Monday, December 5, 2022

8 Key Business Growth Burdens You May Not Anticipate

carry-the-worldEvery new entrepreneur who has not spent years in corporate life has the advantage of an unbiased look at business opportunities, but at the same time has the disadvantage of missing critical business experiences that can cost them dearly in their first startup venture. In my experience, building a successful business is more difficult than building an innovative solution.

Fortunately, despite their lack of basic business experience, the destined-to-be-great entrepreneurs never give up, following Bill Gates after his first failure with Traf-O-Data, and Jeff Bezos after early failure with his online auction site. All too many others are so discouraged or financially destroyed by their business learning experiences that they never try again.

Fortunately, I’ve had the opportunity to work and learn for many years in both the corporate environment (IBM), as well as the exploding Silicon Valley startup environment of the 90’s. As an advisor to many startups since that time, here is my list of key business growth challenges that every first-time entrepreneur may not anticipate:

  1. It takes relationships to make a business work. An innovative solution is necessary but not sufficient to build a business. Businesses require people relationships, to find the right team, investors, contract vendors, and attract customers. As an introvert and a techy, I know well the challenges of building relationships in today’s competitive world.
  1. Startups don’t come with formal training courses. New entrepreneurs quickly find that what they learned in business school is no substitute for real-world business experience and training. Larger enterprises let you learn as you go, with minimal risk, and they pay for leadership training, employee management, and new project management tools.
  1. A successful business is a long-term effort. Entrepreneurs are an optimistic and passionate group, who normally expect their idea to go viral soon, and success to follow shortly thereafter. They aren’t mentally prepared for the long-term grind, with repeated tough challenges along the way. It’s a 24/7 job with no time off for vacation or fun.
  1. Personal finances must be kept separate from the business. Being an entrepreneur is a lifestyle, making it hard to isolate the startup finances from family financial stability and future retirement requirements. Startups don’t come with pension, health, or 401(k) plans included. Startup setbacks can easily cost you your house and credit rating.
  1. Building a startup is more about love than money. People with experience in big businesses have learned that you won’t be happy even if well paid, unless you enjoy the job. Entrepreneurs who love to invent new things, but hate business, need to find the right partners before embarking down the path to a new business.
  1. Not having a predictable income is an ongoing source of stress. People don’t appreciate a regular paycheck until they don’t have one. Entrepreneurs never know when they will be hit by technology advances, new competitors, economic downturns, or loss of a major customer. Early funding is a full-time effort, and it’s no fun for anyone.
  1. Running a business is lonely at the top. Once you have formally established a startup with you as the CEO, all former teammates will see you in a different light as the boss. Quickly, it will be difficult to get unbiased input, and everyone will wait for you to make the final decisions. It’s hard to find someone to share your fears and challenges with.
  1. Peer perceptions of you as an entrepreneur are not always positive. It’s popular today as a young entrepreneur to talk about your dreams and initiatives, and everyone seems to look up to someone running their own business. Later, colleagues with jobs in large corporations may look down on you as a person without job security or a career.

In all cases, I recommend to aspiring entrepreneurs that they spend some time first working for another startup, or in a corporate environment, if they aren’t absolutely certain about their lifestyle preferences. Life is too short to spend most of it in stress and pain, handling challenges you never anticipated, even if you are convinced that you can change the world.

Marty Zwilling

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Sunday, December 4, 2022

10 Mindset Elements That Tag You As An Entrepreneur

successful-entrepreneur-mindsetAs a startup advisor and investor, I’ve met many aspiring entrepreneurs, and I often get asked the question, “I have a great idea for a startup – do you agree that it real potential?” They don’t know that most experts agree the person is more important than the idea, yet I’ve never been asked, “I have a great idea for a startup – do you agree that I have real potential as an entrepreneur?”

Nevertheless, I’ve given a good bit of thought to some questions I might ask, or you should ask yourself, to get some indication of whether you have the right stuff to succeed and be happy in the entrepreneur lifestyle. Here are ten sample considerations that I believe will reveal positive indications of your potential as an entrepreneur, and also indicate that you will select good ideas:

  1. You see creating a business as a fun challenge. Many techies and inventors I know hate the thought of running a business – their fun and challenge comes from creating the innovative solution. For these, I recommend that they find a partner first who is willing and able to run a business. “If we build it, they will come” is not a viable startup strategy.
  1. You tend to ask for forgiveness rather than ask for permission. This attitude indicates that you are comfortable making decisions, and ready to be your own boss - a major prerequisite for succeeding in any entrepreneurial endeavor. Of course, you do need to consider how often that strategy has worked for you, and how often it backfired.
  1. Making big money excites you, but is not your major driver. If you are dreaming of an opportunity to get rich quick, the entrepreneur route is not for you. Most great founders lived on Ramen noodles, without taking a salary, for longer than they like to remember. For them, money is a positive indicator of success, but not an end in itself.
  1. You relish the opportunity to set your own goals and targets. Real entrepreneurs are self-motivated, and hate to be driven by someone else’s deadlines and priorities. Arbitrary rewards, like salary bonuses or vacation perks, seem to just get in the way of achieving really great results. The fun is in the journey, as well as the destination.
  1. You treasure your breadth of interests, rather than your depth. To build a startup, you have to enjoy the broad range of challenges, from technical to marketing to sales to personnel. Big corporations need specialists, which is why most entrepreneurs move on to start their next business when their first startup gets too large.
  1. You enjoy building relationships as well as products. A startup is no place for the Lone Ranger. An entrepreneur has to be as adept at building a team, finding the right external partners, and finding customers, as building the solution. At the very least, you need to nurture a trusting relationship with a complementary partner to get things going.
  1. The perks of a big title and corner office are not important to you. Most startup founders are happy to work out of their garage or home office, where they can dress comfortably, have no set schedule, and interact easily with family and friends. With the Internet and easy global communication, title and offices are not competitive advantages.
  1. You see yourself as more of a do-er than a dreamer. People who pride themselves as the “idea” person most often fail as the lead entrepreneur. Startups are rarely at a loss for ideas, but always need a good problem solver to tackle the latest challenge. Businesses are all about implementation, production, and processes, rather than dreams.
  1. You usually keep your cool, even in tough situations. Entrepreneurs need to be passionate without being too emotional. The realities of starting a business are not all under your control, and partners and competitors with don’t always play fair. Your team and customers need to see you as a stable leader, not an unpredictable tyrant.
  1. Not afraid to actively listen as well as talk. Good entrepreneurs have an ego, but they are able to keep it in check. Selling your idea or product requires an understanding of the view of others, and the willingness to change based on customer feedback. Even the most famous entrepreneurs, such as Bill Gates, has a trusted advisor like Warren Buffett.

If you recognize yourself positively in most of these characterizations, then I recommend the entrepreneur lifestyle for you. There is no better time, with the cost of entry being at an all-time low, and the public image of an entrepreneur at an all-time high. Startup investors and customers alike are waiting to line up behind you. And I’m already sure your idea has great potential.

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, December 3, 2022

7 Steps To Creating An Effective Personal Brand Today

personal-brand-brochureIt’s been happening for some time, but business changes, accelerated by the recent pandemic, have highlighted the need for all of us to review our positions, image, and satisfaction at work. As a business consultant, I see and hear all around me people questioning their current and future career interests and growth, and wondering what they can do to make a decision and prepare.

Since the start of the digital revolution several years ago, when the Internet and social media gave everyone instant access to you as well as your business, I have recommended personal branding as a basis for survival and thriving in this new world. People need to believe in you, as well as your positioning and brand, for you to thrive in the business world today.

I was pleased to see these personal branding messages highlighted and confirmed in a new book, “The New Brand You,” by branding guru Catherine Kaputa. I add my insights here to her guide to uncovering your own unique value proposition, building a positioning strategy, and becoming a valuable brand:

  1. Assess whether your career path is on trend. Futurists predict continuous dynamic change in the workforce – the rise of new “work” and the demise of traditional roles. They predict many of us will be changing jobs multiple times, either by choice or necessity, in this new world. Ask yourself, “What is the future for what I do? Do I need new skills?”

    From my perspective, you should be aware that many pundits believe that now is the time to be working at a startup or small business, or starting your own business. These now provide better quality, better paying, and more exciting jobs than big companies.

  2. Imagine your best future with digital credentials. Now may be the time to build new credentials is this digital age by taking time for education courses and attending digital conferences. For example, with a strong background in traditional marketing, you may reposition yourself as a digital marketing expert, with a much better opportunity.

    The key to winning in this digital age is having more data, and managing it effectively. The days of managing your role or your business by emotion and gut feel are gone. I recommend that it is time to tune-in to all the data and analysis sources you can find.

  3. Launch a personal marketing plan for visibility. In this new world of work, visibility is more important than ever. Don’t assume your good work will get noticed and speak for itself, especially in this new world of remote work. Build a personal marketing plan, as you would for a new product, including regular highlight reports, progress, and results.

    Remember that the person who knows how best to market yourself is you. Start now to set yourself apart as a leader and generous citizen of your professional communities, and you can take yourself much further than you may have dreamed. Don’t be too humble.

  4. Ramp up face-to-face time with key contacts. Don’t be limited by only non-real-time communications, implied with emails, texts, and online forums. You need to step out of your comfort zone to socialize, meet new people, and collaborate with peers, company leaders, and mentors. Career enhancing relationships still need real-time communication.

  5. Look for opportunities to articulate your value. Humility may be a virtue in some realms, but not today in business. With the outside world, that could mean you need to maintain a personal website, be an active member of industry groups, and show value in social media profiles. Internally, you may need a video summary report of monthly value.

  6. Seek strong internal and external alliances. There is more truth today to the old saying that who knows you and trusts you is more important than what you know. For increased productivity and advancement, you need business friends both inside and outside your company, not just personal friends. Seek expert mentors and always evaluate feedback.

  7. Accept change as the new world of work. Now is NOT the time to resist change, or argue that the old way is still the best. You need to be proactive in seeking new roles, using new tools, and tackling new challenges. Try to see these as opportunities rather than problems to avoid. Use the same mindset with new team members and customers.

In summary, I recommend that you use personal branding as a strategy to leverage your personality, personal preferences, and abilities in the most effective way to enhance your career opportunities and value to your employer and customers. These days, it is all about personal empowerment and marketing, rather than just working and waiting for people to see your value.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 11/19/2022 ***

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Friday, December 2, 2022

10 Business Model Components Required In Every Plan

business-plan-componentsYou can’t succeed in business without an operational model that delivers value to customers at a reasonable price, with an underlying cost that allows you to make a profit. There are no “overrides” – for example, businesses don’t thrive just because they offer the latest technology, or because everyone wants to be “green,” or because their goal is to reduce world hunger.

I expect that should seem intuitive to all entrepreneurs, but every investor I know has many stories about startup funding requests with major business model elements missing. The most common failures are solutions looking for a problem, lack of a defined market, or an inadequate revenue model.

There are dozens of sources to help you construct your business model, and a good example is a classic book by venture capital investor Elizabeth Edwards, simply named “Startup,” which is really designed as a handbook for launching a company for less. I support her assertion that a business model consists of at least the following ten basic elements:

  1. Value proposition. What is the need you fill or problem you solve? The value proposition must clearly define the target customer, the customer’s problem and pain, your unique solution, and the net benefit of this solution from the customer's perspective.
  1. Target market. Who are you selling to? A target market is the group of customers that the startup plans to attract through marketing and sales their product or service. This segment should have specific demographics, and the means to buy your product.
  1. Sales/Marketing. How will you reach your customers? Word-of-mouth and viral marketing are popular terms these days, but are rarely adequate to initiate a new business. Be specific on sales channels and marketing initiatives.
  1. Production. How do you produce your product or service? Common choices include manufacturing in-house, outsourcing, off-the-shelf parts. The key issues here are time to market and cost.
  1. Distribution. How do you distribute your product or service? Some products and services can be sold and distributed online, others require multi-level distributors, partners, or value-added resellers. Decide whether the product is local or international.
  1. Revenue model. How do you make money? The key here is to explain to yourself and to investors how your pricing and revenue stream will cover all costs, including overhead and support, and still leave a good return.
  1. Cost structure. What are your costs? New entrepreneurs tend to focus only on product direct costs, and underestimate marketing and sales costs, overhead costs, and support costs. Test your projections against actual published reports from similar companies.
  1. Competition. How many competitors do you have? No competitors probably means there is no market. More than ten competitors indicates a saturated market. Think broadly here, like planes versus trains. Customers always have alternatives.
  1. Unique selling proposition. How will you differentiate your product or service? Investors look for a sustainable competitive advantage, like a patent. Short-term discounts or promotions are not a unique selling proposition.
  1. Market size, growth, and share. How big is your market in dollars, is it growing or shrinking, and what percent can you capture? Venture capitalists look for a market with double-digit growth, greater than a billion dollars, and a double-digit penetration plan.

Investors will want to understand your business model very well and very early. They don’t want to hear your customer sales pitch, which naturally avoids any discussion of how much money you intend to make, and how many customers you expect to convince. Giving that pitch to investors will only frustrate both you and them.

A viable and investable business model is one of the first things you need to highlight in your business plan. In fact, without a business model, your startup is just a dream.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Gust on 11/8/2022 ***

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Wednesday, November 30, 2022

8 People And Process Skills Required In Any Business

Business-colleaguesAs an investor in startups, I most often see entrepreneurs who are technologists, or at least have a real passion for a specific product. They rarely highlight their marketing and relationship skills, even though, in my experience, these are more often the key to success in business than product skills. I’m a believer in the old saying that investors look for great people, more than great ideas.

During my time in Silicon Valley, I was struck by the fact that most successful entrepreneurs seemed to personally know and regularly hear from all the “movers and shakers” who had the investment capital and leadership they needed. In addition to listening, they spent much of their time communicating their vision and marketing themselves to everyone they encountered.

For example, even though Mark Zuckerberg built Facebook as an innovative product, most experts believe it was successful due to his relationship with Peter Thiel and other top VCs that he convinced to invest early. While these investors, and early customers, will always argue that they found you, I’m convinced that there is no substitute for aggressive networking on your part.

Implicit in effective marketing of yourself and your solution are a set of skills that every professional needs and can develop over time in business, whether their focus is on career advancement, or starting your own company. Here is my list of key drivers that I find critical to thriving in big businesses, as well as startups:

  1. Networking to build and maintain key relationships. Relationships are key to finding opportunities, building trust, and continuous learning. All businesses these days are too complex to be one-person shows, so you need all the complementary held you can find to keep up with customers and competition, fill your expertise gaps, and scale the market.
  2. Marketing your personal brand and your vision. Selling yourself requires an ongoing confidence, without bragging, to relate your vision of the future, in conjunction with accomplishments of the past, in a credible story that illustrates your leadership and results to date. The best marketing requires storytelling skills, with emotions and values.

  3. Ability to relate aspirations to customer needs. You need to show insights to real customers and their needs, that get beyond your passions and projections. Typically this means describing interactions with customer groups, real customer feedback, and showing an understanding of price sensitivity, alternatives, and competitive offerings.

  4. Maintaining an insatiable curiosity about change. Great business leaders, including Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, are constantly asking questions and reading books about new technologies, new cultures, and new business opportunities. They mentor each other, and seek out experts in domains outside their current expertise and experience.

  5. Assembling a winning team and delivering results. Here your challenge is to show that you can lead and motivate others to make things happen. You can’t build a business or deliver results alone. Many entrepreneurs try to do the whole job alone, or surround themselves with “yes” people, or count on family and friends to back them.

  6. Negotiating outside partnerships and vendors. Just like you can’t start a business alone, you can’t scale the business without external partners with expertise and access to specific customer sets, channels, manufacturing, and support. You need to highlight value for all parties to make every deal a win-win for all, rather than win-lose.

  7. Using metrics to measure results and commitments. Managing people and results require the ability to track progress and reward the right people. Some people try to do this based on gut feel and emotions, but full accountability and engagement means data and real-time feedback for credibility. Keep the focus on efficiency and growth.

  8. Managing time and priorities for maximum impact. The best entrepreneurs and business professionals always find time for strategic thinking and new ideas, no matter how many times they have to say “no” to immediate demands, or work extra hours. They prioritize tasks, define milestones, and measure results versus activities completed.

Business success is all about working with people, inside the company, outside with investors and partners, and always with customers. These skills, including effective communication, combined with discipline and a positive attitude, are what it takes to set your business apart from competitors, an make every interaction a memorable experience for you and your customers.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 11/16/2022 ***

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Monday, November 28, 2022

7 Staffing Strategies That May Cost You Your Business

staffing-strategyBusiness success is all about having the best team, yet the average entrepreneur has little prior experience with hiring people and building top-notch teams. It’s no wonder that 45 percent fail in the first five years, and an even smaller percentage ever see a return for their years of effort. Most new entrepreneurs assume their passion will attract and motivate the right team members.

In reality, motivation and passion are necessary but not sufficient to build a business. Higher motivation does not overcome role mismatches, poor communication, or culture differences. Hiring in any new venture needs to be a structured and high priority task, not the ad hoc informal process I see in many startups that are struggling to grow:

  1. Crisis mode hiring rather than planned team growth. Hiring requirements must be anticipated and implemented with the same precision and tracking as manufacturing volumes, sales leads, and customer service. Crisis mode hires too often get done without due consideration for strategic fit, training requirements, and cultural considerations.
  1. Hiring before organizational structure is defined. The requirements of the desired organization need to be formalized before people are hired. Hiring good people without a strategy and structure invites inefficiency, low morale, and chaos. My recommendation is to hire core executives, and have them define, justify, and build their organizations.
  1. Utilizing unprofessional sources for candidates. Trying to save costs by seeking resumes on the Internet will result in poor quality candidates, more time required for screening and interviews, and high turnover. I’m not suggesting executive search firms for every startup position, but national recruiting organizations will get better results.
  1. Poorly defined and executed hiring process. The best candidates quickly figure out that companies that don’t respond, demonstrate chaos during interviews, or keep delaying a decision are not a good opportunity. Less qualified prospects don’t have alternatives, so they tolerate the frustration, but may return the favor as an employee.
  1. Don’t bother with previous employment follow-ups. Some candidates can talk a great story, but have trouble delivering, or may have team relationship challenges. Your gut-feelings are important, but need to be validated by normal background and reference checks. Candidates with few credentials on paper may be your best growth candidates.
  1. Quick to hire and slow to fire. We all make staffing mistakes, so it’s most important to quickly fix them, before the morale of the whole team is impacted, or your business loses some key customers. I recommend a thirty to ninety-day trial period, defined in writing, where either party can terminate the relationship without recourse. Assigning and measuring early milestones is a must.
  1. Failure to include company culture in the hiring criteria. Every company and team develops a unique culture of work flexibility, personality, and communication that must be matched to every new hire, independent of job qualifications. Thus every serious candidate should be vetted and approved by peers, as well as company executives.

Making the right staffing decisions, and doing it efficiently on a timely basis, is critical to getting entrepreneurs and their startups to the next level. A great team can turn even a mediocre strategy and solution into a successful business. On the other hand, even the best solutions and ideas will fail as a business, if excellence in execution is lacking.

Entrepreneurs who can’t find the time to focus on hiring until it’s a crisis are doing themselves and their business a disservice. Making late or poor choices will cost you time, money, customers, and may cost you your business. You need the very best to maintain a competitive edge, and get the satisfaction you want for you and your team members. It won’t happen by default.

Marty Zwilling

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Sunday, November 27, 2022

7 Winning Strategies For Utilizing Startup Advisors

startup-advisorIn my role as an angel investor to startups, I’m struck by the broad variety of advisor strategies I see in investor presentations and business plans that cross my desk. Some entrepreneurs are “lone rangers,” never mentioning any outside guidance, while others tout dozens of advisors. In my experience, both of these approaches will likely have minimal value for your venture.

Few entrepreneurs, no matter what their background, have the breadth of experience and expertise to face all the challenges of a new startup without relying on some guidance from an engaged and committed advisor. Even the best of us needs someone we trust to bounce ideas off, or challenge our perspective on a regular basis. That’s the function of a good advisory board.

Thus I believe every smart investor, potential partner, or critical new hire will look for a properly built advisory board as a key criteria before selection or making a commitment. In my experience, the key parameters for building that winning advisory board should include the following:

  1. Select people who fill gaps in your own team. If your startup team is highly technical, an advisory board member with a strong financial and business background clearly adds value. In other cases, an advisor with strong customer, distributor, or celebrity status might be important. A long list of friends or associates is usually considered a negative.
  1. Keep the advisory board to a manageable size. Communication and organization is always a challenge, so three advisors is about the maximum that any entrepreneur can handle. If you have more, they better be major investors or partners who will likely be part of your formal Board of Directors at a later stage. Advisors in name-only will hurt you.
  1. Compensate advisors for their time and commitment. While it’s possible to have reciprocal agreements or friends willing to seriously engage, most often you get what you pay for. A common stipend might be one percent of your stock, or a few thousand dollars annually to cover expenses. Don’t expect valuable and busy people to work for free.
  1. Establish advisory board agreements to set expectations. As you add a member to your advisory board, you should give them an agreement in writing on what is expected in terms of time, responsibilities and term of office. This will assure no surprises on either side on role responsibilities, confidentiality, level of availability, or decision authority.
  1. Budget your time and effort to effectively work with advisors. One of the biggest mistakes I see is an entrepreneur who only communicates with advisors in a crisis (too little, too late). Recognize that it takes a minimum of a couple of hours a week to meet with the right advisor, and communicate status to all, in addition to more hours up front.
  1. Schedule and prepare for regular advisory board meetings. In addition to individual advisor meetings, you should schedule a meeting of all advisors each quarter. This should be structured and run as a formal Board of Directors meeting, including major milestone achievements and plans, as well as strategy and issues discussions.
  1. Don’t be hesitant to add or subtract members as your needs change. As your startup grows into a business, you may hire a CFO to replace your financial advisor, and find you need an advisor in new customer segments. A good advisory board gently evolves into a formal Board of Directors without upheavals or changes in direction.

Advisory boards that exist in name only, or have non-committed members, can actually have a negative value to the entrepreneur, by elongating decision times and providing poor quality guidance to the business. This often leads to a death spiral for the board, and subsequently for the startup. Thus the negative implications go far beyond the difficulty in attracting investors.

Smart investors believe that a top quality team is more important to success than any given startup idea. An engaged advisory board is an inexpensive way to add power to your team where and when you need it most. For long-term success, make it happen, and highlight it in every pitch and business plan you produce. There’s no better way to use your precious time and resources.

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, November 26, 2022

7 Startup Costs That You Assume With Outside Funding

funding-costsOne of the myths I often hear as an advisor to many entrepreneurs is that their lifestyle would somehow be better if they could more easily find other people’s money to build their startup. They don’t realize that according to many experts, more than 90 percent of satisfied entrepreneurs use bootstrapping, since other people’s money always comes with strings, most of them negative.

For example, Bill Gates founded and grew Microsoft, and Michael Dell built a great technology company, both with no outside funding until they went successful enough to go public years later and sell shares to common stockholders. In fact, Michael Dell privatized his company again in 2013 for a few years, in his words to “unleash again the passion of our team members.”

Maintaining your team’s passion and freedom to focus first on innovating for customers are only a couple of the reasons for thinking hard before you seek money from crowdfunding, angel investors, venture capital organizations, or attempt to qualify for a public stock offering. Some of the specific challenges that always come with other people’s money include the following:

  1. You will stay awake nights worrying about how to pay it back. Most entrepreneurs never forget for a moment that having investors means owing money, even if they can legally argue that equity is not debt. Many times friends and family have been broken by failed investments. Usually it pays to move a startup slower rather than risk relationships.
  1. Investors want board seats and a vote on key decisions. Of course, this can be positive if you really need the help and experience in making key decisions. But I suggest that a small advisory board with the right people might give you better guidance (no near-term financial bias), and you can always choose to ignore it if your insights are strong.
  1. Pre-defined milestones and deadlines in an uncertain world. No entrepreneur enjoys the stress of committing to dates and results on an innovative and unpredictable journey to change the world. Yet every investor, including a rich uncle, will likely ask for specific progress evidence. Bootstrapping gives you the flexibility to explore creative alternatives.
  1. You left your corporate job to get away from budgets. When you are spending other people’s money, they want to know how much and when. Startups don’t come with the discipline on payables and receivables that you left at corporate. Investors quickly learn the only control they really have is financial, so they will use it to apply any constraints.
  1. Pivots become a source of pain rather than positive learning. Every startup I know has had to pivot at least once, no matter how certain they were of their solution and market. Pivoting early brings satisfaction and saves money and time, except when you don’t pivot due to investor evidence required, and the pain of explaining your mistakes.
  1. Explaining actions to investors takes time you don’t have. Very few entrepreneurs I know have the patience and time to communicate to the satisfaction of all investors. It’s usually the small investors who want the most frequent updates, or phone calls before every direction change, and investor relations costs only go up as your business grows.
  1. Investors will become the toughest boss you ever had. It’s very common for founders who find venture capital funding, to soon find out that they are being replaced by a CEO who has “more experience.” Other founders, even with experience, are forced out by disagreements over strategy or progress. You won’t be fired if you use your own money.

Of course, bootstrapping does imply living within your means, and it may require you to postpone your startup efforts while you build up an investment fund of your own. It also may mean finding alternatives to cash for attracting team members, or bartering services to expand your access to infrastructure or expertise. It also may just mean taking less money later.

On the other hand, avoiding outside funding means you can apply your passion and innovative solution without investor challenges, and remain in full control of your destiny. Isn’t this why you were attracted to the entrepreneur lifestyle in the first place?

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, November 25, 2022

5 Keys To Breaking Through Success Barriers At Work

Office workers checking papers with pen in officeAfter many years working in business and investing in startups, I’m convinced that the primary reason for new business and career failures is NOT a lack of skill or money, but people giving up too quickly on their dreams and goals. Great businesses and great leaders never give up, especially as pivots and interim failures provide learning opportunities to recover from setbacks.

Thomas Edison is a classic example. The first electric bulb was actually invented by Sir Joseph Wilson Swan, who demonstrated the concept, but gave up trying to develop a practical product after only three attempts. By contrast, Edison persevered and designed a working light bulb after thousands of failures. He went on to start many successful companies, including General Electric.

I recently found a wealth of practical guidance on how to build a perseverance mindset and use it to overcome adversity, break through barriers, and keep moving forward to success, in a new book, “Win When They Say You Won’t,” by Daphne Jones. She is a former Fortune 50 executive and innovation thought leader who developed her own actionable system to overcome obstacles.

Adding my own insights from experience, I will summarize here her five key principles for persevering and finding success in business, despite the setbacks and barriers that we have all faced:

  1. Be resilient and treat setbacks as a distraction. We all encounter issues and challenges as we pursue our goals in business. Building your resilience by never giving up as you work to neutralize these will get you back to executing your plan of action, rather than letting stress and fear of failure drive you to throw in the towel.

    It's worth the effort because of the impact that resilience (or lack thereof) has on our behaviors, attitudes, outcomes--and even health. Research has found that people with low resilience are four times more likely to experience burnout, or even premature death.

  2. Don’t let anyone kill your dreams and passion. The challenge here is to choose your friends and relationships carefully. You will learn to recognize that some friends and colleagues are always downers, and get their satisfaction from snuffing out your aspirations through negative thinking. Avoid these and build relationships with winners.

    In my experience, you unintentionally tend to think and act like the people you spend time with. People who associate with quitters tend to become quitters themselves, rather than the other way around. Broaden your sources, including industry speakers and experts.

  3. Focus on your performance, image, and exposure. No matter what is going on in your business as you work toward your personal vision, always be sensitive to your exposure, image, and personal brand. You need to take responsibility for selling your value to the right people, as well as building relationships with leaders who can help you.

    A first step is empowering yourself to achieve success and feel satisfaction from doing your job. Empowerment starts by developing a small set of specific achievable goals for the period ahead and then pushing yourself to achieve and celebrate completed results.

  4. Build and maintain your emotional intelligence. You need to ensure that you are executing a viable plan with self-awareness, self-control, empathy, and good communications. Don’t be hesitant to use coaches, mentors, and other resources to test and improve your image by others, and your perceptions of business realities and biases.

    Based on my many years of experience in business as an executive and consultant, I have long been convinced that emotional intelligence (EQ or EI) in business wins over logical intelligence (IQ) every time. Don’t let your and their emotions drive your actions.

  5. Keep thoughts, actions, and results growth-oriented. Your mindset needs to stay fixed on learning and change, rather than risk-averse and negative. Be willing to pivot or persevere, but never quit. If you don’t like the results you are getting, seek to change the way you think. Your thoughts determine your actions, so stay confident as you iterate.

    Begin by asking more questions and being more curious about everyone you meet, their journey, experiences, and what they can teach you. There is always more to learn, and great business leaders, including Bill Gates, still block out calendar time for learning.

In summary, perseverance is essential in the workplace because it allows you to continue working towards your goals even when things get tough, and they will get tough. The business world today is very competitive, and customers are more and more demanding. I urge you to practice the strategies outlined here and maximize your business survival and success today.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 11/10/2022 ***

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Wednesday, November 23, 2022

8 Negative Reactions To New Ideas And How To Prevail

negative-reactionOne of the complaints I often hear from engaged business professionals is that their new ideas, innovations, and change recommendations are unfairly criticized or dismissed without analysis. The result is fewer and fewer new ideas are volunteered by prospective leaders and key team members, and the business suffers from poor customer satisfaction or loss of market share.

In many cases, the ideas may be small ones, such as starting a promotion to kick-start sales on a stalled item, or suggesting a huge strategy move to acquire Netflix and supplement an already healthy Blockbuster DVD rental business. The challenge is for leaders to really listen to their team and the market, and for every team member to anticipate pushbacks and respond effectively.

In my experience as an advisor and mentor, I have assimilated the following most frequent negative reactions from others to your ideas, with my own suggestions and feedback from other experts on how to counter them, build your credibility, and be more productive:

  1. The implementation does not fit the way we do things. This argument is actually not attacking the idea, but shows a generalized resistance to change. Your challenge is to show examples of forward-thinking companies that are ahead by doing things differently. Consider getting the help of outside consultants and advisors to overcome obstacles.

  2. People perceive that this idea has been tried and failed. Your challenge here is to differentiate this situation, or the specifics of your proposed implementation, from others that have gone before you. Find other situations that led to success, or explain why the environment, competition, or opportunity has changed to reduce the risk of failure.

  3. Your idea has unpredictable negative side effects. This usually means that you need more specifics to offset the projected qualms. Here I recommend that you narrow your focus, if possible, and document specifics of impact, cost, and value. Show how your specific implementation plan will include antidotes to offset potential side effects.

  4. Your proposal is dismissed as being too risky. Rather than trying to argue defensively that the risk in minimal, you should focus on quantifying the potential reward. Do your own research and gather supporting facts, rather than firing back with emotion and gut feel. Input from outside experts and real customers is always a credibility booster.

    In addition, you may need to remind your leaders that doing nothing also has the risk, of loosing to competitors and new customer needs. Make sure they see the difference between your smart risk, which can be managed, and bad risks, which have no recourse.

  5. The suggested change won’t create desired results. The best response to this qualm is to fashion an experiment to demonstrate at least a small change in the right direction. Show that the time and resources to do a trial are manageable, and the potential results are well work the effort. Incremental small experiments can easily be scaled into success.

    In fact, Jeff Bezos of Amazon credits much of their growth and success to incenting regular change experiments. Bezos believes that if you double the number of experiments you do, you’re going to double your agility, and outpace your competitors.

  6. You don’t have the domain experience for credibility. The best counter to this criticism is to do your homework with third-party resources to find similar ideas that worked in related domains, and get expert validation to support you. If you sense a challenge to your leadership, ask for an opportunity to bring in outside domain experts.

  7. We don’t have the funding for any changes right now. Blaming the budget or the current state of the business for not considering any new ideas is a head-in-the-sand excuse. Your response at this point must be a factual, not emotional, analysis of the cost versus benefit of your idea. Show how costs are containable, and returns come quickly.

  8. Your idea is opposed by people with a hidden agenda. The best strategy here is to surface the ulterior motives without being defensive or letting emotion get the best of you. Use your relationships with trusted leaders to highlight specific value to customers and to the company, while pointing out hidden agendas and ask leaders for their support.

I believe a steady stream of innovative new business ideas and changes is the key to long-term business success, as well as your career growth, so don’t give up on bringing ideas forward and customizing your sales approach to beat common rejections and pushbacks. True business leaders will listen to all ideas, and appreciate your contributions to long-term business success.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 11/7/2022 ***

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Monday, November 21, 2022

7 Team Building Principles For Connected Leadership

business-team_buildingMost startup ideas begin in the mind of an individual, but an idea is not a business. It takes a team, with effective leadership, to build a business. Many aspiring entrepreneurs default to team leadership by domination and control. Yet in my experience, the best entrepreneurs quickly learn the art of people connection. They connect and inspire the right people to achieve more with less.

Connected leaders often become transformational for people and the company, as they use their people insights to incent a new level of performance, leaving team members feeling proud and deeply satisfied. Richard Branson, for example, often makes a point of rewarding outstanding people by taking them aside and telling them that they are now in charge of the new company.

The principles of connected leadership are outlined well in a classic book, “The Vitality Imperative,” by Mickey Connolly, Jim Motroni, and Richard McDonald. As principals of the Conversant consultancy, they speak from experience in improving people connectivity and leadership through working with over 400 organizations in 100 countries.

While their focus has been primarily larger organizations, I believe the principles they espouse are equally applicable to startups and small businesses. Here is my extrapolation of their key elements of connected leadership into the entrepreneurial world:

  1. Be visibly present and aware of individual sensitivities. In the chaos of a startup, it’s easy to have “not enough time” to listen and relate to individual members of the team. As a result, impatience increases and effectiveness declines, leaving even more to be done. Presence without prejudice increases leader trust, and enjoyment of work by all parties.
  1. Seek to appreciate team goals, worries, and circumstances. People in a new venture are not mechanical elements. Align your leadership practices with human nature, which requires empathy. In any organization, large or small, empathy improves accountability, accelerates learning, increases influence, and facilitates future planning.
  1. Define and highlight a business purpose, beyond profit. A common purpose creates a community. Process without purpose leads to frustration and bureaucracy. The tangible benefits of a purpose, such as reducing environmental pollution, include making work more meaningful, promoting teamwork, and improving personal role commitment.
  1. Speak the truth, even if painful, over avoidance and deception. Authenticity creates trust, accelerates the solution process, improves agility and resilience, and inspires innovation. Some leaders avoid candor to reduce employee fear, and others to induce fear. But the most destructive fear is the fear of deceit, only eliminated by authenticity.
  1. Outline future potential for the business and the person. Connected leaders don’t let probability and ordinary work destroy possibility. Seeing wonder in the future breaks the grip of the past, redeems mistakes, creates options, and ignites vitality. This leads to new connections and creates new possibilities for the venture and the person.
  1. Build a culture of innovative evolution after initial revolution. Startups often begin with a revolution, but continuous revolution is risky and stressful. A better sense of timing is a commitment to an agile, ever-evolving venture, where the return on investment can be predicted. This improves team leverage, getting more out of time, money, and talent.
  1. Leverage small surprising results into repeated cycle momentum. Momentum is a powerful multiplier that supercharges community, contribution and choice. Surprising positive results are energizing, cause people to update their beliefs, and cause positive chain reactions. Connected leaders share the lessons and show due appreciation.

The vitality of a startup team, and the founder leadership provided, are more key to startup success than the potential of the initial idea. This is why professional investors will tell you that they invest in people, rather than ideas. How much value can the principles of connected leadership bring to your new venture?

Marty Zwilling

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Sunday, November 20, 2022

7 Realities Related To Customer Value Disrupt Growth

customer-lifetime-valueAs a startup advisor, I see too many entrepreneurs get distracted by technology or their favorite cause, and then wonder why they can’t find an investor, attract customers, or build a long-term business. Every startup needs to start with an honest assessment of how they provide customer value, and how that translates into a sustainable business return for stakeholders and growth.

Customer value used to be a simple concept of how much they pay for a solution, compared to their incremental cost reduction driven by your business. Now these principles are complicated by the worldwide instant access to many competitive alternatives, indirect social and environment impacts, and the velocity of change enabled by the pervasive market move to digital.

The market is now a chaotic swirling storm of change, which is characterized in the classic book, “Digital Vortex,” by Jeff Loucks et al, as causing digital disruption on a massive scale. In this new world, finding customer value is elusive, where out of nowhere startups and other tech savvy disruptors attack, and your most loyal customers bolt for the door at the slightest opportunity.

The authors focus on the many new principles of customer lifetime value in the digital disruptor age, which I believe every business executive and entrepreneur needs to understand, in order to make their business more competitive and investable. These principles include the following:

  1. Free and ultra-low cost may no longer be competitive. The old saying that it’s pretty hard to compete with free no longer holds, when cost is not the primary customer value element and free is the norm. Customers now put big value on experience, social impact, empowerment, and feedback. Value to second-order customer advertisers is key.
  1. Internet disruptors make prices and margins transparent. A wide range of digital comparison-shopping tools enable customers to see differences, and instantly source at the lowest cost worldwide. Competitive customer value that can be monetized for stakeholders has to go beyond the short-term value of special deals and coupons.
  1. Customer empowerment and digital tools removes middlemen. Circumventing middlemen (going direct) do-it-yourself (DIY) and placing the customer “in charge” are core element of digital disruption to traditional customer value levers. For example, Netflix uses a digital model to unbundle television programming, creating new customer value.
  1. Digital customization creates unique experiences for each customer. Value is now derived by tailoring the product per customer, or interpreting a user’s location and specific needs to create an experience that maximizes value. Even advertising and search results are personalized per user for maximum impact and improved business return.
  1. Instant gratification requires automated digital fulfillment processes. This business model gives customers the value they want without have to wait, either by delivering physical products quickly, or by providing digital versions instantaneously. In today’s world, time is often more valuable then margin to the business as well as the customer.
  1. Digitizing processes reduces friction and increases convenience. Automation provides customer value by using technology to complete tasks and arrange for the completion of tasks by others. Customers and businesses alike benefit from not having to enter the same data multiple times, and making better decisions from accumulated data.
  1. Digital platforms create network effects that multiply customer value. Network effects are huge value generators. They span the gamut from peer-to-peer interactions to crowdsourcing, gamification, and communities. They are a powerful competitive force, once successfully established, that is difficult to dislodge with winner-take-all potential.

Digital disruptors have also introduced the concept of value vampires, who shrink the overall revenue and profit pool in a market to gain competitive advantage. On the other side of the equation, every business needs to find value vacancies, which are market opportunities that can be profitably exploited via digital disruption.

Thus customers and investors still need to see customer value as the key deliverable from your business, rather than technology or a “save the world” mission. But in this Digital Age, customer value has many new dimensions. Make sure you are focusing on the right ones for your customer segment, and the return for your business will let you live long and prosper.

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, November 19, 2022

8 Strategies To Create A High Team Engagement Culture

high-team-engagementWith today’s interactive social media and the real-time Internet, both customers and employees see inside your company easily, so you can’t hide your real company culture. At the same time relationship perceptions have become the biggest drivers to customer loyalty and employee engagement. Thus in every business, big or small, culture can make or break your success.

Examples of companies well known for their winning cultures inside and out include Apple and Google. In both cases, their products are not generally cheaper or unique, but the mindset behind how they do what they do, and think what they think, makes them stand out. Others, by most accounts including Blockbuster and JCPenney, lost their focus on culture, and paid a heavy price.

In fact, most entrepreneurs and executives today recognize the importance of building and maintaining the right culture, but many are not so clear on how to do it, or assessing where they stand in the process. To that end, I was impressed with the specifics provided in a classic book, “Nimble, Focused, Feisty,” by Sara Roberts, a “go-to” expert on organizational transformation.

What I have seen in startups correlates well with Roberts’ evidence that there are three basic elements of a winning culture mindset today – fast is better than big, possibility over profitability, and being passionately outward-directed to customers and employees. I support her outline of several guiding principles for any company on how to achieve and maintain this mindset:

  1. Remain nimble and ready to pivot. Winning organizations have a culture of no expectation of always doing what they are currently doing. They know how rapidly things change, and that today’s positive reality may not carry them to where they ultimately want to go. They are always on the lookout for new opportunities and innovations.
  1. Structure for speed in making changes. Speed in any organization is largely a function of hierarchy, trust, and the ability to make decisions quickly across the organization. The primary key is establishing a culture that relies on values, rather than rules, to guide every action. Teams and individuals at all levels must be motivated to make decisions.
  1. Solve problems by co-creating and collaborating. Effective collaboration requires bringing together a variety of contributors who trust each other to get to the best solution. These days, that includes the initiative to bring up issues and tap the wisdom of “crowds” through social media, employee forums, and listening to industry influencers.
  1. Lead with purpose as a balance to profit. Increasingly, the landscape is shifting from an emphasis on “how” to an appreciation of “why,” both inside and outside the company. If executives don’t see social good or higher purpose as important to success, customers and employees will remind them – overtly by feedback, or passively by deserting them.
  1. Maintain a customer-centric focus. Businesses oriented primarily toward near-term shareholder value make themselves vulnerable in the long term. If you focus on what’s best for the customer, both near-term and long-term, you will see where customers are headed, and can plan change versus crisis reaction. Talk with real customers constantly.
  1. Find leaders who are courageous connectors. Courageous leaders acknowledge doubt and gaps, but still make decisions with confidence. Connector leaders enable their teams to navigate other organizations effectively, connect them with required resources, and expand their sense of possibilities and purpose. Set the culture by example.
  1. Build teams with people who get things done. A nimble organization needs doers and makers. Makers are not scared of taking action; in fact they’re biased toward action. They ask forgiveness rather than ask for permission, are motivated by results, and naturally collaborative. Leaders help most by not putting barriers in the way of their people.
  1. Winning cultures need consistent people practices. The best team cultures are built and maintained by systematic and deliberate hiring. Don’t hire only under duress, or settle for less than the best fit. Involve the team in selecting the best fit, culture matching, and getting “buy-in” from all the right players. Motivate with meaning, not just money.

For companies to remain successful in this new era, they need a culture that is proactive rather than defensive. It’s purposely designed, leveraged, and honed to be nimble in addressing change, customers, and integration of purpose with business value. How long has it been since you have reviewed your culture at the employee and customer level? Surprises are expensive.

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, November 18, 2022

6 Hurdles To Deep Relationships With Business Clients

deep-relationshipsSelling services has always been about relationships, but the challenges of building relationships with services clients have exploded. Customers today extrapolate their relationships not only from personal contact, but from every aspect of their interface with your company, including web site and social media interactions, access to peer reviews, as well as the actual services experience.

In addition, as every business becomes instantly global via the Internet, it’s virtually impossible for you to touch every customer personally. Thus services experiences and relationships tend to be based more and more on new media and technology. Customers today may actually feel a personal relationship, or an unsatisfying one, without ever interacting with you or your team.

I saw these modern challenges and some positive guidance summarized in the classic book, “Service Excellence,” by Ruth N. Bolton, a distinguished Marketing Educator Award winner at the W.P. Carey School of Business. I agree with her focus on six challenging characteristics, both old and new, of every services business:

  1. Intangibility of a customer experience with services. Customer services experiences can’t be seen, felt, tasted, or touched in the same way that people interact with tangible goods. Services experiences are different for each client, so it’s important to customize experiences and timing per customer. If your business doesn’t offer personalized services, don’t expect good relationships.
  1. Relationships are a function of customer culture. For consistency and efficiency, services companies have traditionally minimized personalization. Yet today, people of every culture worldwide expect every relationship to relate to their unique perspective. Companies need service strategies that increase spontaneity to enhance experiences.
  1. Experiences are more visible to other customers. In some cases, such as in a hair salon, services are delivered in view of other customers who may be impacted by your experience. In all cases, experience details are quickly and easily communicated to others via Facebook or Yelp, meaning a relationship will impact many others very quickly.
  1. Services experiences cannot be inventoried. Service organizations must find effective ways to manage capacity and thereby match the supply and timeliness of services with customers’ usage of them. It is very important for service companies to use and market peak load pricing, seasonal, and customer scheduling without impacting relationships.
  1. Infusing technology within the customer experience. Customers now expect services to be more technology-enabled, such as online banking, parcel tracking, transportation on demand, and smart home security. The overall experience and relationship derived are more and more set by the technology interaction, rather than personal interaction.
  1. New media shapes and reflects the customer experience. Unlike traditional media, which is not interactive, social media provides for and customers expect targeted, personalized, and socially responsible communications. These become a key part of your engagement and relationship, and also define community and demographic associations.

The rise of the “sharing economy” has sparked intense interest in services that allow people to co-produce the service in new ways, such as Airbnb for accommodation and Uber for transportation services. Thus your relationship needs to consider ways that customers can participate through spontaneous and discretionary contributions to your services, with variations for each market segment.

It’s time for all services organizations to take a future-oriented view of customer experience and relationships, rather than the traditional retrospective view. Services are no longer a simple people-to-people business. Relationships and experiences are now driven more and more by interactive media and smart technology. If your services business isn’t innovating with the market, it’s falling behind.

Marty Zwilling

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Wednesday, November 16, 2022

7 Challenges For Good Businesses To Achieve Longevity

Business-longevityEvery new venture that survives the first five years starts to drift away from their entrepreneurial thinking, and assumes they have achieved the path to longevity. In fact, even within Fortune 100 companies, almost 90 percent have encountered growth stalls or flirted with failure, or worse, in the last 50 years. No company can afford to lose the agility, flexibility, and innovation of a startup.

Examples of great companies that have achieved longevity, by initiating major changes, include American Express (originally express mail), IBM (tabulating and computer hardware), and J.P. Morgan (chemical manufacturing). Others, including Eastman Kodak (film and cameras), Pullman Company (railroads), and RCA Victor (radio) never kept up with change and are gone forever.

The many ways that great firms can slip away from entrepreneurial thinking were highlighted in the classic book, “Achieving Longevity,” by Jim Dewald, based on his own experiences as a corporate executive, entrepreneur, and Dean of the Haskayne School of Business. Here are a few of the key challenges he outlines that I have seen as well:

  1. Competitors are easier to quantify than new opportunities. Competitor statistics are the domain of analysts, financiers, and shareholders, so naturally it is attractive for companies to focus on them primarily. Undefined opportunities which may be built from innovation are the stuff of dreams and passion, relegated only to entrepreneurial thinking.
  1. Companies follow each other rather than the market. Change is hard. Businesses firmly ensconced down an existing path find it hard to leave their comfort zone or jeopardize current revenue streams, and tend to prioritize the value of incremental change, even in the face of new markets, technology, or economic conditions.
  1. The future is extrapolated from internal data analysis. Metrics and observations while running the existing business become the primary basis for future projections. This data reinforces what they already know and believe, so a divergent path rarely looks attractive. The result is a self-fulfilling prophecy that often leads to disaster.
  1. Efficiency focus strips away resources from innovation. Through cost-cutting and highly-specialized hiring, firms unintentionally weed out the capacity to innovate and adapt to change. The drive for resource-based advantage can be profitable for big companies, but it is always temporary, never permanent.
  1. Penalties for management learning experiences. In an entrepreneurial venture, errors are expected, and even celebrated when positioned as learning opportunities. In stable corporate ventures, mistakes are seen as a signs of incompetence, and penalized by loss of bonuses or position. As a result, undefined new opportunities are deemed too risky.
  1. Focus on data-driven leadership versus passion. Strong creative views or even arrogance in new realms by entrepreneurs is expected and often revered, as was the case with Steve Jobs at Apple. In corporate boardrooms, a show of hubris or emotion is deeply troubling, and can end careers. Logic and data-driven leadership is the norm.
  1. Intolerance for pivots and failed experiments. Every startup I know has pivoted at least once, and expects failed experiments to lead them to the true market. In corporate environments the cost in time and dollars of a pivot or failed experiment can be huge, like turning a large battleship. Stakeholders and board members alike react very negatively.

What is most ironic is that the inverse of many of these challenges is critical to success in the first five years of a new venture – focus on competitors, generating internal data and analysis, emphasizing data-driven leadership, and creating standardized repeatable processes. Many see these activities as the elimination of entrepreneurial thinking, for stability and endurance.

My message is that the pendulum has to swing in concert with the market and the economy, as well as the maturity of the company. Today’s market is extremely volatile, where unprecedented change is the norm, and entrepreneurial thinking is the only way to assure longevity. Maybe it’s time to take a hard look at the balance in your own mindset and your business.

Marty Zwilling

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Monday, November 14, 2022

7 Tips On Advancing Your Career To Being A Great Boss

a-great-bossA common complaint I hear in my business consulting is that your boss is the problem, and you could fix the business if you only had the opportunity. When I ask what you are doing to prepare for that role, I usually only hear frustration and a lack of specifics or an action plan. Having spent my career on both sides of the fence, I have found some important things that worked for me.

In my perspective, the key is to practice thinking like you are the manager, rather than a critic or a victim, in every project and professional role you find yourself in. In this context, you will find that your peers will see you as a positive force to follow, and your manager will appreciate the support and your insights, maybe even recommending you for the next available opening.

Of course, the first requirement is to get the education and tools you need to feel confident that you are ready, and have the mindset to be a leader in every role. This alone will improve your productivity and effectiveness in your current role, as well as give you a head start towards a future role, including a management role or starting your own company as an entrepreneur.

In any case, here are some additional key principles that I have learned and recommend:

  1. Build win-win relationships, including with the boss. You can’t be a loner or complainer and ever by considered a leader or manager, despite knowing more than the rest of the team. You will always be more effective when people know you don’t struggle to always win at their expense. They will then support you in future leadership roles.

    If the other party, including your boss, thinks you're only looking out for yourself, their distrust and fear will automatically turn the result into a win-lose or lose-lose situation. Your challenge is to convince everyone that you see both sides of the situation.

  2. Actively seek guidance from people smarter than you. As satisfying as it is to feel you are helping others at your level or below, you will learn more from people with more role expertise and management experience. Even the smartest team members and executives humble themselves and listen, although the message is often difficult to hear.

    I find that even very smart and successful business leaders, like Bill Gates, still seek and use a mentor they can learn from, such as Warren Buffett. Their relationship is well-known and long-term, and enjoyed by both parties as a continuous learning opportunity.

  3. Strive always to be a leader, rather than a follower. Leadership elements include clear communication to all, providing support and coaching where required, and driving activities based on the big picture. If you practice all the key elements of leadership in every role, you will be recognized as a great team member and ideal future boss.

  4. Seek to understand the challenges that managers face. There are two sides to every coin, and you need to look at both sides, rather than just your own. For example, in business, owners and leaders create the vision and direction, while management is charged with gaining traction to achieve success. No one has independent control.

  5. Accept responsibility for your actions and results. Accountability is a practice that you must impose on yourself to be effective and appreciated by others. When you demonstrate this, you will be recognized as a natural leader and peers will seek your advice and counsel. Entrepreneurs and business leaders cannot escape accountability.

  6. Free up time for high-priority tasks and helping others. Work on habits and tools that improve your productivity and availability. We all know bosses and peers who are always busy, but real results are not apparent. Learn to say “no” with a smile on your face, so that your image is not one of working on many things, but rarely generating results.

  7. Share your successes and credit people around you. Make even the smallest victories and steps forward count. Find reasons to share success and celebrate with other team members and your boss. This will make you look good to senior management, build team morale, and improve your image for future opportunities.

With these initiatives, the best potential and real managers always see themselves as their own boss. They look at their boss’s side of the coin, and act as they would expect a boss to act. I recommend this as the best way to assure success in your role today, train your current boss on how to do the job better, and make you the best candidate for future management roles.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 10/31/2022 ***

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Sunday, November 13, 2022

6 Guides To Get You Started Down The Best Career Path

Science_Career_Ladder_WorkshopToo many people, young and older, let their career and their lifestyle happen to them, rather than proactively making things happen based on their personal passions, skills, and interests. Others make decisions based on someone else’s interests, such as the father who wants his son to take over the family business, or dreams openly of having a doctor in the family. Neither of these approaches is likely to lead to a satisfying career or personal happiness for you.

These days, with the instant access to information and experts in every field around the world, and the wealth of personal assessment tools available on the Internet, there is no excuse for not exploring and evaluating the alternatives before you make a step forward. A very credible starting point is the classic book “Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success” by Dan Schawbel, managing partner of Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research and consulting firm.

Among other things, he outlines some of the popular assessment tools that I also often recommend as a mentor to entrepreneurs, including the following:

  1. MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator). Myers Briggs is one of the most widely used and recognized career assessments in existence, and does an excellent job of identifying your personality type so you can connect it to the right career and lifestyle. It can also help you better relate to others and become more self-aware.
  1. Gallup's Clifton Strength Finder. The focus of this tool is to help you discover your top five strengths and learn how you can use them to excel and perform at a higher level. The creator, Dr. Donald O. Clifton, is widely recognized as the Father of Strengths-Based Psychology, and has helped millions of people around the world discover their strengths.
  1. Marcus Buckingham StandOut Assessment. This one builds on the positive premise that the most effective method for improving people is to build on their strengths, rather than correcting their weaknesses. It’s the one to use if you have tried other assessments that claim to tell you who you are, but don't tell you what you can do with that information.
  1. Career Key. This one helps you identify careers and even college majors that match your set of interests, traits, skills, and abilities. It was developed by Lawrence K. Jones, a professor Emeritus in the College of Education at North Carolina State University, who specializes in the areas of school counseling and career counseling and development.
  1. MAPP™ Career Assessment. The MAPP career assessment is perfect for students, graduates and working adults. You'll get a wealth of information to help find the right career that matches your unique assessment profile. The MAPP career test was one of the first comprehensive career tests online for consumers, with over 8 million customers.
  1. Leadership Motivation Assessment. This one tells you how motivated you are to be a leader. After all, it takes hard work to become an effective business leader; and if you are not prepared to put this work in, or if, deep down, you're not sure whether you want to lead or not, you'll struggle to lead people effectively, and not be happy doing it as well.

If after taking one or more of these, you are still stuck on what domain you fit best into, whether you should be an entrepreneur, and how to get started, the following questions should help get those introspective juices flowing into action:

  • When have you been the most committed and passionate toward something in your life?
  • What talents do you use the most and what are your strengths?
  • Which roles and activities did you like and dislike in the past?
  • What aspect of those roles did you like the most and least?

After you get your own thoughts and assessment results together, it helps to get some feedback from people you respect, including parents, industry experts, and mentors. An outside perspective can be incredibly valuable as well, and help you narrow down what may seem like a long list, and relate that to the real world. Something you feel passionate about that doesn’t put food on the table, for example, may not be sustainable.

But the time to start is now. The most important point is to plot your own path, rather than be a victim of unpredictable circumstances and someone else’s whims. Don’t let other people be winners at your expense.

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, November 12, 2022

10 Classic Rules For Venture Success That Still Apply

new-venture-successIn this world of constant change, new technologies, and a thousand cultures, it’s evident and somehow comforting to me that the basic rules for business prosperity really haven’t changed in the last hundred years. Business success is still more about the people than the technology or idea involved. As an angel investor and a mentor to entrepreneurs I still see this every day.

I was recently reviewing a collection of essays by and about Napoleon Hill, “The Science of Success,” who is most recognized as the author of the best seller “Think and Grow Rich” from way back in 1937. Hill attributes his ten rules of success to Andrew Carnegie, who was in his prime well before that, over a hundred years ago, but I believe the principles are still relevant.

Since language and implication have changed a bit since then, I’ll restate Carnegie and Hill’s original principles here, with my own current-day commentary and recommendations added:

  1. Definiteness of purpose. Every entrepreneur needs to start by setting a major purpose for embarking down a specific business path. This objective needs to go beyond making a parent or spouse happy, getting rich quick, or advancing a technology. For success these days, the purpose better focus on people, and solve a real problem for customers.
  1. Master-mind alliance. Building successful businesses still requires the ability to find and inspire the best people who “have what you haven't,” whether that be skills, knowledge, connections, or funding. Then you must extend these alliances to vendors, partners, customers, and even competitors (coopetition).
  1. Going the extra mile. Hill's eagerness to serve others gave him greater opportunities, and this Law of Reciprocity works the same today. Doing more than you have to do is the only thing that justifies raises or promotions, and puts people under an obligation to you.  This is still one of the most important competitive differentiators that you can offer.
  1. Applied faith. This is a level of belief that has action behind it. Anyone can have ideas, passion, and faith about an important business opportunity. Yet for most people it’s only a daydream, since they are not willing or able to commit the actions required to deliver. Results are still the only true measure of success in business.
  1. Personal initiative. Successful entrepreneurs do what they need to do without being told how to do it. Asking for insight is not the same as asking for the next step, or asking an advisor to make the decision. Great entrepreneurs are proactive, not only in selecting the right idea, but in implementing a product, setting a price, and choosing customers.
  1. Imagination. This is the number one skill required for creativity and innovation. Without imagination, entrepreneurs cannot look at a problem from a new perspective. Without imagination, entrepreneurs cannot visualize how various solutions to a problem would work. Without imagination, entrepreneurs can never dream up new ideas.
  1. Enthusiasm. This is the contagious quality that great entrepreneurs have to attract correlative passion, commitment, the best people, and customers to their idea and solution. Enthusiasm is one of the most powerful motivational tools in an entrepreneur’s arsenal, and no success will accrue without it.
  1. Accurate thinking. Accurate thinking is the ability to separate facts from fiction via deductive reasoning, and to isolate and use facts effectively that are pertinent to your own challenges and problems. When the necessary facts are not available, accurate inductive reasoning or hypothetical thinking is required to fill the gap.
  1. Concentration of effort. In current terms this is called focus and determination, to never give up and never be diverted from your purpose. With focus and determination, you and your team will understand what's most important for success, and drive your motivation through the execution steps required.
  1. Profiting by adversity. This simply means remembering that there can be an equivalent benefit for every setback. Successful entrepreneurs learn from funding failures, economic adversity, ruthless competitors, and lethargic customers. They insist on greater efficiency, try new business models, organizational improvements, and better cash management.

Carnegie and Hill understood how business success rules were tied to the entrepreneur way back in the early 1900’s, and the evidence is that those rules are still as applicable now as they were then. Business models and technology have improved dramatically, but the power of people with foresight, passion, and determination continues to supersede all these elements.

So the next time you are tempted to broadcast an abstract email to me and other investors on your new “million dollar idea,” make sure you include your track record on how well you stack up against these rules for business success. Investors still tend to bet on the jockey, not the horse.

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, November 11, 2022

9 Principles for Getting Along With Everyone At Work

getting-along-officeI was always impressed by a few people at work who seemed to get along with everyone, and wondered what I was missing in talent or temperament. After years mentoring young aspiring entrepreneurs, I am now convinced that getting along and becoming more productive with other people is a skill that any professional can learn, or accomplish via a dedicated strategy.

For example, we all have experienced a few difficult relationships, perhaps including an insecure boss, the ultimate pessimist, a passive-aggressive peer, or the perennial victim. Sometimes you can simply avoid these, but more often you have to work in concert with them on a common project or career-risking decision. It is in these contexts that I am often asked for specific advice.

I was happy to find my own insights and recommendations confirmed in a new book, “Getting Along: How to Work With Anyone,” by Harvard Business Review workshop facilitator, Amy Gallo. She offers a set of nine strategies that I will summarize here, and you need to follow to more effectively navigate the complicated workplace dynamics and difficult coworkers that we all face:

  1. Focus on your own self-control and their views. Don’t waste time trying to convince a colleague to change. People change only to the degree they want to change. Focus instead on what you can do to match their interaction style and expectation. Look for patience and more subtle ways to influence their views and actions to meet your needs.

  2. Recognize that your perspective is just one view. There is rarely an objective truth that everyone sees and accepts. We all come to the workplace with different experiences and a different set of values. You don’t have to agree to get along. You only have to respect each other’s perspective enough to decide on a mutually agreeable way forward.

  3. Be aware that you have some prejudices as well. For example, recognize that the affinity bias is the unconscious tendency to favor people who are like us. Confirmation bias is our likelihood to interpret events as confirmation of existing beliefs. Don’t hesitate to consult with someone you trust who is willing to push back to see the situation fairly.

  4. Don’t polarize things or make it “me against them.” Separate the people from the problem. No one wants a nemesis at work. Think about how to engage your colleague in problem-solving, which is inherently collaborative instead of combative. Never make it about who’s right and who’s wrong, but about a decision or plan you need to complete.

  5. Rely on empathy for others to see things differently. Always give your coworker the benefit of the doubt. Try to understand the rationale for their prickly behavior and views. Start by giving yourself a dose of self-compassion for what you also are going through before you turn your attention to a colleague. Give yourself space before reacting.

  6. Be clear with yourself about goals for a relationship. Identifying your goal will help you avoid getting pulled into any drama and stay focused on constructive tactics. Don’t let any hidden agendas or ulterior motives, such as political strategy, throw you off course. Write down your key goals and refer to this list before any interaction with your colleague.

  7. Resist the urge to talk behind your coworker’s back. Gossiping often reflects poorly on you the gossiper. You may get the immediate validation you are seeking, but you may also garner a reputation for being unprofessional, or end up labeled as the difficult one. When seeking help on an issue, seek out people who are constructive, and stay positive.

  8. Experiment with alternatives to find what works. Start by coming up with two or three ideas you want to test out on a difficult colleague. Often, small actions make real progress. Keep adjusting your approaches and be willing to abandon ones that aren’t working. Try something you haven’t tried before that others might not expect.

  9. Adopt a growth mindset and stay curious. Adopting a curious mindset helps to disrupt the stories we tell ourselves. Assume you have something to learn and believe that the negative dynamic can be turned around, both of which are elements of your own growth. Catch yourself in unproductive thought patterns, and step back to change the framing.

I’m confident that you will find that practicing these strategies will make your difficult relationships more productive, and improve your ability to get along with everyone. The result will be less work stress and more job satisfaction, as well as more positive movement in your career. We all need these in the changing work environment today.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 10/25/2022 ***

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