Friday, October 15, 2021

8 Keys To The Winning Mix Of Full-Time and Gig Talent

home-officeWith the pace of change ever escalating, entrepreneurs today can’t afford to acquire talent through traditional hiring alone, and need to revise the perception that “talent” is only full-time office employees. In addition, more people in the workforce don’t want to be resident employees. More than 40% of U.S. workers now say they would start looking for another job if they aren’t offered remote options.

The answer to both is a new fast and flexible talent strategy based on freelancers, consultants, experts, and specialists, who are part of the new “1099 economy” including Baby Boomers and Millennials. For the full picture, see the classic book, “Navigating the Talent Shift,” with convincing arguments by Lisa Hufford, Founder of Simplicity Consulting talent solutions.

The author outlines eight necessary steps for every business and entrepreneur to capitalize on this movement to on-demand project teams, versus permanent hires. These steps are the new keys to driving business innovation, controlling costs, staying nimble, and getting better results:

  1. Build teams to meet goals rather than organization charts. Too many entrepreneurs, as they grow their business, are focused on hiring to fill a traditional organization chart, rather than acquiring skills and talents to meet their current goals and needs. They use generic job descriptions and plan for long-term business stability, which rarely happens.
  1. Focus on deliverables and skills required right now. Conventional hiring strategies usually follow a vanilla approach to talent acquisition. It’s a numbers game of filling positions, without clarity on the expertise needed to deliver now. With contract players, you assume a project duration, with easy transition to new players for the next campaign.
  1. Prioritize objectives and seek expert talent to match. For example, if your first scaling effort is a global one, you should be prioritizing “global launch experience.” The notion of holding out for the “expert in all domains” wastes too much time, effort, and money. In fact, you will never predict required pivots, and generalists rarely outperform specialists.
  1. Build an on-demand team of strategic do-ers. The most effective people to execute strategic initiatives are likely ones who have recently led similar activities in multiple related environments, not ones who have been grown and trained inside. This team of specialist consultants is then easily tuned as your strategy evolves based on the market.
  1. Think in terms of projects to keep up with an evolving strategy. Each strategic priority should be managed as a project. Some projects are big and long-term, while others are small and more tactical. Projects need not be constrained by organizational boundaries, long-term budgeting, or conventional staffing and training practices.
  1. Stay nimble by quickly filling gaps in the existing team. When you identify a skills gap or feel you need additional expertise or insight, signing up on-demand help is the only timely solution. Assigning an existing team member who isn’t qualified, or is already overloaded, will likely delay both projects, and kill existing team member motivation.
  1. Leverage the broadest possible network. The on-demand specialized talent pool already includes nearly 100 million people not interested in being full-time employees. By leveraging this broader network, you will improve your probabilities of finding the right skills and experience for your current project, and bring fresh ideas and solutions into your team.
  1. Maintain budget flexibility as the business changes. By leveraging on-demand experts, you pay only for the vital work you need immediately, not the overhead and ongoing costs (development, training, severance, benefits) that go along with hiring full-time employees. It’s the best way to handle budgetary restrictions and cuts.

This on-demand talent model, dubbed SPEED by the author (Success, Plan, Execute, Evaluate, Decide), is good for the company, and good for all specialized, dedicated, and high performing people in the workforce today. Your company gets the flexibility to adapt quickly to the needs of a rapidly changing marketplace, and workers get to broaden their experience in the work they love.

We are living in an on-demand world and an on-demand economy, ranging from the movies we watch, to manufacturing and delivery, to the computer resources we need. Welcome now to the on-demand workplace. It’s here to stay.

Marty Zwilling

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Wednesday, October 13, 2021

7 Short-Term Business Mistakes Can Limit Your Impact

business-maladiesAs a long-time business consultant and investor, especially to entrepreneurs, I recognize your sparkle of vision, to build the ultimate world-changing product. Every one of you sees yourself as the next Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, or maybe even Steve Jobs. Yet most of us succumb after a time to the short-term pressures of growing a business, and the long-term vision gets pushed aside.

Of course, it takes both short and long-term focus to survive, but I see too many businesses fall into some common product maladies, which ultimately keep them from becoming a unicorn, or achieving the level of disruptive change they initially envisioned. I found these maladies summarized well in a new book, “Radical Product Thinking,” by entrepreneur Radhika Dutt.

Radhika teaches entrepreneurship and innovation, and advises organizations around the world on how to build radical products that create a fundamental change instead of optimizing the status quo. I agree with her seven “product diseases,” where the business execution challenges steal the focus away from that grand vision and holy grail that you all started out pursuing:

  1. Hero syndrome – focusing on scale versus impact. Everyone, especially your investors, wants high-growth, higher-return decisions, to make them a hero sooner. The trouble is that disruptive change usually takes more time, and scales slower than most people expect. Thus you are driven to short-term growth fixes versus radical change.

    For example, a few years ago, the company Beepi had a vision to build a new market for buying and selling used cars, but became overly focused on fundraising to grow fast, and ignored many customer complaints. While the idea was great, they failed on execution.

  2. Strategic swelling – more features than any other. It’s easy to say “yes” to one more feature request after another, until the potential for real impact gets diluted. You spread yourself so thin across many areas, and don’t achieve any one goal at a breakthrough level. The solution is never to forget that initial clear purpose that translates into priorities.

    Yahoo has been an example of a company which expanded in all directions through 53 acquisitions, to the point where most customers were confused, and it was overtaken by Google as your main search engine. Make sure your vision is clear and communicated.

  3. Obsessive sales – must meet revenue goals. As your startup starts to generate returns, you will recognize the pressure of quarterly revenue goals, with qualified big customer prospects needing just one more small change to close. It suddenly and consistently seems reasonable to trade off long-term goals for survival in the short term.

  4. Hypermetricemia – metrics for everything. This malady is focusing on “measurable” outcomes to determine success, rather than your goal of long-term change. To know what to measure, you need to remember what you’re actually trying to achieve. Don’t be over-reliant on measuring everything, and forget the breakthrough vision and strategy.

    My advice is to focus on a handful of high-level metrics that matter, and are simple and relevant to organizational objectives. Tune out the stuff that could be impactful but isn't actionable, as well as the stuff that's actionable but not related to your impact and vision.

  5. Locked-in syndrome – do what worked in the past. Don’t commit to a technique, technology, or approach just because you have related expertise or because it has worked in the past. Always explore alternative solutions that might work better to achieve the impact you are hoping for. Focus on the real problem, rather than a favorite solution.

  6. Pivotitis – keep pivoting till we get it right. Directional changes in the face of a problem often result in wild swings in product offerings and customer segments, causing confused, demoralized, and exhausted teams. Sometimes the right solution is to push through problems, or at least first redefining your vision, strategy, and action plan.

  7. Narcissus complex – look inward to see what helps. Don’t lose focus on the customer, or open opportunities for competitors to pass you by with your own disruptive change. When you look first inward, you tend to measure yourself by internal benefits instead of the impact on the world. You may win the near-term battle but lose the war.

These business maladies can all be cured by starting with a clear vision of where you are going, and translating it to drive your everyday activities, rather than letting business issues drive your vision. Otherwise, your most innovative and disruptive product thinking will be diluted and lost, killing your dream of a better world. Now is the time to develop a new mindset and stick to it.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 09/28/2021 ***

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Monday, October 11, 2021

7 Keys To Transforming A Dream Into Business Reality

business-dreamSuccessful entrepreneurs are usually hard-driving, and highly focused on some specific goals, like being the dominant player in a given domain, or the low-priced provider of their product. Yet other entrepreneurs will talk for hours about all their ideas, and how they intend to change the world, but I don’t hear any specific goals or milestones.

Many people are very hesitant to set specific goals, due to lack of self-confidence or whatever. The result is that they don’t ever get anywhere, because they never really knew where they wanted to go. If you find yourself in this category, try the following simple steps highlighted by Brian Tracy in his classic book “No Excuses: The Power of Self-Discipline”:

  1. Decide exactly what you want. If you want to increase your income, decide on a specific amount of money, rather than just “make more money.” Without precise goals, you can’t measure progress, and you miss the real satisfaction of knowing when to declare success.

  1. Write it down. A goal that is not written down is like cigarette smoke; it drifts away and disappears. It is vague and insubstantial. It has no force, effect, or power. It’s too easy to forget or push aside when outside forces arise that you hadn’t anticipated – and they will. On the other hand, most people don’t hesitate to write down excuses.

  1. Set a deadline with specific milestones. Pick a reasonable time period and write down the date when you want to achieve it. If it is a big enough goal, set intermediate milestones for measurement reference points. The rule is “There are no unrealistic goals; there are only unrealistic deadlines.” Don’t be afraid to change the deadline – for cause.

  1. Make a list of things you need to do to achieve your goal. The biggest goal can be accomplished if you break it down into enough small steps. Make a list of obstacles and difficulties, knowledge and skills required, necessary people, and everything you will have to do to meet the goal. Add to these lists as you learn more.

  1. Organize your list by both sequence and priority. A list organized by sequence requires that you decide what you need to do in what order. A list organized by priority enables you to determine what is more important. Then develop a business plan which embodies all of the above.

  1. Take action on your plan immediately. Don’t delay. Move quickly. Procrastination is the thief of time, and it shortens your life. Winners in life take the first step now. They are willing to overcome their normal fear of failure and disappointment, and take a small step, and then other one, until they reach the goal.

  1. Do something every day that moves you in the direction of your major goal. This is the key step that will guarantee your success. Do something every day that moves you at least one step closer to the goal. In this fashion, you develop momentum, which further motivates, inspires, and energizes you. Soon it becomes automatic and easier.

You can’t control the future, and that’s not the purpose of goal setting. It’s also a recipe for failure to assume that the path to your goal will require suffering and sacrifice. In fact, the whole objective of all steps above is to allow you to avoid stress and suffering, and be more fully motivated by your progress.

As you adopt a goal-setting mindset, you will find yourself setting different kinds of goals. These are lifetime goals, not just a collection of near-term objectives. It’s these really big objectives, that seem unachievable even to you right now, that will inspire you the most, and motivate you to real success and happiness.

Marty Zwilling

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Sunday, October 10, 2021

6 Keys To Aiming Your Product To Mainstream Customers

early-adopters-optimizationEvery technical entrepreneur is an early adopter of technology, so naturally they build things with people like themselves in mind. Unfortunately, for most solution markets, early adopters represent only 10 to 15 percent of the total opportunity, so it’s easy to get mislead on the real requirements of mainstream customers. Psychologists call this the confirmation bias. I call it failing by early adopters.

The good news is that early adopters are never reluctant to sign up as beta customers and will provide you early feedback on product quality. The bad news is that they are not a good test of basic usability and ease of operation, which are always a key to the much larger market of regular customers. Consider the long market acceptance struggle of digital wallets and home automation.

Listening too much to early adopters often leads to an expensive death spiral, since these users will request more and more features, more precise control of the technology, and more interoperability, all of which increase the complexity of the product, and decrease the usability for the average customer. The result is a bigger and bigger chasm to cross to your real market.

Many in the business world has heard of or read the old bestseller by Geoffrey A. Moore, “Crossing the Chasm,” but most entrepreneurs don’t realize how much it relates to them. In fact, it’s all about understanding the differences between early adopters and mainstream customers, and managing your own marketing and development efforts to cross this deadly chasm.

Here are the critical points that you must understand for optimal product management and marketing to maximize results from early adopters, as well as maximize your opportunity from the mainstream later adopters as well:

  1. Collect feedback across the total range of customers. Early adopters may be the most vocal, and easy to sign up, but your technology assessment panel must include customers from the early majority, late majority, and even technology laggards. These last three groups usually comprise up to 85 percent of your real market.
  1. Usability features are as important as function. Features you designed for non-technical users, including wizards for setup, dashboards for overview operation, and simple buttons for complex processes, will get little or no feedback from early adopters. They will request and be more vocal about technically tricky and elegant features.
  1. Eliminate interface complexity and clutter. Early adopters are not intimidated by dense user interfaces, with more options to control the technology, and the flexibility to do almost anything. Regular users like to see more white space, and are more impressed with the Amazon patented one-click-buy button, to complete a purchase in one click.
  1. Balance your focus on engineering elegance. Many technical entrepreneurs continue to “tune” the system, and add new parameters for users to worry about, simply because they can. At some point, this becomes compulsive engineering, and the tradeoffs in time to market, cost, and user friendliness move the product out of the intended market.
  1. Early adopters are cool, so you need them to kick-start word-of-mouth. You certainly can’t afford to ignore early adopters, or antagonize them. They are your early opinion leaders, so they are required to build the image that the rest will follow. The challenge is to attract them with an innovative solution built on great technology, while still keeping it usable, timely, and cost effective for the rest of us.

Early adopters are a critical but small market segment that must be treated with respect. They can be your best evangelists or your biggest critics at that critical point when you are crossing the chasm to the larger mainstream customer segment.

But don’t ever be become complacent due to excitement and passion from your early adopters. You still need the same reaction from your other market segments, and an appropriate marketing strategy for scaling the business into other segments. Ten percent of even a large opportunity can still leave you in the valley of death, rather than the pinnacle of success.

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, October 9, 2021

7 Tips To Raise Your Entrepreneur Instincts In School

Wisuda_HarvardA popular myth these days is that finishing college only dilutes your entrepreneurial instincts, and the best of the best, including Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, dropped out early to hasten their success. I agree with Robert E. Litan, former VP of research at the Kauffman Foundation, that these are exceptions to the rule, rather than a model to emulate.

Some people even believe that entrepreneurs must be born with the right genes, and no element of education is relevant. While I do agree that many attributes of a good entrepreneur, such as curiosity, confidence and determination, are largely determined by early-life experiences, a good education is critical in understanding the elements of creating a business and wooing customers.

In my view, the most effective entrepreneurs are those with a background of an array of real-life experiences, both positive and negative, as well as good academic and coaching activities. In fact, failure has been shown to be a better teacher than success, so parents and schools who protect their charges from any failures may not doing them any favors in the long run.

While we all know a few good entrepreneurs who dropped out of school, the Internet is full of stories on many more who capitalized on at least four years of college, including Sergey Brin and Larry Page of Google, Chad Hurley of YouTube and Bob Parsons of GoDaddy.

A more important question, then, for an aspiring entrepreneur, should be what to study in college for maximum value, rather than whether to drop out or stay. Here are my thoughts on the right focus at a college or university:

  1. Take entrepreneurship courses, but major in a more specific discipline. Depth in a specific business area, such as marketing or accounting, is important in understanding the internal and external processes of a business. Entrepreneurship is more about pulling all the elements together, making change happen and building relationships.

  1. Practical business courses are better than an advanced degree or MBA. Starting a business is not rocket science. A breadth of understanding of common business principles, such as management, personnel and finance, is more important than a depth of knowledge in a technical area. Don’t forget business writing and communication.

  1. Get involved in startup-business incubator activities with peers at school. Most universities have formal incubator and business development organizations that focus on coaching, grant writing and technology licensing. These present a huge opportunity to take your first steps as an entrepreneur with minimal risk and maximal support.

  1. Produce a real business plan for critical feedback from outside investors. It’s important to go well beyond the passionate idea stage. Writing a business plan is the only way to determine if you even understand what your dream is all about. Once you graduate, the feedback will cost much more, and it’s too late to take one more course.

  1. Extend your networking into peer interest groups outside your school. Start with your school connections with peer universities around the world. Then branch out to local business groups. Peers won’t be able to help you much in finding external investors, co-founders with prior experience and industry connections for distribution and marketing.

  1. Find summer internships and part-time work in your field of interest. You can’t really learn all you need to succeed in any business domain from textbooks. The idiosyncrasies of supplier relationships, distribution and pricing are just as important as the generic elements of time and money management. Get real experience early.

  1. Incorporate your first business before you graduate. It’s never too early to stop studying and start doing it for real. You will learn the most by facing the tribulations of establishing an LLC and dealing with insurance, personnel and tax issues. Remember, it’s the learning that counts, not the size of the bet or the ultimate success of your first try.

The best thing you can learn in school is how to learn -- fast and effectively. In the real world, change occurs very rapidly, so all the specifics you memorized from textbooks will likely be obsolete by the time you need them. Your academic credentials will have very little value as well. The value is in your ability to get new credentials in your business faster than your competitors.

If you are already in Harvard, and have proven that you learn quickly, then feel free to drop out and change the world. For the rest of us, a bit more practice before jumping feels like a better bet. We need all of you at your best.

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, October 8, 2021

7 Principles for Keeping Work Discussions Productive

Employees-scared-of-managerAll of us have been on the receiving end of a difficult conversation at work, and many have had to deliver a hard message to others. Unless you are totally inhuman, none of these are painless, and we all wish we had some way to make them more meaningful and more effective. We all want to feel good about our work and relationships, and we want others to feel that same way.

During my many years in business, and as a consultant, I have struggled with this dilemma myself, and tried to offer clients the insights they needed, but never had a good answer. Thus I was pleased to see this topic addressed well in a new book, “Can We Talk? Seven Principles for Managing Difficult Conversations at Work,” by Roberta Chinsky Mauson.

Roberta is a recognized thought leader on improving employee engagement, and has consulted with many top-tier companies and achieved some great results. I agree with her principles, and outline them here, for approaching any conversation at work, especially difficult ones, and making them positive and productive, rather than emotional and confrontational:

  1. Confidence - trusting yourself and the other party. Build your confidence first and present your side of the conversation in a way to keep the other person engaged and open enough to really hear your thoughts. You also need to take some time to build a trusting relationship with the other person, before jumping in and speaking your mind.

    The best way to build your own confidence is to solidify your purpose at work, and focus on results around that purpose. It's hard to be confident in what you're doing if you're not sure why you're doing it. When you show confidence, people will trust and follow you.

  2. Clarity - making your point clearly and listening. If you want others to hear you loud and clear, be direct in your communication, choose your words carefully, and stick to the facts. Enter all discussions with an open mind, park your assumptions, and listen deeply. Remember that what someone else hears is dependent on their perspective, not yours.

    Too often, the main objective for people who are about to enter a tricky conversation is to get it over as quickly as possible. With that as an objective, you won’t make your point clearly, and you may not listen. Practice your message ahead of time, and stick to it.

  3. Compassion - be empathetic and understanding. Empathy and compassion are the impression you display of how well you understand or feel what the other person is experiencing. These include not only the words spoken, but more importantly, your nonverbal cues and body language. Usually it helps to slow down rather than speed up.

  4. Curiosity - asking questions rather than shutting down. Being curious and asking questions to learn more about a particular situation shows the other party that you’re interested in what they have to say, and helps to move the conversation forward. Be sure to not cross that fine line between coming across as curious versus sounding judgmental.

  5. Compromise - earn respect by respecting others. When seeking common ground, focus on the why, keep your eyes on the prize, be open to all alternatives, and be willing to make concessions. Try to make the outcome a “win-win” rather than a “win-lose” result. Always be respectful of alternate views and perspectives that do not match yours.

  6. Credibility - your word is only as good as your actions. Credibility isn’t a trait you are born with – it’s something you earn day in and day out. It’s your behaviors that matter – not your intentions. Remember that people don’t work for companies, they work for people they trust. Improve your credibility by being consistent, and owning your mistakes.

  7. Courage - navigating the obstacles despite fear. Courage is the determination to move forward despite fear. The sooner you are able to deal with discomfort, the easier it will be for you to initiate a high-stakes conversation. Not taking action is never a solution, but not every conversation is worth having. In all cases, summon the courage to stand up for yourself.

As you can see, there’s a lot that needs to go into handling a challenging work situation, when your goal is to have a productive discussion, and need to continue to maintain a relationship with the other person.

The same principles apply, whether you are an entrepreneur, term member, or manager in a large company. Since these principles often take time to have an impact, you need to start your thinking and you focus now.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 09/24/2021 ***

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Wednesday, October 6, 2021

6 Ways To Strengthen Your Base As A Business Leader

business-leader-distinguishedMost of you business leaders focus first on providing guidance to your team, but neglect self-leadership as an equally important dimension. In my experience, many entrepreneurs rely too much on the perspective of a trusted advisor, or try to emulate a competitor who is getting attention. Personal leadership is setting your own direction and making real decisions first.

For example, no one should be convinced that Elon Musk is following someone else’s lead as he charges ahead with Tesla, SpaceX, and other initiatives. Steve Jobs famously is quoted as saying, "Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice." Of course, this kind of leadership has a big risk, since you have no one to blame if you get it wrong.

The challenge is how to develop that self-leadership in every aspiring entrepreneur and business professional role. As a mentor to many entrepreneurs, I don’t believe that it is only a birthright, and there are several key strategies, including the following, that you can learn and practice which will lead to success:

  1. Give your own judgement a high priority in decisions. I’m not suggesting that you not ask for or ignore other views and data, but simply use these to incrementally bolster your own judgement and confidence. Then make the decision your own, before you use it to lead the team. Over time, your self-worth and your leadership performance will increase.

    Getting lots of input on important issues is always a good idea. It can help you be right when, without expert help, you might fail. But it can turn into a flaw if you're depending on other people's opinions because you have no confidence in your own judgement.

  2. Solidify and demonstrate your personal values. Strong values lead to a perception of a strong character, which is the essence of a strong leader. A real business leader must have a set of guiding values and morals, which set your reputation in the mind of others, and improve your self-leadership perception. You can’t be a leader without values.

    Every person and every company needs a set of core values. Each opportunity and leadership decision should be looked at through the lens of these core values or you will create unnecessary self-conflict and failure with your own self-leadership.

  3. Increase your own knowledge in areas of interest. Focus on becoming an expert in relevant areas, rather than relying solely on other people. This may mean attending industry conferences, taking college courses, or reading some key books. The more you know, the more self-confident you will be to make your own leadership decisions.

    In many cases, the challenge may just be your ability to market yourself, and what you know. It may be time for you to start your own blog, write a book, or volunteer as a speaker at public events in your domain. Make sure everyone knows your expertise.

  4. Demonstrate integrity and strong ethics in all activities. How you communicate informally and spend your time is as important as the decisions you make as a leader. People expect their leaders to act with personal integrity in their private life, if they are to be followed in public decisions. Be open and transparent with the people around you.

    Personal and business ethics are more than just obeying laws. You can be perceived as dishonest, unprincipled, untrustworthy, unfair, or uncaring without breaking the law. Ethical leaders often do more than they have to do and less than they are allowed to do.

  5. Display personal leadership often to build momentum. The more you use your new-found leadership ability, the greater will be your satisfaction and confidence. People around you will recognize that energy, and follow you more willingly. The result will be a self-fulfilling prophecy of quicker and better leadership, for you and for your team.

  6. Celebrate every small success to build team confidence. Many entrepreneurs I know wait for that big event to celebrate their leadership. It’s actually more important to capitalize on all the small successes along the way, to build your momentum and everyone’s confidence in your leadership. You need this to weather the hard times.

In my experience, no title or amount of money will work as a substitute for self-leadership, or get you perceived as a business leader. In this very competitive age, with the current high rate of change in the marketplace, it behooves you to maximize your self-leadership, and be perceived as the business leader you always wanted to be. It’s never too late to learn and improve.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 09/21/2021 ***

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Monday, October 4, 2021

Why More Sales And Less Competition Is Not Sufficient

target-business-idea-growthDoes your business have a visible positive strategy, or do your customers and employees still see your primary focus as closing more sales and killing competitors? Certainly that has been the strategy of many companies, and has worked in the past, but today’s customers and workers are looking for more. They want relationships, positive experiences, and a win-win for society.

With the pervasive and instant communication of social media and the Internet, businesses can no longer hide behind the mask of their own hype, either inside the company or outside. The right positive strategy is integral to claiming leadership as well as making it happen.

I just remember the classic book, “The Strategic Leader’s Roadmap,” by Harbir Singh and Michael Useem from the Wharton School, which provides some specific steps along the way. I believe these steps are especially critical to the success of entrepreneurs who are rolling out new businesses today. It all starts with setting the right company strategy, including these elements:

  1. Inspirational statement of purpose and direction. The old mission statements declaring your intent to be the “low-cost provider” is no longer a motivating vision for employees or customers. Engaging visions today include elements of social and environmental responsibilities, as well as economic returns to constituents.
  1. Market and customer positioning. Clearly focusing on the right market and customer profile sets your competitor differentiation. It starts with understanding the drivers of customer excitement in advocating your solution, and ways to strengthen relationships. When customers are excited, your team becomes more engaged and productive.
  1. Customer and employee value propositions. What are the company’s solutions and practices that will be seen as win-win value by all constituents? Your managers and everyone on your team needs to understand how their actions and leadership relate to value provided. The strategy must drive leadership so that leaders can drive the strategy.
  1. Competitive and leadership leverage. A good strategy provides opportunities for internal actions and leaders to optimize and extend a firm’s competitive advantage. This requires effective communication of intent, flexibility in implementation, and positive rewards for innovation and initiative in improving customer experience and quality.
  1. Constant restructuring for future advantage. A strategy that does not evolve as the market changes is a losing strategy. The internal team must see a reward in fostering change and leadership, and customers must be energized by new and improved processes, practices, and solutions. The best strategies are dynamic, rather than fixed.

A positive business strategy allows you to lead strategically by mastering the elements of both, separately and as an integrated whole. The authors argue that strategic leadership is an acquired capability that can and must be mastered by managers at all levels. It needs to extend to the firm’s directors, as well as investors. Everyone has to think and act strategically.

Another growing force for strategic leadership is the evolution to globalization. New companies are automatically global in reach and visibility, which makes a lack of strategy more impactful, since there is no move to an alternate environment for correction and restart. You need to get it right the first time, or there may not be a next time.

Above all, no company can afford to confuse strategy with tactics. Strategy is the “what” part of the equation, and tactics are the “how” activities. Every business, especially startups, have limited resources to implement tactics, so they need to be totally clear on the strategy first. Even if you could unleash unlimited tactics, the results would be confusing and non-productive to employees and customers alike.

Business success is an elusive target – with over fifty percent of new businesses continuing to fail in the first five years. We are also seeing an increasing number of former leading businesses disappear from the scene, including Blockbuster, Kodak, and Sharper Image. Start with a focus on strategy, and keep it there. Maybe it’s time to check yours with your employees and your customers, and see how positive it is today.

Marty Zwilling

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Sunday, October 3, 2021

6 Aspects Of Your Story That Will Make You Memorable

telling-business-storyThe biggest challenge for every entrepreneur and every startup today is to get noticed and remembered in today’s information overload. The number of entrepreneurs worldwide is huge, starting an estimated 50 million new businesses per year, or 137,000 per day. Every one of these probably has a unique story, but in my years as a startup advisor I only remember hearing a few who capitalized on their story.

The impact of a memorable story was highlighted for me recently as I reviewed the classic book, “Sell With A Story,” by Paul Smith, who is an expert trainer on increasing business results through storytelling. His focus is primarily on improving the results for traditional sales professionals, but I’m convinced that the same principles are equally critical for entrepreneurs selling their startup to investors, strategic partners, and customers.

I say that because I’ve heard too many abstract pitches about the next paradigm-shifting technology, which I can’t relate to, and only a couple with stories that really grabbed me. The best story I remember related the family impact of devastation wrought by Alzheimer’s disease, leading to the development of a mitigation process, and I am now fully committed to this effort.

I learned from Smith that a memorable story doesn’t have to hit you personally, but it does have to include six key attributes to raise it above the standard sales pitch, or new venture problem statement, opportunity sizing, and value proposition. These attributes include the following:

  1. Specific moment-in-time indication. Most entrepreneurs were incented to start their venture at a specific moment they remember well, so telling the story of when and how this happened is a natural. The result will always have more impact than merely outlining a new technology, cutting costs, or tackling a known problem, such as world hunger.
  1. Place where it happened. A memorable story needs to start with location specifics to make it real. Stories relay events, and these events have to happen somewhere. The words can be simple, like “I was meeting with a customer in Boston,” or “When my home was devastated by a tornado.” It’s even acceptable to make up a place with a “what if.”
  1. Every story needs a main character. This should be obvious, but much of what passes for “a story” these days are things like elevator pitches or product descriptions that have no characters at all. In the context of new venture stories, the character would most likely be the entrepreneur, a potential customer, an investor, or all of the above.
  1. The obstacle or the painful need. This is the villain in the story, which should be the problem you are solving. If could be a disease you are designing medicine to combat, missing data that your solution provides, or a safety risk in a common process. The explanation of your solution, financial return, and the rollout comes later.
  1. A worthy goal. The main character in a story must have a specific goal, ideally one that is appreciated or even noble in the eyes of the listener. These days, it’s not cool to have a primary goal of making lots of money, but it is smart to include evidence that the new venture is sustainable as a business, and will provide a satisfying return to constituents.

  1. Something has to happen. Statements about your product’s amazing capabilities or your service commitment, or testimonials about how awesome your company is, are generally not stories because they don’t relay events. They are just someone’s opinion about impact which still belong in marketing collateral, but won’t make you memorable.

If possible, every entrepreneur should craft a unique story, or tune their story, for different audiences, such as investors and customers, to convey your values and your commitment in their specific context. Add emotion, surprise, dialogue, detail, data, and other elements to make your story fresh and effective. Always close stories with succinct lessons and recommended actions.

A compelling story is best used as a “grabber” to get people’s attention and make your venture and brand memorable, but it doesn’t replace any of the new venture basics, such as the business plan, investor deck, or financial model. It can be your competitive advantage over peers and existing players, and it is fun to do. How prepared are you to tell your best story?

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, October 2, 2021

7 Bases For Taking Control Of Your Time And Your Life

Time-Management-Time-SayingOne of the most important skills for every entrepreneur is timely and effective decision making. In a startup, any decision is better than no decision. One of the primary roles of every founder is to solve problems, make a decision, and manage the decision to results. The best entrepreneurs relish this role, while others struggle mightily and ultimately lose their health and their company.

In fact, there is much evidence that these same skills are a key to happiness and success in every area of your life and career. I found the classic book, “Master Your Time, Master Your Life,” by noted speaker and productivity expert Brian Tracy, who highlights decision making and problem solving as one of the most critical determinants of your success in everything you do.

Since I’m not a life coach, I can’t comment on the broader implications, but in my role as advisor to many startups, I do often find myself recommending a focus on many of his key points, which I will paraphrase here:

  1. Think in terms of action. Action starts with absolute clarity on the goals you want to achieve. Thus I always recommend that you document and clarify, first to yourself, the results you see in your vision of a new venture. Having a great idea is necessary, but not sufficient, to create a great business. Success in business is all about actions, not ideas.
  1. Assume there is always a solution. To solve problems, you need confidence that there is a solution and that you can find it. Without this confidence and determination to make a decision, you will likely fall victim to the malaise of excuses. Everyone needs the growing momentum of solving small problems to incent them to “change the world” with their idea.
  1. Expand your definition of the problem. In business, as in life, most problems have multiple dimensions. The more you understand the scope of a problem, the more likely you are to arrive at the right definition, which will lead to the correct solution. In fact, there are always multiple solutions, so a better definition always leads to a better decision.
  1. Separate symptoms from real constraints. In a new venture, much time can be wasted attacking symptoms rather that the real constraints holding your business back. The right first step is to go back to your goals to focus on the real limiting factors when you encounter problems with sales, growth, profitability, market share, or costs.
  1. Use brainstorming for a range of solutions. Harried entrepreneurs too often jump on the first solution that comes to mind, rather than looking for the best solution. Many techniques have been developed, such as brainstorming, to expand your thinking and identify up to twenty solutions for a given problem. The best will not be first on your list.

  1. Assign responsibility for results. It’s amazing how many business problem-solving meetings end with a clear, agreed-upon decision, but two weeks later the problem still exists. This represents a lack of responsibility assignment or acceptance, or lack of follow-up. Your job as entrepreneur or executive does not end with picking a solution.
  1. Work to enhance your problem-solving skills. Problem-solving skills need constant tuning as your position of responsibility improves, and your business becomes more successful and visible to competitors. Even the best entrepreneurs find more experienced and skillful mentors to help them improve, and explore new tools to conquer problems.

In all cases of business problem solving and making decisions, another important skill is your ability to think about priorities, both before you act and while you are acting. The best entrepreneurs have the ability to focus on the really important issues, and say no to all the other requests vying for their time. Thus they effectively accomplish vastly more than the others.

If you are looking to move up in your business career, or looking to adopt the lifestyle of an entrepreneur to take control of your time and your life, make sure that you follow the steps outlined here for success, self-esteem, and real happiness. Life is too short to be unhappy in your work.

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, October 1, 2021

6 Sweet Spots That Have Sustained Many Great Startups

IElon Musk, serial entrepreneur, at TED2013: The Young, The Wise, The Undiscovered.  Wednesday, February 27, 2013, Long Beach, CA. Photo: James Duncan Davidsonn my experience mentoring new entrepreneurs and aspiring business leaders, I see far too many who seem to be driven by all the wrong reasons. Everyone seems to espouse extrinsic motivations, such as getting rich, having power, and fulfilling parent dreams, when in fact a focus on satisfying internal interests and desires will likely lead to more success, as well as satisfaction.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with a couple of the best-known entrepreneurs of our time, and read about many more in the classic book, “Discover Your True North,” by Harvard leadership expert and best-selling author Bill George. He makes a convincing argument that the best leaders and entrepreneurs follow their intrinsic rather than extrinsic motivations.

He emphasizes the value of finding a way to align your strengths with your intrinsic motivations, which he calls the sweet spot. Some of the most effective sweet spots and intrinsic motivations for today’s entrepreneurs would include the following:

  1. Making a difference in the world. When Bill Gates acted on his dream of putting a computer in every home and on every desk, he had no idea of the fortune it would bring to him, since he wanted only to make a difference. Extrinsic motivations often work against entrepreneurs by leading them to set unrealistic and overwhelming goals.
  1. Find personal meaning from building a business. In his most memorable book, “The Art of The Start 2.0,” Guy Kawasaki exhorts entrepreneurs to focus on making meaning, not money. He has said many times that if your vision for your company is to grow it just to flip it to a large company or to take it public and cash out, "you're doomed.” Do it for meaning.
  1. Satisfaction of doing something great. Steve Jobs summarized his intrinsic motivation way back in 2005 at Stanford in a talk titled “How to Live Before You Die.” He said, “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”
  1. Personal growth and accomplishment. To be a successful entrepreneur, one can never stand still. The best entrepreneurs enjoy the journey as much as the destination. They have a thirst for knowledge that helps them in their business, as well in their own personal growth. That synergy creates a sweet spot that maximizes their impact.
  1. Seeing the real value of one’s beliefs. When asked why he created Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg replied “It's not because of the amount of money. For me and my colleagues, the most important thing is that we create an open information flow for people. Having media corporations owned by conglomerates is just not an attractive idea to me."
  1. Helping others achieve their goals. If you want to achieve your goals, help others achieve theirs. Great entrepreneurs keep your eyes open for other businesses in a related space that can complement theirs. Elon Musk has opened up Tesla car battery patents for use by anyone, which obviously will benefit his business as well as theirs.

Most entrepreneurs will tell you that once they discovered the real purpose for their efforts, they found a new sense of commitment and leadership which allowed them to really inspire and empower others, as well as direct their own actions. At this point they can make the strategic decisions they need to really make a difference, enjoy satisfaction, and leave a lasting legacy.

Many have found that initial failure is one of the best teachers in this regard. I counsel new entrepreneurs to expect failure, and wear it as a badge of pride, rather than trying to hide it. In fact, most investors are wary of anyone who claims to have never failed, reading that claim as an indication of too much caution, or not able to face their own reality.

The primary message here is not to hide your real motivation from yourself, your team, or your investors. You can’t fool them all for very long, and you won’t be happy trying. If you can’t find any intrinsic motivations for what you are doing now, it’s probably time to take a hard look at your lifestyle and your future. Life is too short to be unhappy and unfulfilled for any part of it.

Marty Zwilling

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Wednesday, September 29, 2021

5 Keys To Sustaining A Positive Attitude In Your Team

positive-attitude-businessIn my experience as an employee, up to an executive, in large companies as well as small, I’ve found that people who are consistently negative and complain are a big constraint on productivity, as well as the most difficult management problem that most business leaders face. The challenge is to get negative people to see themselves as part of the problem, rather than the solution.

If you are one of these people, you probably also don’t realize that for you personally, negativity has serious consequences for your mental and physical health, as well as the health of your company. Perhaps you just see it as "venting," and rationalize that by getting your emotions out, you will feel better, and everyone else will finally see you as the victim of the real problem.

As a business advisor today, I find that even seasoned managers and executives are frustrated by this phenomenon, and often ask me how they can correct it, or even prevent it. I have to admit that I have no magic formula, but I do offer the following recommendations from experience to get you started, and minimize negativity in both employee teams and all levels of management:

  1. Make yourself a consistent example of positivity. Whether you are the company CEO, or a stock room clerk, you can make a difference by refusing to succumb to the negativity of others around you. Offer positive solutions to your business challenges, rather than just highlighting the problem, assigning blame, or delivering angry diatribes.

    If you are unsure of what you can do to keep a positive mindset, don’t hesitate to ask for some personal coaching with experts in this area, or review the many articles on positive habits that will make your life better, as well as make you a role model for other people.

  2. As a leader, publicly reward positive feedback. This means highlighting positive contributions to the whole team, as well as in performance reviews and bonus reports. It also means providing private and specific feedback to people with a negative attitude, since many do not see themselves as others see them. They may really want to change.

    Zappos, for example, has earned global accolades for their strategic “Zappos dollars” peer-to-peer recognition program, where employees share low-cost, high-frequency rewards with each other. The result is a positive and productive work environment for all.

  3. Administer regular morale and satisfaction surveys. Proactively look for signs that negativity is impacting morale and productivity in your organization, and use the survey and follow-up to credibly identify specific sources and people to counsel. Do not publicly call out specific people, but provide private feedback and coaching to negative offenders.

    The three most relevant types of employee surveys include employee satisfaction surveys, employee culture surveys, and employee engagement surveys. With senior management support, all of these can be developed and administered by your HR team.

  4. Remove or retrain repeat offenders on a timely basis. How quickly and effectively you deal with people who won’t or can’t change will be the best message you can send to others. Some negative or angry people may just be a bad fit for your company, while others may just be dealing with personal problems, where a job adjustment is required.

    Failure to deal with consistently negative employees only exacerbates the problem and the impact on your business. Some experts have estimated that the cost of keeping the wrong person for a given organization can be up to fifteen times his or her annual salary.

  5. Hire only people with positive and can-do attitudes. Resumes are good for prior experience assessment and relevant skills, but indicate very little about attitudes and work style. Use the interview process and really listen to responses. It’s easy to spot negativity and complainers, which should be a major red flag in every hiring process.

    In fact, many experts believe that hiring for attitude is more important than hiring for skill. They believe that focusing on a candidate's softer qualities is better for your company in the long term, as you can't anticipate the hard skills you will need in the future anyway.

Your coaching to marginal employees should include the fact that optimists lead more satisfying lives, personally as well as professionally. Negativity also tends to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, which will impact your ability to do your job well and reap the rewards. Now is the time to do your own self-assessment, and adopt the positive habits you need to succeed.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 09/14/2021 ***

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Monday, September 27, 2021

10 Keys To Getting A Role With The Startup You Desire

Interview_startup_positionIn a corporate environment, the focus of a job interview has long been demonstrating your match to the skills and experience outlined in the job description. In my experience with startups, that is still necessary, but not sufficient. Today’s business world has become totally customer driven, so customer-centric and people abilities really make the difference between winners and losers.

I found these required attributes outlined well in the classic book, “Customer Service the Sandler Way,” by customer care expert Anne MacKeigan. This book is focused on strategic customer support jobs in every company, but I believe the hiring rules apply equally well to every job in a startup, since customer focus has to be pervasive from the beginning in modern new companies.

As a job candidate for any highly desirable position in a startup, here are ten key attributes that will give you the winning edge over other candidates:

  1. Bias toward action. Today’s business landscape is constantly changing, dealing with many unknowns, and the amount of data available on the Internet is overwhelming. Customers and competitors won’t wait, so every new business is looking for people who can make a decision and get things done. Talk about results, not job assignments.
  1. Sense of personal responsibility. When problems arise in a startup, blame is a useless tool. People who can demonstrate that they take responsibility for required actions, with no excuses, are extremely valuable in any position. Show that you have done in previous jobs more than you were paid to do, without anyone watching.
  1. An ability to step outside the process. Stepping outside the process means you need to recognize the need for a process, but also be willing to go beyond it when the process fails or is incomplete. Winning job candidates show that they have used good judgment to handle process boundary exceptions, based on a high level of customer sensitivity.
  1. Success in building business relationships. If you don’t show your people skills during the interview, you probably won’t show them later with customers and peers. Startups know that hiring employees who build good relationships will result in higher internal morale, less burnout, and higher customer retention. Highlight your good relationships.
  1. Tendency to question and qualify. In a startup, it’s everyone’s job to more fully understand requirements, competition, as well as customer satisfaction. In an interview, be sure to show your curiosity, ability to ask good questions, practice active listening, and the analytical ability to ferret out relevant meaning behind the data.
  1. Persistence with tough challenges. Smart interviewers will be checking for candidates that are not resistant to hard questions, and are quick to dig deeper into situations they are not familiar with. No candidate wants to be viewed as an inflexible management challenge, or a potential turnoff to customers. Highlight your record of persistence.
  1. Ability to quickly “read” a situation. People-smart candidates, meaning good communicators, socially intelligent, and skilled at reading body language or emotion, are invaluable on small teams as well as customer-centric activities. Things are rarely black and white. Don’t let your ego bias your reading of interviewer expectations.
  1. Low need for approval. Candidates with this attribute are always confident and business-like, friendly but not necessarily best friends. Use examples of achievements that required initiative and determination, without orders from above, to show your ability to handle tough startup situations and customer requests with minimal support.
  1. Strong empathy for others. This attribute is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes to see what they see, and feel what they feel. When you display deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy depletes and their positive energy rises. Show how you have changed a confrontational situation to a positive and relationship-building one.
  1. Good manners and etiquette always. Good manners are a two-sided positive tool; they not only convey respect to everyone with whom you interact, but they also command respect from those people. Good etiquette contributes to personal presence. Make sure you are really present and engaged with your interviewer, and watch your manners.

Good resumes and LinkedIn profiles may get you an interview, but they won’t get you the job, in a startup or a corporate environment. Entrepreneurs and investors have learned that success in the marketplace today is usually more about the people focus and customer focus of the team than the quality of the product. How many of these attributes can you highlight in your next interview?

Marty Zwilling

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Sunday, September 26, 2021

7 Ways To Get Satisfaction From Your Next New Venture

woman-business-satisfactionA common request I hear from aspiring entrepreneurs is for an assessment of their latest idea. I don’t even try to assess things at the idea level, since I can’t read minds. I can assess execution plans, if you have any. Yet I believe that business success is more a function of the person than the idea or the plan, so the best idea is one that is a best fit for you, and only you can assess that.

The best new idea for any entrepreneur should first be based on their own personal interests, skills, and lifestyle, rather than the characteristics of a given market or technology. I found some great insights along these lines in the classic book “Find Your Balance Point,” by renowned executive business coach Brian Tracy, and work-life balance therapist Christina Stein.

They emphasize, and I agree, that true success and satisfaction is most likely to happen when all your actions and choices are guided by a profound adherence to your deepest personal values, vision, purpose, and goals. Here are seven key considerations for how you should make your own best entrepreneur business idea decision in this context:

  1. Pick something you really enjoy doing. If your passion is social change or sustainability, with financial value creation further down in priority, you should choose to be a social entrepreneur. Don’t pick a technology idea that someone else believes will make you rich and famous, or a business area you are not intimately familiar with.
  1. The idea or technology was easy for you to learn. If you feel an idea was born inside you without thought or effort, or you learned the details easily, it’s a great idea for you. The next step is to do homework on the business issues that are common to all ideas, such as market size, business models, and marketing. Then ask me about execution.
  1. You look forward to learning and contributing more. Every new idea is only the beginning of a long journey, and the actions you take along the way will determine your ultimate success and satisfaction. You need to enjoy the learning along the way, as well as the destination. If all you see ahead is stress and pain, look for another idea.
  1. When engrossed with this idea, the hours fly by. The best and most successful entrepreneurs, such as Elon Musk, known for PayPal, SpaceX, and Tesla Motors, routinely work hundred-hour weeks, but never complain about the hours, and don’t even think of their activities as work. He doesn’t need or ask anyone to assess his ideas.
  1. Working on this idea gives you renewed energy. Everyone develops a sense of what activities build their energy, and which ones drain energy from them. As an introvert, I lose energy quickly working a room full of people, while my extrovert friends come away from a social gathering more fully energized. Find ideas that energize you.
  1. You continually strive to sell and communicate the value. Smart entrepreneurs develop quick elevator pitches for their ideas, good product and business stories, and are eager for the opportunity to communicate and learn from feedback. As an investor, I’m not attracted to startups where the founder sends in a marketing person to do the talking.

  1. You love to associate with the top people in the business area. The best ideas are ones that get attention from experts and key constituents in relevant business areas. Part of the satisfaction of being an entrepreneur is being able to interact with and learn from the people you respect most. Test your ideas on them, and listen to the answers.

Finding the balance point in your life’s work is not an easy task, but it is critical to long-term success and happiness. Establishing the right professional identity and commensurate business is equal in importance to maintaining your health and finding the right personal relationships and family life. You can never satisfy everyone, so you need to start by satisfying yourself.

So before you poll the world on what they think of your next great idea, be sure you assess your own drivers along the lines listed here. If everything fits, build a plan to make it a business. If you can’t build a plan, or your advisors and investors find it unconvincing, it’s time to give that idea to someone else and try a new one. I see more than enough great ideas to match any entrepreneur.

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, September 25, 2021

7 Reasons That Investors Won’t Fund Inventions Alone

bulb-close-up-crack-currentEvery inventor seems to think their invention is worth a million dollars, but I haven’t seen anyone pay that much for one yet. In fact, I often have to tell aspiring entrepreneurs that their inventions have zero value, at least not until they are put in the context of a business plan, with qualified people committed to executing the plan. Early-stage ideas fall in the same category.

Don’t get me wrong. I have the greatest respect for inventors and idea people, who think outside the box to envision and even create solutions never before seen. But I have also learned from experience that there is often quite a distance between a great invention and a great business. A business is about making money, while inventions are more about spending money.

According to an old Harvard Business Review article, many people in history, famous for their inventions, like Thomas Edison, were entrepreneurs who only later were remembered as inventors of the products they commercialized. In fact, entrepreneurs will always tell you that the invention was the easy part, and building an innovative business was the real challenge.

Of course it helps to have innovative technologies before you start building a business. In other words, inventions are necessary but not sufficient to create real value for investors and customers. So what do investors look for in qualifying you for that million dollars you need to take your invention from your garage to the market? Here are some reality checks you should apply:

  1. It takes a business team to build a business. If you have been working alone, perfecting your idea, with no new business track record, your best strategy is to license the technology to a company or team with real business startup experience. You may get that million dollars someday in future royalty payments, but don’t expect anything today.
  1. Commercialization requires infrastructure. Many great technology solutions, like hydrogen engines for cars, look great on paper, but are extremely difficult to make a business. The value is tied to infrastructure outside your control, such as a pervasive network of fuel stations, trained service facilities, and new government regulations.
  1. You need a viable business model and customers. Investors expect proof that your invention can be manufactured in volume, and can justify a sales price at least double the cost, to a large customer set that has money to spend. I see too many technology solutions to world hunger, where constituencies don’t have money to sustain a business.
  1. Take a hard look at the alternatives. Just because your technology is “cool” doesn’t mean that it solves a painful problem that customers are willing to pay for. People like to complain about global warming and the plastics pollution problem, but they may not be ready to buy alternative energy at twice the price, or change bad habits for global gain.
  1. Lock in your sustainable advantage. Technology limited to a single product is seldom enough for a business. A long-term advantage usually also requires intellectual property, such as a patent, trade secret, or trademark. Investors look for technologies that can spawn a family of products, rolled out over time, for continuous innovation.
  1. Experts and market research agree you are first. Just because you haven’t heard of anything like your invention, doesn’t mean you are ahead of the pack. Even a patent search won’t uncover work in progress that may be well ahead of you in the business cycle. Test your idea with experts, scientific journals, and trade publications.

  1. Truly disruptive technologies carry an extra burden. Investors realize that big changes in technology usually take a long time, several false starts, and more money than expected to commercialize. They, and most customers, really are quicker to adopt evolutionary rather than revolutionary products. Early adopters are not a big market.

Ultimately you need to remember that customers buy solutions to problems from business people they trust – they don’t buy technology from inventors. If you really want your invention to change the world, maybe it’s time to give it to a proven entrepreneur, and split the ownership of a new company. The million dollars will come in due time.

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, September 24, 2021

8 Strategies to Thrive in a Constantly Changing World

change-contantlyIn my role as a business advisor, I find that most still resist change, especially change they can’t control and did not choose, rather than accept it as the norm, and seek to capitalize on it. I believe that that by adopting a more positive change mindset, you can actually make surfing the waves of change much more manageable, and even make your business and career fun again.

Thus I was pleased to see support for my perspective in a new book, “Flux: 8 Superpowers for Thriving in Constant Change,” by April Rinne, who is emerging as one of the leading futurists and change navigators for businesses, and individuals alike. She offers some key strategies, often counterintuitive, which I will outline here, to drive a change mindset that we both recommend:

  1. Slow down and appreciate what really matters. When everything is in flux, we often feel stress to run faster to get ahead of all the changes. In fact, slowing down to evaluate what is really important to you is a better strategy, by reducing burnout, enhancing your productivity, and focusing you on items that allow you and your business to flourish.

  2. Look for a change that most people don’t see. What you need to thrive in this world of change is to develop the ability to perceive what is beyond the obvious, to discover new solutions that fit your aspirations and interests. This mindset will allow you to alter your direction in the most positive way, and drive customer change rather than be driven by it.

  3. Seek out the unfamiliar, outside your comfort zone. Adopt the mindset of a traveler, anticipating new adventures that will challenge your view of the world and reality. Remember back when you looked forward to these emotions as a challenge, expected to enjoy and learn from them, and they inspired you to new heights in your life and career.

  4. Start with the trust that change is good, but verify. We have all been burned at least once by trusting someone, but mistrust leads to inaction and fear. Learn to question all aspects of change, look for positive implications you can verify, and act on them. As a leader, you build trust in your team by communicating clearly, and implement change.

  5. Reinforce your values in dealing with flux. As change happens, it’s important to relate back to your base values and passions. Don’t let change lead you away from your personal values – dig deeply to find your fit with the new environment. The result will be just enough to meet your needs for growth and success in the business, without the pain.

  6. Rethink your career as an evolving portfolio of jobs. In this world of change, careers are no longer a singular path, but more likely a portfolio of evolving experiences and skills. For you smart professionals with endless curiosity and a desire to learn, the current gig economy has the potential for much more personal satisfaction, growth, and success.

  7. Thrive by using your humanity to help others. In a world with more robots, it’s more satisfying to use your humanity to serve other humans. I see a major change in consumer expectations for a total memorable human experience in guiding their loyalty, versus a technical transaction. Your worth and success depends on your value in helping others.

  8. Let a better future emerge outside your control. Letting go and minimizing your resistance enables a better future to evolve. Don’t allow yourself to get stuck in the past, fearing the future. Let your mindset shift from negative predictions and hesitation to positive preparations for new opportunities. Make the unknown a positive challenge.

The underlying message here is that we all must accept change in the marketplace as a given and an opportunity, not a painful and expensive problem that has to be solved. By adopting a change mindset, our chances for success and satisfaction in our business and our career will be greatly increased. With the pace of change constantly increasing, don’t wait any longer to start.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 09/07/2021 ***

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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

7 Ways To Highlight Your Personal Value To Investors

personal-value-to-investorsUnfortunately, most of us don’t have enough resources to bootstrap our own startups, so we are completely dependent on investors to help turn great ideas into great businesses. Yet in my experience on both sides of this equation, I find that many aspiring entrepreneurs focus only on the best idea, assuming that it will attract the right investors. In reality, that’s only half the story.

The other half is you. You need to work just as hard to convince investors that you are the best person to take your idea from a dream to a successful business, and provide an impressive return on their investment at the same time. Here are some key strategies that I have seen to enhance your position as an attractive investment opportunity, independent of your idea:

  1. Highlight a greater sense of purpose than making money. Of course, you need to show how your business will make money and provide an impressive investor return, but that should be only the beginning. Emphasize your real ambition to change the world, through helping the underprivileged, improving healthcare, or saving the environment.

    For example, Blake Mycoskie of TOMS Shoes attributes his ability to raise a seed round and build a $400M company to his commitment to provide a free pair of shoes to the underprivileged for every pair sold. He didn’t have any big technical shoe innovations.

  2. Develop a personal story as a visionary and learner. Investors love entrepreneurs who come across as constantly on the lookout for new ideas, and able to grasp the larger implications for market change. Your story should include childhood initiatives, industry organization leadership roles, and online influencer organizations that you support.

    Many of his original investors still remember when Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg first related his personal challenge to only eat meat that he killed himself, in an effort to learn sustainable farming and consume resources responsibly. His campaign only lasted a year, but it convinced some that he was a potential visionary and a constant learner.

  3. Show that you love change, but understand reality. Above all, good business people have to remain practical, not be perfectionists, and be able to get the job done. That means you need to show examples of your ability to get results, when all around you are bogged down on details, or unable to face the harsh challenges of the real world.

  4. Offer an attractive and viable investment equation. As you may have seen on the Shark Tank TV show, offering a tiny equity amount for a large investment will not endear you to investors. They need to believe your valuation, based on current revenue and intellectual property, and feel the equity offered gives them a real return for the risk.

  5. Display real commitment to a plan, with milestones. Passion and confidence are a good start, but every investor wants to see a credible plan, with specific milestones along the way. These show a focus on the business elements required for success, and metrics for ensuring accountability, management control, and feedback along the way.

  6. Emphasize the value and skills of your team. Founders who present themselves as a lone entrepreneur may develop an innovative solution, but building a business requires a team. You need to show that you have a powerful team, and can attract and lead people with strong skills complimentary to yours for marketing, finance, sales, and operations.

  7. Demonstrate flexibility, resilience, and determination. Smart investors know that no matter how certain you are that your solution is right, you will probably need to pivot at least once as you learn from the marketplace. You need to show you have a “Plan B,” and a never-give-up mindset, in handling any competitive threat or customer reaction.

The message here is that it is just as important to develop and communicate your personal innovative strengths as it is to pitch your solution’s innovative features. As an investor, I have seen many great ideas fail by the wrong entrepreneur, and other less grandiose ones sail to success by world-class entrepreneurs. Never underestimate the power of you.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 09/09/2021 ***

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Monday, September 20, 2021

8 Advantages To Building Your Own Startup Prototypes

Meet_Up_MakerspaceBack in the early 2000s, the Maker Movement took hold in California, based on the emergence of such do-it-yourself (DIY) tools as 3-D printers, and now sites such as SketchUp and Makerspaces have all the tools you need to make almost anything computer related. Thus entrepreneurs were able to build prototypes and design new products without the traditional huge prototyping cost.

The movement has long since spread across the country and across the globe, spawning innovative products such as the MakerBot Digitizer and all the things you can access from Thingiverse.com. Events for enthusiasts, formerly called Maker Faires, now stretch across the USA and into many other countries. They have also become great networking events for meeting other like-minded entrepreneurs.

I believe the Maker Movement and hardware startups with limited resources are made for each other. Here are some key positives from an entrepreneur perspective:

  1. Shorten the time and cost from idea to prototype. In today’s fast moving market, the basic product development cost and time are critical to survival. They come at the early stage while a startup has no revenue or valuation, so professional investors are hard to find. Low-cost design and fabrication tools are extremely valuable.
  1. Place to build skills and become familiar with new tools. Makerspaces, sometimes called hackerspaces, have sites and events, including tutorials, where people with common interests can meet, socialize and collaborate. With the new rapid prototyping tools, products can be physically built for analysis, rather than just conceptualized.
  1. Network with potential cofounders and strategic partners. Relationships are best built while working and learning together, rather than over drinks at a mixer or industry conference. There are already more than 1500 active hackerspaces worldwide, with info on Hackerspaces. Countless startup teams have already been spawned from these.

  1. Opportunity to meet investors and support organizations. Venture capitalists and investors are where the action is, to see first-hand what is possible, and who are the leaders. Makerspaces are becoming the new incubators and accelerators for startups, and support contacts, like lawyers and marketing groups, will be easy to find.

  1. Open your mind to new entrepreneurial opportunities. With low-cost digital design and fabrication tools, such as 3D printing and the ability to digitize almost any object, bold new innovations become apparent. Very young entrepreneurs get to “touch and feel” the results, and can experiment to their heart’s content. These ideas can grow quickly into real products.

  1. Meet the new consumer demand for customization. Customers today increasingly demand solutions that are customized just for them. Hobbyists and craftsmen have made custom solutions for a very long time, but companies have resisted this requirement to keep costs down. Maker tools are changing these economies of scale.

  1. Accelerate the trend to higher purpose startups. The new do-it-yourself capabilities and low entry costs mean that you don’t have be a Bill Gates to offer solutions that have an impact on society. The Maker Movement is already poised to transform learning in our schools, and offer low-cost solutions to solve environmental and third-world problems.
  1. Diversity breeds success. By collaborating with the Maker Movement, artistic entrepreneurs work with the technology freaks, and both benefit from other cultures around the world. New products emerge, as diverse as networked-art installations, Internet-of-Things innovations, and many other hybrid software-hardware solutions.

Makers are becoming real entrepreneurs, rather than just hobbyists and inventors. The new shared culture emphasizes learning-through-doing in a social environment, as well as fun and self-fulfillment. Have you tried it yet?

Marty Zwilling

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Sunday, September 19, 2021

8 Brand Strategy Rules From Elite Consumer Companies

Starbucks_CoffeeEvery new business dreams of becoming the premier brand in their space, like Starbucks is to coffee, and Apple is to consumer electronics, but they have no idea how difficult that is to achieve. In fact, only 100 of the 10,000 multimillion-dollar consumer companies around the world can claim to be an “apostle brand” – one that inspires enduring trust, loyalty, and endorsement.

One of the reasons it’s so tough is that the rules are constantly changing on what it takes to win over customers, as customer attitudes and cultures change, and competitors continually strive to “raise the bar” on product and support. I found some eye-opening insights in the classic book, “Rocket: Eight Lessons to Secure Infinite Growth,” by The Boston Consulting Group.

They outline the new rules for existing brands, but I believe that every entrepreneur who doesn’t yet have a brand yet should study these carefully, as paraphrased for startups below. It’s a lot harder to recover from brand missteps made early, than it is to get is right the first time, so build your brand strategy accordingly:

  1. Don’t ask your customers what they want next. The challenge of every startup is finding that balance between solving a real problem today, and giving customers the courage to make a leap forward. Existing customers can’t envision a new concept, or new behaviors. You have to excite their imagination, then show them the new world.

  1. Turn your biggest fans into apostle customers. Your first satisfied customers define your voice in the marketplace. They see your strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities. If you listen to them and respond, they will become your best apostles, delivering on average eight times their own value in new customers. That’s a winning growth trajectory.
  1. Always welcome a customer’s scorn as a gift. Even in a new startup organization, it’s easy to become convinced that a percentage of unhappy customers is normal. Instead of scorn and dismissal, a comprehensive and deliberate response is the key to brand growth and vitality. Without the feedback, no change in the demand space will be noted.
  1. People still judge a book by its cover. Consumers shop with their eyes, just like they eat with their eyes. Target all the senses all the time. Shame on you if you offer any product or service that is dull or unattractive. Steve Jobs was a master at this. Visual appearance and core values matter. Make your team as well as your customers proud.
  1. Transform your employees into passionate disciples. A highly motivated front line engages customers and tells your story with passion. They are your greatest resource for generating new apostles and a cultural advantage. The result is higher repeat purchases and sales without promotion. Loyalty in the ranks creates loyalty in the customer.
  1. Ramp up your virtual and real relationships. The digital age is making virtual relationships with customers indistinguishable from real relationships. It’s a lot easier and faster to grow virtual relationships, and they are both real for online purchases. Your startup needs to use blogs and social media to establish interactive relationships early.
  1. Take giant leaps rather than timid steps. It’s hard to really change the world with incremental advances and consolidation. Be clear and vibrant in your claims and in your deeds, or you will never get noticed in the flood of messages we have to deal with every day. Startups have the advantage in starting with a dream and no feet stuck in the past.
  1. Don’t ever assume that your brand is stable. All relationships are in a constant state of flux, so don’t assume your customer relationships will remain stable. At any moment, your brand will be lifted high or knocked down low by cultural changes or external events. It’s up to you to track the data, recognize a change early, and intervene proactively.

The overall goal of these eight new rules is to help your startup forge the tightest possible emotional connection with the most customers in the shortest amount of time. These customer advocates lead to more love, loyalty, advocacy, and the exponential growth of an enduring brand. It’s the only way to make your startup the next Starbucks.

Marty Zwilling

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