Sunday, July 31, 2022

10 Sharing Principles Propel Many Current Businesses

Free public domain CC0 photo.Too many customers have long felt distanced from many successful brands, seeing them as closed and mysterious environments, focused only on profits and killing competitors. They may not have noticed the wave of “open businesses,” spawned by the Internet and social media. These are responding to the demands of this new world for collaboration, trust, and transparency.

In a thought-provoking book by David Cushman with Jamie Burke, “The 10 Principles of Open Business,” the authors contend that many recent success stories in business, including Apple and Whole Foods, were built on at least one open business principle. In fact, Conscious Capitalism companies, for example, historically have outperformed the S&P 500 index by a factor of ten.

I especially like Cushman’s outline of the ten principles which distinguish the organization and operation of an open business from the more traditional closed model. Here is my interpretation of the key focus points and requirements to be categorized as open:

  1. Shared beliefs (purpose). Your stakeholders all need to understand and agree to the “why” of your organization. As the business owner, you need to have a higher level purpose (beyond making money), and be willing and able to continually clarify and communicate this to your team and your customers.
  1. Shared risks (open capital). Share the costs and risks, and therefore the ownership and the passion with your constituents. In the idea stage, get customers involved with an engaging contest. If you are at the funding stage, try the new crowd-funding platforms or micro-capital investments. Offer equity in future projects to people outside your business.
  1. Shared clients and objectives (networked organization). Support and enable mutually beneficial activities inside and outside the organization. Bring focus on your core competencies and expertise by educating and helping others, who can then return the favor by helping you or buying from you.
  1. Shared knowledge packaging (shareability). Establish vehicles, like a formal customer satisfaction program, to recognize and reward staff and customers for sharing what they can do to help you. Use and contribute to shared resources, like Wikipedia and Creative Commons, rather than relying totally on proprietary and internal tools.

  1. Shared and collaborative activity (connectedness). Enable people within the organization to find what (or who) they need when they need it. Set an example by being visibly connected to the people and information you need through social media. Encourage collaboration by providing the platform, and setting best practices.

  1. Shared ideas and rewards (open innovation). Bring customers and stakeholders into the innovation process to share the risk and reward of development. Consider setting up a new idea forum on your website, with rewards and motivational offers, to facilitate involvement from customers and business partners.

  1. Shared intelligence and opportunities (open data). Make data available to those inside or outside of your organization who can make best use of it. Contribute and give talks to local business organizations, like the Chamber of Commerce, to establish your expertise, and contribute information as well as gather it.

  1. Shared decision process (transparency). Make decisions openly and be honest about the criteria on which they are based. Ramp up transparency by making people the boss of what they do. Respond openly and in a timely fashion to requests for information about the business.

  1. Shared leadership (member and customer led). Make sure your organization is structured around the formal co-operation of employees, customers, and partners, for their mutual social, economic, and cultural benefit. Do things with your customers and staff, rather than to them. Strive to treat them as genuine partners.

  1. Shared goodwill (trust). Foster a mutually assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of the partnership between your company and customers. Earn trust through your consistent actions over time. Review your current investment in “creating goodwill.” Compare this to how highly you value trust. Adjust accordingly.

In the last few years, I have seen a tremendous upswing in “open business” movements, especially by entrepreneurs and startups. Examples include Conscious Capitalism®, made popular by John Mackey of Whole Foods, The B Team, with serial entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, and the Benefit Corporation (B Corp) form of business now available in 37 states.

We seem to have a rare convergence between demands from the marketplace, driven by the real-time collaborative Internet culture, and a desire by entrepreneurs to define success as something more than making money. I think it’s really happening, and it’s time to take a reality check on your own business, and your own shopping habits, to capitalize on this trend.

Marty Zwilling



Saturday, July 30, 2022

5 Key Steps For Launching A Successful Startup Today

business-problem-solvingPerhaps sparked by the recent pandemic, I’m seeing a new era of the entrepreneur, with startups springing up all around. Based on my own mentoring and investing experience, the best entrepreneurs are pragmatic problem solvers. They have an uncanny ability to find elegant, easy, and fast solutions to pain points in the marketplace, as well as their own challenges.

The real question is whether problem solving is a skill you have to be born with, or is there any hope for the rest of us to become successful entrepreneurs. After some review of available resources, I’m convinced that problem solving is a learnable trait, rather than just a birthright.

For example, I remember a classic book by Penina Rybak, “The NICE Reboot,” that does a great job of outlining problem solving steps, honed from working with special needs youngsters. While her book is aimed primarily at aspiring female entrepreneurs, my adaptation of the five steps of her problem-solving hierarchy should work equally well for entrepreneurs of any gender:

  1. Acknowledge that a problem exists, and react appropriately. Problems will occur in every startup, simply because you are stepping into uncharted territory. Good entrepreneurs anticipate these, and celebrate each resolution as a positive step toward success, rather than responding with anger and frustration and counting failures.
  1. Verbalize the problem to fully understand it and why it’s occurring. Every business problem has a context that is critical, and it’s easy to be too close to see the forest for the trees. If you can explain the problem to a mentor, or even write it down, you will more likely get to the root cause quickly, and avoid emotional and blame-infused responses.
  1. Explore solutions, outcomes, and options calmly. You can’t think clearly while riding high on emotions, so calm down first. Then outline the possible outcomes and alternatives. Good problem solving requires making informed decisions, relying on logic. This is where I say “two heads are better than one.” Work with a partner you can trust.
  1. Use negotiation to come to an agreement or compromise. Whether you are charting new territory for pricing models or technology, there is rarely a perfect solution. Every approach is a compromise between cost, time, and return, so forget your perfectionist tendencies. Listen to your customers to arrive at acceptable and marketable solutions.
  1. Resolve conflict, accept outcomes, and rebuild communications. In startups, conflict is constructive in steering through the maze of innovation that is part of every successful business. Don’t let it make your startup dysfunctional in resolving future challenges. Real entrepreneurs always look ahead and learn from problems resolved.

The best way for a first time entrepreneur to learn problem solving is to find a partner who has “been there and done that.” A good alternative is to enlist the help of a business mentor you can trust. The best mentor is sensitive, knowledgeable across a broad spectrum, but is probably not your best friend. A mentor has to tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. When the message is the same from both, you don’t need the mentor anymore.

As mentioned earlier, one of the most difficult traits to overcome for effective problem solving is perfectionism. A few years ago, Amanda Neville wrote an incisive article for Forbes online entitled “Perfectionism is the Enemy of Everything.” In it, she lists three types of perfectionism that are equally toxic to entrepreneurs and mentors:

  • Self-oriented perfectionism, in which individuals impose high standards on themselves.
  • Socially prescribed perfectionism, where individuals feel that others expect them to be perfect.
  • Other-oriented perfectionism, in which individuals place high standards on others.

With all these incentives, maybe it’s time for you to reboot your career and join the new era of the entrepreneur. Problem solving may be a required skill, but it’s definitely one that can be learned, and perfectionism can be un-learned, independent of your IQ or book smarts (there may even be an inverse relationship here).

The best part of the entrepreneur problem-solving lifestyle is that it can bring satisfaction and happiness to your work. According to a summary of some classic research, those running their own businesses are happier and healthier than employees, regardless of how much money they make. As I have said many times, life is too short to go to work unhappy every day.

Marty Zwilling



Friday, July 29, 2022

10 Keys For Developing A Great Mentoring Arrangement

perfect-business-mentorEvery entrepreneur can learn from a mentor, no matter how confident or successful they have been to date. Most people don’t know that billionaire Mark Zuckerberg, for example, gives real credit to the inspiring mentorship of Steve Jobs for Mark’s Facebook success. Yet most entrepreneurs simply don’t know how to work with a mentor. It is not as simple as one person giving the other all the right answers.

Some of the best mentoring relationships don’t involve monetary compensation, but none are free. The first cost is networking to find a mentor who is willing and able to give adequate focus to the relationship. In any case, it is good form to offer compensation, such as a small monthly stipend, plus expenses, and perhaps a 1% ownership in your startup, to show your commitment.

From my experience, here are ten basic principles and actions for both the mentor and mentee to remember in getting the most out of any mentoring relationship:

  1. Good mentoring requires building a relationship first. A positive business or personal relationship between two people normally requires a high degree of shared values, common interests, and mutual respect. Remember that good relationships take some time to develop, so don’t assume that your first discussion will seal the deal.
  1. Agree on specific objectives and time frames. Mentoring that consists of random discussions is not very satisfying for either side. I recommend one or more early discussions of mutual objectives, with a written summary of goals and expectations from the mentee to the mentor, with timeframes and milestones.
  1. Make efficient use of time for both parties. This means being respectful and diligent about scheduling and keeping appointments, and returning emails and phone calls. Don’t attempt to multitask, or allow constant interruptions, during meetings. Book follow-up sessions, with an agenda, rather than fill time with random discussions.
  1. Identify strengths and weaknesses early. Both the mentor and mentee should put their cards on the table, to avoid surprises later. Then both should look for opportunities to leverage strengths, and shore up weaknesses. This avoids wasted time and speculation, and provides the motivation to bring in other experts or mentors as required.
  1. Mentor feedback must be thoughtful, specific, timely, and constructive. An important aspect of a mentoring relationship is how the mentor provides feedback to the mentee. Formulate negative feedback in a constructive fashion. Using open-ended questions that start with “how” or “what” help the mentee to arrive at their own solution.
  1. Mentees should avoid any defensive reaction to feedback. The right response to most mentor feedback is a thoughtful question for clarification. Immediately responding with “reasons and rationale” to every feedback will be read as insincerity, and will likely end the mentoring relationship quickly.
  1. Practice two-way communication and candid feedback. Mentoring is not a series of monologues and lectures, from either side. But candid feedback means not pulling punches when they are deserved. Both sides need to practice active listening and thoughtful questions. Constructive conflict is good.
  1. Agree to deal with unforeseen challenges openly. The most common challenges involve time and accessibility demands on either side, or the level of help expected. Both sides need to honor business boundaries, and not stray into personal relationship issues. Agree up front on how to end the relationship if other unforeseen circumstances arise.
  1. Celebrate successes, and deal openly with failures. This will help the learning process and build the mentee’s confidence. With patience and time, the partners should develop a good rapport and become more comfortable with openly and freely conversing with each other.
  1. Evaluate mentoring requirements on a regular basis. The mentee, as primary beneficiary, should be proactive in making sure the review process occurs on a regular basis, perhaps quarterly. This allows for frank discussion of unanticipated changes, and the potential for discontinuing the process and declaring success.

The end of a mentoring relationship should be seen as an opportunity to review what did and didn’t work, and more importantly, to reflect on the results, so that every lesson that can be learned from the relationship is recognized.

Both the mentor and mentee should celebrate the successes, review the learning from failures, and conclude the relationship with positive feelings. To bring it full circle, mentees should now consider passing on their new knowledge and skills by entering a new mentoring relationship – as a mentor. That’s the ultimate satisfaction.

Marty Zwilling



Wednesday, July 27, 2022

5 Ways To Make Innovation A Priority In Your Business

Low-level radio-frequency controller for magnetron. Fermilab developed a new technique to use a magnetron to power a superconducting radio-frequency (SRF) cavity, potentially saving hundreds of millions of dollars in the construction and operating costs of linear accelerators. Original public domain image from FlickrIn my experience with business leaders, real innovation thinking is rare, compared to the urge to add just one more feature to an existing product, or make a small tweak to an existing business model. I call this linear thinking, and it’s a sure way to be ultimately overrun by your competition. I’m convinced this doesn’t have to happen if you are willing to adopt an innovation mindset.

For example, BlackBerry was really the first in the smart mobile phone market, but they never thought beyond their tiny physical keyboard as they added new features. Meanwhile, Apple and Google came up with real innovation through touchscreen logic and a whole new user interface controlled by finger swipes, and even voice and image recognition. BlackBerry was left behind.

For most of us, the longer we have done things a certain way, the harder it is to think outside the box, and find more innovative ways to change. Yet I believe it is possible, and even more fun, to challenge your thinking and practices, to develop that innovative mindset that can keep you on the forefront of business. Here are a few key initiatives that I always recommend:

  1. Look outside your normal scope for alternatives. One way to do this is to nurture mentoring relationships with experts in other disciplines, as Bill Gates did with Warren Buffet. Plus you can challenge yourself to keep abreast of technology advancements in related industries, looking for a fit in your own. Always practice thinking outside the box.

    For example, Elon Musk, who owns many battery patents, normally kept for a competitive edge, decided to open them all to any competitors in an effort to expand the market for his electric vehicles. The result is Tesla is leading the industry in growth for all vehicles.

  2. Challenge every “business-as-usual” addition you see. Make is clear to your team and everyone around you that the “normal” thinking pattern and culture is not acceptable and will not be tolerated. Generously reward your team for learning from innovative ideas, including failures. Keep a list of changes evaluated, and tag each as linear or innovative.

    In particular, new generations of customers, including millennials, are often looking for something really innovative, as the fashion industry has found out many times. The linear change in year-to-year fashions that has served you well may soon be your downfall.

  3. Develop a welcoming mindset for new trends and change. You need to see these as opportunities for growth and a chance to get ahead of competition. Don’t wait for a crisis to force change thinking. Promote change in team culture, and provide support through smart hiring, attending industry conferences, and periodic training to all team members.

    It’s easy to jump to the conclusion after some initial business success that you can relax and keep doing what you are doing without further pivots. My advice is never to fall into that trap, and remember that change is the norm, rather than no change, so face reality.

  4. Develop strategic partnerships with key industry players. This will allow you to take advantage of complementary strengths, and new ways of thinking. It will also force you to look more broadly in your industry, and outside, for innovative ways to combine new customer sets, resources, and use existing assets in new ways to grow your business.

    With today’s pervasive Internet and a global economy, the opportunities are endless. There is some evidence that strategic pairing of wildly different companies has tremendous value for both, and leads to some of the most innovative growth strategies.

  5. Initiate a regular program of customer experiments. It’s always good to ask customers what they want, but it’s even better to give them something new to evaluate, before you roll it out in a big way. I recommend that you set targets, like planning for a new experiment each month, and then measure each for acceptance and return impact.

    Amazon has long been a leader in change experiments, and Jeff Bezos credits much of his growth and success to this initiative. He believes that if you double the number of experiments per year, you’re going to double your ability to outpace the competition.

In all cases, even with the right mindset, it’s important to remember that coming up with innovative ideas and implementing them requires more than a flash of inspiration, and much perspiration. It requires a rigorous process, great leadership, and a committed team. If business success is important to you, I recommend that you start today on all the initiatives outlined here.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 7/13/2022 ***



Monday, July 25, 2022

10 Ways For New Ventures To Survive The Perfect Storm

perfect-storm-businessA perfect storm is an expression that describes an event where a rare combination of circumstances aggravates an environment drastically. In the entrepreneur world, I feel we are in such a situation now for new startups, with the confluence of business transformations, the explosion of new digital technologies, and the political turmoil around the world.

It’s easier and cheaper to start a company than ever before, yet it’s tougher than ever to survive. It takes a “well-oiled” multi-disciplined and motivated team to win, and yet I see and hear all too often about teams that are well-funded and smart, but don’t work well together, or are downright dysfunctional.

The challenge they face is not unlike that described in the classic sailing book “Into the Storm,” by Dennis N. T. Perkins, where a team of amateurs applied some key lessons in teamwork while surviving and winning a treacherous Sydney to Hobart Ocean Race. Here are ten principles from the book that I’ve easily extrapolated to the business startup environment:

  1. Team unity: Make the team, not an individual, the rock star. Flat management is the business term to describe an environment where all members of the team feel they are part of the whole, that each has a key role to play, and each can express their views without jeopardy. There are no individual superstars or bosses with special perks.
  1. Prepare, prepare, prepare: Remove all excuses for failure. Winning teams set out to ensure that every element of the system is known to all and is functioning to the best of their combined ability. Make sure no one has an excuse for failure. That means preparing for things that could go wrong, as well as driving things efficiently that go right.
  1. Balanced optimism: Find and focus on the winning scenario. In business, startups will inevitably encounter setbacks, and need to pivot. The first step is to define “winning.” Is it more customers, more revenue, more profit, or killing competitors? Of course, all of these are important, but everyone needs to prioritize the same way during a crisis.
  1. Relentless learning: Build a gung-ho culture of learning and innovation. The very best teams learn the most quickly from experience. That means they take action, reflect on outcomes, and gain insights that help them continuously improve. Innovation and new ideas are the norm, rather than maintain status quo, or charge straight ahead.
  1. Calculated risk: Be willing to sail into the storm. Great business teams accept that every startup is “a big risk,” and there is no quick path to safety. Winning requires situational awareness, which means always understanding the critical success factors, and working to stay aware of current business realities around you.
  1. Stay connected: Cut through the noise of the wind and the waves. The information blizzard in business is just as noisy as on the stormy ocean. Don’t let it be further clouded by political concerns and turf battles. Everyone needs to personalize communication, warn others of big waves, and even break protocol to help others when required.
  1. Step into the breach: Find ways to share the helm. In adversity, any given team member can be faced with a burden too heavy for one person to carry. A good team draws on each other’s strengths, and shares the load. At the top, this is called distributive leadership, which lessens the burden on the formal leader.
  1. Eliminate friction: Step up to the conflict, and deal with the things that slow you down. Fix the problem, not the blame. Confront differences in ability without blame, and add training, coaching, or education, and eliminate excess weight, before the storm. Humor can help alleviate anxiety and mitigate conflict, providing time to solve the crisis.
  1. Practiced resilience: Master the art of rapid recovery. Startups need people who thrive under pressure, meaning they are resilient and have a high stress hardiness. They enjoy change and look at problems as a challenge, rather than a burden. They measure success in terms of recovery time, and strive to make it shorter.
  1. Tenacious creativity: Never give up – there is always another move. Determination and creativity under pressure make a team unstoppable – on the ocean or in business. The “proud moments” of successful teams are the times when they come together in the face of adversity and win.

Some startup founders try to dodge the team-building challenge by single-handedly doing all the work, or establishing a monarchy where only one voice counts. Neither of these strategies can succeed, since even a small business will soon scale too big for one person to manage everything.

If you are a new entrepreneur, you need to realize that you can’t win by sailing around the edges of the perfect storm ahead. You have to hit it with an innovative plan, and you need a confident and disciplined team to get you through it. Are you ready to rock and roll?

Marty Zwilling



Sunday, July 24, 2022

6 Motivations That Lead To Key Market Transformations

Autonomous DrivingReal innovation in the business world is still rare. As I’ve said before, everyone talks about innovation, but the majority of new business plans I see still reflect linear thinking – one more social network with more features, another smartphone app for marketing, or one more platform for faster e-commerce. Historic changes and great successes don’t come from linear thinking.

What does it take for more dynamic transformations? I like the recommendations in the classic book “Orbit Shifting Innovation,” by Rajiv Narang and Devika Devaiah. They summarize twenty years of breakthrough research initiatives and innovation strategy they have led with many of the most dynamic global organizations large and small, including Unilever, Walt Disney, and Intel.

They define ‘orbit-shifting’ innovation as something that happens when an area that is ripe for transformation meets an innovator with the will and the desire to create history, not follow it. The breakthrough innovation creates a new orbit. Beginning with the Macintosh, Apple succeeded in doing this time and time again, transforming the lives of millions, with Steve Jobs at the helm.

Every entrepreneur and every company I know has orbit-shifting intentions. But there is a big difference between orbit-shifting intentions and orbit shifting results. According to Narang and Devaiah, the people who accomplish real innovation results seem to exhibit a higher set of attitudes and motivation:

  1. Personal growth relates to the size of the challenge, not the size of the kingdom. What motivates real innovators is the more exciting challenge, not the number of people reporting to them. The ‘size of the difference’ they will make is more inspiring than the ‘size of the business.’ They relish getting out of their comfort zone, and into the unknown.
  1. The new direction is the challenge, not the destination. The challenge is the transformation vehicle for true innovators, and not a performance goal. They focus on legacy creation, not legacy protection. They ignore failures and are constantly looking at the progress made. They treat innovations reviews like performance reviews.
  1. Be an attacker of forces holding people back, not a defender. Real innovators start by questioning the world order rather than conforming to it. They begin by confronting the forces holding everyone back, rather than living with it. The forces include mindset gravity, organization gravity, industry gravity, country gravity, and cultural gravity.
  1. New insights come from a quest for questions, not a quest for answers. This discovery mindset searching for new questions drives real innovators away from more of the same. They fundamentally become value seekers; they look for value in every experience, in every conversation. They don’t seek prescriptions, they seek possibilities.
  1. Stakeholders must be connected into the new reality, not convinced. True innovators tip stakeholders into adopting and even co-owning the orbit-shifting idea. They go about tipping the heart first, assuming the mind will follow. They seek smart people, who openly express their doubts, and then collaborate to overcome them.
  1. Work from the challenge backward, rather than capability forward. Overcoming execution obstacles is combating dilution, not compromising, for these innovators. Their mindset is not ‘if-then’ but ‘how and how else?’ They convert problems to opportunities, and often the original idea grows far bigger than the starting promise.

Overall, what is different about these innovators is their mental model of romanticism in vision and realism in execution. They expect challenges, and when problems do arise, they are not surprised or let down or disappointed. They face them head on, handle them and move on. Most of the rest of us are the reverse; realistic about the vision and romantic about execution.

Entrepreneurs and startups are in the best position to find and run with orbit-shifting rather than linear innovations. They don’t have to start by overcoming the choking gravities of an existing organization and product set. That’s why most large business and government entities are resigned to buying innovation, rather than birthing it. Is your best startup idea and mindset really orbit-shifting, or just linear thinking that stakeholders won’t buy?

Marty Zwilling



Saturday, July 23, 2022

5 Keys To Building A Positive Culture In Your Startup

positive-culture-businessThroughout my career in small companies and large, I’ve always been appalled by the number of people who have a negative attitude or complain all the time. These people don’t seem to realize that they are hurting themselves, as well as other people’s productivity, and jeopardize the future of the company they are working for.

I’ve always thought that I might be overly sensitive, until I saw an article about bad bosses a few years ago by The Business Journals, which claims that many employees spend 10 hours a month complaining or listening to others complain, and 75 percent say their boss is the most stressful part of their job. No business can afford that cost in emotional capital, as well as lost productivity.

In every report, negativity is seen as an indictment of bad managers, but I believe it is also an indictment of employee whiners as well. Ten hours a month is a lot of time to waste, not to mention the indirect time lost of the listeners, and the morale impact.

What does all this mean, and how do you correct it, or prevent it in your business? First, you have to identify quickly and fix problems that are outside the scope of control of individual team members. In addition, you can follow these key recommendations from experts for proactive and recovery actions by all parties to minimize the problem in both employee and management ranks:

  1. Executives have to be the role model. If you as the founder, or other members your executive team are chronic complainers, the disease will spread rapidly through the rest of the organization. Don’t play the blame game, give negatively charged emotional speeches, berate employees in public, or wear an angry face at the office.
  1. Use the hiring process effectively. Too many startups give short shrift to the hiring process, because they are too busy, don’t want to pay market prices, or have no experience. It’s actually easy to spot whiners during the interview process, by listening to them run down previous employers and not accepting accountability. Don’t hire them.
  1. Encourage regular self-assessment. Encourage your management team and employees to always check themselves before making unsolicited comments against the following criteria: “Will this comment add value to our company, our customers, the person I am talking to, or the one I am talking about? If not, don’t say it.”
  1. Openly reward positive suggestions. Maybe it’s time to establish or re-activate the old-fashioned “suggestion box.” Make it work by regularly handing out real accolades, as well as real money, to people who add value or reduce costs in your business. A positive can-do attitude should also be recognized in job performance feedback.
  1. Quietly deal with people who won’t change. Some whiners have been that way all their life, and don’t know how to change their stripes. With proper counseling, they need to be moved out of your business before they do more damage. How quickly and quietly you deal with these problems will be the loudest message you can send to others.

Some people will use “honesty” as the excuse for negative and insensitive comments. In fact, the most honest and productive comments are always positive recommendations on how to fix a problem, rather than the complaint that someone or something is a problem. Even if some of your co-workers are jerks, you have no moral, ethical or legal obligation to broadcast this view.

Everyone needs to understand that complaining about salary or pay, criticizing colleagues and bosses, or vendors and customers, will generally just reflect negatively on the whiner, rather than accomplish any positive results.

The truth is that optimists lead better lives, and startups with positive teams are more successful, simply because they believe that what they are doing is going to work. Negativity also is a self-fulfilling prophecy, with an outcome that can be the demise of your business.

Marty Zwilling



Friday, July 22, 2022

11 Leadership Practices To Solidify Team Engagement

business-team-engagementIn my many years of experience in large businesses as well as startups, a key lesson I have learned is that personal leadership is most often the differentiator between success and mediocrity or failure. Building and running a business requires a team of business leaders, not just one creative genius or brilliant technologist. You need to be one of those leaders.

Although I don’t have any magic formula for you to get there, I do espouse a set of actions for every aspiring leader that were summarized well in a new book, “The Power of One More,” by Ed Mylett. He speaks from his own many years as an entrepreneur, executive coach, and keynote speaker. I have paraphrased here, with my own insights, his key recommendations to get started:

  1. Be an evangelist for your dreams and enroll others. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, one of the definitions of an “evangelist” is someone who talks about something with great enthusiasm. To be a business leader, you have to transfer your infectious energy to others so that you can get them to follow you and change the world.

  2. Listen and identify the gifts of the team around you. It’s impossible to be the leader you want to be unless you understand the circumstances and the team members you lead. You must be intentional and pay focus to even the smallest details. Think of it as an investment, rather than an obligation. Capitalize on the unique talents of every individual.

  3. Make developing new leaders your top priority. In my experience, I find that some people in leadership roles are intimidated by developing team leaders around them. They may prefer to keep the power in their own hands, without realizing that they could lighten their own load with new team leaders, create loyalty, and make the team stronger.

  4. Believe in, care, and show people how to live better. True leaders don’t try to teach leadership – they just look for opportunities to help team members take advantage of their own strengths and insights. The result is more confidence, more engagement, and new leadership that comes naturally. Look for every opportunity to make a difference.

  5. Willing to repeat yourself over and over again. As a company executive, I found myself suffering from “leadership fatigue,” getting tired of hearing myself say the same things repeatedly. Yet I eventually learned that leadership is not always about saying new and exciting things to everyone, but about repeating key things until all are really heard.

  6. Constantly look for ways to recognize people. All great business organization are internally competitive, and thrive on recognition. The best leaders always find a way to be encouraging, and are quick to praise publicly as well as privately. You need to be creative in your recognition, making it not only about money but also about their personal needs.

  7. Vocalize a higher purpose, cause, and mission. Remember that a good mission always has two components – what are we working for, and what we are against. These days, if the first component can be associated with a higher purpose, such as saving the environment, or helping the underprivileged, your reach and engagement level is greater.

  8. Be authentic and own up to your own mistakes. When team members see that you are truthful about your own performance, they trust that you will be truthful about the performance of others. When people under you make a mistake, if there was no malice attached, you must practice compassion because nobody gets things right all the time.

  9. Create a culture with a well-defined mission and goals. Talented team members gravitate to businesses and leaders with outstanding cultures. Besides clearly defined expectations, a positive culture today addresses all the basic human needs, including a sense of purpose, sense of contribution, positive engagement, and personal fulfillment.

  10. Give people the resources they need to succeed. Properly giving your team the resources they need is the battle you much fight before asking them to do their part. Resources are not only about training, coaching, and budget, but include meeting basic human needs. Also, focus on finding the resources you need to be an effective leader.

  11. Build a large-scale movement rather than a product. I believe that strong leaders must facilitate team members seeing themselves as an integral part of a movement that is greater than a single innovative product or even a successful business. They want a legacy that outlives them, and motivation to take a leadership role in making it happen.

As Peter Drucker once said, business leadership is the “capacity to make common people achieve uncommon performance.” After all, we are all just common people, trying to do a job in the best way we know how. I believe leadership is a lifelong learning experience, but you will do well to incorporate the practices outlined here into your operating style at the first opportunity.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 7/8/2022 ***



Wednesday, July 20, 2022

8 Initiatives For Disruptive Change In Your Business

GoogleplexDoes your business always seem to be trying to catch up with new competitors and changes in the marketplace? One of the things I learned from my years in Silicon Valley is that you must always focus on three steps ahead, as well as on what exists today. For most businesses, that means a culture of thinking outside your comfort zone, and planning change before a crisis hits.

By definition, new startups have to do this to even have a shot at funding from venture capitalists and survival, but I find that existing companies often rest on their laurels far too long. Why else would name brands with huge resources, like Blockbuster and Kodak, get overrun by upstarts like Netflix and Apple. You can’t ignore the key principles preached by every innovative entrepreneur:

  1. Build tomorrow’s opportunity rather than extend today’s. Don’t be trapped by linear thinking. If your business today is healthcare, it may be time to look for opportunities in artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, and digital data management, rather than just more unhealthy customers. You can bet some startups are already out there looking.

    Another way that I recommend to find new opportunities is to look for new problems to solve, rather than new ways to sell your existing solution. Don’t let your familiarity with your existing solution blind you to the potential of related, but different new solutions.

  2. Think about needs from a global perspective versus local. Now that all customer shopping and e-commerce via the Internet is worldwide, the old adage of business location, location, location, no longer should constrain your plans. Even if your business is local, like ride sharing, think about the potential for emerging markets in new countries.

    Even if you believe your business is local today, think global for future growth. Early mistakes can result in later business constraints. You may recall the Chevy Nova, where Latino countries quickly picked up on the name, ‘no va’ meaning ‘does not go’ in Spanish.

  3. Look outside your industry for new technologies and models. Entrepreneurs are always looking for breakthroughs and business models in other industries that can be adapted to a new one. You should be able to do that even better, if you adopt that approach as a mindset, and do it before the crisis. The possibilities are endless.

  4. Recruit and reward a small integrated team to break boundaries. Many companies I know claim to do this, but few provide more than lip service to this approach. Don’t count on good employees grown internally, and don’t make it only a sporadic effort. Remember to reward the learning from failures, and maintain a broad diversity of talent and thinking.

  5. Reduce risk by doing small experiments in new environments. Just because you have the resources, don’t try to roll out a huge new initiative all at once, which can fail and sink your bread-and-butter business. A series of small market experiments is more effective in finding breakthroughs, as well as surviving the unknowns of a new market.

    Amazon and Jeff Bezos credit much of their continued growth and success to funding change “experiments.” Bezos believes that if you double the number of experiments you do per year, you’re going to double your agility, and thus outpace your competitors.

  6. 6. Capitalize on existing strengths to roll-out new initiatives. Remember that startup competitors will always be limited by available funding, people, and operational systems. If you already have the support and distribution systems to complement a new offering, and you should use that to attract loyal customers and counter competitors.
  7. Adopt a higher purpose and showcase it the world. Businesses with a higher purpose, like Patagonia making clothes in a sustainable way, let their purpose inspire customers and profits, rather than let profits lead to growth. Today’s world is full of purpose opportunities, such as feeding the hungry and protecting the environment.

  8. Become the innovation champion inside your business. Without even realizing it, existing company leaders often foster a culture of “no change,” by establishing fixed processes and penalizing any deviation by the team. It’s up to you to communicate the positive need for innovation, reward change ideas and actions, and set the culture.

Today’s highly volatile environment, and global communication, make the ability to look ahead and proactively implement changes to satisfy future market opportunities a critical strategy for company survival. I suggest you take a hard look at your own mindset, and your current business culture, to see how you stack up against the most aggressive entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 7/7/2022 ***



Monday, July 18, 2022

7 Reasons To Think Globally While Still New And Local

think-global-act-localNew entrepreneurs who want to survive, and optimize the growth of their startups, need to think globally, and act locally, from day one. This approach, popularly known as “glocalization,” means you have to design and deliver global solutions that have total relevance to every local market in which you operate.

Recognizing this is as much about culture as about language, ensures an understanding of regional motivators, cultural taboos and local customs – so that your solutions are ideally designed and marketed to deliver value that has genuine local relevance.

What all this doesn’t mean is that you should roll out your product in every country at the same time. But it does mean that you think about the global implications at every step of the process:

  1. Pick your company and product names carefully. Don’t pick a name for your company or product that has a negative or totally different meaning in another language. Remember when the Chevy Nova required a rename, once Chevrolet realized that Nova meant "no go" in the Spanish market (not a great name for a car).
  1. Anticipate greater growth outside of North America. Not every international market matters, but some are larger than life. Just the middle class in India is equal in size to the entire population of the United States. And aging populations in Europe and Japan will join the retiring baby boomers in the U.S. with demands for new products and services. Be ready.
  1. Reinforce your brand in international markets. An international brand will command higher prices and additional customer demand. This is called brand goodwill, a hard-won value resulting from the trust that a strong name engenders among buyers and partners. As you begin to saturate the demand in domestic markets, let your brand take you international at low cost.
  1. Balance your business between geographies. When buyers in one region start to slow down, look for buyers in other geographies to take up the slack. Companies with diversified portfolios can focus their energy on other global markets that are doing well.
  1. Speak the customer’s language. People tell me that a multi-lingual website can double your local online business in many parts of the U.S. These days, customers begin their buying cycle online, where they can get answers to their frequently asked questions, product information, and transactions — all in a language they really understand.
  1. Find global sources now. This may not be politically correct these days, but smart startups are looking globally to source their products from the very beginning. Software can be developed “offshore” for a low cost, manufacturing volumes are quickly available from China, and European designs have increased opportunities in every country.
  1. Selectively protect your intellectual property worldwide. At present, no world patents or international patent process really exists, so you need to apply in every relevant country. Trying to get patent protection worldwide at the beginning is prohibitively expensive, so pick your geographies and timing carefully and strategically.

These days the world is a single market. It is both homogeneous and heterogeneous. The communication revolution and the advent of the Internet has brought about a new age of globalization. Easier access to international markets is creating limitless sales opportunities on a worldwide basis.

The result is that every startup company now needs to consider every aspect of management, sales and service on a global basis. However, to gain a true competitive edge, you still need to implement effective solutions first at the local level. Don’t try to do it all at once.

Marty Zwilling



Sunday, July 17, 2022

You Need A Strategic Process For Long-Term Survival

strategic-planning-leaderYour business can’t be all things to all people, and excel at anything. Every entrepreneur and every business needs a strategy to keep them focused. In fact, in this new world of pervasive interactivity, it’s time to rethink even how to develop a strategy. Strategy used to come from the inside looking out, but now it must come from a dialogue and engagement with constituents.

These challenges and the processes for a modern strategic approach are highlighted in the classic book by Gerben Van Den Berg and Paul Pietersma, “The 8 Steps To Strategic Success,” which focuses on unleashing the power of engagement with customers, suppliers, employees, partners, shareholders, competitors and government institutions, to set your strategic direction.

Van Den Berg and Pietersma point out that strategic planning no longer works as a static event that occurs once a year. Market change happens too frequently these days, and organizations need to quickly change course just to survive. The real challenge is to recognize when and why a new strategy is needed, and optimize the process against three critical success factors:

  1. A good understanding of the context of strategy definition. Without shared understanding of cause, necessity and ambition, a business trying to formulate its strategy will drift. And without knowing where you stand, there is no way to set a course.
  1. An adequate use of content in terms of quality, completeness, and depth. Thorough analysis with appropriate models and instruments is needed to really understand what is not possible for the organization and the environment in which it is active. Thorough analysis is the basis for finding the right strategy options.
  1. An effective and inspiring process. Who are involved at what time, what are the roles, how is participation organized? In other words: applying the correct methods of engagement. These help to increase the intrinsic level of understanding, stimulate creativity, and develop ideas. Three things are essential in engagement:
    • High quality level of participants’ contribution.
    • Willingness in analysis, vision, and numbers to think about the future.
    • Initiating and pacing the implementation process.

Every business strategy should still be based first on a long-term business vision and goal – referred to by James Collins and Jerry Porras in their textbook “Built to Last” as the Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG). The BHAG always poses three questions in parallel:

  • What are you deeply passionate about? According to Collins and Porras, companies can only be really outstanding in areas where they are fully committed. The answer to this question should be formulated as ‘a customer’s problem the company is going to resolve like no other.’
  • What can you be the best in the world at? This questions going beyond one or two features or best-selling products. It is about identifying a core competence which others cannot match. It might be a patented technology, but it could also be the creativity of employees or logistic competencies of the company.
  • What drives the economic engine? This could be the utilization rate of a plant, the price premium of the brand, or the service offered or products sold. It is essential to keep this financial pillar in view.

From the answers to these questions, the strategic process needs to work its way through the futures you need to anticipate, business capabilities, and strategic options. From there, it’s time to make a decision, execute on the new strategy, and measure results. Based on results, it’s usually time for another iteration, and successful startups and enterprises never stop.

These days, you won’t last long as an entrepreneur with one “next big thing.” Success is more about your ability to “see around the corner” and sense the potential for market changes before they happen, and change your company rapidly to make them happen. How engaged is your strategic process with your constituents, and how fast can you adapt to their changes?

Marty Zwilling



Saturday, July 16, 2022

7 Business Leadership Traits Persuade Customers Today

business-leadership-traitsWe are living in a new generation of business, where customers drive the experience, and highly engaged employees are required to keep up with customer expectations. Traditional business leadership practices, including autocratic, reactive, and narcissistic, aren’t good enough. Over 16 percent of workers are still actively disengaged, and half have left at least one job because they hated their boss.

We have all heard the examples of the great new company cultures, popularized by Google, Zappos, and Facebook, which seem to imply that company perks are the secret to success. Of course, these are great, but they don’t happen without enlightened leadership coming first. I believe that business cultures are a function of people and leadership, more than programs.

As a business advisor, I’m always looking for guidance on leadership practices that work, and I was impressed with the classic book, “The Leadership Mind Switch,” by D. A. Benton and Kylie Wright-Ford. Their experience as executive coaches and entrepreneurs gives real credibility to their assessment of some new leadership approaches that are required in business today.

In my view, every aspiring business leader and entrepreneur needs to understand their seven leadership initiatives, as summarized and paraphrased here:

  1. True blue: stay trustworthy beyond reproach. Trust is still at the top of the required list in a leader. New leaders need to remember that trust works two ways – you need to be trusted so people will choose to follow you, and you need to be able to trust people you work with. “True blue” is a step beyond trust, adding authenticity and transparency.
  1. Kindly confident: project and inspire confidence. Leaders today must always project confidence and help others develop confidence, courage, and curiosity. Everyone needs to take the necessary action, despite their fears, to continuously explore new ideas. Combining courage and curiosity creates a confident unstoppable leader and team.

  1. Enlightened: open your mind and constantly learn. Enlightenment refers to an interest in staying informed and approaching every interaction free of prejudice. An effective leader is intellectually curious, constantly learning, and genuinely in pursuit of wisdom about people, places, technologies, scientific advances, economies and cultures.
  1. Tenacious: be persistent in your pursuits. True leaders are tenacious, determined, and self-starting. They can take a tough situation and fix it. They might retrench, reiterate, reconvene, or pivot more often than others, but they keep at it, instead of stalling when something becomes difficult. They know that nothing significant happens with little effort.
  1. Be uber-communicative: use all channels to connect. Effective communication is critically important for a leader – for two purposes; to deliver the right message, and to establish a common understanding of the message by everyone. Assuring mindshare and connection is the new challenge is this world of distractions and multitasking.
  1. Be dynamic: enable change in yourself and others. Dynamic leadership refers to an energy or force that is spirited and magnetic. Leaders must continuously change and advance, with behaviors that require substance as well as style. More importantly, dynamic leaders always support individuals, and enable others to reach their goals.
  1. Be playful: have fun and try new things. Increasingly, as your work and personal lives blend into each other, it is important to bring levity into the workplace, while making it enjoyable for others to be around you. Learning to be more flexible in your thought processes and actions will get you one step closer to a full leadership mind switch.

Compared to what I most often see today, these approaches represent a “leadership mind switch” in the way entrepreneurs need to think about their behaviors to generate the level of employee engagement required to keep up with rapid market changes and customer demands.

Just as importantly, every leader deserves to feel success and satisfaction from their efforts, rather than continual stress and negative feedback from employees and customers alike. The bottom line is that by directing your actions toward helping others pursue their dreams and customer dreams, you will make amazing progress in achieving your own.

Marty Zwilling



Friday, July 15, 2022

6 Lessons Startups Can Learn From Military Principles

Learn-from-the-SEALsYou have to be extra tough mentally to start a new business venture. While thinking about it, I realized that it’s really not that different from the toughness required and trained into America’s elite military force of Navy SEALs, who are known to be cool under fire, able to sense danger before it’s too late, and never give up on achieving their objective.

I learned some good lessons along these lines from the classic book “The Way of the SEAL,” by Mark Divine. He spent many years with the SEALs, but has since started and built six multimillion-dollar business ventures. He now teaches these key principles to business leaders, focusing on the following lessons and strategies, which I recommend for every entrepreneur:

  1. Lead from the front, so that others will want to work for you. To be an entrepreneur or a Navy SEAL, you must first have vision, focus, and the courage to step up to lead. That means visibly walking the talk and willing to clear a path for others. People want to follow leaders they can learn from, who demonstrate excellence and commitment in all they do.
  1. Focus on one thing until victory is achieved. SEALs call this front-sight focus, or the ability to envision your goal to the point that you see it, believe it, and make it happen. Every entrepreneur needs this kind of focus to build a minimum viable product, target the right customer segment, differentiate from competitors, and drive business growth.
  1. Think offense, all the time, to eradicate fear and indecisiveness. Indecision leads to doubt, then the two blend and become fear, which signals defense, resulting in being overrun in the business world, as well as the military world. Offense, for entrepreneurs, means leading with a new business model, new marketing, and new technology.
  1. Never be thrown off-guard by chaotic conditions. Smash the box and think outside the box. In the world of the entrepreneur and the SEAL, chaos is the norm, not the exception. Plan for it mentally and physically, and you will see opportunities rather than problems in the chaos. Winning is finding opportunities, rather than fighting problems.
  1. Access your intuition so you can make “hard right” decisions. Your intuition is really your knowledge and awareness of your business environment, which must be honed with practice and focus. This knowledge is required for you to turn quickly or pivot based on new input from the market, without loss of competitive position.
  1. Achieve twenty times more than you think you can. Set your targets high. Nobody knows what they are truly capable of, with the right discipline, drive, and determination (three Ds). SEALs challenge themselves to find their 20x factor, and entrepreneurs should accept no less of a challenge. Leverage the resources of mentors, investors, and peers.

By teaching and practicing the principles behind these six lessons, Mark Divine was able to improve the pass rate of Navy SEAL candidates from less than 30% to over 80%. I see the same potential for improving the success rate of new entrepreneurs from the current 10-year survival rate closer to 30%, to a new high target of 80% in this new era.

He suggests that you start with a self-assessment against the “five mountains” to be climbed on the path to self-mastery and success, with my adaptation for entrepreneurs:

  • Physical: business as well as technical skills required for the domain you want to enter.
  • Mental: ability to persevere, make decisions, focus, and visualize success.
  • Emotional: resilience, open to relationships, keep negative emotions under control.
  • Intuitional: level of awareness, listen more than speak, strong self-esteem, insightful.
  • Spiritual: strong values, at peace, willing to make sacrifices, see the big picture.

I agree with Divine that if you desire serious change in your life, you can’t get there by focusing on what you don’t want. Becoming an entrepreneur is a great lifestyle, but it is a serious change from other career alternatives. If you decide to be an entrepreneur because you don’t want a boss, on don’t like regular business hours, you may be setting yourself up for failure.

Apply the lessons from the Navy SEALs and you too can be an elite warrior who leads and succeeds in the new global business paradigm. Are you up to the challenge?

Marty Zwilling



Wednesday, July 13, 2022

7 Modern Day Business Strategies For Long-Term Growth

fill_box_smartI have learned from experience that scaling any business is difficult. You may feel good when that first burst of customers arrives, but don’t assume that “word of mouth” and those early adopters will grow your business to match your dreams of success. In these days of global competition via multiple channels, you need continuous marketing to find more customers. They won’t find you.

I continue to be amazed that more than a quarter of new businesses don’t even have a website, and many more don’t pay attention to social media, or monitor feedback on sites like Yelp. Even if your business is purely local, growth must always be a priority, and you need to utilize all these digital channels available to you today, as well as traditional media channels and industry forums:

  1. Maintain an active current presence on the Internet. More and more customers today do their initial shopping on the Internet, and they won’t even believe you exist if you have no presence, or the content is stale. At minimum, that requires a modern website, and visibility on relevant social media sites, likely including Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.

    The businesses that are most successful at converting users into growth are those who interact with their followers the most and frequently post content related to their brand. A good rule of thumb is to post at least some responses daily to indicate your presence.

  2. Acknowledge every customer feedback and review. People today put great stock in the online feedback from other customers, and they note how and if you appear to be listening and responding. Don’t let the crush of daily crises, or personal emotions, lead you to ignore feedback. This could be the least expensive way to scale your business.

    For those of you who are fearful of a spurious negative review, I recommend that you proactively ask every customer for a positive review, such that any negatives will be lost in a sea of positives. Don’t let that one negative stand out as the only review submitted.

  3. Entice advocates and influencers to help you. Advocates are your happiest existing customers, and you want them to use their social media and connections to attract more customers. Influencers are recognized experts and pseudo celebrities who can pick favorite products or start new trends. Be proactive is reaching out for support and help.

    Due to the rapid growth of influencer marketing, influencer tracking systems, such as Traackr or Pixlee have emerged as reliable tools for brands that employ influencers to track conversions from their sponsorships. Use them to find your relevant influencers.

  4. Produce marketing events to get visibility and attention. These days, a popular approach is to create a “pop-up” store or “flash mob” event in the midst of another gathering, like a Super Bowl, to get attention and scaling for your brand. Obviously, you need to promote these events via multiple digital and traditional marketing channels.

    In this context, connecting with other complementary brands will help you share costs, as well as audiences across your industry. Be prepared to give away to participants something memorable that they actually want. Make it a memorable experience for all.

  5. Participate in trade shows and industry conferences. Trade shows and conferences can produce hundreds of new qualified leads for your business, as well as build relationships with industry leaders, outsourcing vendors, and potential partners. These also will keep you better informed on new technologies, trends, and likely competitors.

  6. Secure outside expansion funding through investors. Effective scaling and growth often requires more investment than is available from early organic returns. You need to evaluate the tradeoffs of getting investment capital from angel investors and crowdsourcing. These are both a source of new marketing strategies and feedback.

  7. Commit to and communicate a higher-level purpose. Adopting a higher purpose, such as saving the environment or helping your community, and successfully communicating that to your team and customers is the way to make them all fans of your company and scaling the business. People respond to your purpose, not your profit.

Organic growth, without utilization of digital channels, is not enough today to stay competitive and achieve long-term success in today’s environment, especially against the large e-commerce players with a global reach. You need to use every digital channel available for marketing and visibility, no matter how dedicated you and your team are to customer service and satisfaction.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 6/28/2022 ***



Monday, July 11, 2022

10 Keys That You May Not Be Happy As An Entrepreneur

Girl-unhappy-with-the-workSome people are not cut out to be entrepreneurs. This is a good thing, or the business world would be chaos, with everyone trying to do their own thing. So what about you? How do you know if you should be running your own company, or concentrating on that queue of work that someone else has built for you?

I’ve hit this before, but I still hear from too many unhappy entrepreneurs. Now is the time to put aside your fantasies, and take a hard look at who you really are, before you commit to the entrepreneurial lifestyle. If you recognize yourself in many of these quotes, you WILL NOT be happy in that lifestyle:

  1. “I like my life structured with clear decisions.” Entrepreneurs do not function well in traditional organizations and do not like being in the conventional management hierarchy. Most believe they can do the job better than anyone else and will strive for maximum responsibility and accountability.
  1. “Handling problems causes me stress and pressure.” To an entrepreneur, stress is part of the job, and they are re-invigorated rather than discouraged by setbacks. They may actually be less comfortable when things are going well, and are not troubled by ambiguity and uncertainty because they are used to solving problems.
  1. “My job is fun when everyone knows and does their job.” The best entrepreneurs relish the challenge of an undefined role, and enjoy the learning process as much as success. It’s even better when they can inspire and energize others to do things that have never been done before.
  1. “I like to put my mistakes behind me and never think about them again.” Entrepreneurs accept things as they are and deal with them accordingly. They are quick to learn from their failures. They may or may not be idealistic, but they are seldom unrealistic. They want to know the status of a given situation at all times.
  1. “Balance and family are everything in my life.” Entrepreneurs devote the largest share of their time to the business. During tough business periods, they will give their entire focus to business operations, and may essentially stay on the job for days. Even at home or at social events, the business is always top of mind.
  1. “It didn’t get done today, but there’s always tomorrow.” Entrepreneurs have a great sense of urgency to develop their ideas now. Inactivity makes them impatient, tense, and uneasy. They have drive and high energy levels, they are achievement-oriented, and they are tireless in the pursuit of their goals.
  1. “That’s not my job.” Successful entrepreneurs love to tackle complex situations that span the spectrum from planning, making strategic decisions, and working on multiple operational crises simultaneously. They are futuristic and aware of important implications, and they will continuously review alternatives to achieve their business objectives.
  1. “I love to get awards for my efforts.” Entrepreneurs find satisfaction in the trappings of success from external sources, like the media and peer organizations. They like the business they have built to be praised, but they are often embarrassed by praise directed at them personally.
  1. “I get frustrated when things don’t work.” Entrepreneurs have a "never, never, never quit" attitude. They are self-confident when they know what they're doing and in control. Most are at their best in the face of adversity, since they thrive on their own self-confidence.
  1. “Risk and uncertainty cause me to lose too much sleep.” Some of the best entrepreneurs talk about the highs they get from taking a big risk, and the euphoria they feel when they beat the odds. They live for these feelings.

If you are an employee, and you recognize your boss in the quotes, you probably are not a happy employee. If you recognize your CEO or business founder in the quotes, then your business is probably failing. That’s how important it is for the right people to be in the right category.

In my experience, the most unhappy people are the ones who clearly fit in one category, but for various reasons believe they need to be in the other one (entitlement, more money, more prestige, family pressures). My message is do what you enjoy. Life is too short for the alternative.

Marty Zwilling



Sunday, July 10, 2022

7 Technology Entrepreneur Examples You Should Emulate

Steve_Jobs_HeadshotBy most definitions of the term, an entrepreneur is someone who starts a new business, incorporating innovative changes to existing products, services, business models, and creating new markets. Yet very few achieve that great aspiration of really driving economic, social, and environmental changes on a global scale.

What does it take to get to that level? One way of identifying the right characteristics and approaches is to take a hard look at entrepreneurs who have done it. Peter Andrews and Fiona Wood, in their classic book “Überpreneurs” have profiled 36 leading candidates for this category, to extract a set of common characteristics. Here are some recognizable entrepreneurial examples I like, just from the technology space:

  1. Driven by an epic ambition. Each of them has seen and seized opportunities for change, sensed the way forward, garnered the necessary resources, and pursued their dreams, regardless of the odds. All of them, in the late Steve Jobs’ words, “push the human race forward.” He agreed with Mark Twain on keeping away from people who like to belittle your ambitions.
  1. Opportunistic and visionary. They must be constantly on the lookout for new ideas and intuitively grasping their potential implications, seeing and seizing opportunities for change. Bill Gates telephoned Ed Roberts, the man behind the first microprocessor, to offer a BASIC software package that he and Paul Allen had not yet written because he knew that one day there would be “a computer on every desk and in every home.”
  1. Innovative yet pragmatic. Überpreneurs are willing and able to jump organizational, cultural, and geographic boundaries as they sense their way toward novel but practical solutions. Mark Zuckerberg envisioned Facebook as a virtual social network built on a lifetime of friendships, while offering advertisers a powerful and targeted marketing tool.
  1. Persuasive and empowering. Offering irresistible investment propositions and attracting talented and loyal followers is key, as they garner the resources to pursue their goals. Larry Page of Google piqued the interest of venture capitalist John Doerr with an outrageous revenue estimate of “$10 billion,” a target that was met in less than ten years.
  1. Focused and confident. All are indomitable spirits who assume total control and drive full steam ahead toward the realization of their dreams. Richard Branson once said “My interest in life comes from setting myself huge, apparently unachievable challenges and trying to rise above them.” “I have always lived my life by making lists … Each day I work through these lists, and that sequence of calls propels me forward.”
  1. Resilient and courageous. Taking bold but calculated risks is the norm, learning from their mistakes, and thriving on change and uncertainty as they upend your world, regardless of the odds. Jeff Bezos of Amazon once said that if you are going to do large-scale invention, you have to be willing to fail, think long-term, and be misunderstood for long periods of time.
  1. Consistently produce results. All of them have created massive new capital, be it financial or technological, social or spiritual. All of them have transformed the condition of mankind – for the better. Elon Musk is a South African born Canadian-American engineer, business magnate, investor, and inventor who founded and built PayPal, SpaceX, and Tesla Motors, and is still going strong.

The real question is how do we produce more of these? I don’t see anything genetic here, as these have come from some very diverse backgrounds, with the normal mix of middle-class, upper, and lower economic environments.

My best suggestion, like the authors of Überpreneurs, is that we just teach aspiring entrepreneurs the facts, help them build their networks, supply them with some resources, and simply get out of their way. If you have a better suggestion, I’ll be happy to learn from it.

Marty Zwilling



Saturday, July 9, 2022

5 Current Technologies Still Have Room For Innovation

Internet-Of-ThingsA common request I get while mentoring entrepreneurs is for a copy of the startup checklist they need to follow, in order to build a successful new business. I wish it was that easy. The challenge is that every new business needs to be innovative and different, in order to rise above the crowd, bring real change to the world, and give you the satisfaction you seek.

Nevertheless, there is nothing wrong with studying and learning from the wisdom and experience of others. So for those of you that love checklists, I saw some real value in the classic book by James M. Kerr, “The Executive Checklist: A Guide for Setting Direction and Managing Change.” His checklists cover everything from building a vision, to consistently delivering results, for entrepreneurs up to mature business executives.

Although I’m not an aficionado of checklists in general, I really appreciate one he has included for keeping up with some of the latest technological trends that are reshaping business strategies, which should be the driver for startups to fill in the gaps. I’m sure you can find some gaps, niches, or extensions for each of these technologies:

  1. Internet of Things. The physical world is quickly becoming Internet enabled, allowing it to be fused with the digital world. Everyday devices, like Internet soda vending, have an embedded computer allowing full remote reporting and control. Other examples include smart-home remote control, cell-phone tracking, and remote auto traffic sensors.

  1. Mobile Computing. From tablets to smart phones to the Apple watch, people are increasingly relying on their mobile devices to assist them in managing their lives. The next phase of evolution will demand device independence, enabling an uninterrupted computing experience as we move from device to device throughout our daily lives.

  1. Cloud Computing. This is a phrase used to describe a variety of computing technology concepts that involve a large number of computers connected through the Internet. There are already a variety of cloud computing solutions available for common business usage, including the following:

    • Software as a Service (SaaS). This is a software distribution and pricing model in which new applications are hosted by a service provider and made available to customers over a network, rather than requiring customer hardware. Upgrades and troubleshooting can normally be provided over the network, as well.
    • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). Data storage, hardware, and networking equipment are provided to the customer on a per-use basis by the IaaS vendor, who holds the equipment and is responsible for running, and maintaining it.

    • Platform as a Service (PaaS). This is a service delivery model that provides the capability to lease the hardware, operating systems, storage, and network capacity over the Internet. It allows startups to rent virtualized servers and associated services needed to develop, test, and run applications.

    • Business Process as a Service (BPaaS). Procurement, payment processing, and payroll are just a few of the business functions that can be supported through BPaaS provider, who delivers the necessary infrastructure so that organizations no longer need to staff and perform the activities in-house.

  1. Social Media. Social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn manage communities comprised of millions of people worldwide. The challenge for most businesses is determining how to best harness the potential. Every entrepreneur needs to leverage social media for better marketing, requirements, and customer service.
  1. Gamification. This refers to the use of game thinking and software design mechanics to make it more effective and friendly for people to engage with technology. Many businesses are already weaving gamification into their strategies to enhance loyalty programs, customer retention, productivity measurement, and training.

It is time for entrepreneurs and all executives to stop being intimidated by technology discussions and, instead, establish a foundation for understanding the basic constructs that are reshaping the ways in which organizations process information and conduct business.

If a checklist like this one helps you get it done, then by all means find one and use it. But don’t be bound by it. Success in business today really requires that you go beyond any known checklists, with vision, innovation, and determination. Are you driving the technology, or is it driving you?

Marty Zwilling



Friday, July 8, 2022

6 Sources Of Purpose To Drive Business Success Today

TOMS shoes successToday more than ever, the evidence is clear that business people need to find and communicate a purpose that goes beyond making a profit, in order to ensure customer engagement, as well as your own, and drive results in the marketplace. In my work with entrepreneurs, I have concluded that finding and communicating that purpose is often more important than the solution offered.

For example, TOMS shoes inspired everyone by highlighting and effectively communicating a higher purpose from founder Blake Mycoskie of helping the needy by donating a pair of shoes for every pair sold. He found that the return was far greater than the cost of donated shoes, and his team became intensely loyal, due to the opportunity to travel and deliver shoes in other countries.

I found real insights into this strategy, along with specific sources of purpose inspiration in a new book, “Leading With Heart,” by John Baird and Edward Sullivan. These authors reference real cases and real business leaders, based on their decades of experience in building companies and executive coaching.

I offer here their summary of purposes and inspirations that have motivated existing business leaders, with insights from my own mentoring and coaching experience. I challenge each of you to find that purpose which will drive your business, your team, and your customers to the next level:

  1. Inspired by the desire to leave a lasting legacy. I have encountered several business leaders whose real purpose and intent was to create a positive personal legacy, such as a research to cure a difficult disease, but they failed to disclose the intent to their team and constituents. I urge you to share your purpose early and highlight it in every strategy.

    Perhaps a more important legacy to your team is how you treat them in the business. Make your purpose to leave a legacy as a model leader, and it will live on for years, with continuing positive impacts in staff meetings, presentations, and around the water cooler.

  2. Challenge yourself to delivering a technical innovation. Many technologists have a passion for a new technology, but only a few are able to communicate the value in terms of future impact on society. Elon Musk, for example, has been able to achieve SpaceX success largely by tying efforts to the future of mankind in their travels to other planets.

  3. Take the opportunity to internationally travel and learn. Your purpose may be purely to enhance your own lifestyle, but even that needs to be communicated to your team and highlighted in your strategic guidance. Everyone needs to understand what drives you, and how they can help you achieve your purpose. People need to see you as a person.

    For Logan Green of Lyft, his international travel purpose helped inspire him to the creation and growth of an industry-altering business. By finding new perspectives, he was able to redefine business models and satisfy customer needs in new and ingenious ways.

  4. Driven to reduce personal hardship and suffering. Many of us have lost a loved one, or suffered personally, due to the ravages of cancer or another life-threatening disease. If your business is health-technology related, I urge you to share this with your team, and with customers, and ask for their help, versus leaning on profitability, price, and process.

    Also, no matter what your current hardship or suffering, it's important you continue to believe that whatever you're going through will also help you grow enormously, and that’s what purpose in business is all about. As you grow, so will your team and customers.

  5. Satisfy a need for personal lifestyle fulfillment. Many of the most successful fashion and even dating organizations were built around a leader with a purpose of personal dedication to a more fulfilling lifestyle. You see this today on the Internet with people who dominate social media as “influencers,” leading customers to new trends and brands.

  6. Accept a challenge to share a unique gift and skill. We all have unique strengths, such as design skills, or connecting well with others. I urge you to assess yours, and listen to friends and mentors, to find and highlight a purpose that perhaps you didn’t even see in yourself. Sharing is a lot more effective with customers than selling and marketing.

Every business leader and customer I know can tell when you or someone on your team has no purpose -- they are just doing a job today, or they are out for themselves. Having a purpose is more lasting over time, inspires better service, reinforces values, and drives performance. Be the model for everyone around you by finding your purpose and communicating it to the rest of us.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 6/23/2022 ***