Friday, June 30, 2023

5 Strategies To Counter Your Urge To Quit A Business

frustrated-business-ownerOne of the biggest impediments to starting a new venture is the “terror barrier,” as popularized by Bob Proctor, a 85-year-old millionaire and world renowned entrepreneur. This is the imaginary barrier that always seems to appear at the critical point where we would step out ahead of peers or competitors, but fear causes us to stop short.

Everyone has a comfort zone, or level of risk, where they feel in control. The problem is that if you stay in that comfort zone too long, you don’t learn and achieve new objectives. According to Bob, all growth takes place outside that comfort zone, and the edge of that zone is called the terror barrier.

If you want to be an entrepreneur and start a new business, you must be willing and able to break through your terror barrier. If you hope to succeed with any real “new” opportunity, you must be willing to learn new skills, set high goals, and get out of your comfort zone.

Overcoming the terror barrier requires first a passion for the new dream, willingness to take a risk, and determination to never quit. In addition, it helps to have a few specific strategies, outlined by Ingunn Aursnes a while back, to help you push through:

  1. Reconfirm how you have dealt successfully before with terror barriers. Everyone has had to deal with terror barriers, since the day you were born. Convince yourself that this one is only incrementally larger, not a huge jump. Contemplate the things that have worked before for you, and things that cause you to go off track.

    Some people procrastinate, make excuses, or feel real fear. We all have our “security blanket,” like sessions with a trusted friend, classroom training, or prayers to reduce the pain and keep us moving forward.

  2. Set specific goals, rather than rely on a generic dream. Make the goal increments small, so you can see yourself making each step, rather than face a step the size of a mountain. Create a picture in your mind of you achieving your end result, like you getting a Nobel prize for curing cancer, or relaxing on a beach with no more money worries.

    Then write down and prioritize your goals. If they are not written down, they don’t exist and it’s easy to forget the real meaning behind them. But don’t be overwhelmed working out the details and all the steps required just now. Work on one step at a time.

  3. Take the first step toward your first goal. You never get anywhere until you start. It doesn’t have to be a big step, but it has to be in the right direction. Put a stake in the ground, and start measuring how far you have gone. Remember that everyone takes one step backward for every two steps forward, so setbacks are normal bumps.

    Everyone learns more from failures than from successes. Moving forward, accomplishing goals, is a process rather than a continuous motion. After the first step, the second is easier, and after the first goal gives you confidence, the second will be easier.

  4. Recognize the terror barrier and see it as a growth opportunity. Take satisfaction in widening your comfort zone, the opportunity to learn, and the progress toward your goals. Use your mentor or support organization to get you over the hurdle, and celebrate the success.

    For team members, don’t forget your responsibility to help other members over their terror barriers. Helping others is the best way to forget your own fears and build the satisfaction of leadership as well as learning.

  5. Iterate the process, picking up confidence and momentum along the way. The more you persevere and keep moving in the direction of your goal, the easier it will seem and the better the results you will achieve. Even if the terror barriers get tougher, they will seem easier as momentum helps you achieve more of your goals.

People who avoid facing the terror barrier, or who back away easily, are actually falling behind, and they will quickly become less confident, less determined, and less happy. You want the spiral to go the other way, toward greater levels of success, ability to achieve greater goals, and to be a successful entrepreneur. Follow these steps and put your terror barriers behind you.

Marty Zwilling



Wednesday, June 28, 2023

10 Ways To Use Social Media To Be Authentic and Open

austin-distel-authentic-openhThe pervasiveness of social networking and the Internet has caused a new focus and value on “openness,” which leads to a new element of leadership, called “open leadership.” The mantra of open leadership is “Be Open, Be Transparent, and Be Authentic.” This is counter to the traditional business premise of “control,” so many companies are still pushing back.

Charlene Li, in her classic book “Open Leadership,” shows leaders how to tap into the power of the social technology revolution and use social media to be “open” while still maintaining control. I share her view of the ten key elements of the basic framework and vocabulary of open information sharing and open decision making:

  1. Explaining: creating buy-in. This element is sharing information through the new video, audio, and interactive media about, and the logic behind decisions, direction, or strategy with the goal of gaining buy-in to the idea so everyone is working toward the same goal.
  1. Updating: capturing knowledge and actions. New publishing tools, like blogs, collaboration platforms, and even Twitter provide updates that are easily available. These have the added benefit of being searchable and discoverable.
  1. Conversing: engaging in a dialogue with others. Employees can share best practices with customers on social network platforms and customers can help each other. When done well, an organization’s online community can become a competitive advantage.
  1. Open microphone: encouraging participation. Everyone and anyone is welcome to contribute through new collaborative tools with no preconditions. Search, combined with ratings and reviews become key in separating the useful from the rambling.
  1. Crowdsourcing: solving a specific problem together. The goal here is to grow the sources of new ideas and gather fresh thinking to create a new product or service. It can also be for solving everyday problems, like logo design or open source code.
  1. Platforms: setting standards and sharing data. EBay is an example of open standardizing on how items are listed and how transactions are handled, enabling millions of individual sellers. Common platforms enable open data access at any level.
  1. Centralized. The key challenge of making centralized decision making more open is to open up information sharing in both directions, so that those in power have the right information and also have the commitment to share it back out to the organization.
  1. Democratic. Increasingly, voting is used to allow people to choose from a set of equally viable options, with the result is that employees feel a greater sense of ownership in the process. This is also becoming prevalent in decisions with customers on products.
  1. Consensus. Social technology tools now allow this process to be done quickly and less chaotically, with tremendous buy-in from everyone affected. This process works well in today’s extremely flat and non-hierarchical startup organizations.
  1. Distributed. This is a hybrid of all the preceding decision processes, in that it pushes decisions away from the center to where information and knowledge actually reside, typically closer to the customer. This mode requires more discipline and planning.

I’m still waiting to see how all this works out in real life. The challenge is to be open without abdicating all control, or spiraling into chaos. Hopefully, by embracing social media rather than constraining it, leaders can transform their organizations to become more effective, decisive, and ultimately more profitable in this new era of openness in the marketplace. Are you there yet?

Marty Zwilling



Monday, June 26, 2023

Entrepreneur Discipline Necessary For Business Growth

entrepreneur-disciplineEntrepreneurs seem more quickly frustrated these days when their “million-dollar idea” doesn’t turn into a sustainable business overnight. They don’t realize that it takes many skills to build a business under the best of circumstances, and today’s world of instant gratification doesn’t leave room for the patience and practice to develop these skills.

Successful sports figures and musicians have long understood the value of time and practice in perfecting their skills. So why do entrepreneurs think that building a business is intuitively obvious, and should happen overnight? Building a business is a complex task, like building the product or service, and requires the same focus, discipline, and practice to get it right. Even the revered Steve Jobs of Apple didn’t get it all right the first time.

In his classic book, “The Practicing Mind,” Thomas M. Sterner outlines how people learn the necessary skills for any aspect of life, from golfing to business. He emphasizes the importance of a practicing mindset, and provides some clues on how to offset our modern culture of habitual multitasking, short attention spans, and giving up quickly in the face of any setback.

He believes, and I agree, that creating the practicing mind, and acquiring any skill, without stress and futility, comes down to following a few simple disciplines:

  1. Keeping yourself process-oriented. As entrepreneurs, we have a very unhealthy habit of making the product or service the focus, instead of the process of “changing the world,” which was the big vision in the first place. When you focus on the process, and see progress and learning with each small step, all pressure drops away.
  1. Staying in the present. In business, the world of customers and competitors changes every minute, so you learn by iterating and listening, taking all feedback as positive progress, rather than delays and mistakes. Don’t lose touch with your original dream, but fixating on the “final” solution is not productive or satisfying.
  1. Making the learning process your goal. Use the original dream as a rudder to steer your efforts. Success in business comes to those who learn most quickly, and adapt their processes most effectively. Don’t get caught up in achieving the exact product or service of your entrepreneurial dream, because it’s almost always wrong anyway.
  1. Being deliberate, and keep a clear picture of your destination. A random walk does not lead to business success. Deliberate intention is focused on a destination, but realizing that every step need not be predicted. Being deliberate is making each iteration land nearer to the destination, focusing on positive thoughts and positive actions.

Most of the anxiety that entrepreneurs experience comes from the feeling that there is an end-point of perfection in every product and business. The reality is that there is no ultimate product or business, since each improvement or business growth increment brings a whole new set of challenges, requiring more learning, more practice, and more skills.

Practice is required to replace bad and unproductive habits, like too much multitasking, with desirable habits, like solving important challenges more often than the crisis of the moment. Building new good habits is important, since they allow you to do required things effortlessly and without overt planning each time.

Even this is a process that must be practiced. First you have to be self-aware, and decide on what you want to be a habit. Then set up triggers to help you remember the action and the time, and finally make sure you have clear motivation for the action. Practice is the required repetition on this action with patience, until it’s effective and automatic.

Entrepreneurs should not be afraid to use the terms failure and practice interchangeably, since investors usually conclude that startups learn more from failure than from success. Obviously, it’s to your advantage to make your practice steps small ones in time and cost. Successful professionals actually enjoy honing their skills through practice. Are you having fun yet?

Marty Zwilling



Sunday, June 25, 2023

7 Ways To Improve Your Team Member Experience At Work

happy-team-experienceA common initiative I hear from business owners today is their effort to improve the customer experience. Some are doing this at the expense of employee experience, which I believe is one of the major causes of employee dissatisfaction and exit of good employees today. To achieve real growth, business leaders need to improve both employee as well as customer experiences.

For example, many companies are fighting the remote work trend by bringing team members back to the office where they can better focus together on improving customer experience. This intent is often negated, according to new studies, by remote workers, especially parents and team members with long commutes, who are more satisfied and productive than onsite employees.

I found the tradeoffs associated with improving both the customer experience and employee experience detailed well in a new book, “The Experience Mindset,” by Tiffani Bova. From her two decades of experience at Salesforce, Gartner, and consulting, she offers a unique perspective on what it takes to create a balanced focus on improving employee experiences to match customers.

I particularly like her key points on improving the employee mindset, and I will outline here the top focus keywords we both recommend on the employee side of the equation:

  1. Efficient – tools to minimize time and effort at work. Give team members a superior experience by putting tools and processes in place that reduce time spent on repetitive tasks and finding answers to questions. Make people feel more productive by providing continuous feedback on work accomplished, process improvements, and current training.

  2. Personalized – job is relevant to personal needs. Be willing to tailor jobs to individual skill levels and provide personalized communication and training on role requirements. Make assignments as responsive as possible to relevant individual wants and needs, and keep team members abreast of changes to systems and tools that they use regularly.

    The ultimate in this perspective is to adopt the “servant leadership” model, where your goal is to make sure that employees’ highest priority needs are being served. More and more business leaders, including Richard Branson, use this style to great advantage.

  3. Predictive – able to anticipate and provide resources. Minimize your reliance on employees in initiating assistance requests, recovery procedures, or personal needs, such as parental leave requests. Make their experiences at work positive and satisfying, rather than continually stressful, requiring defensive and redundant efforts to complete.

    It’s not that hard to solicit honest feedback from your team members to identify yours and their new and changing needs and challenges, just like you expect them to do with your customers. We all need feedback on our own performance, if we want to keep improving.

  4. Proactive – timely communication to build trust. Communicate both good and bad news to provide transparency to team members. Establish a schedule for your own accessibility, so that employees can find you easily, and see that you care about them and know their challenges early. Make sure they understand the changes coming ahead.

  5. Flexible – listen to allow flex hours and customization. Develop a strong feedback loop to allow responsiveness in improving team member’s day-to-day-experience. This allows you to see the value of a hybrid work environment, special process adjustments, or platform flexibilities to accommodate the changing requirements of your customer set.

  6. Responsive – empower employees to help peers. Relevant support employees, including those in HR, finance, recruiting, and benefits, need to be located as close to team members as possible, for availability of their assistance, and understanding of the current needs. As well, they need to be empowered to act quickly and appropriately.

  7. Value-based – provide personal value and purpose. In addition to having a mission statement and vision for the company known and visible, make the extra effort to show how it relates to a sense of purpose that every employee can relate to. You will see greater productivity, and employees will have a better experience and more satisfaction.

Many business leaders are now proclaiming their company support to a higher purpose to facilitate this initiative. For example, TOMS shoes founder Blake Mycoskie inspired everyone on his team by donating a pair of shoes to the needy for every pair sold.

In these most competitive times, I am discouraged to see that employee engagement at work, both remotely and in the office, is at an all-time low and dropping. Now is the time when every business leader needs to focus on improving their team-member-experience mindset. You can’t improve your customer experience with a team that is struggling and dissatisfied.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 06/11/2023 ***



Saturday, June 24, 2023

7 Keys To Making A Team And Customers Feel Respected

Investors invest in people, not ideas. Customers buy from people, not companies. Employees rally for a great leader, not a brand. As an entrepreneur, you need relationships to succeed. That means relationships with team members, investors, customers, and vendors. One of the best ways to build a good relationship with anyone is to make them feel important.

One of my favorite authors, Brian Tracy, in his classic book “No Excuses!: The Power of Self-Discipline,” outlined seven ways to make other people feel important, which I believe are extremely relevant to entrepreneurs and business:

  1. Accept people the way they are. Because most people are judgmental and critical, to be unconditionally accepted by another person raises that person’s self-esteem, reinforces his or her self-image, and makes that person much more likely to accept you and follow your lead.
  1. Show your appreciation for others. When you appreciate another person for anything that he or she has done or said, they will like themselves and you more as well. The simplest way to express appreciation is to simply say, “Thank you” for an idea, some good feedback, time spent together, or an order.
  1. Be agreeable. The most welcomed people in every situation are those who are generally agreeable and positive with others. Entrepreneurs who like to be argumentative, complaining, or disagreeable, will have a hard time closing a contract, investment, or a customer contract.
  1. Show your admiration. People invest a lot of personal emotion in their possessions, traits, and accomplishments. When you admire something belonging to another person, it makes him feel happy about himself. Everyone has positives, and it’s up to you to find them. In turn, these positives will be reflected back on you.
  1. Pay attention to others. The most powerful way to pay attention to someone is to listen attentively first, even ask questions, before you launch into a monologue answering every question they might never ask. Believe it or not, before you even say a word, you will become a more interesting and intelligent person in their eyes.
  1. Never criticize, condemn, or complain. In business as well as personal relationships, the most harmful force of all is destructive criticism. It lowers a person’s self-esteem, makes him feel angry and defensive, and causes him to dislike you. If your target is someone not present, it still causes a loss of trust in you, since your listener could be the next target.
  1. Be courteous, concerned, and considerate of everyone you meet. When you treat a person with courtesy and respect, they will value and respect you more. By being concerned, you connect with their emotions. Consideration is the discipline to do and say things to people that are important to them.

Think back on your own recent experiences as a customer or contractor. You don’t always buy the cheapest product or service, if you have a good relationship with the people involved. On the other hand, I almost never buy from someone that treats me like I’m not important.

If you want to be a leader, you need to inspire followership. Great leaders develop a good relationship with good people, who are then inspired to follow. A successful leader inspires people to do more than they might have done without the relationship, and more than they may have even dreamed possible.

So, if you follow all these seven ways to make other people feel important, you will receive a seven-fold payback on your own objectives of being a leader and building a successful business. That’s a lot cheaper and lot longer lasting than the best advertising and public relations you can buy.

Marty Zwilling



Friday, June 23, 2023

8 Essentials To Qualify Your Startup For A Bank Loan

mick_mulvaney-business-loanA common question I get is “How do I get a bank loan to fund my startup?” The default answer is that it probably won’t happen, because most banks just don’t make bank loans to startups. The failure rate is just too high, and startups typically don’t have the assets or revenue stream to back up the loan. That’s why angel and equity investors are so sought after by entrepreneurs.

In my experience, some startup founders do overcome these odds, but you need to be realistic and do your homework. Here are some tips and rules of thumb to improve your odds and help you understand when a bank loan or line of credit is possible, and how to get it:

  1. Write a good business plan first. Approaching a banker without a business plan, and asking for money, is a sure way to be rejected and leave a bad first impression. Pay particular attention to the financials, and have a CPA friend review for reasonableness before presenting.

  1. Clean up your credit rating before you apply. Good credit ratings, both personal and business, are essential to getting a loan or line of credit. This is just common sense, since every loan has a repayment schedule, and your credit score reflects your track record of paying bills on time.
  1. Pick a business domain that is squeaky clean. Certain business sectors have historical high failure rates and are routinely avoided by banks and investors. These include food service, retail, consulting, work at home, and telemarketing. Also, don’t expect enthusiasm for your gambling site, porn site, gaming, or debt collection business.
  1. Show a significant personal investment. Most loan programs, and most investors, want to see that you have “skin in the game’ before helping you. If you have nothing at risk, your own level of commitment is suspect. As a general rule, your investment should be at least 20 percent of the total projected loan requirement.
  1. Demonstrate an ability to repay from revenues, not collateral. Bankers will insist that you have collateral to back the loan, like equipment, or even your home. They actually prefer to see that you have a revenue stream to repay the loan, since they don’t want to own another home. The more conservative ask for two years of positive cash flow.
  1. Demonstrate experience in starting a business, ideally in this domain. Bankers, like investors, fund people rather than ideas. Your idea alone will not get you a loan, but your experience running businesses may get you a loan, even if not intimately related to the current proposal.
  1. Conduct meetings at your site, not at the bank. You have an advantage if you can get them on your turf, and even get several key employees to tag-team the presentation. If you are a startup operating out of your garage or basement, you are likely too early in the cycle to get banks interested.
  1. Eliminate your salary from the use of funds. Most startup founders don’t take a salary for the first year or two, since most investors as well as bankers won’t give you money so that you can pay yourself. The most positive use of funds is to buy raw materials to build product for existing customer orders. In fact, customer orders are great collateral.

Even if you can’t meet all these criteria, it’s definitely worthwhile to utilize the free services of the Small Business Administration (SBA) and SCORE in the US to get their help in preparing for the loan option. They have contacts with the more “startup friendly” banks in your area, like Silicon Valley Bank, and might even be able to arrange a “loan guarantee” if you meet these criteria.

In all cases, the loan option should be investigated before looking for an angel investor, since the “cost” of a loan is usually considered less than giving up a large share of your company equity and control to angel or venture capital investors. I’m told that 21 companies on the Inc 500 list started with bank loans, so you can do it too.

Marty Zwilling<



Wednesday, June 21, 2023

6 Ways To Build A Business Based On A Higher Purpose

ExxonMobil - Chicago, IL 08-12-2014 012Commonly, I find that business owners and entrepreneurs look first at solutions which solve painful problems, or have high profit margins, regardless of their own commitment to a higher purpose, such as saving the environment or helping the underserved. For your own happiness and satisfaction, I recommend you start instead working from that higher purpose and passion.

For example, consider CVS Health's Project Health program, which directed teams to provide free health screenings to disadvantaged and underserved patient populations. The program has led to significant business benefits, including more fulfilled and productive teams, and a large brand boost, promoting CVS to a list of the nation's 50 most community-centric businesses.

All too often, business owners find the financial returns alone do not provide the long-term satisfaction and success they assumed would come with all the hard work and challenges that come with every business, large or small. Thus I often recommend that you look first at ideas that combine a strong personal purpose with a good business opportunity, per the following principles:

  1. Dig deep to find a purpose that excites you every day. Look for a cause or empty space to fill that aligns with your dreams, strengths, and can create a legacy to be proud of. Make it come from your heart, rather than be driven by money or someone else’s expectations. Test specifics and potential on friends, advisors, and potential customers.

    Some of the most famous and successful entrepreneurs, including Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, structured their work into alignment with both their genius and purpose, which then bolstered their opportunity. Their purpose became their passion, with a win-win for all.

  2. Focus your purpose based on experience and learning. The environment and cultures today are rapidly changing and evolving. Don’t be afraid to adapt your thinking and look for just the right timing to capitalize on a business opportunity that also satisfies your purpose. Take baby steps to advance and stay in sync with relevant communities.

  3. Build a business plan with specific deliverables and timing. To succeed in business, every passion and purpose has to be translated into real products, services, customers, and impact on the community. These must be managed by metrics to allow you to gauge progress, recognize successes, and keep constituents motivated along the way.

    Even experienced business owners can’t keep all the requirements for starting or growing a business in their head, so organizing it on paper is critical to making it consistent and complete. Make sure your plan makes business sense before committing real resources.

  4. Rally a community and build a team to support you. Use social media and interest groups to find a strong set of followers, and people with relevant interests and skills to make your mission a reality. Take time to develop a team of individuals that all see purpose in their roles, and the strategic direction of a business wrapped around it.

    Success in any endeavor requires more than hope and a dream. It takes hard work. As a leader, you must communicate and inspire people with your actions to support you, rather than assume they all see the same purpose. Business requires a team effort for results.

  5. Create a team culture to exemplify your purpose. Team engagement is critical, and must be nurtured by opportunities for growth, recognition consistent with your purpose, work flexibility, and leader visibility and communication. You need to put a high emphasis on individual and business integrity, positive focus, and integration with the community.

    The evidence is overwhelming that everyone in a purpose-driven culture is more fulfilled by their work. A sense of purpose has replaced the dollar as the number one criteria for job satisfaction, with engaged teams outperforming those without by over 200 percent.

  6. Measure customer value perception at every stage. Monitor formal and informal feedback for customer value testimonials and keep the focus on customer support and satisfaction. Highlight purpose in all your marketing and team activities, and make customers your best advocates through word-of-mouth and stories from the field.

In my experience, we have drifted away from passion and purpose in business, resulting in reduced productivity and satisfaction from both employees and customers. With the principles outlined here, you too can get back to having fun, as well as long-term success, from your business activities. In these changing times, you need to enjoy the journey and the destination.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 06/06/2023 ***



Monday, June 19, 2023

8 Attributes Of Entrepreneurs Who Transform Society

Linda Zhang speaks at TED@Westpac at Royal Hall of Industries and Hordern Pavilion, 1 Driver Ave, Moore Park NSW 2021, Sydney, Australia. Photo: Jean-Jacques Halans / TEDEvery entrepreneur has an idea for transforming a market with innovative new technology, or transforming society with a new process. But unfortunately, most of these ideas fail at the execution level, or are not truly innovative. Entrepreneurs who have been really transformative, like Steve Jobs and Walt Disney, seemed to know how to deal with all the right elements.

Jeffrey A. Harris, in his classic book “Transformative Entrepreneurs,” provides examples of key elements of transformative ideas and leadership abilities that separate the winners from the losers. I found his observations, like the following, to be inspirational for those of us chasing an entrepreneurial dream:

  1. It’s all about the people. Ideas have to be implemented well to change a market, or the world. Good implementation requires a plan, and a great plan and great operational decisions come from great people. That’s why investors look for entrepreneurs who have true grit, dogged persistence, and a disdain for the status quo.
  1. Seek innovation that begets invention. It doesn’t always work the other way around. According to an MIT study a while back, only about 10% of patents granted in the United States have any meaningful commercial importance and less than one percent are of seminal importance. True business titans deliver both invention and innovation.
  1. Find enough venturesome capital. Nearly all new businesses aspiring to reach meaningful scale require some sort of outside funding to finance a competitive growth trajectory. The objective must be to get sufficient capital, with experienced and motivated counsel, to make the venture succeed.
  1. Create a formidable and durable business model. Your business model is your value proposition. “Free” sounds like a great model, but it doesn’t imply value. Look for customer-focused value creation. Make your business model your competitive differentiation, like Fred Smith with Federal Express, or Ingvar Kamprad with IKEA.

  1. Grab the next-mover advantage. First-movers have an initial advantage, but this position is fraught with risk, and often comes with a high price. Herb Kelleher, who started Southwest Airlines, wasn’t the first in the airline business, but he saw the need for low-cost short hauls, with exemplary customer service, and transformed the industry.
  1. Failure is an option. Building a business from a raw start is hard, risky work. That means that the process of innovation is not always pretty and rarely successful. The best entrepreneurs always regroup after a failure, learn from prior mistakes, persevere, and launch a new venture with considerably improved odds of success.
  1. Government matters. Government policies, initiatives, and leadership set the stage for economic growth, and provide resources for improving living standards, and enabling technological advantage. Transformative entrepreneurs pay attention and capitalize on these cues, rather than ignore or fight them.
  1. Innovate or die. In a world connected through a broadband Internet and mushrooming social networks, information flows quickly and relatively seamlessly, expediting the pace at which new innovations gain traction and speed. Standing still is tantamount to giving up. It is not an option.

These elements and the people stories in the Harris book highlight just how difficult it is to build a truly transformative business, yet at the same time illustrate that it can be done, and has been done many times, with no correlation to geographic, ethnic, age, or sexual boundaries.

In fact, I’m convinced that it needs to happen more often, with all the challenges we have in our modern world. So it’s up to each of you to assess your activities, and your potential, to be transformative. The investors I hear from want to see more innovation, and fewer “me too” startups. Can your idea generate some excitement to really change the world?

Marty Zwilling



Sunday, June 18, 2023

5 Steps To An Innovative And Winning New Venture Plan

chef-with-new-recipeI realized a while back that creating a new company for the first time is a lot like whipping up a great dinner entree for the first time – you need a recipe, even though it may look simple. You know the basic ingredients, and you can visualize the results you want. Yet you may not be so sure where to start, and how to put it all together.

In all cases, don’t skip the basic training. Any startup coach or business advisor will tell you that, on your way to being a great chef, you don't start your journey by inventing the ultimate entre. First you work in the kitchen for a while, learning some tools of the trade, experiment with a few recipes, and test on willing clients. Finally you create and document your recipe (business plan).

There are two parts to every recipe – the specific ingredients, and the instruction steps for putting the ingredients together. For a new business, you can provide unique ingredients, but the preparation steps in your business plan must follow a tried and true recipe for startup success:

  1. Identify a market with a real need. This means find some hungry people who would love a good dinner, and be willing to pay for it. If you can’t identify customer interest, it doesn’t matter how good your product is. (not a solution looking for a problem)
  1. Be sure you have a great team. You need a good cook, good marketing, and first-class service. Domain knowledge and experience is a huge success factor. All the investment money in the world won’t make your company succeed, if you have the wrong team. (investors invest in people, not ideas)
  1. Effective and timely go-to-market. Don’t be afraid to test your ultimate entree on customers. Make them “feel the love.” Be adaptable to cultural tastes, trends in the market, and economic realities. But don’t practice too long. If your startup is over a year old, and your business isn’t yet ready, you have a problem. (time-to-market is critical)
  1. Viable financial model. Have you set the right price for your entree, and correctly included all costs? Have you projected sales and marketing costs, cash flow, and capital requirements? Show return on investment, growth rates, and market penetration. (validate your business model)
  1. Continuous improvement. Don’t stand still. Emeril Lagasse is always ready to “kick it up a notch!” Companies and cooks who rest on their laurels don’t last. Develop metrics with which to measure yourself and use these to incrementally expand and improve your offering as fast as the market and capital will allow. (scale up the business)

If you are already a chef, and you have your own money, you can skip the instructions. You can vary the ingredients, change the formula, or add an extra pinch of salt, and your pasta salad will still be great. If it’s your first time, don’t try to get creative on the “how to” side just yet.

If you are already a celebrity chef like Emeril, meaning you have a record of success using your creativity despite the odds, you don’t even need your own money, and you only need to scratch your business plan on the back of a napkin to get funded.

For the rest of us, the business plan must be the complete recipe, combining ingredients with process. If you don’t have one, your chances of success are low, even if you are an experienced chef. Now you know why professionals and experienced investors are quick to toss an incomplete plan.

Follow the “how to” instructions above for combining the ingredients, combined with you own “special sauce” (competitive edge), and I’m sure you will deliver a tasty dish, on time and with a profit. You can look forward to being a celebrity chef later. For now, get cooking!

Marty Zwilling



Saturday, June 17, 2023

5 Relationship Stages That Determine Business Success

relationship-stagesIn the world of entrepreneurs and startups, high level relationships are everything. You can’t start a business alone. You need partners, team members, investors, vendors, and customers. But people don’t realize that all relationships are not the same. There are people you only recognize on the street, business friends, and then close friends whom you can always count on to help.

Tommy Spaulding, in his classic book, “It’s Not Just Who You Know,” categorizes relationships into five levels, like floors of a building, and identifies the attributes of relationships at the different levels. More importantly, he talks about the actions required to build a network of contacts at the highest level. He also defines the five floors of relationships as follows:

  1. Meet and greet relationships (first floor). This is where most business relationships start and remain. You need something specific from the other person – a loan, or product order, or help solving a problem. After you get what you want, you move on, with no giving or commitment.
  1. Limited information sharing (second floor). But it’s very basic information, the type you dispense out of social obligation or because it’s a job requirement, not because you’re offering some insight into who we are. Many people call these “close” friends, but in reality there is no trust, feeling, or giving going on at this level.
  1. Emotional comfort level that goes beyond facts (third floor). You feel safe enough to voice opinions, discuss perspectives and share feelings in making decisions. In business, positional authority remains the primary guiding force at this level, and most business relationships stay at this level or below.
  1. Real same-page connection (fourth floor). This level allows for conflict and resolution with no hard feelings. Here you get the introduction of “netgiving” as well as networking. Friends to the end talk about what’s important to them and aren’t afraid to discuss private matters.
  1. Sharing the other person’s state of mind (top floor). They become confidants, advisers, and cheerleaders who understand each other’s needs and drives. Vulnerability, authenticity, trust, and loyalty are off the charts. It’s a relationship based more on giving than on getting. There’s only room for a few relationships at this level.

It’s often said, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” In business, there is another dimension, the level of your relationship, and the level of trust and giving established. Of course, relationships seldom fit neatly into a given level. They’re far too dynamic, and may even move up and down floors like an elevator.

I recommend that you use the top floor as the reference point to think about your own business relationships. How many do you have at the top level, and what are you doing to actively develop more? Are your “close” business friends actually at the top floor, or merely at the second floor? Can you count on them for a real help or a big favor?

Tommy insists that building meaningful relationships, without sacrificing integrity or treating other people as a means to an end, will always help you achieve your goals and move beyond them, personally and professionally. These relationships must be based more on giving than on getting. That kind of giving gives you more than you could possibly imagine.

All relationships require hard work, patience, understanding, as well as tactics and strategies designed to make them blossom, just as you have tactics and strategies for marketing, selling, advertising, production, distribution, and customer service. Thus strong relationships are the basis for all the other keys to business success.

Marty Zwilling



Friday, June 16, 2023

10 Ways To Become A Web Influencer In Today’s Market

beauty-influencer-featuredTraditional marketing says you have to “push” your message out to customers, over and over again, to get you remembered. A more effective approach in today’s Internet and interactive culture is to use “pull” technology to bring customers and clients to your story. You influence people in by providing new content with real value on your website at least every few days.

Guy Kawasaki, in his classic book “Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions” provides some in-depth recommendations on the “how to” of influence and pull technology. Here are his key recommendations for web sites and blogs that I particularly recommend to entrepreneurs and startups:

  1. Provide good content. This may seem obvious, but how many websites have you reviewed that are static and just plain dull? A website or blog without appealing or entertaining content for your market segment is not enchanting.

  1. Refresh it often. Ideally, you should update content at least every two or three days. Good content that doesn’t change isn’t good for long, and customers or clients will not return to your website or blog if you don’t regularly provide something new.
  1. Make it fast. It’s a shame when anyone can get right to your home page, but then has to wait for it to load. With today’s technology, there’s no excuse for a website that takes more than a few seconds to load.
  1. Sprinkle graphics and pictures. Graphics, pictures, and videos make a website or blog more interesting and enchanting. If you’re going to err, use them too much rather than too little, except for a Flash front-end and popups.
  1. Provide a “Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)” page. People love FAQs because these cut to the chase. Figure out what the most common questions might be and answer them in one place to minimize hassle.
  1. Craft an “About” page. Visitors should never have to wonder what your organization does and why you do what you do. Provide all this information in an About page. Confusion and ignorance are the enemies of enchantment.
  1. Help visitors navigate. Enable people to search your website or blog to find what they are looking for. Also, a site map helps people understand the topology of your website. Forcing paging to complete a single message (to expose more ads) is not enchanting.
  1. Introduce the team. Few people these days wants to deal with a nameless, faceless, and location-less organization. A good “Who Are We?” page solves this problem, and is necessary to establish trust and expertise.
  1. Optimize visits for various devices. No matter what device people are using, your website and blog should look good. These days, most of your audience will be using smart phones or iPads, and they’re probably the most relevant customers.
  1. Provide multiple methods of access. Some folks like websites and blogs, and others prefer RSS feeds, email lists, Facebook pages, and Twitter feeds. Provide multiple methods to engage people and make these options easy to find.

Let’s face it, static websites are dead. You need a blog and social media interaction to keep your content fresh and responsive to the market. Interaction and repeated visits due to the pull of enchanting content will transform a potential customer transaction into a relationship. Everyone remembers a relationship.

Marty Zwilling



Wednesday, June 14, 2023

7 Steps To Assuring Me You Are A Serious Entrepreneur

serious-entrepreneurWillingness to take a risk is the hallmark of a serious entrepreneur. That’s why one of the first questions that potential investors ask is “How much of your own money, and friends and family, have you put into the new business?” If you won’t risk yours, you won’t get investors to risk theirs.

A few years ago I was impressed with the classic book “When Turtles Fly” by Nikki Stone, an Olympic champion, which explains this well. She provides many examples of success stories from entrepreneurs to Olympians. She proclaims that if you want to be successful, you need to be soft on the inside, have a hard shell, and willing to stick your neck out (“Turtle Effect”).

She goes on to outline seven basic lessons that are key to mastering the Turtle Effect, and I believe that you need to relate to every one of these before you can dare to even call yourself an entrepreneur:

  1. Find your passion. Entrepreneurs, like Olympians, tend to put a competitive spin on anything they find a passion for, and once they are snagged, they have to win. This passion, while it is your soft inside, is probably the single most important factor in achieving business success.
  1. Make sure you are focused. This is where many entrepreneurs fail. If you try to do too many things at once, you probably won’t do any of them well. All successes are best achieved from a root focal point, one step at a time, through focus on the questions and focus on the process.
  1. Get committed. No one truly understands how much they can accomplish until they develop their hard shell of commitment to a goal you really want. The commitment has to not be one day, or someday, but today. Nothing good comes without hard work. In business, that means first put it in writing with a business plan.
  1. Overcome your adversities. Adversities are the norm, not the exception. We all face them, and a few overcome them. Today it is the economy, tomorrow it could be your health. Successful people bounce back, plan for the unexpected, stop the downward spiral, and enjoy the rewards of a comeback.
  1. Believe in yourself. Confidence is not something that we are born with. It’s something we develop. Peter T. Mcintyre said, “Confidence comes not from always being right, but from not fearing to be wrong.” Focus on your own strengths. Pick a positive future goal, and visualize success. Then go for it.
  1. Take some risks. Be willing to stick your neck out. The best entrepreneurs always believe their startups will thrive despite the odds. Don’t worry if you feel some fear. Fear is a natural emotion, and fears can actually help us to be alert. Especially, you must not fear failure. People learn more from failure than from success.
  1. Use teamwork. No one in business gets to the top alone. The real genius is in recognizing where and when you need support. Finding support is the easy part. Using someone else for support may even allow you time to turn your attention toward more important issues.

Remember that there is no business without sticking your neck out, and no approach that will eliminate risk entirely, so learn to live with it and manage it. Most experts agree that entrepreneurship is more about reducing risk and managing failures, than it is about pure willingness to take risks.

So if you want to be an entrepreneur, you need to learn the secrets of successful people who know how to stick their neck out, but maintain a hard shell. Practice the seven lessons outlined above, and enjoy rather than suffer through the entrepreneurial adventure of a lifetime.

Marty Zwilling



Monday, June 12, 2023

10 Bad Habits That May Be Stopping You From Finishing

bad-habits-creativeBased on my work as a business consultant, I find a growing challenge in getting employees to complete their commitments on time, or even finish a task before moving on to new work. After digging deeper, I find that most of these cases are not intentional, and the guilty may not even be aware of bad habits which are hurting their image and antagonizing management and customers.

For example, you may have customers waiting for a call-back on an issue, or a team member waiting for your work before they can move forward. Any one of these cases can cause your business to lose customers, or your next career move to be challenged.

I found a good summary of the bad habits that can cause failures to finish in a recent book, “How to Finish Everything You Start,” by Jan Yager. She is an award-winning author who has taught courses on sociology and victimology for many years. She explains the primary reasons and excuses from people who often fail to finish tasks. I will paraphrase here my view of the top ten:

  1. Fear of failure – if you don’t finish, you can’t fail. This way of thinking, which may be conscious or unconscious, can prevent you from totally finishing your projects and tasks. To rid yourself of this fear, first get training to give you confidence, then try to view failure as a badge of courage and consider failing as a training ground for success.
  1. Perfectionism – redoing work to get it just right. Once you accept this as one of your problems, readjust your standards to strive for attainable excellence rather than unrealistic perfection. Learn to delegate or partner with others, and work on being comfortable with feedback that may feel like criticism for being less than perfect.
  1. Procrastination – arbitrarily delaying work on a project. I see reasons here varying from wrong priorities to resentment at being asked to do work that is too simple, too difficult, or should belong to someone else. The antidotes include buffering your plan, rewarding every finish, and scheduling the work at the most productive part of you day.
  1. Underestimating your actual task completion times. Most people call this poor planning. The solution for you requires that you do more homework before committing and promising less to keep expectations lower. Let results prove that you are a super performer rather than an underachiever. Don’t be afraid to ask for help along the way.
  1. Setting an unrealistic deadline in the first place. Avoid accepting too much work or picking a task completion deadline out of thin air without research just to please someone else. Don’t be afraid to just say “no” or ask for time to propose a response or completion time. Be prepared for a small kickback up front, in lieu of a larger failure to deliver later.
  1. Trying to do too many tasks at the same time. Multitasking is popular these days, and some feel a requirement for survival in this world of electronic and media devices calling for attention, including smartphones, email, social media, and smart home devices. Yet most evidence still shows that higher productivity requires focus on one thing at a time.
  1. Lack of delivery due to disorganization and clutter. You can’t finish something if you can’t even find what you’re supposed to be doing in the first place. The solution is to take control of your workspace, home office, and keep it organized with priority work on top. Remove clutter and develop a system for tracking projects and managing resources.
  1. Emotional turmoil or need for immediate gratification. It’s hard to finish projects when you’re emotionally upset about something in your work environment, or outside of work in your private life. The solution may be to take some time off, find outlets to calm emotions, break up big tasks into more manageable little chunks, and delegate more work to others.
  1. “Out of sight, out of mind”- not looming in front of you. Having a file tucked away on your computer, or in a filing cabinet, can cause you to miss commitments. Having a completely clear and clean desk may impress others, but it may lead you to forget the work ahead and miss completion dates. Use “to-do” lists or post-its to keep you focused.
  1. Too many distractions and interruptions. In my experience, many business professionals allow themselves to be distracted or interrupted by the phone, social media, email, and outside activities, to the point they cannot complete committed tasks. I find it helpful to block out time periods when I ask not to be interrupted to allow total immersion.

If you see yourself in one of these categories, I urge you to focus on changing your image before it comes back to limit your career or your business. Success in business is all about results, rather than work effort and the number of things you start. Don’t let a couple of bad habits be your downfall.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 05/28/2023 ***



Sunday, June 11, 2023

6 Keys To Creating An Impressive Purchaser Experience

excited-person-happy-youngFor decades, efforts to satisfy customers have been built around demographics – capitalizing on race, ethnicity, gender, income, and other attributes. Today, in this age of pervasive social media and two-way communication, the focus needs to get beyond demographics into personalities. Customer personalities define customer experience, and sets what they love, and what they hate.

Even businesses with highly specialized market segments will find it more effective and simpler to focus on who customers are as people, rather than the “what” of their demographic attributes. Customers today expect highly personalized and exceptional experiences to stay loyal and become advocates, rather than just conventionally “satisfied.” Satisfied is far from memorable.

The challenge for every entrepreneur and every business is to understand the pragmatics of identifying and reacting to what their customers love and what they hate. I found some excellent guidance on the specifics in the classic book, “What Customers Crave,” by Nicholas J. Webb. As a popular strategist in the areas of customer experience design and innovation, Webb knows.

He outlines six key steps in your journey from yesterday’s customer service to today’s required delivery of exceptional customer experiences:

  1. Define the whole customer experience versus service. Traditional customer service, focused on fixing bad transactions, is too little, too late. The total customer experience includes identifying with your company culture, the shopping experience, the customer-facing team and social media interaction, as well as resolution of any transaction glitches.
  1. Add the extra mile to make the experience exceptional. There is no one set of exceptional experiences that will work for all customers. That’s where you must know the personalities of your customers, to know what they love and what they hate. Ideally, you need to convince each customer that you have personalized the experience just for them.
  1. Display real customer value feedback versus value claims. Customers react poorly when they hear your value claims for them, and see more value to you (bottled water in your hotel room at a high price as a “convenience” to you). Customer value statements must come from customer feedback to other customers, rather than from your marketing.
  1. Build blended digital and non-digital experiences. Some businesses excel in customer-facing people, but have poor digital interfaces for feedback, shopping, or communication. Others have delivery silos, where one fragmented deficiency can override all other positives. Integrate and blend all elements of your customer experience.
  1. Train customer-facing team to collaborate with customers. Internal training and policies are not adequate to create great customer experiences. Employees must learn to develop relationships with real customers, and engage these customers to understand what each customer expects, and how to get customers to engage other customers.
  1. Assure exceptional commitment within your customer-facing team. Commitment means signing up willingly, showing up mentally, standing up for the customer, and never ever giving up. To get this, you need to find the best people for each role, give them the latitude to do their job, and reward them publicly and privately for achieving results.

Many business leaders still believe that exceptional experiences cost too much, and reduce profit margins and growth. In fact, just the opposite is true today, since more and more customers expect good feedback from others before they consider you, and decline to return if they don’t get a great first experience. The result is that an average business can spiral quickly into the ground.

If you are looking for a lasting competitive advantage, I recommend that you follow the steps outlined here to create experiences that your customers crave. It’s not only good for your business, but it will add meaning and joy to your customers, and will also enhance your personal satisfaction and well-being. That’s a win-win-win opportunity you can’t afford to miss.



Saturday, June 10, 2023

7 Keys To Results From People With The Right Approach

UCSD-JacobsSchool-resultsIsn’t it amazing that some people you know always seem to be working hard, but never seem to get anything done? As an entrepreneur, you need to avoid partnering with these people, or hiring them into your startup. The challenge is to find people who get things done, as well as work hard. LinkedIn profiles and resumes still focus too much on responsibilities rather than results.

The best entrepreneurs never confuse motion with results. It’s easy to find people in every organization rushing around from one meeting to the next, often working overtime to generate more work for themselves and other people, but rarely taking the action to close an issue or contract. We all need more people around us who make every motion mean something.

So how do you recognize those few people on your team who are getting things done, or even recognize ahead of time those who have that potential? Such people are different, but are not necessarily the smartest or the most skilled. But they do seem to have some common characteristics and approaches that you can look for:

  1. Possess street smarts, as well as skills and experience. People like this quickly figure out how businesses really work, and how to resolve the challenges in their business. They have a special ability to cut through the confusion, dodge any head-on collisions, and negotiate compromises leading to required actions and resolution.
  1. Able to avoid or navigate the politics of the organization. Understanding politics is not the same as being a politician, or using political clout. People who get things done don’t worry about building their own image, but they are politically astute enough to find alternate routes around the political and power bastions.
  1. Recognize what it takes to get power leverage, but don’t blatantly use it. The key is to be open and listen to recommendations from those who have to be moved, and find a way to create win-win situations, rather than win-lose. They get things done by using their power to get recognition for key players, rather than for themselves.
  1. Maintain a laser focus on narrowing the scope, rather than expanding it. This means effective negotiating to eliminate sidetracks, combat opinions with facts, and finding the glass half-full, not half-empty. It requires being able to accurately assess the position of others, find some common ground, and snapping people back to reality.
  1. Able to negotiate agreements without committing to future paybacks. People who get things done are driven by an insatiable desire to make progress and help others. They are not looking to build a cache of favors or special attention, and are not willing to make deals that compromise the solutions and can come back to haunt them.
  1. See every problem as an opportunity to innovate, rather than a chance to fail. Obstacles are seen as innovative and creative challenges, not barriers. All the reasons something can’t be done are replaced by better ways to get it done, quicker and at less cost. Nothing is immutable, even the culture of the organization or the business.
  1. Able to balance the paradoxes of highly effective leaders. People who know how to get things done can be analytical as well as intuitive, aggressive or patient as required, and confident and humble at the same time. They instinctively know when and how to escalate issues to the right level, without stubbornly entrenching their position.

To get things done more effectively, people need to really think about each element of their work before they make a move. By culture and habit, many of us expect most of our daily work and personal activities to be pre-defined, and we just go through the paces (the way it’s always been done). We need to practice overt thinking about desired outcomes, to make them a reality.

If your desired outcome is to move up in the organization, or just to get more satisfaction from your daily efforts, now is the time to focus on the attributes listed above and emulate the people on your team who get things done. If you are the entrepreneur or executive in the organization, make sure you are the role model in execution. That’s the only way to win in the long run.

Marty Zwilling



Friday, June 9, 2023

8 Keys To Maximizing Your Business Networking Results

business-networking-eventsMany business owners and professionals I know claim they are too busy in their jobs and not interested in taking part in any networking events. They don’t realize that success in business and their career is dependent on the right relationships as well as hard work. In addition, relationships found through networking can make your life a lot more satisfying as well as more productive.

For example, if you are an entrepreneur seeking investment or a cofounder, there is no substitute for networking at industry and startup conferences in your area. If you are a business analyst looking for a promotion or better-paying job, I recommend you look for publication opportunities or speaking engagements that provide networking opportunities as well as improve your visibility.

The next step is to focus on practical ways to improve your success odds from every networking experience you do partake of. I have found that the effort you put into these strategies can easily make the difference between positive and satisfying results versus just wasting your time:

  1. Do your homework to find the best opportunities for you. You need to be proactive in selecting networking opportunities that are relevant to your relationship needs, rather than waiting for available industry conferences or events. Check speaker lists, and target specific people or titles, as opposed to randomly talking to attendees hoping for a match.
  1. Relax and show appreciation for every interaction. Body language and tone of voice are very important here. Show that you enjoy the interaction, rather than rushing to move on or act stressed. If you are an introvert like me, this may be difficult, but remember that your business needs collaboration with partners and vendors, as well as good customers.
  1. Quickly seek common interests from new relationships. Don’t immediately talk about your business problems or needs, but get acquainted first with common connections or even non-work topics or hobbies. You need to establish communication channels and mutual trust, so the relationship can extend beyond the current meeting or interaction.
  1. Make the process a give-and-take rather than one-way. Remember that productive relationships have to show value in both directions, so don’t expect that you can pump someone for funding or connections without offering something worthwhile in return. I have found that even the most successful people are always ready to learn new things.
  1. Be sincere and truthful to show integrity and gain trust. No matter how insecure you are, artificial efforts to alter your image and position are not recommended. I always suggest that you offer a summary of your business and personal background as a level-set for finding common ground in a relationship, and setting a basis for future sharing.
  1. Resist airing negative concerns during networking. Nothing kills a potential relationship quicker than immediately complaining about your problems or other people. Ask questions and really listen to the answers, acknowledging accomplishments and advice, as well as sharing your own perspective and positive experiences along the way.
  1. Recognize status and titles but never show intimidation. People who show fear or trepidation find it hard to get the respect and trust they need to hold up their side of any relationship. On the other hand, talking down to people will never get you what you need to advance your career or your business. I recommend treating all people as equals.
  1. Take the lead in scheduling a continuation discussion. Real networking relationships are never one-time encounters, so if things look positive, don’t wait for the other person to do all the follow-up. Ask for their contact information, share yours, ask for a time and place, and make mental or physical notes on topics to be pursued at the next meeting.

Effective networking can also lead you to great coaches and mentors, as well as business and customer connections. Even successful business leaders, including Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, swear by the mentoring they get from each other in keeping up with changes in their respective areas of expertise as part of what sets them apart in the competitive arena.

Perhaps it’s time for you to take a hard look at how you spend your time and think about how the right networking and relationships could benefit your career and your business. In addition, it’s always good to get away from the grind now and then, have a bit more fun, and reflect on the positives in your accomplishments so far. Life is too short to be tied down with work all the time.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 05/25/2023 ***



Wednesday, June 7, 2023

How To Build A Great Startup In The Age Of Disruption

Amane Dannouni speaks at TED@BCG at Grand Hyatt Mumbai, September 24, 2019, Mumbai, India Photo: Amit Madheshiya  / TEDThe cost of entry to the entrepreneur lifestyle is at an all-time low, but the challenge of winning and success is at an all-time high. Anyone can build a new web site, or publish a smartphone app for a few thousand dollars, but getting market penetration requires a lot more. Customers have come to expect disruptive change, so yet another social network is not the way to get traction.

As an angel investor, I quickly look behind the idea or solution, to gauge the mindset and the leadership capabilities of the entrepreneur. That’s why the classic book, “The Leader’s Mindset: How to Win In The Age Of Disruption,” resonated strongly with me. It was written by Terence Mauri, who has worked extensively with Sir Richard Branson and the London Business School.

Mauri offers some practical, actionable advice for entrepreneurs who want to develop a leader’s mindset, on how to spread the right message to potential customers, as well as investors. He outlines three shortcuts for simplifying how we think, how we act, and ultimately how we lead, which I have paraphrased and amplified here:

  1. Expand your mindset to think better by a factor of ten. Most entrepreneurs think about how they can improve cost or usability by ten or twenty percent. When was the last time you set a challenge for your team that pushed all of you to deliver more than you thought was humanly possible? People who shape the future, like Steve Jobs, did this.
  1. Push your mindset to tackle the seemingly insurmountable. A bold mindset excels at speed, creativity, and decisive action. Entrepreneurs in this category are real risk takers, such as Elon Musk. He recommends imagining creative solutions to a problem to “cut through the noise and focus on the signal.” Take a hard look at SpaceX or HyperLoop.
  1. Develop a learn-fast mindset to seek the latest and the future. Those who proactively seek knowledge and learn fast build knowledge pools and tap into the wisdom of mentors and industry leaders to raise their game. For them, adapting and stretching their limits is the norm. They learn from their mistakes, and collaborate with well-connected people.

Leadership on ideas is a start, but entrepreneurial leadership requires the ability to deliver on the new reality as well. The best entrepreneurs relish the opportunity to overcome the personal and team obstacles that challenge every team contemplating disruptive change, including the following:

  • Fear of failure, fear of the unknown, procrastination, and doubt. All these fears can cause flight or fight, freeze behaviors, or a hasty retreat from dreams, goals, and plans for disruptive change. Fear keeps your mindset locked in a state of helplessness and will stop you from reaching your goals.
  • Constrained by talent shortages and lack of commitment. A key requirement for every disruptive entrepreneur is to fuel the organization’s growth by attracting and nurturing the best and most committed talent. The best leaders find a team and every individual unique strength to do great work and make a difference beyond chasing profit.
  • Dragged down by excuses, inertia, and negative energy. A top priority of all entrepreneur leaders is to avoid falling victim to “somebody else’s problem (SEP).” Lack of accountability is a mindset that is diametrically opposed to the required leader’s mindset. Don’t let this contamination infect you, your team, or your disruptive venture.

Overall, the leader’s mindset begins with zero compromise on purpose. It demands that you believe in what you are doing from the heart, and that your contribution is essential to the future world you envision. This must be matched with the intellectual courage to change business models multiple times to remain viable, based on real-time feedback from the market.

Becoming an entrepreneur is easy, but winning is still tough. Do you have the leader’s mindset required to compete and win?

Marty Zwilling



Monday, June 5, 2023

8 Keys To Ensuring Accountability In Your New Venture

Adventure Together | https://patina.photoMaybe it’s just me, but I sometimes feel that accountability is a rare talent in business today. In big businesses, people are quick to defer with “that’s not my department,” and even startup founders too often blame failures on the economy or the lack of investors. As an investor and advisor to entrepreneurs, I see accountability, or lack of it, as an override to even the best idea.

I believe accountability is a personal decision that we all can make, largely driven by personal confidence and determination, and is certainly one that we can learn. It’s not baked into our DNA, and there are many resources available to direct improvement.

For example, quite a while back I found some great guidance to the how, why, and who of accountability in the “QBQ Workbook,” by John G. Miller and Kristin E. Lindeen. Miller is well-known for his classic bestseller on this subject, “QBQ! The Question Behind The Question.” His advice starts with a request to stop blaming, and start asking, “What can I do to improve this situation?”

Very refreshing. If you are an entrepreneur building a new business, there are many things along these lines that you can and must do to be seen as accountable, including the following:

  1. It’s up to you to be the model of accountability. Don’t expect your team to be accountable, if they often hear you complaining about the workload, competitors, or partners. Accountability is a culture that starts from the top, and is reinforced by your hiring of skilled and positive people, delegating responsibility, and rewarding results.
  1. Clarify and constantly reinforce expectations. Team members can’t be accountable unless they know what is expected of them, and they understand how to deliver. Communication must be ongoing, both written and spoken, followed by some active listening on your part, to understand the gaps. Remove the “I didn’t know” excuse.
  1. Set measurable goals and objectives, with benchmarks. Accountability assessments must be based on objective facts, not opinions, politics, or a desire for power. Setting expectations beyond the realm of possibility, or frequently changing them, does not lead to accountability. Provide the tools for team members to measure their own results.
  1. Align individual responsibilities with relevant business goals. Team accountability must be correlated to responsibility and relevancy. You can’t hold your sales team accountable for manufacturing quality, but they should be responsible for profitability and volume. When expectations are aligned with motivation and interests, everyone wins.
  1. Truly delegate responsibility and decisions. Accountability can’t happen without control. If your management style is to make all the decisions yourself, don’t expect any accountability from your team. If you find yourself buried in work, with no time off, and feeling indispensable, it may be time to ask direct reports to call you out on delegation.
  1. Accountable teams need timely and actionable feedback. Getting to the source of problems should never involve blame. Accountable people need safe havens where challenges and performance can be discussed, individually and as a group. The goal must be continuous improvement and learning, not accusations and penalties.
  1. Provide resources and training to enable accountability. Tools and data are necessary for accountability, but must not be allowed to be the absolute determinant of a response. Provide the tools, but trust the people. Other necessary resources include training, reasonable financial leeway, mentoring, and access to relevant executives.
  1. Accountability requires consequences, both positive and negative. People who demonstrate accountability must be rewarded (awards, acknowledgement, promotion). In the same context, team members who consistently make excuses must be moved out of the organization to minimize the impact on others. No consequences mean no learning.

The best part about a focus on accountability is that it leads to real change, learning, and action, and these are the keys to entrepreneurial survival. When a business stops changing and learning in today’s fast-moving world, it stops growing and thriving. Every business is really a set of people. Are you growing and thriving?

Marty Zwilling



Sunday, June 4, 2023

6 Keys To Retaining Your Top Performing Team Members

Wairere House Exit storySince the recent pandemic, I find that business leaders are fighting to retain and attract new talent to recover from necessary attrition losses and team members quitting due to personal priorities. In the wake of recent struggles, the people you need and want are looking for a new human focus from their leaders and managers in today’s chaotic and competitive labor market.

In my perspective, it’s more true than ever that team members work for people, rather than companies, and they quit bosses who treat them like inanimate pawns that can be moved around as required to plug the holes in the business. I’m sure you feel this change, and if you are, or want to be, in a leadership role, you need to focus on how to be more human and lead humans.

I found some practical guidance to supplement my own recommendations in a new book, “Be Human, Lead Human,” by Jennifer Nash, PhD. She speaks from running her own company and provides a wealth of real-life stories gleaned from her consulting in major businesses around the world. I will paraphrase her key points here, and integrate my own experience as well:

  1. Make time to listen and hear what people know. Ensuring that your people feel heard empowers both them and you. You really hearing employees also augments engagement levels and business results. Most importantly, it also attracts and retains talent by making people feel they are contributing. Every team member wants to be heard and contribute.

    Obviously you won’t hear much if you are not listening, or only thinking about your next response. Active listening is a communication skill that requires practice and intention. Your employees judge you by body language and cues, like repeating the message back.

  2. Build your emotional intelligence to fully understand. Emotional intelligence is the ability to have and show empathy for individual team members and get them to trust you. Understanding them leads to more effective communication, authentic relationships, and better results. Often it’s body language and what is not said is the true real message.

    I have long been convinced that emotional intelligence (EQ or EI) in leadership wins over logical intelligence (IQ) every time. Like everyone, you have emotional strengths and weaknesses. You need to become aware of your own and learn from those you trust.

  3. Add value by helping team members feel valued. Human-oriented leaders prioritize helping their team feel they matter and add value. This fosters engagement, connection, and community, as well as creating healthy, resilient, and high-performing teams. Leverage individual strengths and spirit, and work to align their purpose with their work.

    But first you need to communicate clearly what has value to you and the team. A surefire way to make team members feel value is to hand them the keys to a project close to their expertise and interest. If possible, let the project be based on the employee's own ideas.

  4. Acknowledge each and every positive contribution. If you recognize others on your team, this creates virtuous performance cycles. Accepting that we all have strengths and weaknesses allows you to honor each person’s uniqueness and lead them to more satisfying and productive results, which benefits the business as well as team members.

    In my experience, public recognition of contributions in front of peers often has more impact than cash rewards and bonuses. Recognition starts with a simple ‘thank you’ or ‘well done’ from you or a peer. These cost very little and have large returns for all.

  5. Provide inspiration and authenticity for followship. Your inspiration creates positive direction, and shapes movement to results. Inspiration requires vision and the ability to tell stories that incent action. The more authentic these stories, the more your team will believe that anything is possible, and will follow your lead. Give trust first to get trust.

  6. See people as human rather than objects or resources. Being seen as human helps team members feel a sense of belonging and restores their humanity. Use inclusivity and acknowledgement to focus on the human elements of the team, and make sure they see you as human, by acknowledging your own sensitivities, imperfections, and motivations.

In my experience, all successful leaders have long been seeking continuous learning and growth. I urge you to start today to develop a human-focus mindset based on the recommendations outlined here, but stay abreast of the changes that will come tomorrow in our changing business and economic environment. Remember that what used to work no longer yields the same results.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 05/21/2023 ***



Saturday, June 3, 2023

How To Identify New Venture Assistance Organizations

ycombinator=-sessionOne of the reasons that now is the time to be an entrepreneur is the explosion of startup assistance organizations, usually called incubators or accelerators. According to the International Business Innovation Association (InBIA ), there are over 2,000 of these locations worldwide, and new online versions springing up all over the place, like Founders Space in Silicon Valley.

Most of these are non-profits, set up by a university to commercialize new technologies, or a municipality to foster business development for the local economy. A few are still trying to make a profitable business out of nurturing startups, but it’s a challenge to make money when your customer startups don’t have many resources to give.

But there are notable examples of for-profit incubators that are thriving, including YCombinator, led by Paul Graham in Silicon Valley, and TechStars, led by David Cohen and located in several key cities around the country, that have an excellent reputation and track record. I believe their competitive advantage is their top on-site leadership, exclusivity, and connections to investors.

Variations on the incubator theme are sometimes called business accelerators, science parks, or the Small Business Administration's Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) in almost every state in the U.S. Accelerators generally accept startups at a slightly later stage, and attempt to compress the timeline to commercialization into a few months, instead of a year or more.

Common resources provided by most of the incubators and accelerators today include the following:

  • Access to shared office facilities for multiple startup teams at a very low cost.
  • Shared business support services, including telephone answering, conference rooms, teleconferencing, administrative support, and a business mailing address.
  • Mentoring and technical assistance from volunteer or paid experts.
  • Direct seed funding, for a share of the equity, and introductions to investors.
  • Peer-to-peer networking with other startups and founders in the same stage.
  • Health, life, and other insurance at group rates.

If you don’t need these common resources, but need specialized technology services, you should look for technology parks and research facilities, often sponsored by leading companies in specific technologies, like Intel Capital and Google Ventures (GV). As well, these companies usually bring real new venture funding opportunities to the startups they sponsor.

To get started, go to the International Business Innovation Association web site, and use the search tool provided to see what’s available in your area. This association is definitely one of the world’s leading organization for advancing business incubation and entrepreneurship. Another good online approach is a simple Internet search for articles like the “The top 40 startup accelerators and incubators in North America in 2023

But don’t expect incubators to magically convert your pre-hatched idea into a successful company. The good incubators are highly selective, and expect you to demonstrate your commitment and a hard work ethic to meet expected milestones and show continuous progress. According to some recent feedback, YCombinator takes roughly 3 percent of applicants who apply to each batch cycle. Assuming 60 companies are accepted in a specific batch, that would mean around 2000 companies applied. That’s about the same ratio that angel investors claim.

I believe the real value of an incubator is in the relationships you can build there, with peers as well as domain experts, investors, and potential strategic partners. An incubator won’t help you if the market opportunity is small, the competitors are large, or your solution doesn’t address a real need.

As evidence that it does work, CrunchBase reported that more than 200 companies in YCombinator’s Winter 2023 cohort were funded, and many were scooped up by VCs even before the Demo Days. However, if you are looking to find an incubator like YCombinator for easy money and free services to hatch your startup, it probably won’t work.

Growing up and surviving in the entrepreneur world requires a fine balance between an independent determination to be self-sufficient, and a humble willingness and ability to listen to and learn from the best and the brightest startup mother-hens out there. Are you and your startup ready to make the cut?

Marty Zwilling