Wednesday, March 30, 2022

6 Mindsets That Separate the Most Effective Leaders

ceo-excellence-mindsetI’m sure you will agree that not all business leaders are created equal, starting from the CEO on down. But I have found the more challenging question to be what distinguishes the best leaders from all the rest, especially before they have been selected and tested in a new role. My own conclusion, after years of experience and consulting, is that leadership is largely about mindset.

Thus I was pleased to see the same conclusion in a new book, “CEO Excellence,” by Carolyn Dewar, Scott Keller, and Vikram Malhotra, each a Senior Partner at McKinsey & Company. After their research and discussions with many Fortune 500 CEOs, they detailed six mindsets they found most prevalent in effective and inspirational business leaders in large companies.

I believe these same mindsets are equally applicable to the entrepreneurs I mentor, and all of you small business leaders, so I offer you my summary of the authors’ conclusions, paraphrased here, with my own insights:

  1. Be bold in vision, strategy, and resource allocation. Leaders with this “be bold” mindset are willing and able to take radically unique direction-setting actions in the face of today’s pace of change and customer demands. You need to make it about more than money, focus on future possibilities, solve for the whole, and kill as much as you create.

    As an example, Elon Musk, while best known for his success with Tesla electric vehicles, continues to make forays into other transportation alternatives, with SpaceX, Hyperloop, and others. He is known for his bold mindset, and an all-in commitment to his visions.

  2. Get organization alignment through culture and talent. Today even small businesses need complex organizations that work together in alignment, remote and online, including marketing, sales, delivery, and support. You need to build and maintain a team culture of engagement, accountability, and results, always looking for talent and new technology.

    One of the primary keys to getting organizational alignment is to clearly communicate to all the mission, and potentially the higher purpose for the business. I recommend that you validate that alignment by asking team members the “Why?” question on a regular basis.

  3. Make the team the star to do the heavy lifting. With too many leaders I know, the mindset is making themselves successful, rather than the team. You as the leader need only to set the template and the tempo, like conducting an orchestra, and demand and reward disciplined execution of tasks that only the team can do. Keep the teams strong.

    Another key to team performance is a regular reward program for teams, as well as individuals. Giving the team a chance to publicly showcase their achievements will allow the individual stars to shine as well. Praise for teams always works better than criticism.

  4. Tap the wisdom of elders and the Board to help the business. You must build a foundation of trust to get the relationships you need for honest communication, focus on the future, and real coaching on how to improve the business. In my experience, this will result in better contacts, advance warning on changes needed, and better performance.

    Unfortunately, I feel that many business leaders see and treat their Board as a burden, rather than an asset. They don’t recognize the negative image they are conveying to peers and other senior leaders. Every business leader needs good “managing up” skills.

  5. Focus stakeholder engagement on the big picture. The best leaders don’t dodge stakeholder engagement, but always approach it with a mindset of highlighting the big picture, the higher-level purpose, and getting to the essence of issues. They demonstrate a personal resilience that enables them to show sound judgement during a crisis.

  6. Boost personal impact through consistency and energy. Your challenge as a leader is not only managing your personal effectiveness, but also generating energy in others by staying positive, being a role model, and giving hope. It’s important that you stay humble, don’t make it all about you, and maintain a small sounding board of advisors.

In this new age of rapid change, instant world-wide communication through social media, and public activism, business leaders need to tune their mindset and focus more to the “soft stuff” of the business, as well as the “hard stuff.” Remember that your objective as a leader must now be much broader than pure financials – you can change the world, as well as your own legacy.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 3/16/2022 ***



Monday, March 28, 2022

5 Reasons That Successful Non-Profits Are A Challenge

non-profits-are-a-challengeA common misconception I often hear in the startup world is that non-profits are easy and safe, since they don’t have to pay taxes, and they don’t have to make a profit for their shareholders. In reality, from the feedback I get from non-profit executives, exactly the opposite is true.

Technically speaking, in the United States, a non-profit corporation or association is one which has been exempted from Federal income taxes by meeting the criteria set out Section 501(c) of the Internal Revenue Code, most notably religious, educational, and charitable entities like the Salvation Army. Other countries have similar exemptions for similar organizations.

Yet even a non-profit has to make a profit on everything it sells, in order to cover operating expenses (salaries, offices, equipment, research, travel, etc.), unless it relies wholly on donations. Even then, the business and leadership efforts to solicit and manage donations cost real money, and may be more difficult than the marketing and sales jobs of most startups.

Here are the common reasons I hear that make starting and running a non-profit actually more difficult than starting and running a conventional business:

  1. Creating a non-profit 501(c) business is a long and arduous process. You can start an LLC for-profit in less than a month, often for less than $100. A non-profit 501(c)(3) status requires filing IRS Form 1023. For a serious entity, the form must be accompanied by an $850 filing fee, and may take as long as two years to complete successfully.
  1. Investors are not interested in non-profits. Even non-profits usually require startup funds for facilities, people, and inventory. But because they can’t project excellent returns on investment, no investors will likely be interested. Also, they can’t sell shares on the stock exchange to raise money, even though both the NYSE and Nasdaq are non-profits. That means they need to grow organically, or find a philanthropist.
  1. Reputable non-profits need to keep their operating expenses low. This usually means keeping wages low, and no fancy facilities. Thus it’s hard to attract top-notch talent, premium locations, and first-class marketing campaigns. Managing volunteers, and running any organization with these constraints is a challenge.
  1. Results are always subject to public scrutiny. Most startups, as private companies, don’t have to disclose their salaries and spending habits to anyone other than the IRS. Non-profits have to answer to watchdog organizations like Charity Navigator for how much of their proceeds actually make it to the causes they proclaim to support.
  1. Some laudable non-profit missions are hard to sell to supporters. A common complaint from many non-profits is that both government and private funders would rather spend their dollars on ‘sexy’ causes such as children’s charities, cancer, and heart disease, rather than long-term causes like global warming and erasing hunger in Africa.

Unfortunately, misuse scenarios, like the lavish lifestyles of leaders and scams, have given the non-profit environment a bad name, making things even tougher. Even reputable organizations, supporting veterans, the police, firefighters or children, often raise eyebrows, with alarming real data like these from the America's Worst Charities report a while back on an activist website:

  • Kids Wish Network – 2.5% distributed cash aid from $137.9 million collected
  • Breast Cancer Relief Foundation – 2.2% distributed cash aid from $63.9 million collected
  • Firefighters Charitable Foundation - 7.4% distributed cash aid from $62.8 million collected
  • National Veterans Service Fund - 7.8% distributed cash aid from $70.2 million collected
  • Children’s Cancer Fund - 4.6% distributed cash aid from $43.7 million collected

These numbers vividly show that non-profits with good causes can fail to achieve satisfying results, in the same way that for-profit startups often fail, even with good products. Despite these challenges, my advice is still to follow your heart and your passion when starting a business.

You shouldn’t choose a non-profit, or a for-profit, because one seems easier, or one can make more money. Do it because you love the cause, the service, or the product, and the challenges will get lost in the satisfaction and results you achieve along the way.

Marty Zwilling



Sunday, March 27, 2022

6 Qualities Of The Best People To Nurture Innovation

executive-business-team-innovationEntrepreneurs are usually highly creative and innovative, but many innovative people are not entrepreneurs. Since it takes a team of people to build a great company, the challenge is to find that small percentage of innovative people, and then nurture the tendency, rather than stifle it.

A few years ago I read a classic book “The Rudolph Factor,” by Cyndi Laurin and Craig Morningstar, which is all about finding the bright lights that can drive innovation in your business. The story most specifically targets big companies, like Boeing, but the concepts are just as applicable to a startup with one or more employees.

The core message is that real innovation and competitive advantage are more people-based than product or process-based. Every good entrepreneur needs a people-centric focus to ferret out creativity and innovation in his team, and to build a sustainable competitive advantage.

The authors observe that people who behave as mentors tend to have an uncanny ability to recognize and nurture people who have innate capabilities along these lines. Here are six of the characteristics they and you should look for:

  1. Problem solvers. Innovators are naturally creative and love new challenges. Some may appear a bit eccentric to people around them. They generally promote unconventional ways to solve problems and have an easier time than most at identifying the root cause of a problem.
  1. Passionate and inquisitive. These team members are passionate about their work and light up when talking about their role or a particular project they are working on. They often ask “Why?” even when it is not the most popular question to be asked.
  1. Challenge the status quo. They believe that questioning is of value and benefit to the organization. This is also how they discover what they need in order to solve a problem, so they aren’t rocking the boat just for the sake of rocking the boat.
  1. Connect the dots. Innovators have the ability to quickly synthesize many variables to solve problems or make improvements. To others, it may appear as if their ideas come out of the blue or that there is no rhyme or reason behind their thinking.
  1. See the big picture. They tend to be natural systems thinkers and see the whole forest rather than a single tree … or just the bark on the tree. They may express frustration if people around them are having conversations about the bark, rather than the forest.
  1. Collaborative and action oriented. They are not loners, and have the ability and confidence to turn their ideas into action. They act on their ideas, sometimes without knowing how they will accomplish them. The “how” is always revealed in time.

Your challenge is to go forth with this new awareness and thinking, to find and mentor those bright lights that will drive innovation and competitive advantage. The next step after finding innovators is to integrate them into your team. A key aspect is establishing a team-based culture that is a safe environment to share and execute ideas.

In fact, this safe and nurturing environment has to extend beyond a single team to the highest levels of the organization. It should embody a style of leadership that is essentially a commitment to the success of the people around you. That opens the door for anyone in the organization to lead from where they are, rather than waiting for management to “do something.”

Innovation is at the very heart of every successful startup. Everyone wins when you look at things very differently and wonder “why”, not “why not.” What better way to extend this power than to surround yourself with more highly creative people? Then you can make the world a place of possibilities, as well as probabilities.

Marty Zwilling<



Saturday, March 26, 2022

5 New Rules For Getting Customers To Advocate For You

customer-advocacyHave you noticed that more companies beg you to participate in their business today? It started with an email survey on your last stay at their hotel, but now includes requests for online product reviews, to social media input on the design of future products. They do it because engaged customers become loyal advocates and buyers. Welcome to the “Participation Age” of marketing.

Some say it’s happening today because it’s new, and technology makes it possible. Others say it stems from Intrinsic Motivation Theory, which asserts that people have always been motivated by a desire to join, share, take part, connect, and engage, and find that experience rewarding. In any case, your business needs it today to rise above the crowd and edge out competitors.

If you want all the specifics, you must follow the new wave of marketing experts, like Daina Middleton, and her classic book “Marketing in the Participation Age.” I’m most intrigued by one aspect that I believe relates to every business - the move from a hunter-based metaphor to a gardening metaphor – nurturing what we have planted, based on the following five rules:

  1. Embrace test-and-learn values. That means constantly trying new marketing elements, understanding quickly what works, and immediately scaling, then moving on to the next alternative. Nurturing marketers reserve a minimum of 10 percent of their marketing budgets for testing and learning. It’s a dynamic customer environment out there.
  1. Innovate; don’t perfect. The nurture approach leverages from the best of the moment, quickly adding value before someone else does it first. The concept of continual innovation is crucial, because the best may not last long. Pick something that is good enough and embrace the flaw as an opportunity to learn. Adapt quickly and move on.
  1. Act quickly and motivate others, including participants, to act on your behalf. Motivate people, including your customers, to do something to improve your marketing today. Inspire your organization to act quickly and create an environment that rewards moving quickly. Estimate and act; because if you don’t, your competitors will.
  1. Mix and blend; don’t invent. Partner with others to create unique solutions that might benefit your brand, product, or solution. Choose an agency partner who is pushing the envelope and remember to consider technology, media, and creative opportunities. Look for elegant blends of all three, not an elegant single media solution.
  1. Embrace risks and champion failures. Prepare to learn from mistakes and accept that failures are inevitable in finding success. Partner with agencies that are willing to put skin in the game and get paid only if they deliver results. It often takes several failures to find opportunities that yield the best results.

In the current world of escalating change and information overload, marketing is not a luxury, and participative marketing can be the key to success, even for very technical solutions. We often see a mediocre product with effective marketing outperform a good product with little or poor marketing. Big marketing budgets alone and single blockbuster campaigns don’t assure results.

The message is simple. Ask your customers and partners for ideas, try them all, measure results, and scale up the ones that work. The participants, not the marketers, are in control, and they are demanding a relationship, not just a marketing message. If they don’t find value in the relationship, they move on. The choices and opportunities are theirs.

The situation is not unlike the attraction of current major social media sites, like Facebook, successful multiplayer game sites, like Activision, and today’s real world sports and politics. Gen-Y members were born participants, and they are a major force in every business domain. People thrive on continually learning, feeling empowered, and providing input to the world they live in.

So if you are a startup, or even a mature business, you need to nurture these intrinsic desires and develop more meaningful customer relationships that yield greater revenues. Marketing is no longer a one-way conversation. Does your marketing include listening as well as talking?

Marty Zwilling



Friday, March 25, 2022

10 Business Practices Owners Often Learn The Hard Way

Stressed-accountantI agree with those of you who tell me that you learn the most from your own mistakes, but that shouldn’t keep you from starting with some best practices, and the feedback from others who have been there and done that. In my experience, mistakes in business are an expensive and painful way to learn, and in these days of rapid change, you just can’t afford the time to recover.

Thus, over the years of my mentoring and consulting efforts with entrepreneurs, I have a key list of practices that I recommend to everyone starting and growing a business. Even though many of these may seem intuitively obvious to most of you, I continue to see them overlooked by many, so I offer them for your consideration in staying a step ahead of the market and your competitors:

  1. Close the deal and cash the check before you spend it. Betting on funds you don’t yet have has crashed many businesses I know. Passion, over-confidence, and the pressures of business have caused many entrepreneurs to forget all the things that can go wrong at the last minute, and leave you exposed. Managing cash must always be your top priority.

  2. Start business discussions only from a positive mindset. If you have had a bad day, or are in a negative state of mind, skip any tough negotiation sessions with partners and personnel discussions. Your negative emotions will be quickly sensed, and you will likely say the wrong thing for all concerned. Go home until your mind is rested and positive.

  3. Always give yourself a buffer in promising results to others. With your passion to win business, it’s always tempting to commit to high-risk results in short timeframes. The last thing you need is a reputation for always being a day late and a dollar short. Business leadership and success must be built on trust, so never jeopardize your image.

  4. Make sure you can deliver on every solution you sell. You may think it’s great that demand exceeds your supply chain, but customers only remember it as a loss of your credibility, and will tell others. Proactive customer communication should be your first recourse, followed by cost and service concessions. Don’t sell what you don’t have.

  5. Hire the best, and provide necessary training and tools. Too many busy business leaders I know take shortcuts in hiring, looking for a quick fill, assuming new employees can learn on the job, with minimal training and old tools. The result is low productivity, mistakes, and poor customer experiences. Your business image will spiral downward.

  6. Do your homework on new investors, partners, and vendors. There is no substitute for location visits, reference checks, and other due diligence before signing contracts. Don’t make gut decisions based primarily on marketing pitches and hard-sell tactics. Build personal relationships with key constituents, just as you do in your personal life.

  7. Execute a balanced growth and implementation plan. Avoid death by success, where a fabulous large order from a big retailer exceeds your ability to staff up, deliver, or support it. Remember that the largest customers are often the slowest to pay, and the most likely to demand support and return concessions. Big growth takes big investment.

  8. Use metrics on key deliverables to assure quality results. As your business grows, you won’t be able to manage every process personally, so you need help in quantifying results, productivity, and quality. I still see businesses that assume if everyone is working hard, all is well. Investigate industry standards, and take advantage of automated tools.

  9. Establish an advisory board of experienced peers. The best business leaders I know are not shy about establishing business relationships with peers, both formally and informally. They are not afraid to ask for staffing pointers, direction, or even funding. Don’t let the pressure of day-to-day crises cause you to overlook strategic planning.

  10. Formalize all business and partner agreements. The days are gone when a handshake and your memory were good enough. You need legal assistance, written contacts, and asset tracking processes to support company growth, people change, and new legal requirements. Start now to file and track changes in business commitments.

If you have already implemented all these best practices, I offer you my congratulations! If not, now is the time to start acting like the leader you want to be, and shift from startup mode to running a growing business in today’s environment. There will still be plenty of challenges ahead, so apply your passion and energy to these, instead of recovering from known avoidable mistakes.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 3/11/2022 ***



Wednesday, March 23, 2022

7 Keys To Creating A Connected Team For Your Business

connected-teamMany of you business leaders I work with, and entrepreneurs I mentor, have a great strategy and an innovative solution, but struggle with building and motivating the team necessary to run your business. You assume everyone has your passion, and simply needs your command and control to make it work. In my experience, what a team needs more is your connection and inspiration.

Becoming a totally connected business leader is a very different challenge from building a product, or defining a good strategy. Yet, I’m convinced that connected leadership can be learned proactively, as opposed to waiting for painful negative experiences. Here are my suggestions for focus and actions that will build and maintain your connected leadership with any team:

  1. Listen and relate to every team member as a person. As a good solution developer, it’s easy for you to see team members only as components of your business solution. Your impact and leadership of people requires trust, and trust requires that you both find some common ground, and empathy, in the human realm of goals, interests, and drivers.

    Of course, listening alone isn't enough. To be a connected leader, you must demonstrate that you not only hear them but that you understand their needs and perspective. While this sometimes takes patience, over time you will find it is the best way to really learn.

  2. Convince members that you are always part of their team. If they never see you, hide in your office, or work totally different hours, the connection will never happen. Even in today’s remote environments, you can use video sessions, social media, and email to keep up with team efforts informally and share updates, both positive and negative.

    One of today’s great entrepreneurs, Richard Branson, who now manages over 400 companies within Virgin Group, says he always puts team members first, and still finds time to meet and connect, considering it one of his most enjoyable and productive roles.

  3. Create a common community around a higher purpose. Team members, as well as customers, like to feel connected and inspired by a worthy non-business objective, such as helping the disadvantaged, saving the environment, or supporting inclusivity. Iterative and repeatable business processes with only a financial objective foster low engagement.

    For example, Yvon Chouinard, when he was growing Patagonia, recognized a serious interest in helping the environment, and capitalized on it by dedicating a percent of sales to environmental protection. This created a connection with both his team and customers.

  4. Always be authentic, and never speak down to the team. I realize that you may want to spare the team your worries over market changes and competitors, but transparency on these matters creates trust and connection, and improves their focus on agility and inspires innovation. You really need their insights and customer interaction feedback.

  5. Spend time coaching and mentoring team members. Remember that employee future careers are as important to them as future business opportunities are to you. Highlight win-win scenarios that lead to better connections, more engagement, and sustainable business growth. Help them learn more about your vision and future market goals.

  6. Reward learning and risk-taking, from failure or success. A common fear I find in teams that hampers connection, is the fear of failure. You need to highlight risk-taking as good, if not done recklessly, and celebrate the learning from every project back to all. This provides the inspiration that we all need, as well as agility in the face of change.

  7. Facilitate connections between teams and to the outside. When you connect a team member to an outside contact, that solidifies your own connection both ways. Thus new relationships with industry influencers and peers is part of building connections to your own team. Connected leaders are known to share their contacts as well as their insights.

As I talk to early business investors, I find they put more stock in the team leadership connection than the market for the initial solution. That is why professional investors will tell you that they invest in people, more than innovative solutions. Thus you shouldn’t hesitate to invest the time and effort in the initiatives suggested here. The potential for both you and the business is huge.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 3/9/2022 ***



Monday, March 21, 2022

7 New Opportunities Based On Trends And Demographics

Generation_Z_kids_on_Electric_ScooterIf every entrepreneur could predict the future, starting the right new business would be easy. Since my experience and interests have been primarily with technology, I’ve been watching those trends for a long time, and I see rapid change, but predicting impact is a challenge. Recently I’ve changed my focus a bit to people demographics, and I find the implications a bit more concrete.

In fact, I was impressed with the classic book, “Upside: Profiting from the Profound Demographic Shifts Ahead,” by Kenneth Gronbach, which is full of specific facts on demographic changes over the past few years, and what they mean for some of the major business segments out there today. Gronbach is well-known for his generational research and keen forecasting of societal trends.

First, a quick summary of the major U.S. demographic generations out there today, ranked from large to small:

  • Generation Y (Millennials) – 82.9 million, born 1985-2004, biggest business opportunity
  • Baby Boomers (no other name) – 70.7 million, born 1945-1964, major workforce element
  • Generation Z (Post-millennials) – 68.2 million, born 2005-2024, yet to be defined
  • Generation X (Generation Me) – 64.9 million, born 1965-1984, growing with immigration
  • Silent Generation (Lucky Few) – 21.8 million, born 1925-1944, slowing down rapidly

Outside these societal generations, the people counters are also seeing other major shifts and trends that will have a marked impact on our economy and business, including the following.

  1. Healthcare: An oncoming tidal wave. There is a Baby Boomer and Silent Generation tsunami headed straight for our healthcare system, so opportunities there are endless. That means that starting soon, our doctors, hospitals, eldercare, hospice and even death care systems are going to face unprecedented demand. Technology won’t solve this one.
  1. Autos for drivers: Waning market demand. American’s long love affair with owning and driving a car is over. A recent survey shows that 45 percent of Generation Y, the largest generation ever, consciously seek out alternatives to driving. Here technology is stepping up to the plate with driverless vehicles, resulting in big opportunities all around.
  1. Housing: A shortage looms. In the next ten years, 86 million Gen Y’ers will be moving out of their parents’ homes to start their own families. With 330 million people in the U.S. already, we’ll be at least 25 million homes short, based on the 155 million housing units that exist today. That’s good news for all business segments and the economy.
  1. Shipping and delivery: Strained to the limits. The building of new houses, communities, and infrastructure – as well as the new demand for retail that delivers – will strain trucking and shipping to its limits. As Boomers migrate to the Sunbelt, and everyone orders more online, I can hardly wait for drones to use the sky to help out.
  1. Education: More students and different classes. Everyone is predicting a rise in massive open online courses (MOOC), that will drive the need for new course content, architecture, and delivery approaches. In addition, children from Gen Y will spark a comeback in public school enrollment, and keep traditional colleges in business.
  1. Immigration: Continuing on the rise. Despite recent controversy, we are becoming more and more a nation of immigrants. The Asian population is expected to double by 2050, and Latinos are projected to jump from 17 to 25 percent in the same time frame. These cultures bring a whole new set of needs in food, entertainment, and lifestyle.
  1. Women: On the move. Women professionals are definitely increasing their ranks. There are 60 women to every 40 men in college, and they are entering the world of work in force. They are also moving into more critical leadership positions in both the public and private sector. That brings new business opportunities in fashion, home care, and leisure.

These shifts are independent of technology innovations, but certainly will drive the application of key product developments. Every entrepreneur needs to understand that people and populations drive business opportunities, as well as society. Thus I recommend the study of demographics in determining what business you start, where you start it, as well as how to scale it. Your success may depend on it.

Marty Zwilling



Sunday, March 20, 2022

5 Characteristics of A Startup Destined For Success

startup-destined-for-successEvery startup wants to be a predictable success, yet so few ever achieve this enviable position. In reality, getting there is not a random walk, and requires an understanding of the stages that every business must navigate and the organizational characteristics necessary at each stage.

Les McKeown, in his book from a while back, “Predictable Success” outlines these stages and characteristics for any business. He points out, for example, that every business should anticipate the early struggle stage, a possible fun stage, and probably a turbulent whitewater phase, before they can hope for the predictable success stage.

This predictable success stage is defined as a point where you can set and consistently achieve your goals and objectives with a consistent, predictable degree of success. Unlike previous stages, where you may not know how or why you have survived, you now know why you are successful, and can use that information to sustain growth in the long term.

His studies show that companies at this stage show five key characteristics, which I believe every startup should strive to achieve from the very beginning:

  1. Decision making. The ability to readily make and consistently implement decisions. You need a sense of flow – decisions are made without the decision-making process placing a burden on the organization, or the leader. Decision making is delegated and decentralized, freeing management to concentrate on what they can do best, rather than micromanaging others.
  1. Goal setting. The ability to readily set and consistently achieve goals, and really being in control. It has to happen seamlessly, as part of the day-to-day operation of the business, not as the resource-sucking, do-it-at-the-last-minute event that it is in so many organizations. Goals are hit more than missed, and people are willing to take timely, corrective action.
  1. Alignment. Structure, process and people are in harmony. Otherwise, a lot of time and energy is expended by people because they have to manipulate the organization’s processes and/or structure in order to get things done. There is just the right amount of process and structure to efficiently get the job done.
  1. Accountability. Employees become self-accountable, in addition to being externally accountable to others. When empowered to make decisions of genuine import about their own jobs and responsibilities, and given the resources and freedom required, each employee personally buys in to the overall success.
  1. Ownership. Employees take personal responsibility for their actions and outcomes. This results is everyone pulling together, rather than by the manager group constantly “pushing.” There is a deep sense of co-dependency, where managers are dependent on their teams for delivering, and employees are dependent on managers for guidance.

As challenging as it may seem to achieve these characteristics in your business, the bigger challenge is to retain them for the long haul. Many businesses slowly slide into a treadmill stage, where they become over-systematized, or on toward the big rut where creativity disappears (“the way we have always done thing”), on into the death rattle, where the market moves faster than the company.

As a startup, you need to walk before you can run. That means starting early to practice and implement the techniques that will lead to predictable success. Remember that the lynchpin of the entire framework comes down to your own personal ownership and self-accountability. There is no room here for excuses or half-way efforts.

Marty Zwilling



Saturday, March 19, 2022

6 Keys To Thriving In This New Era Of Remote Services

remote-workWith the power of the Internet, and the impact of the recent pandemic, the world of business services, such as accounting and marketing, have gone more and more remote. Yet the value of real relationships, as with consumer customers, has become critical to your business services growth and success. The challenge is how to build client relationships without face-to-face.

In my experience, the good news is that everyone is becoming more and more comfortable with relationships via the new media and technology. The bad news is that I still find a lot of you who don’t use these tools effectively, or haven’t learned the rules for nurturing remote relationships. Here is my list of some key recommendations to help you get your fair share of business:

  1. Customize and personalize every communication you can. Generalized email blasts and social media ads may be great for finding interest in your services, but these are not enough to close and maintain new clients. Real relationships require frequent and personalized communication, to make them memorable experiences with loyalty.

    Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting long rambling texts about the weather, or “Hello, how are you?” but rather a recognition and real insights into specific challenges that you know this client is facing. Couple this with a specific proposal for the next step or your solution.

  2. Maximize online referrals and positive service reviews. Just like consumers give top priority to peer feedback and experiences on social media or Yelp, you need to incent your clients to tell others about you and become your advocate. I still find too many service organizations that ignore or discount online reviews and satisfaction surveys.

    Another major source of services clients these days is online industry directory sites and ranking review articles. It pays to invest more in building remote relationships with these site owners, or spending quality time with podcasters and popular blog influencers.

  3. Highlight your personal leadership values and experience. Through frequent communication, and even your website, make sure clients see you as a person and a leader, rather than a robot who can do their job. We all have goals and expectations, and a backstory that may be inspirational, memorable, and important to potential partners.

    Unless you represent one of the huge brands in the services arena, such as Accenture or Oracle, clients today want to hear why you personally are the right answer for them. What are your academic credentials, firms serviced, and industry accolades and participation?

  4. Make sure clients know how you manage your business. Clients need to feel comfortable that you expect quality work from your team and technology, and have metrics, modern tools, and controls in place to make it happen. Be proactive in answering potential questions about peak load scheduling, special services, and billing questions.

    In this context, you might also offer free seminars of the latest trends in tax accounting, or reports on best practices that you sanction and practice in a given discipline. Every good relationship is a shared one, where you also offer to learn from every potential client.

  5. Seek out your client’s purpose, priorities, and expectations. Nothing galvanizes a client’s loyalty and support than the feeling that you understand that their purpose is shared with yours, and goes well beyond what you can do for them. This has always been the realm of face-to-face communication, but it can be done as well remotely.

  6. Provide relevant case studies illustrating your results. Every business service, from logo design to tax preparation, means something different to business owners in different stages of growth. People like to see examples of your work that they can relate to, with results, including costs and savings. Focus on proposals, rather than hourly rates.

If you intend to stay in the business services market, it’s time to face the reality that much of it will be remote from this point forward. You need to tune your processes for finding prospects, building relationships, and delivering results, per the recommendations outlined here. Your challenge is to find even more innovations, and make these changes a growth opportunity, rather than a barrier.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 3/4/2022 ***



Friday, March 18, 2022

7 Ways To Keep Your Business Working Like A Startup

working-like-a-startupFor all of you whose business has survived for a few years, have you noticed how your thinking has changed? Instead of sizing up new opportunities and actively courting every new customer, you start worrying about cutting costs, repeatable processes, and overtaking known competitors. As a consultant, I hate to see you lose that startup focus on innovation, change, and customers.

I remember too many once thriving and growing companies, such as Blockbuster and BlackBerry, who somehow changed their way of thinking, and were overtaken by more nimble and astute peers or newcomers, like Netflix and Apple. As the pace of change is growing, it can happen very quickly. I recommend a dedication to the following key priorities for every business, new or old:

  1. Always prioritize new trends and needs over competitors. The challenge is that the future is much harder to quantify than existing competitor markets. Don’t forget that passion you once had for what might be, versus what happened yesterday. Don’t let all the data you now have on the past keep you from listening for changes in the market.

    Steve Jobs was famous for asserting that his job was to figure out what customers are going to want before they do. He was able to take his leadership in personal computers in a whole new direction with smartphones, enabling an unprecedented growth opportunity.

  2. Stop chasing your peers, and take a look ‘around the corner.’ Unfortunately, your current path becomes a bias you and your peers cannot see, so it takes effort to look away and see the change that is happening around you. Sometimes you have to be willing to jeopardize current revenue streams to penetrate new markets or technologies.

    Another approach is to look for parallels to breakthroughs in other industries. For example, I believe that artificial intelligence, which has produced breakthroughs in gaming, has seen little traction in the healthcare sector. How about in your industry?

  3. Eliminate penalties for risk-taking and learning experiences. As companies grow, they tend to become more structured, to the point of discouraging risk by team members, and using metrics to identify mistakes and allocate bonuses. Change experiments should be encouraged, and learning experiences celebrated rather than penalized.

    Jeff Bezos credits much of Amazon’s long-term ability to grow and thrive to his funding of new product experiments, even when he did not agree. Bezos believed that if he doubled the number of change experiments, he would double his ability to survive market change.

  4. Use external sources for growth and change versus internal. Internal metrics are great for fixing problems, but industry experts, influencers, and customers are better indicators of future change and trends. The best growth alternatives may still come from “entrepreneur thinking” about alternate solutions and divergent paths. Don’t forget these.

  5. Limit resources to be applied to optimizing processes. The drive to create efficient and repeatable processes can absorb all your resources, and actually make it harder to accommodate change. Check your strategic plan regularly make sure the major portion is focused on future growth and change, rather than fixing current inefficiencies.

  6. Reward persistence and grit in team-member problem solving. In established businesses, employee loyalty and performance often gets measured primarily by consistent hours worked and minimal emotion. Remember that as a startup problem solving was the priority, often requiring emotional persistence and peer disagreements.

  7. Enable a positive and highly engaged leadership culture. Has your business decision-making become highly top-down, with reduced employee involvement and accountability? Make sure you actively encourage and enable team members to make decisions in their own realm, with your positive support, rewards, and coaching.

All of these priorities are the hallmark of what I call the “entrepreneurial mindset,” as they are the key to a startup’s passion, agility, flexibility, and innovation. With unprecedented change being the norm in today’s market, entrepreneurial thinking is the only way to assure longevity. I urge you to assess your own mindset, and let change be the only constant in your business as well.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 3/2/2022 ***



Wednesday, March 16, 2022

5 Flocks Of Investors Looking For An Enticing Startup

angel-investorsIf your startup is looking for an angel investor, it makes sense to present your plan to flocks of angels, and assume that at least one will swoop down and scoop you up. Or does it? Actually numbers and locations are just the beginning. The challenge is to find the right angel for you, and for your situation. Here are some basic principles:

  • Angels invest in people, more often than they invest in ideas. That means they need to know you, or someone they trust who does know you (warm introduction). For credibility, they need to know you BEFORE you are asking for money.
  • Angel investors are people too. Investors expect you to understand their motivation, respect their time, and show your integrity in all actions. They probably won’t respond well to high pressure sales tactics, information overload, or bribes.
  • Angels like to “touch and feel” their investments, so they are generally only interested in local opportunities. It won’t help your case or your workload to do an email blast and follow-up with 250,000 members around the world.

But now to answer one of the most common questions I get “How do I find angel investors?” With today’s access to the Internet, and Google searches, it really isn’t that hard. Here are the largest flocks:

  1. Gust (formerly AngelSoft). This is perhaps the most widely-used source of information on angel investor groups across the world, run by the “Father of Angel Investing in New York,” David Rose. This software platform is used by many local angel organizations for managing deal flow.
  2. Gust claims to have facilitated over $1 billion of investments in 650,000 startups to date, via connection through their platform to over 85,000 angel investors in 190 countries. As an entrepreneur, you simply use their investor search engine to find appropriate investors for your business according to location, industry interest, and other relevant criteria.

  3. AngelList. This is another very popular website for raising equity or debt investments for startups. It was founded back in 2010 by Naval Ravikant and Babak Nivi of Venture Hacks, which is also a great place to visit for startup advice.
  4. AngelList has featured over 3 million businesses for potential investors in a format that is, effectively, a social network for entrepreneurs and angels. They claim to have already raised over $560 million for 1400 startups, primarily in the US and Europe. In addition, they serve as a jobs available site for 24,000 startups.

  5. Keiretsu Forum. This one claims to be the world’s largest single angel investor network, with 3000 accredited investor members throughout 52 chapters on 3 continents. Since its founding in 2000, its members have invested over $800 million dollars in over 800 companies in technology, consumer products, healthcare/life sciences, real estate and other segments with high growth potential.
  6. The Founding Chapter is in Silicon Valley, California, (naturally). A caveat is that this is a for-profit organization, so fees to present may be significant.

  7. USA Angel Investment Network. This group claims to be the largest angel investment community in the world. They have already raised $300 million for startups in the US and across the world. A caveat is that this network doesn’t offer a personal touch, as it only facilitates the exchange of contact information, so the matchmaking is left up to you.
  8. The reach is very broad, with a network has 30 branches extending to 80 different countries. They have over 1,700,000 registered members with over 300,000 investors and 1,400,000 entrepreneurs.

  9. Angel Capital Association (ACA). The ACA is the angel industry alliance, which now includes a directory to more than 250 angel groups and 14,000 individual angels across North America. ACA member angel groups represent a wealth of accredited investors and are funding approximately 800 new companies each year, and managing an ongoing portfolio of more than 5,000 companies throughout North America.

Of course, there are many more angel investors, often called “super angels,” that have a large following and large reach, so they don’t need any of these organizations to be found. Examples of some leaders in this space include Ron Conway, Mike Maples, Jr., and the founder of 500 Startups, Dave McClure. Connecting with one of these would be a real coup for your startup.

My real message is that the best angel you can find is a local high net-worth individual, with whom you or your advisors have an established prior relationship. So get out there and network, and you can be one of the lucky ones who is touched by an angel without having to go through hell first. If none of these will touch your startup, maybe it’s time to look again, in the mirror.

Marty Zwilling



Monday, March 14, 2022

Customer Trust Is An Opportunity With A Huge Payback

customer-trustWith the ITRC 2021 End-of-Year Data Breach Report revealing a 68 percent increase in stolen sensitive personal information, there is a growing population out there worried about all the people intent on hurting them. My recommendation to entrepreneurs is to recognize these concerns as an opportunity to make people’s life better, rather than worry and dodge the risk.

I continue to believe that most of the data gathering in the real world, and on the Internet, is done by businesses to help you find what you want, protect you, and improve your experience, rather than invade your privacy or scam you. We all just need your help in managing personal data correctly, and making sure you are part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.

That challenge is a major business opportunity, as well as a risk, for startups. I know companies who collect sensitive data from consumers all the time, and still seem to keep a trusted image (, Ebay). There are others, like Norton LifeLock, acquired in 2017 by Symantec for $2.3 billion, now providing identity theft services for nearly 80 million users around the globe.

But that is just the beginning of the opportunity to provide or take advantage of the new power and tools on the Internet. Here are a few specifics on how to be part of the solution, without the costs, rather than part of the problem:

  • Put a personal face and address on your site; don’t hide behind an “info” email address.
  • Make your company visible, reachable and responsive through social networks.
  • Market your solution and user benefits, not the mysterious technology behind it.
  • Use video and audio, rather than jargon, abbreviations, and computer lingo on your site.
  • Make navigation simple and consistent, with abundant online help

The good news is that, if your company does it right, it might be another Amazon. There seems to be an insatiable demand from consumers for a better shopping experience, meaning they will pay a premium to a company that can present them a better match in products to their interests, without jeopardizing their good name.

In support of this, despite qualms, consumers seem very quick these days to provide more personal data to get something they want. Young people naively enter their pictures and personal data for fun on social networking sites, ignoring constant feedback from the media that these are bad practices.

I certainly agree that just like in the real world, consumers have to assume that there are always bad groups on the Internet, as well as down the street, trying to rip you off, so stay out of bad neighborhoods, and keep your wits about you at all times. Internet users need to start watching out for themselves, like looking both ways before you cross the street.

The bad news for startups is that your company can lose big if it’s caught in the middle. A Facebook data breach in April 2021 exposed over 533 million individuals’ personal information to hackers, and this won’t soon be forgotten. A few years earlier, Marriott account information was hacked, and some feel it hasn’t fully recovered since.

Sometimes the problem cause is that startups forget the technical standards and quality processes that every Internet rollout must follow to reduce the risk. Don’t take shortcuts on these. I see lots of new software put together on a shoestring as a “proof of concept” – but then gets rolled out to customers “asis” due to lack of time or money to “harden” the product.

What I learned from a panel discussion a few years ago, sponsored by an association of lawyers, is that lawyers don’t have any answers, and are all too quick to fan the flames of fear and paranoia. They merely highlighted consumer privacy rights, with much hand-wringing about big bad companies that are capturing shopping habits without consumer knowledge on the Internet.

A better approach might be to use your marketing power to tell people that you can now ring their smartphone in front of their favorite store for a special sale, and allow them to “opt in,” rather than surprising them with your new technology. Few people are paranoid about something they want and enjoy.

The best startups start from a painful problem needing a solution, rather than a technology solution looking for a problem. Security and privacy are an opportunity crying for more solutions. Have you looked hard at the potential?

Marty Zwilling



Sunday, March 13, 2022

4 Key Traits Of Radical And Profound Business Leaders

leadership-business-thoughtBy definition, most entrepreneurs are thought leaders. They have the ability to recognize a market need, the skills to design and implement a solution, and the drive to start a business from that solution. It all comes from within themselves. A business leader does the same thing and more, through the people around them. Most entrepreneurs are not both.

In reality, a successful startup can be built by a thought leader, but growing a successful business requires a business leader. That’s why venture capital investors often replace startup CEOs as a condition of their scale-up investment. That’s why so many startups plateau after gaining some initial traction, and are run over or acquired by their competition.

Much has been written on this subject, including the classic integration and update of two famous business books by Steve Farber (former partner of Tom Peters), “The Radical Leap Re-Energized”. I like Farber’s highlights of the traits of radical and profound leaders (extreme leaders) as follows:

  1. Cultivate love. Successful leaders model the intensity and energy that it takes to stay ahead competitively and meet ever more ambitious goals. They do this because they love what they do. As they continue to pursue their passion, they remain focused on the contribution made to others and to the surrounding community.
  1. Generate energy. Ask yourself this question – Do I generate more energy when I walk into a room, or when I walk out of it? Do your actions create positive energy for those around you, or are you an “energy vampire,” sucking the life out of your workplace? Hopefully you are the former, and not the latter.
  1. Inspire audacity. This is a bold and blatant disregard for normal constraints. Thinking and acting, “outside the box.” Audacity inspires people to do something really significant and meaningful. It enables them to change the business, the world, and themselves, for the better.
  1. Provide proof. How do we prove to ourselves (and to others) that we are really exercising extreme leadership? The simple answer is “Do What You Say You Will Do” (DWYSYWD). The best leaders achieve their own success by raising the self-esteem of followers. They build credibility by looking for ways to respond to the needs and interests of others.

In this extreme leadership model, leaders aren’t afraid to take risks, make mistakes in front of employees, or actively solicit team feedback. Farber asserts that most of us, at some level, have the innate ability to become a business leader. Getting fully in tune with who you are, and then following your heart, goes a long way towards helping you discover the leader you can become.

Many entrepreneurs who are great thought leaders are unwilling to listen and network. They can’t imagine that their vision for the business can be improved, or even implemented by others. They don’t hire people until it’s too late, because no one else can do the job up to their standards, or with their commitment. At best, they hire “helpers” rather than help, and are too busy to train the helpers.

Obviously some people who call themselves business leaders are only posing. They wear the label and assert the title without putting their own skin in the game. The best leaders approach the act of leadership as an extreme sport, and they love the fear and exhilaration that naturally comes with the territory.

Business leadership is not a solo act. Real leaders accept the job of recruiting, cultivating, and developing other leaders as priority one, as well leading on the thought side. Learning to be both a thought leader and a business leader can make you great. Elon Musk has long been a thought leader, but more recently has shown promise on the business leader side. Where are you along the spectrum?

Marty Zwilling



Saturday, March 12, 2022

7 Goodwill Factors Will Raise Your Business Valuation

goodwill-business-valuationWhen it’s time to sell your company, or get new investors, valuation is the key parameter to success or disappointment. The first step is to quantify the value of assets and current financial performance, but every one of you wants to go further by adding additional value for “intangibles,” commonly called goodwill. The challenge is what and how to highlight these to your advantage.

In my experience as an angel investor to startups, goodwill disagreements are perhaps the most common reason that you will fail to close interested investors as an entrepreneur. The same goes for business deals that fail during acquisitions or when it is time for you to retire. Here is my list of key goodwill elements that investors consider, and how you can optimize them in your favor:

  1. Your image, reputation, and depth of experience. If you are the entrepreneur or owner, every potential investor takes a hard look at you. They look at your track record, industry leadership, marketing energy, moral values, and peer relationships. To maximize this value, start now in taking a visible and active role in your industry and community.

    Of course, Jeff Bezos no longer needs investors, but he worked hard in his early days courting potential investors, building relationships and credibility that allowed him to get the money he needed to scale his company quickly. You need to do the same now.

  2. Quality of your technical and business teams. No matter how great your solution, or your own image, it takes a strong team to run a business. Even new and inexperienced entrepreneurs can justify millions in goodwill if they have assembled an engaged and experienced team to support them. Make sure they have the tools to support them.

    Back in the early days of the personal computer, Bill Gates and Microsoft were widely recognized and having the strongest technical culture, as well as a commanding marketing presence. In my view, that was their key to the early goodwill they needed.

  3. Brand recognition and market influencer support. With today’s worldwide Internet and social media, your brand impact is not set by what you say, but by numbers of followers, influencers, and satisfied customers. This is the reason that many new startups offer freemium services, and prioritize attracting a large following above making a profit.

    Just be aware that building your customer base first requires deep pockets, or many investors. Facebook, for example, used this strategy and is making big money today, but only after a $150 million from investors, mostly goodwill. Brand recognition was the key.

  4. Show synergy with existing business or opportunity. If you can highlight a clear synergy with an investor interest, where the sum of one plus one equals three or more, then a large goodwill number is likely. In this context, it’s always important to do your own due diligence on every potential investor, and not wait for them to come to you.

  5. Proprietary technology with a high barrier to entry. As a potential investor, I always look for startups that have filed at least a provisional patent, or can make the case that their solution cannot be easily duplicated. Many good business startups I know have failed due to large companies recognizing your new market, and quickly capitalizing on it.

  6. Highlight your commitment to a higher purpose. These days, if your business has a credible image of supporting the environment, or helping a recognized social cause, that can be quantified by potential investors as goodwill. It is never too early to review your strategy and goals to decide how you can help the world, and maximize financial returns.

  7. Point out that your business location or timing is unique. In business, as in real estate, the key is location, location, location. Be prepared to highlight how your business location gives you better access to your target market, and give you an advantage over competitors. If possible, make the same case for your solution availability and timing.

If you have ever watched the 'Shark Tank' TV show, you will recognize the role of goodwill in justifying the large startup valuations that entrepreneurs always see for their innovative new solutions. Before you get in that position, I recommend you integrate into your pitch and business plan as many of the items outlined here as you can before investors have already opted out.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 2/25/2022 ***



Friday, March 11, 2022

10 Rules To Bridge The Gap In Business Communications

Mind-The-Gap-CommunicationsIn growing your business, how you communicate under pressure can make or break your progress, as well as your relationship with the team and outside constituents. In my experience as a mentor and consultant, it is not just the words, but also your tone, approach, body language, and the context in which you choose to engage that can make all the difference.

Knowing what to say and when to say it have always been key in my own recommendations, but I was impressed the other reminders imbedded in a list of top priorities from a new book, “Bridge the Gap,” by Jenifer Edwards and Katie McCleary. These authors bring a much broader perspective to the table, based on their own experiences as leadership advisors and trainers.

I agree with their top ten pro-communication reminders for pressure situations, which I will paraphrase here, adding my own insights:

  1. Be brief and brilliant, and avoid extraneous branches. Most often, less is more. Extra words and the urge to explore side roads will destroy more connections than you solidify. Yes, you have to finish a point, but don’t hammer it into pulp. Use simple words and sentences, and try to make a full circle, to put a closing summary on your thoughts.

  2. A smile goes a long way toward building connections. Keep your shoulders relaxed and you jaw loose. Most experts suggest that 60 percent or more of all communication is body language, so make yours friendly and inviting. I can assure you from experience that an unfriendly approach is the quickest way to jeopardize any negotiation or request.

  3. Focus on solutions and positives, rather than problems. It’s time for all of us to challenge the current cultural need to lead with problems, gripes, and complaints. Instead, be sure to highlight first what is working well, solutions, and successes. Ask for help and support, rather than appearing to issue orders and assign blame.

  4. Don’t interrupt or attempt to talk over other people. Resist the urge to jump in, take control, and speak your piece. Effective communication only occurs when everyone feels they are equal contributors, without having to allow for rank and privilege. In fact, the most effective business leaders let others speak first, and respect all input as equal.

  5. Communicate in the context of the relevant culture. Always use words and stories that resonate with the generation and audience you are working with. People can’t agree with what they don’t understand, and their trust and respect for you as a leader will directly relate to their ability to feel a sense of commonality with the image you project.

  6. Use short-story examples to make or solidify a point. Stories are the most effective way to communicate an abstract or unfamiliar idea. Just make sure you have a clear anchor in your story that can land well, and clearly make your point. Too often, leaders start telling stories that branch off in directions that they were never meant to go.

  7. Do your processing and thinking before talking. Thinking out loud is often perceived as rambling, and may hurt your credibility you in relationships where you are not close with the other person. Be sure to communicate only your best, most confident, and curious nuggets in the actual discussion. Always do your homework before talking.

  8. Use silence and listening as your secret weapons. There is no benefit to be gained for you to do all the talking and explaining. Let other people do much of the work. Indeed, you always learn more by listening than by talking. Make sure your silence isn’t empty by staying actively attentive. This will get people’s respect and help you stay on point.

  9. Practice humility, and resist being a showoff. Humbleness in business settings is attractive and powerful, even if you know the answer, the path, and the solution. Give your team or your customer a chance to offer a solution that you can openly agree with and support. The result is a win-win situation, which will work to your benefit in the future.

  10. Build more trust and respect by celebrating others. Always make an effort to see others in complimentary ways that might otherwise go unnoticed. Starting with what is going right with someone is a beautiful way to open a conversation, and solidify your position in follow-on talks. It also leads to a culture of honesty and psychological safety.

Communicating effectively under pressure is a key skill needed by every business owner to be a leader. If you master this ability, it will help you to maintain composure, think clearly and make decisions during a crisis, as well as the good times. The result is more success and satisfaction for you, as well as your customers and your constituents.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 2/24/2022 ***



Wednesday, March 9, 2022

8 Values-Based Initiatives Lead To Business Success

business-personal-valuesTrue business success and leadership starts with real personal values, extends to building a team, and finally to inspiring customers and your community. That’s a huge leap from an entrepreneurial idea, to a product, to making money. Is it any wonder that the majority of startups fail? My job as a new business advisor is to help entrepreneurs get over this chasm early.

My approach has always been to suggest specific actions that have immediate impact, as well as highlight positive leadership attributes, leading to longer-term success and a commitment to values. I found some great guidance in this context in the classic book, “Lead True,” by Jeff Thompson, MD. Thompson is a well-recognized successful values-based leader and speaker.

I fully support and appreciate his case studies and conclusions on specific required personal initiatives, and how these can change people, organizations, and even entire industries. Here are some of the key elements of his message that every aspiring business leader needs to understand and practice:

  1. Muster courage to not allow fear to make your decisions. As challenges come along that require specific and concrete action, they are seldom easy. Your company finances, reputation, or even your survival may be on the line. Courage is not the absence of fear, but it is the ability to put your values and vision ahead of the easier way out.
  1. Practice discipline to translate values to consistent actions. In business, consistency is the key to productivity and trust by team members and customers alike. Leaders who are disciplined around values build trust, inspire others, and have more impact. With discipline, you can be the role model your constituents need to overcome all obstacles.
  1. Use durability to stay true to your vision in tough times. Most entrepreneurs find that they are their own toughest critics. Your values and vision can give you persistence and stability, even when the road ahead seems hazardous and endless. The world may not be ready for your great solution just yet, but leadership can carry you for the duration.
  1. Find reverence for people over profits, egos, and convenience. Reverence for others takes humility, but it results in deeper relationships, deeper wins, and a greater business. The more complicated the lives of your team and your customers, the more they need values to understand those struggles. Their reverence is returned to make you a leader.
  1. Measure, don’t guess, with tools that build, not limit. Hope is the weakest strategy for improvement in business. Set goals based on values, that are meant to exceed, and use metrics, rather than gut feeling to assess your own progress, as well as that of your team. Don’t be limited by tools of the past – always be alert for best of breed and innovation.
  1. Commit to a higher cause to attract like-minded partners. Business leadership in today’s environment is all about relationships. People build relationships in the context of common values, or win-win. More important than killing your competitors or making money is a making the world a better place. People will seek your leadership as partners.
  1. Take responsibility for the big picture and your bottom line. Great business leaders really believe their values can win by improving the economy, the environment, and the bottom line all at the same time. They find it improves their ability to build relationships, communicate effectively, and excite their customers into becoming loyal advocates.
  1. Lead to learn and the benefit will go both ways. The days of educating customers to sell your current solutions are gone. Business leaders today listen and learn customer values, and then use their values to provide solutions to customer needs today, and project customer needs for tomorrow. Customers want to be led, rather than pushed.

Thus it’s fair for entrepreneurs to start by pitching an idea and an implementation, but investors and other constituents (as well as customers) quickly need to see beyond this to the values that drive your efforts. If you haven’t communicated these, or are still a bit fuzzy on them yourself, it’s time to rethink your whole business leadership strategy. Your success these days depends on it.

Marty Zwilling



Monday, March 7, 2022

4 Major Influences Set Your Startup Work Environment

startup-work-environmentStartup work environments are always chaos, but they can still be great environments to work in, or they can be terrible. Whether yours is terrible or great, that same tone flows out to your customers, and regulates your productivity inside. You as the founder are the starting point and definer, so you need to get it right.

What does it take to create a positive workplace culture? I did some research on this, and compared it with my own experience. I’ve concluded and the experts agree that it’s all about understanding people, and overtly optimizing the factors that drive them at work.

Ed Muzio, in his classic book “Make Work Great: Super Charge Your Team, Reinvent the Culture, and Gain Influence One Person at a Time,” summarized four key influences which I have also seen as follows:

  1. We are driven by peers. According to many studies and observations, group pressure entices us to rethink our own opinions, and can even change our actual perceptions. That’s a good thing if your business peers are positive about what is happening, and it can cause a spiral into the ground if goals, priorities, and issues are not understood.

  1. We are driven by authority. Stanley Milgram, a famous researcher in the 1960s, concluded that “Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process.” It’s up to you, as the authority figure, to define the standards and communicate roles correctly.
  1. We are driven by expectations. Around most people at work is a core group of six to eight people (your “role set”) who send you expectations about what you should or should not be doing, along with implied rewards or punishments. Our satisfaction is strongly driven by this role set. Find compatible and complementary people for your role sets.
  1. We underestimate the impact of the situation. The pressure of a situation actually can override the prior three forces. Thus you always must be very sensitive to the context, since unfair blame based on situational factors will negate all your positive influences. Don’t make the mistake of assuming people act from personal choice alone.

You as an individual team member, and you as the authority figure, must make a conscious choice to drive the culture around you, rather than be driven by it. Psychologists have noted that going passively along ‘on automatic’ if often our worst enemy. It doesn’t get the job done, and it’s not even satisfying.

The most effective way for you to drive the culture is to understand yourself and to be explicit on the following items to your role set and others:

  • Your personal goals and purpose
  • Your intended impact (‘So what’)
  • Your incentives and motivation
  • Your progress as it happens
  • The resources you need
  • Your capability (share your knowledge)

By default, the at-work culture is just “how we do things around here,” based on problems faced “back then.” The problems you face today are different, and the solutions from back then were likely not the best. That means there is always a premium on culture teachers, compared to culture followers.

So don’t ask yourself how you can influence the culture, but rather how you already are influencing it. Are you a beneficiary of precedent or a slave to it? Choose to choose to make your work environment great.

Marty Zwilling



Sunday, March 6, 2022

7 Insights From Founders Who Have Been There Before

lessons-from-expertsWhen you have been on the startup firing line, you quickly learn that any insight from experts and entrepreneurs who have been there before you can make the difference between failure and success. Yet, many new entrepreneurs brazenly assume they are bulletproof, and march blindly into the fray. The result is that half or more of startups fail in the first two years.

I don’t think anyone proclaims to have any silver bullets, but there are common failure threads that appear all too often. There are many books written about failure in startups, and I don’t recommend any of them. I prefer the more positive approach of getting you better prepared up-front, as outlined in the classic book “It’s Your Biz” by Susan Wilson Solovic.

Susan has years of experience in the small business trenches, and really focuses on what it takes to succeed, with realistic caveats from my perspective, including an excellent summary of ‘words of wisdom’ messages that every entrepreneur should take to heart:

  1. Don’t chase your tail. As you are building your business, take introspective looks at yourself weekly. How many days have you had lots of activity going on, but at the end of the day, you’ve accomplished nothing to move your business forward? Measure results to make sure you are not chasing your tail, like your favorite puppy dog.
  1. Keep moving forward. Never let a day go by in which you haven’t done at least one activity that directly relates to a key business goal. Establish deadlines and milestones for yourself and track your forward progress. Keep you eye on the ball, and don’t be distracted by seemingly attractive options that lead you away from your core business.
  1. Listen to your instincts. It’s important to ask and listen to others for advice and guidance, but measure these inputs against your own instincts as well. Blindly following someone else’s strategy doesn’t help as an excuse for failure, and doesn’t help you learn along the way.
  1. Manage growth wisely. Overextending yourself and your resources by taking on too much too fast can kill your business. Growing a business is like a marathon, you don’t want your company to be a flash in the pan. Remember, according to Seth Godin, the average overnight success takes six years.
  1. Look for collaborative opportunities. In business, it’s tough to survive on an island. Strategic alliances allow you to take on bigger contracts, offer more services, and cover larger geographic territories. In addition, two heads are better than one, so collaborative brainpower is a significant asset.
  1. Expect the unexpected. You can’t predict natural disasters, and economic fluctuations. Yet too few entrepreneurs have a current list of business essentials, emergency contacts, or documented backup procedures. Even better, you need a “Plan B” for survival when the unexpected arrives.
  1. Learn to manage your stress. The stress of growing your business will take its toll, unless you take care of yourself. Be realistic about what you can expect of yourself and don’t over-commit. Learn to say “no” and really mean it. Schedule some time each week that is just for you, and for your family.

Overall, we all emphasize that you need to keep purpose, promise, and principles as the cornerstones of your business. It’s amazing how many business owners and their teams go through the motions of running their businesses on a day-to-day basis without ever understanding the purpose behind what they’re doing.

Businesses without a purpose don’t have a heart. Or if the principles and values aren’t yours, then it’s not your heart. If it’s not your heart, then you will be making promises to your customers with your fingers crossed. Remember that if you don’t deliver for your customers, they won’t deliver for you. That can make the normal business trenches a deep hole. Read and heed.

Marty Zwilling



Saturday, March 5, 2022

10 Strategies For Staying Cool Under Pressure At Work

frustrated-stress-in-businessEvery business professional needs to stay cool under pressure, to be a top performer, and for the sake of their own health. Yet everyone has a melting point – a critical threshold where pressure causes them to respond irrationally. Many people believe their threshold is permanently set by family genetics, or cultural influences, but I believe anyone can train themselves to stay cool.

In my role as a business advisor, I’ve seen it happen many times as business leaders mature, and I’ve felt the change in myself over time. I’ve always been looking for the specific behaviors required to make the change, so I was pleased to see some real guidance in the classic book, “The Melting Point,” by Dr. Christian Marcolli, a world-class expert on sustainable high performance.

I like his ten behavioral change recommendations for improving your ability to stay cool under pressure and deliver sustained world-class business performance under massive intensity:

  1. Define and commit to live by your core values. People who try to be someone they aren’t feel constant pressure. Strive to understand your core values and your deeper purpose (personal and professional), and use only these when making fundamental decisions. Get out of, and don’t take on roles that force you to compromise your values.
  1. Prepare for your key performance moments. Some professionals refuse to prepare for known tough issues, with a false belief that they can finesse any challenge, or they refuse to prioritize. Even the best do extra homework to prepare mentally and emotionally to be at their personal best to deliver on key performance meetings and presentations.
  1. Focus on and recognize incremental progress. The key to sustaining high motivation and a high melting point is feeling that you are making progress on key issues on a daily basis. Sometimes it means reserving daily dedicated time for key issues, to facilitate visible progress. You will then experience satisfaction, instead of increased pressure.
  1. Save 30 percent of your energy for outside activities. Leaving work every day exhausted leads to burnout and easy meltdowns. Save some energy for your family and friends, and restoring balance and vigor to your body. Professionals who don’t manage their diet, exercise, breaks, and sleep, will always find their melting point nearby.
  1. Establish boundaries and say ‘no’ more often. The most productive and respected business people know their limits and assertively protect them. Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself and courteously explain to bosses or colleagues why certain requests or expectations may be unreasonable. Do the same in commitments to family and friends.
  1. Plan for performance with a reserve. Schedule yourself in such a way that you can expect to deliver your top results at 90 to 95 percent of your energy levels. This allows for those all-too-common occasions when things take longer than expected, or your time is pre-empted for higher-priority tasks. Learn to delegate more as well. Never over-commit.
  1. Manage office political relationships. Time spent building and maintaining key work relationships can dramatically improve your productivity, reduce stress, and raise your melting point. After having assessed your environment, start healthy networking activities, such as lunch, with important people in your professional network on a weekly basis.
  1. Add more inspirational people to your network. When you reach a certain level or role in an organization, it is difficult to find time to spend with inspiring people who can provide you with insights and new perspectives. Set aside time to seek out experts in your field for ideas, as well as mentoring and coaching. Make this a priority in your private life also.
  1. Mentally transition between work and home. To raise your melting point, always take a few minutes of silence at the beginning of each day at work to get mentally and emotionally ready to be at your personal best. Do the same ‘check-in’ with your best side as you transition from work to home. You will connect better with people in both worlds.
  1. Disconnect from work devices in the bedroom. Diligently protect some private space in your home, preferably your bedroom, where no work devices or conversations can appear. This space must be associated only with rest and recovery, to offset the stress and demands of the office. Only make exceptions if there is a true business emergency.

The stakes are higher than ever in this competitive and rapidly changing world. Businesses have become pressure cookers filled with disruptions and chaos. It’s enough to drive the best of us to a meltdown in performance or confidence.

Don’t assume that what you can achieve or tolerate is limited by anything or anyone in your present or past. With a new focus on the right habits, you too can be the cool business leader you now only read about in the news.

Marty Zwilling