Monday, August 15, 2022

6 Information Surges Raise Huge Startup Opportunities

HomeA tidal wave of valuable data is surging from the Internet and connected devices today, and the volume is growing exponentially each year. It’s enough to drown any business which tries to fight it or ignore it, and it’s an opportunity to ride higher and faster than even the successes of Google and Facebook, for those startups that use it as their driving force.

Per a recent study by networking giant Cisco, the world’s yearly mobile data traffic has grown 17-fold over the past 5 years, reaching 11.5 exabytes per month at the end of 2017, of which more than half was video. According to the classic book “Data Crush,” by Christopher Surdak, data in all formats will soon be the largest source of new opportunities for startups, or death.

According to what I see, as outlined by Surdak, this data surge is being driven by the following six technological and social trends:

  1. Mobility: smartphones, tablets, and the “Internet of things.” Cellphone penetration in the U.S. exceeds 97 percent of all mobile phone owners, and smartphones generate more data from their non-phone functions than voice. In addition, more people own cell phones than toothbrushes. All devices are becoming self-aware and Internet connected.
  1. Virtual living: the rise and growing dominance of social media. Facebook has created an environment where millions of people can hold billions of conversations with people and companies, transforming how people expect to interact with each other and the world. For startups, this is an engagement opportunity worth billions of dollars.
  1. Digital commerce: infinite options for buying goods and services online. Data-enabled shopping has completely changed our purchasing experience, has undermined some of the greatest brand names, and has created some new brands, like Amazon, that now dominate. There is still infinite room for new startup sales modes and models.
  1. Online entertainment: millions of channels, billions of actors. With the adoption of the Internet, digital entertainment has rocketed across the world, changing how people entertain themselves. YouTube is now the 800-pound gorilla of entertainment. Online gaming has moved from the geeks to the mainstream. The audience is now the actors.

  1. Cloud computing: the death of dedicated infrastructure. More and more company and personal services are being virtualized to the Cloud. Many companies are already seeing their computing costs drop by thirty percent as they move in this direction, providing new startup opportunities with the Everything as a Service (EaaS) trend.

  1. “Big data:” learning from the flood. Big data is mining the storage for knowledge. This gives rise to the personalization and customization that we all want. Analytics will soon drive nearly all business decisions for any company that wants to remain relevant to its customers. Startups are in the best position to provide the analytics, and use them first.

As an entrepreneur, what steps can you take to help your business not only survive the data hurricane, but to thrive under these new and challenging conditions? Surdak emphasizes that the goal is to either mitigate some of the pressure caused by data growth or to put that pressure to work for you in growing your startup and remaining competitive:

  • Focus: play to your strengths. Determine your core business strategy and resolve to remain true to it. Make strategic versus opportunistic decisions.
  • Accelerate: speed is life in this new world. Look for and reward quantum changes, like cutting cycle time in half, in your processes, products, and services.
  • Data enable: use metrics and measurements. Extend data metrics into non-traditional channels, such as email, internal social media, and customer collaboration platforms.
  • Quantification: big data, bigger results, and controls. Startups should seek to continually improve performance through statistical analysis and predictive monitoring.
  • Gamify: engagement to get what you pay for. Use internal collaboration platforms, then extend to online customers through your website, blogs, and social media.
  • Crowdsource: putting your audience to work beyond customers. Look beyond today’s requirements for entire new market opportunities.

You need to start now to understand the trends and specifics of the information tidal wave that is building up in front of us. Use the steps outlined here to stay ahead of it, and use its power to propel your startup into the future, ahead of your competition. The possibilities are endless, but the downside will be painful.

Marty Zwilling

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Sunday, August 14, 2022

10 Tactics For Driving Disruptive Startup Innovations

TechCrunchHow is it that only a few business leaders and entrepreneurs seem to drive exceptional results and disruptive innovation in this rapidly changing market economy (marketquake)? These few seem more adept at executing market and technology turns, not just incremental evolution. They consistently take bold steps to stay ahead of the curve, often contrary to conventional wisdom.

Steve Jobs of Apple may have been the most visible example of this ability to “see around the corner,” but others often mentioned include Richard Branson (Virgin Group), and Elon Musk (SpaceX). Most of you could suggest one more, but not many.

While searching for some structure that could facilitate learning the process, I came across a classic book by G. Shawn Hunter, “Out Think,” which offers a step-by-step outline for executives to achieve this stage of creativity. It suggests that they need to shed outmoded management and organizational biases, to foster an atmosphere where disruptive innovation becomes the norm.

Here is my summary and interpretation of the ten strategies that he outlines for driving the disruptive innovations that entrepreneurs and startups all dream about:

  1. Establish the engine of leadership. People Development Magazine recently listed inspirational leadership (trust) as one of the top three characteristics business leaders must have today. These are about being true, honest, and teaming with others, inside and outside the company. Without trust, no one will ever follow even the best innovators.

  1. Provoke with questions, not answers (inquiry). Peter Drucker once said “The most serious mistakes are not being made as a result of wrong answers. The truly dangerous thing is asking the wrong question.” Exceptional outcomes don’t come from standard answers to pre-defined questions by conventional leaders.

  1. Mine the organization for expertise (exploration). Identify individuals within the organization who have led innovation over many years, as well as newer employees that share the same vision. Just as importantly, you have to deal quickly with innovation blockers, including bureaucrats, power mongers, and skeptics.

  1. Dream well – you may find yourself there (aspiration). Aspiring to greatness requires uncovering and exploring truths – including hidden truths – and sharing them with others. The most innovative leaders expect the best of everyone, and develop the guru in others. Emulating perceived heroes and role models can lead to realizing your own aspirations.

  1. Embrace new kinds of risk (edge). Finding the “edge” is similar to “finding flow,” being “in the zone,” or being “in the groove.” These are states conducive to heightened engagement, accelerated learning, and creativity. These states allow deep curiosity, exploration, and highly focused activity to occur, leading to disruptive innovation.
  1. Collaborate to innovate (connection). To create a culture of innovation, leaders must first create a culture of collaboration. That means engaging and inspiring the creative talents of others, respecting employees’ ideas, and bringing new insights into group decisions. With collaboration, differences add up to more than the sum of the parts.
  1. Borrow prior and current brilliance (mash-up). By constantly mashing up prior ideas, applications, and outcomes, powerful new combinations emerge that have value to customers. Find people who deviate positively from the norm, intentionally destabilizing the work environment, and foster moderate creative tension that can spark innovation.
  1. Get moving or accept the consequences (action). Action counts – not words – especially when that action is novel and unique. Once you are in motion, actually producing something, people will respond, contribute, collaborate, and spread the word, driving energy and awareness your way. Innovation does not come without action.
  1. Make it your own (signature). A signature innovative solution is born of the core identity of those who have joined in the innovation journey, executed with the unique personalities of participants. Signature innovation is not easily copied or pirated, because it comes out of a truly unique cultural identity within a team.
  1. Connect with “why” (purpose). In any endeavor, there must be a purpose behind it if we are to receive maximum enjoyment, fulfillment, and a deeper sense of our own role in its achievement. Many companies and leaders now reinforce and demonstrate a commitment to responsible behavior that goes way beyond profit and individual gain.

Exceptional innovation or “seeing around the corner” does not come from closing your eyes and jumping into the unknown. It comes from a focus on learning and following the processes proven by other great entrepreneurs and leaders.

Even creativity alone is not enough to deliver real innovation, unless it is teamed with the tendency and tenacity to execute. How well are you executing on the drive to exceptional outcomes in your business?

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, August 13, 2022

For Many New Ventures, Location Is The Key To Success

location-location-locationEven in this age of globalization and virtualization, the geographic area where you choose to live and work can still make or break your startup business. I still have to tell some entrepreneurs that even with the best idea, they have to move to Silicon Valley to find the investors they need, or they need to move to the U.S. get the attention of the market they choose.

For example, if you are working on a great social networking idea to replace Facebook, and need funding, you probably won’t find any interested and focused VCs or angel investors in Arizona, where I live. Also, investors from the super-hubs (Silicon Valley, New York, or Boston), probably won’t assume anyone outside their domain has the savvy and resources to make it happen.

On the other hand, if you are into solar technologies, there is probably an advantage to being in Arizona or a similar location. Having a great idea in the wrong place won’t get you the funding you need, the experienced domain experts you want, or the pilot market results you need for survival. You need to move to right location and get connected before you ask for help.

Of course, there are always exceptions, but how much added risk do you need for your startup? Maxwell Wessel, in a classic article in the Harvard Business Review on this subject, points out the exception successes of Zappos in Las Vegas, Sendgrid’s massive growth in Colorado, and RightNow’s $1.5 billion dollar sale to Oracle from Bozeman, Montana.

For your own startup location positioning, I recommend his four key questions that every entrepreneur should contemplate before resigning themselves to failure, or deciding where to move to improve their odds of success:

  1. What’s your city’s advantage? Today, Silicon Valley is the consumer and enterprise software capital of the world. Finance has homes in New York, Hong Kong, and London. Energy is still the domain of Houston and Dubai. The list goes on and on. Most cities have something that they are particularly good at. Find yours if you want to stay home.
  1. How can you get exposure? Finding talent and financing isn’t the only hurdle to overcome on the road to startup success. It’s just the first of many. Exposure is another key ingredient. Exposure to customers, incumbents, and competitors all drive success. Exposure instills the fear and urgency you need to deliver the right competitive solution.
  1. What will set your business apart? No one can tell you what to do to create your edge, but it is important that you figure out how you can. Being in the right location helps you to maintain pace because of access to skilled and experienced people. Being close to your customers, your vendors, or even your competitors can make all the difference.
  1. Are you sure you can’t move? Moving might not be easy. But it is one of the simplest things you can do to improve the odds that your business takes off. If you’re about to devote your professional life to building a business, and ready to sacrifice the blood, sweat, and tears it requires, seriously consider this question. It’s very important.

Wessel also summarizes the costs and potential impacts of creating and building your startup in secondary markets, usually meaning not in Silicon Valley or one of the other super-hubs:

  • It takes longer to raise money. Raising capital isn’t the be-all and end-all of startup success. But it is an important metric for firms in pursuit of explosive growth. Raising capital is a necessary step, and survival time without it grows short, or interminably long. That extra two months spent traveling to fundraise is two months falling behind.
  • It decreases your odds of being bought. When it comes to the technology ecosystem, clusters are vital. Wessel measures a 39% acquisition advantage to being in-state. Tech companies see engineers move frequently, integrate their products tightly, and often find themselves acquiring or merging with counterparts. Personal relationships do count.
  • It decreases your odds of success. If you judge entrepreneurial success as surviving or selling (including raising follow-on funding, being bought, or successfully IPO’ing) as no doubt your investors do, then your odds of success are 10-15% higher inside the realm of the super-hubs. That’s not a big margin, but every little bit counts in this space.

But this measurable difference in outcomes, however significant, is not stopping aspiring entrepreneurs from building businesses where they live today. There are many good reasons to do so. Entrepreneurs cite family roots, a sense of neighborhood responsibility, existing professional networks, and more.

In fact, according to Wessel, following the last recession, startups have mushroomed everywhere. Since 2006, the number of startups founded and funded outside of California, Massachusetts, and New York, has grown by more than 65 percent. So don’t let location hold you back, but you need to go in with your eyes open. It takes more than a dream and passion to build a business.

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, August 12, 2022

6 Secrets To Making Your Pitch To Investors Stand Out

Mauricio_MacriIn my role as a mentor to entrepreneurs and an angel investor, I find that too many are stuck in this myth that a good pitch, and good marketing content, should consist of more product features, and more hype on customer benefits. Naturally, these are important, but real winning content has to start with a story that excites people’s imagination, and pulls them in emotionally.

Whether you are addressing potential investors, your company’s board, business partners, or your customers, if you plan on becoming a person of influence, you need a collection of stories to weave into your message. In fact, the same is true in your private live, or as you move up in your professional business career, or even if you are interviewing for your first job.

I found some excellent specifics on the magic of storytelling in a classic book, “The Compass Solution: A Guide to Winning Your Career,” by Tim Cole. He shares his insights from three decades in business, growing billion-dollar portfolios, and managing thousands of people. I will paraphrase his key tenets here, based on my focus on entrepreneurs and new businesses:

  1. People want you to excite their passions. You grab any audience, even logical left-brain executives, in the first 60 seconds, or you lose them forever. The hook is everything, and a story fragment to clutch their hearts is the key to holding their minds. Exciting their passion to better the world or themselves is far better than saving a dollar.
  1. We all want to be entertained. With the current data overload, we remember someone who does more than inform us. We yearn for things that engage our senses, and give us hope. That’s why gamification is so effective, why celebrities are effective marketers, and why you need that amazing story that goes viral. We need more than facts to convince.
  1. No story resonates without a struggle. Struggle engages us – it compels us to want to listen and participate. That’s why I recommend every solution pitch must start with a painful problem, not just “nice-to-have.” That’s why most successful new businesses highlight a higher cause, i.e., world hunger, environmental sustainability, or equality.
  1. Avoid the use of wordy visuals in telling your story. Today is the age of images to make a point, including videos and sound. These engage your senses and cross all cultures and languages. PowerPoint pitches crammed with words will bury your message and yourself. Make sure the words you do use convey feelings, as well as facts.
  1. Every story needs a hero who comes to the rescue. That hero may be an idea, it may be an individual, it may be an initiative, but without the struggle and the knight on the white horse that comes to the rescue, there is no story, and the audience will not listen. In business, the “bad guy” can easily be an existing painful problem, or a key competitor.
  1. Logic may set the stage but it is emotion that wins the day. Even the most analytical of us responds to a story that engages the senses and appeals to our souls and sense of well-being. Think of the popularity and power of social media – the average daily usage worldwide is now up to 136 minutes per day. People don’t spend that much time on facts.

Your ability to weave stories and your heart into how you communicate with others in business, as well as your personal life, is far more important than most people realize. Examples of business leaders who are great storytellers include Richard Branson of Virgin Group, Howard Schultz of Starbucks, and Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook. Emulate them rather than envy them.

These leaders always make extensive use of metaphors and similes, as well as their collection of human experiences, to more vividly communicate important messages. They engage the often misunderstood creative right brain of their audience to amplify the point and make it stick. Their ability is not a birthright – it can be learned through practice and attention to your own emotions.

Just remember that business is about people, more than products and solutions. Investors invest in the jockey, more than the horse. Customers buy from people they trust, respect, and admire. Don’t forget to make people part of your business story.

Marty Zwilling

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Wednesday, August 10, 2022

5 Business Growth Drivers Facilitated By A Co-Founder

Aneel_BhusriIn my experience, some of the best businesses have multiple partners, with complementary strengths. Starting and running a business requires many different skills and interests, and not many of us have all of them. For example, I’m an introverted product guy who doesn’t care so much about building the personnel relationships needed to keep a motivated team.

Thus, in my mentoring of potential technical entrepreneurs who have a real passion for their technology, I often recommend that they find a co-founder who can manage the marketing and execution elements of the new venture. In the restaurant business, I often see great cooks fail to succeed by not having a partner or the right level of focus on the financial side of the equation.

However, finding the right and compatible partner is a tough challenge, just like finding a spouse. The relationship has to work, and there has to be trust at all levels. My advice is to build the relationship first through networking, and find some common values and passion, before assuming that money and experience will solve all potential partner differences.

As you start, it’s important to take a hard look at your own drivers, matched against the critical success elements I see in every business, no matter what the domain. Here are some key ones I have learned in my years of experience:

  1. Business success requires focus and execution. Many smart people I know fall into the category of “idea” people. You may never be at a loss for new ideas, and ways to broaden the appeal of your business. Or you may be easily bored by the needed focus on key objectives, or the day-to-day challenges of driving results that balance the books.

    No matter how strong your passion, a business requires results to succeed. Sometimes it takes a trusted partner or co-founder to create a winning strategy, and make the hard decisions to implement the changes or pivots to get to the finish line, rather than give up.

  2. Balance of passion with reality and customer feedback. A strong vision and deep insight may get your business off the ground, but long-term success requires constant data analysis, metrics, and attention to your customer feedback. If tracking the market and reality checking are not your thing, you may need a partner who can fill that gap.

    Today, customer loyalty is based on the “total customer experience,” as opposed to price or service alone. Their experience is their end-to-end journey with you, starting with how their friends see you, shopping fun, through service and delivery. Pay attention to all.

  3. Ability to organize and motivate individuals into teams. Some business leaders I know still like the old autocratic approach, where they provide all the decisions and direction from behind the closed door of their corner office. Today’s teams expect to drive their own processes, with visible leadership support and communication from everyone.

    According to consistent feedback over the past several years, team engagement is still a critical success factor, and it seems to be stuck at an all-time low of less than 40 percent "fully engaged.” If you do it right, you have a huge opportunity for long-term success.

  4. Relentlessly drive improvement, change, and growth. No matter how strong your solution is today, it will change tomorrow. The competition will improve, the market will change, and your customers will demand more. You, or your partner, must be constantly focused on these needs, as well as the need to optimize repeatable processes.

    The challenge is to proactively stay ahead of change in the market, rather than wait and react to the next crisis. This requires you or your partner to actively listen to customers, seek out economic and social trends, and keep abreast of the latest technologies.

  5. Build business relationships and a personal brand. For long-term success and share growth, you or a partner need to do ongoing networking for mentoring, and take an active role in industry conferences to build your personal brand and leadership skills. In business, it is evident to me that who you know is as important than what you know.

    I have found that even the biggest brand leaders, including Bill Gates of Microsoft, and Mark Zuckerberg of Twitter, find time to spend with their mentors and peers. These relationships, especially across industries, force them to expand their own thinking.

I’m a believer in capitalizing on your strengths, and using partners or co-founders to shore up weaknesses. I recommend that you use your strong suit early to attract the right partner or partners, and not wait until your business is in jeopardy, or the stress level gets too high. Start today and enjoy the learning.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 7/27/2022 ***

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Monday, August 8, 2022

10 Creativity Mistakes Jeopardize Long-Term Survival

business-innovation-mistakesSuccess in any business these days requires a constant flow of new and innovative solutions, to keep up with changes in the market, competition, and to attract new customers. Yet in my role as a small business advisor, I still see a singular focus on achieving repeatable processes and “cookie-cutter” manufacturing. I don’t believe these two objectives have to be mutually exclusive.

The best entrepreneurs, and the best executives in mature businesses, have learned how to foster both high efficiency and high creativity, in a balance that keeps their business ahead of the pack on both sides of the equation. These business leaders are constantly on the prowl for mistakes to avoid and opportunities to improve their impact.

I saw some good insights on the most common mistakes that crush creativity, in the classic book, “Lateral Thinking Skills,” by Paul Sloane. Sloane is well recognized for his work on innovation and lateral thinking (new ways of looking at a problem rather than proceeding by logical steps). Here is my summary of the ten top creativity mistakes we both still see too often:

  1. Criticize any new idea or employee suggestion. A natural human reaction to any new idea is to point out potential weaknesses. New ideas tend to not be fully thought through, so it is easy to reject them as ‘bad.’ This only discourages the person from making any future suggestions. You must praise creative thinking, and evaluate results later.
  1. Avoid brainstorming sessions to find solutions. Brainstorming is still seen by many as old-fashioned and passé. Recent evidence is that brainstorming, done right, is still one of the best ways of generating fresh ideas from people at all levels. Keep brainstorming sessions short, non-judgmental, high energy, and chaired by an enthusiastic facilitator.
  1. Escalate all problems upward to senior management. In fact, people lower in the organization are often closer to the customer and have more insight into what works and what doesn’t. Avoid the macho concept that only top management can solve problems or address strategic challenges. Decisions made lower down always get more buy-in.
  1. Pervasive focus on efficiency rather than innovation. There is nothing wrong with a focus on making the current business model work better. Yet ‘better’ sometimes requires ‘different’ (innovation), rather than just more efficient (faster or cheaper). An exclusive focus on efficiency is a dangerous and limiting to long-term growth.
  1. Promote the belief that hard work will solve all problems. Often we need to find a different way of solving a problem than just to work harder at the old way of doing things. Every working day needs time for some fun, some lateral thinking, some wild ideas, and some testing of new initiatives. Make sure people take time to look for new opportunities.
  1. Plan in great detail and avoid things not in the budget. Markets and needs change so quickly these days that the view we had last week can be out of date today. Business plans should be loose frameworks to be used as guidelines rather than detailed route maps. Budgets must be reviewed monthly for adjustments to accommodate innovations.
  1. Create a culture of finding blame for every failure. Many innovation projects will fail, but are still worthwhile, because only by trying them can you determine whether a promising idea is a dud or a winner. If people fear they will be blamed for failures, they will quickly avoid attempting something new. Encourage an entrepreneurial culture.
  1. Provide bonuses for volumes, not milestones. Typical incentives give percentages of quarterly revenues and contribution as rewards for success. You need different rewards for a team running an innovation project, such as reaching agreed milestones. An even better alternative could be stock options, linked to the long-term success of the company.
  1. Always promote from within rather than seek fresh blood. Promoting from within is generally a good thing, but should not be used exclusively. For real creativity and innovation, an outsider not bound by your company cultural assumptions and beliefs, and bringing a new set of experiences to the table, will see and fight for new opportunities.
  1. Assign innovation projects to production organizations. Existing production teams are generally too busy meeting monthly deadlines and targets to give new innovations the attention they need. It is better to put new products or services into a new or special department, sometimes known as an innovation incubator, to get the focus they require.

Creativity and innovation are fragile business elements, and they can be easily starved, smothered, and trampled by the larger daily operational demands and old ways of doing things. Business leaders, and every member of their team, need to proactively use lateral thinking skills to develop and nurture creativity and innovation. Your long-term business survival depends on it.

Marty Zwilling

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Sunday, August 7, 2022

Practice The Art Of The Pivot Before The Next Crisis

reinventing-the-businessYou will be pivoting your business in your lifetime, whether you are a new startup, or a mature company like Motorola or IBM. You can count on it and plan for it, or you wait for the next survival crisis brought your way by this rapidly changing world. You can even give it a more elegant name, like “market-focused reinvention,” but it won’t be graceful if you don’t take the lead.

“Pivoting” is changing a fundamental part of your business model. It happens on the front end for startups to get traction, and then again later for every company as the economy, competition, and culture changes around them. The pivot can be as simple as changing the pricing model, or as complex as moving from a product business to a services business.

In all cases, it’s more effective and less painful to do it as a planned process, rather than a crash course in survival. The classic book “Resurgence: The Four Stages of Market-Focused Reinvention,” by top Kellogg School of Management faculty members Gregory S. Carpenter, Gary F. Gebhardt, and John F. Sherry, Jr., outlines the required steps I see as follows:

  1. Recognize the need for change. This is often the most difficult step, either due to startup passion, or due to past success and the instilled cultural norms of established companies. Resurgence begins when entrepreneurs and top executives stop trusting only themselves, and build a coalition with customers to see what is and isn’t working.

  1. Reinvent the vision for change. Doing more of the same to stop the bleeding doesn’t work. Real change demands new goals based on new market realities. That means market-focused, rather than marketing-focused. For startups, it means adjusting your new dream to reality; for mature companies it means walking the talk of new realities.

  1. Formalize change through structure and rewards. Symbols of the new market coalition have to permeate every communication, formal process documentation, and the reward system for everyone. Formalizing change involves distributing authority to make important decisions to the team members most able to add direct customer value.

  1. Team, market, and cultural maintenance. Entrepreneurs and team members are quick to forget why change was needed in the first place. The antidote is to establish ongoing processes for staying connected with the market, like social media, customer visits, and focus groups. Only then can successful startups and resurgent firms avoid the next crisis.

There are no shortcuts to becoming market-focused, and for staying there to avoid crisis pivots in the future. The change takes time, effort, and commitment. But the benefits are worth it. The gains are personal as well as financial. They can make your startup an inspiring place to work, and help your team see their role in achieving something substantial and good, as well as fun.

Even if you are certain that your startup or enterprise is already market-focused, what are the warning signs to watch for that signal a need for change? Here are a few of the key ones:

  • Financial results plateau or show a growth slowdown.
  • Struggling to meet industry growth projections.
  • Competitors are surpassing your own results.
  • Your market segment has lost its luster.
  • The excitement of leading is gone.

When Eric Ries first made the term “pivot” a part of the business vernacular in his best-seller for entrepreneurs, “The Lean Startup,” many years ago, he wasn’t focused on the challenges of larger companies to re-invent themselves on a regular basis to maintain their synchronization with the market. But in my view, pivot is a more natural and less intimidating term than business re-invention.

For all businesses, the art of the pivot is all about changing course as required in pursuit of the original business goal. If you weave this capability into your business processes from the very beginning, the change can indeed be a graceful and fulfilling part of the business journey, rather than a near-death experience. Don’t wait for the descending darkness before you start.

Marty Zwilling

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Saturday, August 6, 2022

10 Keys To Building A Business Image To Be Remembered

hearst-towerEvery entrepreneur and business leader waits too long before really working on the legacy that he wants to leave to society and his family. They realize too late that they don’t really want to be remembered for how many hours they spent on airplanes, how many emails they produced, or even how much money they made for the business.

If you disappeared today, what would your legacy show? What have you done for others? If you are not thinking in these terms, you may be making a mistake as a leader. Bill Gates will probably be more remembered in fifty years for his Foundation to save lives in developing countries, than Steve Jobs for his “insanely great” consumer technology advances.

In a classic book on this subject “Leading with Your Legacy In Mind,” Andrew Thorn, PhD, business coach, and psychologist, talks about his work on leadership strategies with business leaders at all levels. I espouse the “legacy continuum” that he outlines for every leader to reframe over time how their efforts should be spent, for purposes of kicking their legacy up a notch or two:

  1. From passion to purpose. “Just follow your passion” only takes us so far. Passion can ultimately blind us, while purpose reminds us of how we can connect our strengths with the people and environments that will most appreciate and benefit from our skills and abilities. It focuses us on what we can give instead of what we can get.
  1. From change to growth. Leaders often forget that change is hard for anyone. The only time we really like change if when we are acting as the change agents and inviting others to change. Growth, on the other hand, is most simply defined as change by natural development. Growth is natural for everyone, as a symbol of individual maturity.
  1. From goals to aspirations. Goals are generally connected to the near-term boundaries or limits that we wish to overcome and the actions that we must take to overcome them. Aspirations are more intensely connected to our deeper yearnings. When we factor in our aspirations to guide us, we begin to connect to what really gives us value in life.

  1. From balance to focus. Work/life balance is not a natural business goal. In fact, finding more balance may be impossible, due to the many daily emergencies and problems, but we can all find the time to fine-tune our focus. Focus gives us a sharpness of vision, and improves our understanding, to create a legacy that will endure the chaos of our busy life.
  1. From accepting to understanding. Acceptance embodies the idea that we must get to a place where we approve of something that we disagree with. Understanding is a higher attribute, because it allows us to hold on to what we value most, while at the same time showing a sympathetic and even an positive attitude toward another point of view.
  1. From discussion to dialogue. A discussion is a conversation that involves holding onto and defending our differences, seeking a winner. A dialogue provides an opportunity to explore the uncertainties that exist and the questions that are yet to be answered, with the potential of improving our relationships and benefiting from the collective wisdom.
  1. From listening to hearing. Listening skills are important, to focus first on noticing what is being said and what is not being said. To hear, we must actively and anxiously be willing to take action on what is being requested of us. Our legacy is strengthened when we demonstrate an ability to take action to make things better for all parties.
  1. From success to significance. Success is a count of favorable outcomes, which may or may not be significant. Significance will always be around longer than you will be around. It has a life of its own, inspiring someone else to make an impact, and nothing can stop it once it starts rolling. Finally, significance satisfies our deepest aspirations.
  1. From ambition to meaning. Ambition is our early career drive to prove our worth to others, to achieve recognition, often without regard for the sacrifices we are making. When we make the shift from ambition to meaning, we let our authentic self be our guide. Meaning is the personal fulfillment we enjoy as we grow through our own experiences.
  1. From growing older to growing whole. Growing older concerns most of us because it fills our mind with visions of what we are going to lose. Growing whole, on the other hand, is working aligned with purpose, less stress and anguish, and more time living than working. Growing whole involves celebrating by giving back and enjoying a real legacy.

It’s never too early to start working on the image you want to be remembered by, rather than the opportunistic default driven by short-term objectives and challenges. Legacy planning is nothing more than an exercise in using your time wisely. The average career is 117,000 hours of work. How many have you spent so far moving your own legacy up a few notches?

Marty Zwilling

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Friday, August 5, 2022

7 Startup Leadership Keys To Ramp Up Team Commitment

team-commitmentIt takes an engaged team, or a group of well-connected teams, to build and run a business today. The days of a single autocratic leader are gone. In my consulting work with small businesses and startups, I find that real teamwork is still a rare commodity. Fortunately, it’s a skill you can start to develop at any stage in your career, which will pay off now, as well as in future leadership roles.

You may be convinced that your technical expertise, and your passion for the product, will allow you to succeed without reliance on team members, but in my experience, I have seen many careers and businesses fail due to lack of team synergy, or even in-fighting and dysfunction. Here is my list of actions that you can start today to improve your impact through real team interaction:

  1. Personally get to know all key team members. A business and a team is more about relationships than roles. Even in this age of more remote teams, it’s possible and necessary, through phones, email, and social media to have individual conversations about individual interests and drivers. Take the initiative to build personal connections with key members.

    For some of you introverts, this may seem like a chore, or you may feel it is an imposition on your busy work schedule. It doesn’t have to be that way. I have found that introducing fun and creative activities is a great way to inspire people to share a few details about themselves.

  2. Be authentic and transparent in every communication. Every team needs to trust all other members and their leaders, before they give their full commitment and effort. You never trust people you don’t know, or you suspect are just playing a role. As a team member or leader, it’s time to speak up more, ask more questions, and proactively find common interests.

    One of the biggest barriers to trust and authenticity I see is the misuse of power. I encourage you to always take a humble and balanced view of your position and expertise. Showing any bias towards or against another team member destroys their self-esteem and reduces trust.

  3. Find time to publicly recognize peer contributions. Most leaders and team members are quick to criticize, but slow to provide recognition for a job well done, especially in front of peers and other leaders. Research has shown the public recognition if usually more of a motivator than even monetary rewards. If you will recognize them, they will reward you.

    When was the last time you took the time to hand-write a note to someone in your team, or a related team, on a job well done, or for giving you a helping hand? I still remember the last one of these I received, and it made a big difference in my desire to return the support.

  4. Be visible and communicate regularly with the team. Especially when team members can’t see you due to remote work or industry activities, may sure they know what you are doing and why. It’s easy to minimize the efforts of someone who hides in their office, or often seems to be focused on some outside activity not relevant to their team responsibilities.

  5. Help other team members reach their personal goals. Showing a genuine interest in the personal objectives of other team members goes a long way toward creating a more engaged team. Providing real help in reaching in these goals and keeping team members on a path toward success shows that you’re invested in their success as well as yours.

  6. Live by your team mission and company values. A sure way to connect and build trust with other team members is to demonstrate your commitment to the mission and values of your business. Walk the talk during all work processes and team interactions. Let your engagement be a role model for other members of your team and management.

  7. Remember that consistency of delivering results is key. Team members naturally migrate to people they can count on to deliver positive results, without unpredictable delays and frequent excuses. Team connections shouldn’t be top of mind only during good times, but also during times of stress and crisis. Make sure that you under-promise and over-deliver.

Whether you are the member of a single team, or the business owner and member of all teams, I am convinced that the initiatives outlined here will lead to better team engagement and positive team interaction all around. The result will be more productivity, but also a business culture where everyone is happier and feels more satisfaction with accomplishing your dream as well as theirs.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 7/22/2022 ***

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Wednesday, August 3, 2022

8 Marketing Multipliers To Boost Your Business Growth

marketing-force-multipliersThe concept of “force multipliers” originally was developed in military science, but certainly applies equally well to business. It refers to multiplication factors that occur when complementary actions or approaches are used together for greater impact. In my role of business advisor to startups, I often recommend these to increase initial brand identity and market penetration.

Of course, such actions are equally applicable to businesses at any stage. With the rate of market change today, and the advent of worldwide competitors, you need every strategy you can muster to keep up, and respond quickly to new threats. Here is an outline of some key force multipliers that I have seen used effectively in the ongoing battle for business survival and success:

  1. Establish a presence on multiple social media channels. Amazingly, I still find that many small businesses still don’t use any social media, much less appear on a range of platforms. You may focus only on Facebook, and missing customers who expect to see you on Instagram and YouTube. I recommend some presence on two or three platforms.

  2. Get interactive with online users and customer feedback. Publishing your content is positive, but responding to customers online multiplies your impact. It shows you really care, and are part of the community, rather than just another anonymous entity. You should establish a policy of responding to every input, positive or negative. Stay current.

    In addition, Live Chat from your website is another multiplier seldom used. According to Forrester Research, 44% of online consumers say that having questions answered by a live person while in the middle of an online purchase is usually a decision maker.

  3. Sponsor customer events for visibility and giveaways. Potential customers always enjoy special deals, special attention, and will multiply your efforts by their “word-of-mouth” to friends. These events are also opportunities to get a better handle on customer requirements, as well as measure your customer satisfaction and market trends.

    Other non-sponsored high-profile events can be used as powerful bonding opportunities. If a major sporting event is taking your community by storm, host a viewing party or consider giving your best customers free tickets. Show potential customers that you care.

  4. Participate in industry conferences and expositions. These not only give you the opportunity to meet major distributors and large new clients, but also offer the potential for free exposure to new markets. Any increase in brand recognition, as well as personal connections, is a multiplier to your existing marketing and sales efforts.

    Finally, key national conferences will show you improvements you need to make in areas that can create multipliers without breaking your business. At least, these professional networking events allow you to get out of the office and meet people who can help.

  5. Reach out to reward online influencers and advocates. Some of the most powerful growth drivers these days are social media influencers and dedicated fans. Make an extra effort to find these people and make them feel special for supporting you. These people value a real relationship, and will drift away to others if you don’t recognize them.

  6. Seek mentoring from established industry leaders. The right mentors can give you timely and unbiased feedback on your business, industry trends, and emerging competitors. This allows you to make earlier and more informed decisions to grow your business before a crisis. In some cases, the best mentor is one of your best customers.

  7. Establish a partnership with a complementary business. Look for a merger or acquisition that will bring multiplier resources to your business, such as related successful products, a positive brand image, or a proven distribution network. Pursue only win-win situations, where the sum of one plus one long-term is more than two.

  8. Focus on future opportunities, rather than daily crises. Don’t allow your entire day and week be dominated by today’s crisis, rather than long-term success strategy. I still see too many business leaders who “don’t have time” for thinking ahead, due to today’s problems. Block out time on your calendar for the multiplier of long-term planning.

Overall, you still need a winning mission, purpose, and solution, even with all the force multipliers recommended here. These multipliers also are no substitute for a highly engaged and trained team, supplied with the right tools and leadership. In today’s rapidly changing and highly competitive business world, I encourage each of you to utilize every force at your disposal.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 7/19/2022 ***

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Monday, August 1, 2022

6 Ways To Build And Capitalize On Personal Leadership

business-leadership-personalIn my experience as an advisor and mentor to entrepreneurs in business, one of the biggest failures I see is a lack of self-leadership. You can’t lead a business to success, if you can’t lead yourself. I define self-leadership as the capacity to set direction and make decisions, to positively drive your own performance. Leadership in business starts with making good personal choices.

Think about the questions that you are asking your advisors. I expect questions about how a business works, or what are best practices, but I really can’t help you with removing doubts on your abilities, or providing a sure-fire idea and formula for success in business. In my view, business leaders are not “idea people,” but people who drive a given idea to business results.

For example, I often hear from aspiring entrepreneurs that “I had that idea first, and he stole it, and is now making money on my idea.” I’m not an expert on leadership, so I am always on the lookout for specific development guidance, such as the classic book, “Leadership Results,” by the well-known leadership coach and business psychologist, Sebastian Salicru.

Salicru details several self-leadership development strategies, which I will summarize here, that I recommend for practice by every aspiring entrepreneur. These strategies provide more valuable initial advice towards business success than I can offer as a technical business advisor:

  1. Build and maintain high self-worth and self-confidence. A healthy and high self-esteem is an essential prerequisite to leading yourself to success, as well as your business. Low self-worth, on the other hand, leads to continual doubts and questions, inability to make commitments or deliver results. Focus on you before your business.
  1. Recognize your weaknesses, but lead with your strengths. The first challenge is to find your strengths. Everyone has some degree of strengths blindness, and will likely benefit from one of many tools, such as the Clifton StrengthsFinder. If necessary, use a strengths coach, and always start a business which highlights your signature strengths.
  1. Practice your strengths often for inspiration and confidence. Using your signature strengths early in your business will cause a flow of inspiration, energy, and creativity, building momentum in your confidence and leadership. This momentum is what you need for enjoyment and satisfaction, as well as for others to see you as a business leader.
  1. Build your character and reputation with personal values. Both self-leadership and business leadership require a solid platform for decisions, based on moral and personal values. Your character, as a business leader, will determine your perceived reputation by peers in business, team members, and customers. Values are your most valuable assets.
  1. Demonstrate leadership by acting ethically and with integrity. People judge you by what you do in your business, more than by what you say. Ethical behavior refers to actions consistent with personal principles and commonly held values in your business community. These will define your right and wrong in business leadership and success.
  1. Build positive psychological capital to sustain your business. In any business, you need hope, confidence, resilience, and optimism to weather the daily challenges of customers, market changes, and competitors. Without a store of this psychological capital, your performance and leadership will wane, and your satisfaction will dwindle.

I have found that no amount of personal or investor money will create or substitute for self-leadership and business leadership. We have all seen examples of new ventures that fail, despite large infusions of venture capital, and high-potential new technologies. Good entrepreneurs can make a success from almost any business idea, through a following of partners and customers.

Today is the age of the entrepreneur, with the cost of entry at an all-time low, and the global market at an all-time high. Yet every business still requires leadership, since competition and the pace of change dictate innovative actions on a regular basis to get results. Now is the time to capitalize on your strengths and maximize your leadership abilities.

Marty Zwilling

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