousand. The right reason to start a business is because you have done your homework, and are convinced that you have the skills and knowledge to do it easily.
  1. You are really ready for a second career. This is especially applicable to Boomers and anyone who has had a successful career, but now ready for a new challenge, with a little time on their hands. The good part of having your own business is that you don’t even have to give up your first job to start the second.

If a few of these reasons are calling your name, now is the time to start building your business. There's no better time, especially if people around you are hesitating. It means you'll be facing a lot less competition. What are you waiting for?

Marty Zwilling

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Monday, June 7, 2021

7 Keys To The Best Internet Name For Your New Venture

internet-domain-nameI’m sure you have all been frustrated at least once by not being able to get the Internet domain name you want for your company. Who owns all of these names, and should you ever buy one for a premium? The simple answer is that if you want to be found on the Web, the perfect domain name can be well worth a few thousand dollars, but don’t pay a fortune for one.

The market for domain investors has taken a big step down in the last few years, since the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has rolled out top-level domains for every country, like .us and .me (for Montenegro), as well as allowing companies to set up their own top-level domains. For instance, BMW now owns all domain names ending in .bmw.

Gone are the days when people like Frank Schilling and Kevin Ham built $300 million empires by speculating on premium domain names, since the possibilities are now endless. Yet people still pay big money to get the name they want. Recent examples include Christmas.com selling for $3.1M and Angel.com selling for $2M.

The right place for startups is to target today's average of approximately $10-$20 per year for a .com domain name from GoDaddy or one of the hundreds of other domain name registrars. Certain extensions such as .tv and .vs range in the $20 to $40 range for a year registration, but you may be able to find sales on other extensions for as little as fifty cents per year.

So how do you decide if you should be looking at the low end or the high end of these ranges? I suggest following these steps to get the name you need for your business:

  1. First pick the right company and matching domain name. The names don’t have to match, but it sure makes branding and recognition easier if they are at least similar. Starting and name a company today is a world-wide decision. Make sure the names don’t have negative and even obscene connotations in another language.
  1. Register the name and related suffixes, if available. Registration of the domain name is easy and simple through most hosting sites, if nobody already owns it. It may be a good idea to also buy between three and twenty names with spellings and suffixes that are close to your primary address, or that could be confused with it.
  1. Rename your company to match an available domain name. With today’s pervasive Internet searching and shopping, the domain name may well be more important than your company name. As a startup, cost to rename your company and change existing collateral may be less than dealing with unmatched names or premium domain pricing.
  1. Otherwise, find the owner. With 150 million names already in use, chances are someone else may have already snagged your favorite. First you have to find the current owner, using WHOIS, or other lookup functions available on the net. Ask if the domain name is for sale, but don’t tip your hand by making a specific offer.
  1. Negotiate for the name. Contemplate your available budget, the potential value of the name to you, and the range of possible prices mentioned above. Then decide whether you are game to complete the negotiation yourself, or whether you should consider an intermediary, like DomainAgents, and expect to pay a 10-20% commission fee.
  1. Consider leasing or lease to own. If the price is too high, work with the domain name owner to agree on a “lease-to-own” deal for the domain name. This will allow your company to build some assets before committing the capital. Prices may continue down, or in the worst case, you won’t need the name for the long term.
  1. Get the agreement in writing as quickly as possible. Once you have a deal, immediately open up an escrow account, like Escrow.com. The faster you fund the account the better chance you have of the seller not being able to back out. Remember that many domain moguls don’t have a sterling reputation, so no handshake deals.

Whether by crafting a great new name or wresting one from a previous owner, every new business needs to master the domain game early, and it need not break the bank. Spending big money up front, or changing domains down the line are both painful and costly. Have you done the proper homework on your preferred domain name?

Marty Zwilling

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Sunday, June 6, 2021

6 Reasons Starting Another Dating Site May Be Tough

online-dating-mobileOnline dating sites usually fail because online dating usually fails. The simple reason is that everyone expects quick results, no one can make that happen, and users get very unhappy very quickly. Even the main industry rag, Online Dating Magazine, admits that the success rate is a mere one percent, compared to an estimated fifty percent for startups in general.

I certainly understand why everyone wants to take a shot at it – the “need” is huge. In the U.S. alone, the target demographic for these services is 125 million singles that are between 19 and 65. Then there are the forty percent of frequent users that are already married. Some say that’s a billion dollar “recession proof” opportunity. The spend is still going up.

But make no mistake about it, this is a tough and oversaturated market to enter at this stage. Here are six key reasons, from a business perspective:

  1. Direct competition is huge. There is no opportunity for “first mover” advantage here. The same Online Dating Magazine estimates that there are more than 1,500 online dating services online in the U.S. alone, with 1,000 new online dating services opening every year. Some estimates say there are up to 8.000 competitors worldwide.

  1. Online dating fraud is on the rise. Online dating fraud rose by 150% percent in the last couple of years as scammers and hucksters turned up the false charm and predatory trolling, according to a recent article from the FTC. Lawsuit claims and Nigerian con artists are up, and disillusionment is growing. The honeymoon is over.
  1. Entry cost is very high. This business suffers from what Paul Graham calls the ‘chicken and the egg problem‘ – no one wants to use a dating site with only a few users. So sites have to invest heavily in viral marketing to achieve critical mass, which competes with current social networks, while users expect to join both for free.
  1. Intellectual property is tough. It’s hard to invent and patent more “scientific” methods on how to match people. Most people, especially women, don’t even want to feel like they can be ‘matched’ by a computer. E-harmony.com has already defined the 29 DIMENSIONS® of compatibility several years ago -- how many more could there be?
  1. Social networks. “Social networking” is really the new term for dating, with mega-sites like Facebook, and the hyperlocal site Foursquare. After all, isn’t dating all about making new “friends,” and finding them in all the right places? The latest is Facebook Dating, unveiled a couple of years ago, to help you find the perfect match on the social network.
  1. Sophisticated search engines. I’m already seeing search engine parameters that can match image features, so singles will soon be able to search cyberspace for their ideal partner, without the need to join any dating site. How about the next generation search engine, answering the question, “Who is my ultimate soul mate?”

Perhaps I shouldn’t suggest that no one can win in this space. However, because 99 out of 100 fail, and because some have an unsavory reputation, you won’t find many angel or VC investors who are interested. Plan to focus on that other popular tier of investors – founders, family, friends, and fools.

Certainly if you expect to get any traction in this market, you need some real innovation. The trend is to more mobile and niche markets. But you better hurry, because potential winners like Farmers Only, Herpes-Date.com, and DateMyPet are already taken.

So please don’t send me any more business plans along these lines, looking for investor funding, with no marketing budget, and promising huge returns. Investors are looking for real innovation, not copycats with more bells and whistles. So are customers. Let’s give it to them.

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, June 5, 2021

6 Keys To Recognizing Business Bubbles Ready To Burst

bubbles-ready-to-burstIn finance, a bubble is too much money chasing assets, greater asset production and a herd mentality. In startup business plans, a bubble is too many entrepreneurs and too many investors chasing the latest “next big thing,” like Google search engine, Facebook social network, or Amazon e-commerce site. In all these cases, a bust is inevitable, and everyone may lose.

The big question is how to spot these bubbles and jump to a better alternative, rather than get sucked into the vortex. Vikram Mansharamani provided some great insights on the financial side in his recent book, “Boombustology: Spotting Financial Bubbles Before They Burst,” and I believe these can be equally applied to bubbles for startup growth opportunities as follows:

  1. Avoid the herd mentality. In theory, this is called the “emergence of group order” or swarm mentality, where everyone rushes in without regard to whether there is enough food to go around. For startups, investors usually toss out business plans with ten or more competitors, especially if a couple have the penetration of a Facebook or Google.
  1. Overconfidence. In finance, “this time is different” is the beginning of a new bubble. In startups, it is the idea that “this solution is different,” without sufficient analysis of base anchoring features, differentiation features, or no new early adopters. Change is always hard, so people already on Amazon are not easy convert to another e-commerce system.
  1. Supply and demand ignored. We all believe that supply and demand meet to create stable prices (reflexive). But sometimes higher prices create higher demand, causing a boom. Busts result when lower prices stimulate more supply. In startups, a great success like Google causes busts by stimulating more supply, without regard to demand.
  1. Cheap money. The Austrian school of economics asserts that “cheap money is the root of all evil” as an explanation for all boom and bust cycles. This also works for startups, where cheap money occurs when too many investors jump on a bandwagon. Experts argue that a higher percentage of startups fail with too much money, rather than too little.
  1. Policy-driven distortions. Government actions sometimes meddle with normal supply and demand equilibriums, or money allocations. In startups these days, governments are incenting health and alternative energy solutions, to intentionally create a bubble. All too often, that leads to a bust for startups who have not adequately prepared or executed.
  1. High valuation, low profit. A sure sign of a bubble is when assets are artificially valued high, without a corresponding intrinsic value or cash flow. Social media darling Twitter is an example of these bubbles. In my opinion, now is not the time to bet your startup on another Twitter clone.

Every startup wants to be the one to start the next bubble, but these are impossible to predict. It’s much easier to spot current bubbles, and resist the urge to build a “me too” product. The focus should always be on execution, revenue, and profits. Vision, growth over profit, and eyeballs won’t do it every time. Startups that master iteration, momentum, and the ability to pivot will win.

I’m personally looking to Gen-Y as the source of the “next big thing,” that will become the next bubble. To the rest of us, new great things often start out looking like toys, and Gen-Y knows their toys. In addition, they have less baggage, more creativity, and already understand the market segments with the most buying power.

I also believe we are beginning a new wave of startup investing, now that the pandemic appears to be behind us. Angels are becoming more aggressive as their stock market and real estate assets recover, and institutions again have earnings to risk in venture capital funds. It’s a good time to start some new bubbles and win. Don’t let the fragile old ones burst your bubble as well.

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, June 4, 2021

Search Engine Ranking Can Make Or Break Your Business

search-engine-rankingProbably every one of you who has a business and a website have been approached through email or personal contact, and asked to spend money on paid search results (appear on the first page of search results, despite low SEO rank). What most people don’t realize is, according to recent statistics, despite top positioning, only a quarter of sites selected comes from paid search.

Thus I recommend that you stick with organic search, and use SEO to raise your ranking. Paid search engine ranking (PPC) is just buying advertising for your business. Their computers then merge your ads with search results when users search words imply an interest in your products. If you sell widgets, and a user is searching for widgets, your ad will appear on the first page.

This is NOT the same as or better than Search Engine Optimization (SEO). SEO is not placing ads, but tuning your website so that it is more highly ranked by Google, and featured in the first page of results, not in an ad beside the results. PPC is sometimes called “buying your way into search results.” Both have the same end goal of getting people to your website.

With PPC, the goal is for the search user to not only see your ad, but to click on it to get to your website (click-through), and buy your widget (conversion to sale). In this context, there are many parameters and concepts you need to understand before you buy advertising:

  • Cost per impression (CPI). This cost model is the most like traditional newspaper and television advertising, where advertisers pay for each ad appearance or page-view (impression) on a search result page, even if the user pays no attention. For Google, this is pay per impression (PPI), or pay per mille (PPM) per thousand impressions.

  • Cost per click (CPC). In this more popular model these days, advertisers do not pay for each appearance of the ad, but only when a user clicks on an ad and is redirected to the advertiser website. For sites displaying the ads, this is called pay per click (PPC).

  • Cost per action (CPA). Another alternative was added a couple of years ago to mitigate the problem of people clicking just to get paid (click fraud). It pays only if a customer clicks through AND takes a further action (conversion), such as buying a product or filling out a web form. The display side is called pay per action (PPA) or pay per lead (PPL).

  • Keyword research and budget forecasting. All these models start with the advertiser choosing the right search keywords to match user searches. Popular keywords have higher costs. PPC experts charge you to research, analyze, and estimate hit ratios, to optimize your success and set a campaign spending budget for you.

  • Campaign setup and ad copy writing. There are many additional variables that the inexperienced marketer may not even think to consider: competition and positioning strategies, budgeting, match types, search and content syndication, and ad copy testing, as well developing the best ad wording and layouts.

  • Tracking and performance reporting. Advertising is all about getting the most results for the least cost. You may be getting great traffic, but poor conversions. Other PPC experts will track your campaign from click to transaction, providing you with detailed reports on and return on investment (ROI).

If you do all these things right as a search results advertiser, you will make money from selling your product. If you do all these things right by displaying other people’s ads on your website or blog, you will make money from advertising – like Google and Facebook, who offer services for free, and still make millions in revenue.

But either way, it requires big numbers to work (traffic), click-through rates are small, and the pay per click is tiny. Until your traffic is in the millions of page-views per month, don’t expect to live off the conversions or other people’s ads. For credibility with investors, stick to the organic SEO model and other revenue streams until you have the high traffic to survive on PPC revenue.

Marty Zwilling

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Wednesday, June 2, 2021

6 Key Rules To Stay Competitive In The Digital World

digital competitionIn case you hadn’t noticed, the key elements of a competitive advantage for your business have changed as businesses move online, and your domain is instantly global. The old approaches of controlling distribution channels, saturating retail, and methodically scaling your brand awareness don’t protect you anymore. The real challenge is to win massive consumer preference repeatedly.

As a business advisor, I have to recommend even to established companies that they review and revamp their competitive strategy now, even if it appears to be working today. I like the summary of the competitive reality in a new book, “Rethinking Competitive Advantage: New Rules for the Digital Age,” by Ram Charan, who relates a wealth of current experience from global clients:

  1. Customers expect a personalized experience. Features, availability, and brand are just the price of entry. Customers today quickly get beyond these, and put a competitive priority on the experience of others, reflected in reviews and social media, and their own total experience with your sales process, delivery, returns, and support on their schedule.

    As a simple example, the Wal-Mart website now shows shoppers more products that they may like, based on previous purchases. The Wal-Mart home page is customized for each shopper based on location, local weather, and the customer search and purchase history.

  2. Algorithms and data are required to compete. Manual tracking and occasional surveys won’t keep you competitive in today’s high volume and rapidly changing market. Today’s digital leaders all have a digital platform – a set of algorithms stitched together to collect and analyze key data, and tune their algorithms dynamically for every transaction.

    You need a platform that is comfortable with the global scope of today’s market, with it’s wide range of social and economic cultures, trends, and needs. Simple metrics and your personal knowledge of the industry can’t keep up with all the relevant competitive forces.

  3. You need to be part of a larger ecosystem. Apple pulled ahead of other mobile phones in its early days largely because it cultivated an ecosystem of software developers who created iPhone apps to meet every consumer niche and need. Amazon attracts third-party sellers with tools and processes that make then all winners in the marketplace.

    In many cases, growing the ecosystem is so important that your best competitive move may be to invest in facilitating “competition,” such as Tesla Motors giving away their battery patents to other auto providers, without royalties, to build the ecosystem.

  4. Find funders who seek long-term returns. Money-making is different in the digital age. Short-term earnings per share may be low, even as revenues and cash burned are high. Look for investors and organizations who practice 10x or 100x thinking, rather than earnings-per-share (EPS) every quarter. These tolerate negative cash flows for growth.

    That means that many companies are now forgoing the rush to go public (IPO), in favor of major equity investments from specialized venture capital funds, such as Japan’s SoftBank. These have the vision and the resources to fund long-term digital success.

  5. Create a team culture for personalized service. Breaking work into bite-size missions and giving teams the autonomy to figure out the “how” leads to faster, better decision-making. If you have more than three organizational layers below the top executive level, you may not be ready for digital competitors. Select new hires with attention to values.

    Jeff Bezos at Amazon credits much of his success to this approach. He often talks about how he has learned how to disagree and yet commit to creative proposals from his teams, due to trust and the level of confidence he has for their customer insight.

  6. Leaders must constantly create change as a barrier. Competitive leaders today must be hungry for what’s next and willing to create and destroy. They need the mental capacity to imagine a future space that doesn’t exist, and the confidence to overcome whatever obstacles they might encounter, using AI, data, teams, and algorithms.

One thing hasn’t changed in the business world – competition. It’s now more intense than ever, with the cost of entry going down, and new players easily able to join the fray from anywhere in the world. Thus it’s more important than ever that you keep up with the latest trends and rules. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security that what worked yesterday will work tomorrow.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 05/20/2021 ***

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Monday, May 31, 2021

8 Keys To Developing Exciting Business Relationships

business-relationshipsAs an advisor to new businesses, I’m a strong believer that no one succeeds alone in business. Yet I find that many entrepreneurs struggle and fail with that transition from personally developing an innovative new idea, to building all the relationships necessary to transform their idea into a successful business. These relationships include investors, an operational team, and customers.

I found that challenge confirmed and amplified in an inspirational new book, “No One Succeeds Alone: Learn Everything You Can from Everyone You Can,” by Robert Reffkin, which chronicles his own ups and downs through many companies, to success at Compass, Inc. He credits his own rise to this strategy, and I certainly agree with his key guidelines on how to get there:

  1. Dream big – this inspires strong people to join you. You won’t learn much from a small dream or an idea that has minimal risk, and you won’t inspire the people you need to help you. Thinking small won’t stir their passion, create meaning, or spur creative thinking. Strong people love an “impossible” challenge with a large opportunity.

  2. Move fast – speed highlights energy and impact. Moving fast is about going from not knowing to knowing as quickly as possible, and everyone loves to maximize this learning. The world around you is moving faster and faster these days, and not moving fast likely means you are not keeping up with the people and customers you need to succeed.

  3. Learn from reality – test new ideas and get feedback. Learning from reality takes humility, courage, and really listening to others, but it allow you to change quickly for the better, and you will enjoy the journey, as well as the destination. Study what has come before, capture what works right now, and ask customers what they want in the future.

  4. Be solutions driven – to drive success and learning. Ideas and problems are the opportunity, but collaboration with the right people gives you the energy to achieve great results. This will give you the confidence to surface breakthrough ideas, proactively attack impossible challenges, and lead others to leverage what you both have learned.

  5. Obsess on opportunity to improve customer’s lives. The more you listen to other people about opportunities, the more you will see, and the quicker your business will be responding. If you want to do something more meaningful with your life, find a passion for a customer-driven higher purpose, such as a social need or improving the environment.

  6. Build relationships with respect and without ego. Check your ego at the door since outsized egos make trust and teamwork nearly impossible. Inspire everyone you interact with today to feel like they want to work with you again tomorrow, and learn more from you. Give credit and thanks freely knowing you will be repaid handsomely in other ways.

  7. Play to your strengths, and seek strengths in others. Don’t waste time trying to fix or hide all your imperfections. Spend the time capitalizing on the strengths of others on your team, and focusing on your own strengths, to maximize results and minimize time spent. Trying to be the best at everything that needs to be done isn’t fun and doesn’t work.

  8. Bounce back from every failure with passion. The truest test of character is not how you act when things are going great – it’s what you do and how effectively you use other people to recover when you hit bottom. Many people are willing and able to help you to stand even taller, if you show the resilience, learning, and grit to never stay down.

    Steve Jobs is a famous example of someone who bounced back from failure. After his early forced resignation from Apple, Jobs learned to rely on the help of many others, and came back to make Apple one of the most successful companies of the past decades.

The real message here is that no matter how good and how determined you are, you can only go so far alone. Your biggest challenge in business is to find those complementary and supportive relationships that can amplify your passion and strengths, and take you to the next level. Together, anything is possible. Start today.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 05/17/2021 ***

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Sunday, May 30, 2021

8 Challenges For Startups With A Neighborhood Focus

hyperlocal-startupsEven though the world is getting smaller, due to easy global connectivity, people still feel alone if not well-connected locally. There is also more going on in every location, so this personal need and super sensitivity to the local community has spawned a new breed of Internet startups, called “hyperlocal.” The term first appeared at least ten years ago, but the model is now very common.

At first this was limited to news sites that concentrated on a segment of a community, like West Seattle, but the concept is now being applied to advertising and promotion sites, blogging sites, and even legal services sites. These hyperlocal sites don’t have to compete with global sites, and always have unique content, community advertising, and local issues.

Foursquare is good example of a modern hyperlocal site, which describes itself as “50% friend-finder, 30% social city guide, 20% nightlife game.” It also shows how such a website can scale by adding new cities. When you enter one of these cities, you simply check-in to tell the service where you are, and you begin to earn points and unlock badges for discovering new things.

Much of this is still evolving, and I think it has great potential. Yet there are big challenges to hyperlocal, at least for consumer-focused hyperlocal startups, according to Sean Barkulis, Founder of UPlanMe, whose initial consumer-focused business model was an early casualty, writing in Street Fight:

  1. Every site requires real curated local content to engage users. Building content is costly and time-consuming. If you don’t engage your users with an abundance of content the moment they open the app, odds are they will never return.
  1. Local businesses won’t use a site until it has a critical mass of users. This is the old chicken-and-egg problem. Without users, business owners aren’t going to waste time promoting and marketing their content to your users. Getting these users costs money.
  1. The burden of proof is on you to show value. In order for local businesses to buy in, they need to a) reach a large percentage of their customer demographic, b) save them time on their existing marketing efforts, and c) not duplicate any of their existing efforts.
  1. Expanding city-by-city is expensive. What’s more difficult than building one successful startup? Try building 50 successful startups. This is essentially what you are doing when you try to launch city-by-city. Finding common elements for scaling is tough
  1. The site may need consumer revenue to survive. It is possible to build a successful site that has components of #1, #2 and #3, but some good product or service right from the beginning helps viability. Maybe it’s selling local tours and taking a cut of the revenue.
  1. Watch out for local sales force requirements. Look at how large Groupon and Living Social’s sales forces are, and they are still struggling to maintain profitability. If the sales force is too large, the site will probably not prosper. Look for new ways to sell.
  1. Local business price points have to be low. Many of the customers in this space tell me that the figure is somewhere around $300 per year for their own internal break-even. They get many offers every month, so your entry offer better be low and convincing
  1. Funding requirements are substantial. Word-of-mouth and cheap viral marketing won’t build critical masses of users, curated content, and direct sales forces. Foursquare has raised more than $390 million in outside funding, on $100 million in revenue.

Barkulis and I agree that your hyperlocal startup has a far better chance if you position it as a B2B and B2B2C startup, like Yext, DoorDash, and ShadowFax. Then you are building a solution for local businesses that helps them regardless of a direct consumer base. The site must either save businesses time on their marketing efforts, or solve a direct problem they are having.

I predict that hyperlocal services sites will continue to emerge and evolve. Many years ago, a community law firm could have a rewarding law practice, financially and personally fulfilling, by becoming a part of the community. In the new digital age, it’s possible again, even easier and faster.

With the advent of the iPhone and Blackberry, location-based apps are becoming a part of this hyperlocal picture. Especially in local communities, people want to know where the sales are, and who is hanging out where. This is not just a fad.

Hyperlocal can be the “beginning” for your startup, allowing you to test your business model and your marketing plan before you scale. Or it can be the final destination, if you are looking for a fun family business in the new world. I recommend it as a familiar place for your startup to “learn the ropes” before you take on the whole world.

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, May 29, 2021

7 Ways Academic Connections Can Assist A New Venture

Cruz-university-students.jpgAn underutilized, but valuable resource, every startup should investigate is a formal or informal connection to your alma mater, including any local university. These resources are definitely not limited to students, since every university seeks out and needs the real world exposure and experience of entrepreneurs who already are active in the real world marketplace.

Here is a short list of the areas where you should be able to find help, whether you are a student or an independent entrepreneur:

  1. Exploring hot ideas. Universities are a rich source of new ideas from their students, their professors, and their own research, and they value entrepreneurs from the real world to decide which ones are viable in the marketplace. Start by contacting the university outreach liaison, or a professor in your area of interest or expertise.
  1. Product research and prototype development. Take advantage of the tech classes, labs, equipment, and graduate students looking for real world problems to research. The professors know how to get grants to fund development for you in strategic focus areas, like biotech, that would otherwise cost you many thousands of dollars.

  1. Business plan assistance. Every university has entrepreneurial courses or evening classes that can provide assistance on creating your initial plan. Look for special programs for entrepreneurs, like the Arizona State University Furnace Technology Transfer Accelerator program that I am familiar with, available to non-students.

  1. Early-stage funding. Don’t look for formal venture capital levels of funding, but certainly early-stage Kaufmann grants, incubators, and entrepreneurship incentives are available from endowments and state funds. Collaborative efforts with local companies, like Siemens Venture Capital, are available for certain technology and focus areas.

  1. Legal guidance. Most universities have friendly law professors, or an entrepreneurship legal clinic, to address concerns like protection of intellectual property and privacy. These might even be available online, and may be staffed by outside lawyers working on a ‘pro bono’ basis with the school. Start by contacting the law school organization.

  1. Building a team. If you need part-time resources to build a prototype, you can always find hungry but high-caliber graduate and PhD students with the latest theory ready to work. If you need experienced partners and vendors, the best professors and entrepreneurship staff will have the contacts you need in the local business community.

  1. Connections to a mentor. Similar to finding experienced team members, you can use university contacts who do mentoring in the real world. Most schools also nurture relationships with local and former executives whom they use for guest lectures to MBA courses, judge student business plans, and assign as mentors for university spinoffs.

For example, I live near the Phoenix, Arizona area, home of Arizona State University. They have several "outreach" programs to help startups, including their Venture Catalyst program for business plan development, mentorship, interim management, connections, and development roadmap. They also provide incubator services and space for early startups.

The Thunderbird School of Global Management, also in Phoenix, has a top-ranked International MBA and entrepreneur curriculum, a startup incubator program, and hosts a group of Angel investors to assist qualifying startups.

I do volunteer work at both of these schools, and I’m not even an alumnus from either one. Believe me, the payback for me has been large from both of them, and I’m betting that you can get the same from a university near you.

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, May 28, 2021

5 Entrepreneurship Challenges You Should Not Overlook

man-concernedMost entrepreneurs expect to face the “normal” challenges of starting a business, which include finding the right opportunity, building and executing a winning plan, and financing their venture. But many forget the pitfalls associated with traditional business jobs which can apply even to the smartest and most dedicated people running their own business.

Often these facets of entrepreneurship don’t rear their ugly head until well down the road. Yet before you start, you should think about what the impact might be on your psyche, and how to neutralize these challenges in your own plan. I’ll summarize key ones here, from the positives and negatives in the classic book, “Build a Business, Not a Job” by David Finkel and Stephanie Harkness:

  1. Long-term daily job grind. Sometimes entrepreneurs are so set on creating a successful business, they forget to create one that they love to work on every day. After a time, they find that they have merely created a job for themselves, with the same rote responsibilities and stress that they experienced in a prior corporate world. Daily attendance is mandatory in order for the business to succeed and be profitable, and the so-called freedom is hard to find. Vacations and time-off don’t happen for years.
  1. No formal training courses. Larger enterprises are always sending their “high fliers” to leadership refreshers, new technology updates, and training on employee performance management. Entrepreneurs find themselves all alone in the trenches, without the time, money, or incentives to do these things. The result is a sinking feeling after some time that you are no longer vital and competitive in your own domain.
  1. Personal wealth management. Entrepreneurs find that the business skills needed to grow their business are not the same as the personal wealth skills needed to manage a healthy personal wealth plan for their family and their retirement. Their business is their entire portfolio. They are at the mercy of innumerable catastrophes, making this a huge risk. For these individuals, a lack of financial fluency often leads to poor decisions after they no longer have their businesses. They wake up one day without their business, and with nothing to show for the years spent building it.
  1. How society perceives you. As a young entrepreneur, everyone looks up to you for running your own business. But later you find that you may be perceived by many as a person without job security, unlike your classmates or ex-colleagues, who are sought after or being placed in well-known large company or multinational positions. Even worse, you find that your business domain has developed a negative stigma through no fault of your own, as has happened to investment banks, mortgage brokers, and many nightlife businesses. It’s no fun to hide your business role rather than proudly proclaim it.
  1. Business must be more than the money. Years into a successful business, owners often wake up one day facing a painful question: Is this all there is? To truly be successful your business must be about more than the money.

Good entrepreneurs find a great personal adventure, like Richard Branson, or great philanthropy, like Bill Gates. Guy Kawasaki says the best reason to start an organization is to make meaning – to create a product or service that makes the world a better place.

Every business startup has to have a viable idea, but it also needs a strong sense of realism on the possible pitfalls. Starting a company as an entrepreneur should be viewed as the beginning of a lifetime career, not a work project that you expect to be over in a few months. As such you should consider the long-term challenges as well as the short-term ones.

Life is too short to end up with pain and regret after a “successful” career.

Marty Zwilling

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Wednesday, May 26, 2021

10 Ways To Build The Trust You Need To Lead A Company

build-trust-for-leadershipBased on my experience with startups, trust is the most valuable asset you can have, especially when asking people to step into the unknown by funding your innovation, by joining your team, or just buying your new product as an early customer. You need to understand the unfortunate fact that, due to the realities of life struggles, trust does not come by default from anyone these days.

You may be able to invent or even produce a new solution by yourself, but you will soon find that you can’t build and run a business without other people, and these people have to trust you. Thus I recommend to every business owner and entrepreneur that you focus constantly on building and maintaining personal trust through the following strategies:

  1. Use storytelling to highlight previous trustworthiness. The best business leaders are adept at relating anecdotes and prior experiences that humbly and subtly convey that you have already built the trust you need, through previous challenges and results. Demonstrating passion, intelligence, skills, and an innovative solution is not a substitute.

  2. Express your commitment to a higher purpose. People who see your commitment to an important social need, or saving the environment, as a balance to driving for profit, will give you extra credit in the trust department. Similarly, if you demonstrate trust and commitment in your life outside of work, your trust factor at work will increase.

  3. Take full responsibility for key business milestones. In business, few things are totally in your control, so many of you find it easy to put the onus for negatives on someone else or the market. This approach is not conducive to trust. Your strategy must be to accept responsibility, communicate continuously, and work effectively on backups.

  4. Quantify commitments as results versus effort. Promises to work hard or to do your best are not conducive to generating trust. These are heard as a hedge, or efforts to avoid accountability. In the same fashion, spoken promises are much less credible than written ones. It pays to listen to feedback, rather than just trust your own perspective.

  5. Proactively market and defend your trust image. Trust is your personal brand, and it must be marketed and protected much like your business brand. Take advantage of advocates and testimonials before you are forced to defend a potential negative trust incident. Don’t assume that no visible negatives means your trust is not questioned.

  6. For multiple party contracts, always document. A paper trail is very important to assure trust in formal business dealings, partner arrangements, and all customer transactions. For internal measurements, the metrics should always be written and clear. I see too many trust disputes that could have been avoided by written agreements.

  7. Report progress and proactively explain delays. Nothing kills credibility and trust like having to be hounded for status and delivery of a commitment. All commitments delivered early deserve special mention, and add to your trust reserve. For those needing more time or special effort, offer a recovery plan with alternatives before it becomes a crisis.

  8. Never be accused of failure to communicate. Late communication or lack of communication leads people to believe that you are hiding something, or hoping to avoid the stigma of missed promises. Make sure there are no surprises to people who are counting on you, and failures are acknowledged by you rather than ignored or denied.

  9. Always deliver on commitments, no matter how trivial. What may seem inconsequential to you may be very important to someone else. This includes keeping promises to yourself, as these relate to taking responsibility for your life and discipline. When changes are required, make sure your avoid excuses, and provide alternatives.

  10. Avoid over-commitment and under-delivery. I have seen entrepreneurs over-commit and lose the trust and respect of key people due to a sincere but unrealistic effort to stand out. It is much better to buffer your time requirements, and deliver early, than to be seen as always a day late, and a dollar short. You must be the role model for your team.

You have to convince your team and other key constituents to trust you, before they will reciprocate with a full commitment and engagement with you and your business. You can’t make up the difference by raising their salary, or dropping the price of your product. The power of trust is more than money in someone’s pocket – it’s a key force that allows you to change the world.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 05/11/2021 ***

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Monday, May 24, 2021

Communications Via Text Send Only Part Of The Message

business-woman-body-languageWhether it’s a business or personal interaction, multiple studies show that as much as 70-93% of the communication is nonverbal. That means that people addicted to text messages, twitter, and email may be sending less than half the message, and receivers often misinterpret even that half.

Yet the use of SMS text messaging for all purposes, including business, has grown consistently worldwide since it was introduced 25 years ago, to an estimated 2.5 trillion/year for business alone, according to the SnapDesk. In addition, Twitter adds another 500 million messages per day, with over 160 million daily active users. As well, email volume just continues to increase.

But are any of these text-only messages an efficient and appropriate business tool? Where body language is part of the message, it definitely is not. Let’s look at the most commonly recognized forms of body language, and see how they apply to business:

  • Eye contact. The eyes are the most powerful part of our body language, and can express everything from happiness, annoyance, interest, to pain. Frequent eye contact is interpreted as honesty and forthrightness. Staring is interpreted as too aggressive. These are obvious in person, but lost in a text message.

  • Posture. If you are trying to appear dominant or authoritative, stand erect with shoulders back. A slumped position usually indicates insecurity, guilt, or weakness. A dominant sounding text message, on the other hand, generates anger rather than acceptance.

  • Mirroring. Most people feel more comfortable and open with people in a similar position to themselves. An example would be sitting down to meet with a key vendor, rather than standing to deliver demands. Good managers practice this one for personnel issues.
  • Handshake. This, of course, comes into play to signal openness or goodwill at the beginning of an interaction, and agreement at the end. Palm-to-palm contact is important for sincerity. This cultural icon is totally missing from text messages and emails.

  • Hand-to-face. Even when the words sound good, hand-to-face movements such as holding the chin or scratching the face shows concern or lack of conviction. If a person is covering his mouth while telling you something, he may be lying.

  • Facial expression. A critical message delivered with a smiling face will have a totally different impact than one delivered with an angry face. ‘Smiley face emoticons’ were invented to simulate this in text messages, but they don’t always work, because the sincerity is lost.

  • Arms and legs position. Folded arms or crossed legs, perhaps turning away slightly, indicates a lack of interest and detachment. Later uncrossed arms and legs may be a sign of acceptance of your position or terms. An extrovert will have toes pointed out, introvert will keep them pointed in. None of these come through in texting.

  • Space occupied. Some people stand up and move around to be more dominant, maybe even threatening. Even sitting, you can stretch your legs to occupy more space. Standing while talking on the phone will make your voice sound more urgent. Maybe all CAPS will satisfy this one.

Sure, there are many cases where a 10-word text message, or 140 character tweet will communicate a simple message more efficiently than a face-to-face discussion. But most business processes, like negotiating a contract, closing a sale, customer support, or managing employees, are much more complicated than just words.

Overall, the most successful people in business learn to use the right tool for the right job. I’m supportive of using text messaging for agreeing on a time and place for a customer visit, but when I read that text messages are the new pink slips for layoffs, that’s just wrong! I’m beginning to believe that people don’t want real communication anymore.

Marty Zwilling

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Sunday, May 23, 2021

How To Make The Most Of Your DNA As An Entrepreneur

entrepreneur-of-the-yearAnyone who works with entrepreneurs will tell you that all are different. Some are really inventors, who view the challenges of building a business as a necessary evil. Others are really marketers out to make money fast, and believe that they can entice customers to any offering. Some just want to change the world and make it a better place. But none have any lock on success.

I’ve always wondered if there was some way that I could quickly deduce a new entrepreneur’s “sweet spot,” and optimize my mentoring to those strengths and weaknesses, maybe similar to the Myers-Briggs type indicator for business professionals. A few years ago, I first saw an interesting step in that direction via the classic book “Entrepreneurial DNA,” by Joe Abraham, with his assessment web site.

His framework seems to be picking up some traction, and is already in use informally by several entrepreneurship platforms, universities, and even high school programs. His methodology measures an entrepreneur’s fit or DNA in each of four quadrants – Builder, Opportunist, Specialist, and Innovator (BOSI), defined at a high level as follows:

  1. Builder. The Builder loves building a business from the ground up. These are the ultimate chess players in the game of business, always looking to be two or three moves ahead of the competition. They are often described as driven, focused, cold, ruthless, and calculating. Some might say that Elon Musk epitomizes this category.

  1. Opportunist. The Opportunist is the speculative part of the entrepreneur in all of us. It’s that part of our being that wants to be in the right place at the right time, leveraging timing to make as much money as possible. If you ever felt enticed to jump into a quick money deal, like a real-estate quick-flip, or an IPO, that was your Opportunist side showing.

  1. Specialist. The Specialist entrepreneur will enter one industry and stick with it for 15 to 30 years. They build strong expertise, but often struggle to stand out in a crowded marketplace of competitors. Picture the graphic designer, the IT expert, or the independent accountant or attorney. We all know many good ones here.

  1. Innovator. You will usually find the Innovator entrepreneur in the “lab” of the business working on their invention, recipe, concept, system, or product that can be built into one or many businesses. The challenge with an Innovator is to focus as hard on the business realities as the product possibilities. Too many Innovators are like Dean Kamen, still struggling with the Segway Human Transporter, while holding over 1000 other device patents.

Of course, discovering your entrepreneur type is only the beginning. After that, it’s all about capitalizing on your strengths, shoring up your weaknesses, and building a personal plan that doesn’t work against you. The drivers for your strategic plan come from at least four directions:

  • World of experts (books, consultants, webinars). You go all over the country, the world, and the Web searching for “best practices” in marketing, finance, planning, and funding. Ultimately, most get the best help from business advisors and mentors.
  • Internal forces (your startup team). Every human being internal to your business and investors bring a certain culture. Some are very positive. Others are more conservative or even negative. Sometimes you inherit the culture from family and predecessors.
  • External forces (competitors and customers). All too often, entrepreneurs set their strategy around what competitors are doing. Or they get strong feedback from early adopters and outspoken customers who may not be representative of the real potential.
  • Prospects (potential opportunity). In the pressure of early revenue, it’s easy to be bent toward what’s in front of you today, rather than follow your strength and your vision. Serving prospects that don’t fit your entrepreneur type, like moving away from your specialty, can be a disastrous strategy.

Overall, I see real value in using this methodology in conjunction with incubators, business accelerators, and mentoring. I’m not yet convinced that anyone has a fully automated system that will nail your entrepreneurial DNA, and make you succeed, despite the unpredictable business and personal realities.

But I see a real opportunity here for every entrepreneur to optimize his impact, and his personal satisfaction, with a minimum of effort. I challenge each of you to take a hard look at what makes you tick. Is your strategic plan (if you have one) a wishful dream or a perfect match for your DNA?

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, May 22, 2021

6 Steps To Personal Satisfaction As Well As Success

satisfaction and successIt’s sad when the startup is “successful,” but the founder still feels totally unsatisfied. I see it happening all the time. The business is a winner, but the family or other relationships are broken by the stress. Or the entrepreneur started down this path to be their own boss and change the world, but find they are now answering to many more people, with nothing really changed.

These issues are the major focus of the classic book, “The Plan,” by John McKee and Helen Latimer. It zeroes in specifically on the difference between being “successful” and being “satisfied” in your personal and professional lives. The authors start by asserting that many people feel more or less successful, but far fewer, even the successful ones, feel satisfied.

Their conclusion is that you need a plan for your life, as well as your business, and they discuss in detail six steps to get there. If you are an entrepreneur contemplating a startup, and you want both success and satisfaction in business, I recommend you complete these steps before you start any business plan:

  1. Identify personal gaps. Find the gaps between the life you’re living and the life you dream of living. Look at the gaps that may exist in three key life areas: the personal/ family side, the career side, and the financial side. It can be difficult to be honest about some of your own character traits. People often behave in ways they don’t understand.
  1. Determine your purpose. Your purpose defines what you stand for. This is what should guide your entrepreneurial ambitions and dreams, gives you a picture of where you are going, and help you as you set the goals. Without purpose, you certainly will find yourself feeling unsatisfied even when you achieve business success.
  1. Assess your strengths and weaknesses. Most of us have a fairly good idea of our weaknesses. Few of us take the time to really understand our strengths. Review your natural talents and build on the talents you’ve developed. You will see exciting stuff – new business opportunities, new directions.
  1. Describe your dream. Many of us are clearer about what we don’t want that what we do want. Use visualization to create a very detailed picture of your dream, and write it down to see if it still makes sense. Feel what it would be like to have, be, or do what you want, to follow your purpose.
  1. Create your path. Here the solution is to create short-term milestones. Having a strong desire for something is not enough. Your desire needs to be so clear that you can see each step you need to take to reach it. Taking these steps is absolutely essential and separates those people who succeed from those who don’t.
  1. Live your best life. With the personal life plan complete, the most important step is to implement it. This is the time to have faith in yourself and begin to move towards the life you dreamed. If a business is in that plan, now is the time to start your business plan. That’s the only way to enjoy both a high level of satisfaction and success in both.

Even with all this, failures do happen. In the long run, the difference between success and failure can ultimately hinge on how you handle a failure. Don’t just repeat it in a different context, but do the work to understand it, and alter your plan. Try again – as many times as it takes. No matter how daunting. Step-by-step, day-by-day, you can get closer to your goal until you attain it.

Successful but unsatisfying professional careers are one of the primary reasons that people decide to become entrepreneurs in the first place. Thus it makes sense that before you start down the entrepreneur path, you would do some extra work to make sure you are not about to fail one more time. The last thing that this world or you needs is another successful business failure.

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, May 21, 2021

5 Ways To Make It Easier To Do What Matters At Work

easier-at-workDuring all my years in business, I’ve noticed that some people seem to make their job look effortless, while others are always in a struggle, no matter how simple you thought the task should be. I’ve always wondered if some people are just that much smarter, or what some do that the rest of us can emulate, in order that we too get the best results without working so hard.

In my current role as a consultant to entrepreneurs and small business owners, I’ve accumulated my own list of insights on how some people get more done. Thus I was pleased to see that it’s consistent with the guidance in a new book, “Effortless: Make It Easier to Do What Matters Most,” by Greg McKeown, a well-respected author and public speaker on business breakthroughs.

Here are key strategies that we both agree will elevate your efforts and get business results on a consistent basis without the pain and stress that seem to dominate the working lives of many of us:

  1. Learn: leverage the best of what others know. A passion for your business and your innovation will only get you so far. All the best business leaders I know are not afraid to use advisors, peers, books, and the Internet to understand what’s possible, and how to do it. Life is too short to learn everything from your mistakes, or become an expert in all.

    Bill Gates and Warren Buffett both have totally different businesses, yet both give much credit to the other for success, and claim to have learned much from each other. they still find time to meet and compare notes regularly, and are avid readers of business books.

  2. Lift: propagate your strength by teaching others. Once you have learned, your top- priority task must be to educate others around you. Start with your own story, the mission of your business, and how to make everyone in your domain, including customers, into advocates and teachers. Lift everyone by eliminating complexity and highlighting value.

    Sir Richard Branson, who controls over 400 active companies, never appears to be even working. In addition, he has often stated that his first priority is serving his employees and his extended business family, through coaching, mentoring, and effective communication.

  3. Automate: do it once to never do it again. The technology is here to do most hard things effortlessly in business, but I find many business owners stuck in the past, refusing to change. If you invest the time and effort to install and upgrade processes and systems, you can replicate results and grow the business without multiplying your own efforts.

    Just to be clear, automation isn't about shrinking the human workforce; it's about helping you to do more with the same number of people, and to do it with less effort. This leads to business growth, and happier people, typically due to more and higher-paying jobs.

  4. Trust: build and use highly engaged teams. The real strength of your business is not how much you can accomplish yourself, but how effectively you can build and lead a team. Business people who are micro-managers, or spend most of their time working in the business, rather than on the business, are destined to constant stress and overwork.

    Highly engaged means each person feels safe to bring their authentic, unique and best self to work, and never even feel like they are working. The result is a new level of productivity, loyalty, and personal satisfaction for you as well as everyone on your team.

  5. Prevent: solve problems before they happen. The real power of making your job look effortless is preventing problems by using the previous strategies, and focusing on the future, as well as the present. Get to the root of problems, rather than fighting symptoms. This means using what you have learned to anticipate market change and prepare for it.

    This ability to anticipate problems, and prevent them, is the key to making everyone’s job easier, starting with yours. You can do this by spending less time on current crises, and more time on strategic thinking, outside the fold, and listening to marketplace feedback.

If you can take away just one message, let it be that working harder and struggling are not the real keys to business success. No matter what challenges, obstacles, or hardships you face, I’m convinced that you can always resolve them easier using the long-term strategies outlined here, and enjoy more satisfying results sooner.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 05/06/2021 ***

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Wednesday, May 19, 2021

8 Keys To Rebuilding Your Team Spirit After A Setback

keep_teamwork_togetherMost successful entrepreneurs will tell you that their primary motivation is to “change the world” and to build something lasting, not to make a lot of money. But the conventional wisdom is that employees work for money, above all else. Yet my own experience, and a still relevant McKinsey survey, leads me to believe that non-cash motivators may be more effective in the long term than financial incentives.

I agree with Charles P. Garcia, who ties motivation most strongly to leadership, in his classic book, “Leadership Lessons of the White House Fellows,” based on this group of more than 600 prominent leaders from every sector of American society. They assert that employees value having strong leaders, who incent them to do their best, just as much if not more than money.

For action, he provides a list of principles for entrepreneurs and managers alike, derived from his first-hand discussions with some of the nation's greatest leaders. We all need to learn from these as we rebuild employee morale following tough economic times, with limited budgets:

  1. Energize your team. Instead of being the type of leader who sucks the energy away from others, resolve to be the kind of leader who strives to bring passion and positive energy to the workplace every day. Your employees have just helped you pull your company through one of the nation's worst economic periods. It's time they had a source of positive energy.

  1. There's more to life than work. Great leaders have deep reserves of physical, spiritual, and emotional energy, and that energy is usually fueled by a strong and supportive relationship with the people they love, regular exercise, a healthy lifestyle, and setting aside time for reflection.
  1. Put your people first. No organization is better than the people who run it. The fact is that you are in the people business—the business of hiring, training, and managing people to deliver the product or service you provide. If the people are the engine of your success, to be a great leader you need to attend to your people with a laser-like focus.

  1. Act with integrity. In a time when news reports are filled with the stories of private and public leaders who've acted inappropriately and have gone against the best interests of their employees or constituents, showing your employees that you value integrity can help motivate them and create a sense of pride for your organization.
  1. Be a great communicator. Leadership is influencing others, and this cannot be achieved without effective communication. If you're struggling with communicating to your employees, first work on your ability to influence individuals by choosing words that are impactful to carry your message. Then you need to figure out how to communicate to a larger audience.
  1. Be a great listener. The most effective leaders are the ones who take the time to listen not just to their team members' words but to the priceless hidden meaning beneath them. Remember that during good times and bad, sometimes your employees just need someone to talk to. Communicate to them that you are always waiting with open ears.
  1. Be a problem solver. Post a sign above your office door that reads, "Don't Bring Me Problems. Bring Me Solutions." Then set about the task of guiding each person on your team toward the goal of becoming a top-notch problem solver during this crucial period.
  1. Lead through experience and competence, not through title or position. Mentor your employees, encourage them, make partners out of them, and your organization is sure to benefit. If you want to survive the tough economy, that's exactly the kind of leadership motif you need for your organization.

The fundamentals of leadership don’t change between good times and bad. But when money is in short supply, these principles can be the difference between success and failure. Now is the time to start motivating your employees by applying these principles, and your team may actually lead you through the next challenge.

Marty Zwilling

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Monday, May 17, 2021

7 Leadership Failures To Abolish In Your New Venture

leadership-mistakesMany professionals in business, from startups to multi-nationals, assume that team leader or executive is an appointed position, and the skills come with the title. In reality, leadership is best demonstrated while not in a position of authority, and is a skill that must be sharpened every day of your life.

Most experts agree that leadership, as perceived by people around you, is more about behavior than it is about specific skills or knowledge. Darryl Rosen, in the classic book “Table for Three?” illustrates this with humor for each of fifty dumb mistakes that smart managers don’t make. The leadership one is setting a poor example by your own actions (“Do as I say, not as I do.”)

His rendition, including the following seven examples of poor leadership behavior, that I have seen all too often in startups, illustrate how your actions affect others around you:

  1. Blame others for everything. An entrepreneur’s passion for an idea often prompts them to blame others or external events for setbacks, rather than themselves, so that they can maintain some semblance of self-esteem and control. This “attributional bias” may be understandable, but is perceived by associates as poor leadership.

  2. Worry and fret about everything. Precious little of what we worry and fret about ever happens, so don’t share every concern with associates. At best, it comes across as lack of confidence, or more likely sounds likely trying to make excuses for possible later failures. Team members want leaders who calm their worries, not amplify them.

  3. Criticize others and the company. Managers who speak critically of team members, customers, friends or family members, have something going on within them that needs to be examined. There is some aspect of self that they find unacceptable. Real leaders are recognized as willing to look in the mirror, and learn from what they see.

  4. Complain about being overwhelmed. Overwhelm is a feeling that always precedes growth, and is a state in which your brain is developing new pathways and connections. Starting a business or a new organization will always cause self-doubt and insecurity. Real leaders embrace and manage these feelings, rather than complain to associates.

  5. Do 10 things at a time in a mediocre fashion. Entrepreneurs or managers who claim to be able to do multiple things at a time must never use this as an excuse for poor quality. Associates will quickly conclude that mediocrity is good enough. Even one task done with mediocrity can be the kiss of death for any business, or any career.

  6. Appear disorganized and manage things haphazardly. Doing things haphazardly is prone to mistakes. In business, when you are making mistakes, it’s costing you time and money. With associates, making mistakes will cost you in productivity and morale, and will kill their image of you as a leader. Worse yet, associates will follow your example.

  7. Fail to see the positives in others. The key here is to maintain a positive mindset. Leadership is all about finding positives, for business growth, for competitive advantage, and people development in your organization. Managers and entrepreneurs need everyone in their organization accentuating the positive, not amplifying the negatives.

Leadership and improvement is about taking small steps forward, and evolving just a bit each day. Think evolution, not revolution. Anyone can change one behavior a month, or eliminate one mistake, and suddenly you too can be an “overnight success.”

Of course, correcting leadership mistakes is only the beginning. There are at least 49 other ways to go wrong in navigating workplace relationships, problem-solving approaches, time management, credibility, and business effectiveness. How many have you avoided recently in your startup?

Marty Zwilling

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Sunday, May 16, 2021

7 Key Skills For Survival In Today’s Business Career

survivalsurviverescue-help-armsThe days when you locked and loaded your career in school, and then blasted away down that same narrow path the rest of your life, are gone, never to return. Career survival today requires thinking and acting like an entrepreneur starting a business, staying nimble and resilient, willing to pivot, and supersensitive to the market realities of supply and demand.

Over the years I have spent mentoring entrepreneurs and startups, I often notice the similarities between successful professionals managing their careers and successful entrepreneurs building a business. Reid Hoffman, cofounder of LinkedIn, helped me crystallize these similarities with his classic book “The Start-up of You.” Here are key survival skills for both lifestyles:

  1. Adopt the mindset of a permanent beta. Finished ought to be an F-word for all of us. We are all works in progress. Each day presents an opportunity to learn more, do more, be more, and grow more in our lives and careers. Keeping your career in permanent beta forces you to acknowledge that you have bugs, and intend to improve yourself.
  1. Regularly assess and refine your competitive advantage. Your competitive advantage is the interplay of three different, ever-changing forces – your assets, aspirations and values, and the market realities of supply and demand. Smart professionals constantly assess the market, and strengthen and diversify skills.
  1. Plan to pivot as you learn. Change is the only constant in this world, and every change is an opportunity to learn. Plan to adapt, and start it every day on the side. Don’t wait for something to fail before you learn, or before you consider a change or pivot. The best pivots are to take advantage of an upside, rather than avoid a downside.
  1. Build and use your network. World-class professionals don’t try to take on the world alone. People playing a solo game will always lose out to a team. Successful entrepreneurs are ones who put together the best teams. Build your network with people smarter than you. With effective networking, who you know is what you know.
  1. Pursue breakout opportunities. Success begins with opportunities, but these mean nothing unless you execute on them. Others taking breakout opportunities can be dismissed as lucky, but more often it’s the result of their work to be at the right place at the right time, with the right mindset. Be curious, confident, and willing to learn.
  1. Take intelligent risks. We are all risk takers. But we are not all equally intelligent about how we do it. In a changing world, minimizing risk is one of the riskiest things you can do. The most intelligent risks are those where the potential downside is limited, but the potential upside is virtually unlimited. Those are the risks every business jumps to take.
  1. Maintain that sense of urgency. Entrepreneurs know that in business, change overtakes the best of big companies, and even startups have to maintain a sense of urgency to stay ahead of the curve. For every professional, opportunities come and go at an astonishing speed, so only a continuing sense of urgency will keep you alert.

In addition to you and the network around you, there is a broader environment that shapes your career potential. It’s the local culture and society around you. So think carefully about where you choose to live and work, or where you choose to start a business. Your maximum potential may be in another place in the global environment, or as a volunteer versus an employee role.

In the bigger picture, I’m convinced that we were all born as entrepreneurs, with the instincts listed above to survive, grow, and prosper. How many of these career survival instincts have you used lately to deal with the changes we all see?

Marty Zwilling

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