Monday, July 31, 2023

6 Keys To Implementation With New Business Passions

new-business-passionMany aspiring entrepreneurs I mentor can talk at length about their innovative ideas and passions, and ask lots of good questions, but never make much progress in building a real business. In my experience, building a business is much more about getting things done than having great ideas. The challenge is to move from ideas to specific goals, to delivered solutions.

In fact, I realized a while back that the challenge is the same in every aspect of your life – moving from dreams to specific goals to accomplishments achieved. Once you learn how to make things happen in your own life, starting a business is easy. For an inspiring story full of specifics on how to achieve goals, I recommend the classic book, “Three Points of Contact,” by Gregory Q. Cheek.

He found his way to entrepreneurial and personal success, after a tough battle with cancer, by applying the same principles and strategy to his business efforts that pulled him out of a personal life-and-death health struggle. I was most impressed with the steps he outlined for turning ideas into goals into results, which I paraphrase here for aspiring entrepreneurs:

  1. Write down your goals or your dreams. Writing something down is the first step toward moving forward and making it real. Always start your goals with “I,” and put yourself as responsible for each goal. Write all goals in the future tense, be as specific as possible, and make an effort to raise each goal one level higher to set you above your competition.
  1. Establish a clear visual picture of each goal. You must be able to see it to achieve it. He recommends the following four ways to fully imprint it on your mind – visualize it as often as possible, hold that visualization as long as you can, make your goal statement crystal clear, and maintain it with a calm intensity over an extended period of time.
  1. List items to achieve the goal, and network now. Brainstorm required activities, order, and prioritize them relative to your goals. It’s time to get the help you need. Ideas can come from one person, but businesses can’t be built alone. The reality is that everyone wants to help – friends, investors, even customers, but you have to take the initiative.
  1. Set specific milestones with target dates. Grab a calendar, pick a business rollout date, and work backward setting milestones and dates for interim steps. Be as detailed and specific as you can, such that everyone involved can see and understand the path ahead. Post your milestone list in a common spot so you can renew commitment daily.
  1. Take action now on an item and cross it off. Every small action and achieving a milestone builds momentum. Momentum will drive you and the team toward completing your goal. Celebrate each success, and check off all your milestones to invigorate the team as you move forward. Don’t be afraid to pivot and add new actions as you learn.
  1. Follow up and finish something every day. Most entrepreneurs work hard, but many don’t follow up often to check for completion. They spend their time on the crisis of the day, rather than the important tasks on the goal list. They eventually lose focus or burn out before crossing the finish line. The best entrepreneurs finish something every day.

Don’t let any of the popular myths about goal setting derail your efforts – vague wishes are not goals, you don’t need goals to win, my goals are all in my mind, goal setting requires special skills, and I have no control anyway. The reality is if you are not working on your own goals, then someone else is keeping you busy on theirs. That approach is not very satisfying in the long term.

Statistics have shown that only three percent of the population have well-defined, clear written goals. This three percent with written goals will earn as much as ten times more than the ninety-seven percent without documented goals. That correlates well with my experience on how many aspiring entrepreneurs ever get beyond the idea stage, and achieve some level of success.

For entrepreneurs, ideas are not goals, and they are not businesses, without the author’s three points of contact – optimism, visualization, and action. With these, I’m confident that anyone can improve their happiness, health, and positivity, and maybe even change the world at the same time. Why not start now?

Marty Zwilling



Sunday, July 30, 2023

8 Strategies For Early Growth As A New Business Owner

establishing-a-business-startup-targetOne of the biggest challenges in changing your lifestyle from an employee to starting your own business, is focusing on the right ownership elements, versus having a boss who sets the business goals, and provides performance feedback. Most entrepreneurs relish being their own boss, but find the transition to “ownership thinking” to be more difficult than anticipated.

Even if you were an “A-Player” in your previous organization (top 10-percent performer, high integrity, exceeds on commitments), you had peers and executives around you to provide coaching and keep you centered. Incidentally, if you never thought of yourself as being an A-Player employee, you probably will struggle even more in the competitive entrepreneur world.

I’ve spent many years in each of these business worlds, but I never made the A-Player entrepreneur connection until I read the classic book, “The A Player,” by Rick Crossland, who comes from 30 years of experience developing, recruiting, and leading high performance cultures in bigger companies. I now believe that every entrepreneur needs to think like an A-Player.

Crossland outlines the elements and perspectives every A-Player needs for ownership-thinking. These look exactly like the strategies I have been recommending to every entrepreneur for growing their business, versus developing a solution. Here are eight of the key ones that I often prioritize for startups:

  1. Align all actions to the purpose of the business. Every entrepreneur needs to start with a purpose for the business which goes beyond making money, or working on your own schedule, just like employees seeking to be A-Players need to look above their immediate tasks. Every business purpose must be customer-centric and even altruistic.

  1. Spend time working on the business as well as in the business. Most entrepreneurs, whether they be technologists or restaurant owners, spend too much time working in the business, rather than planning their next best move on the business. Employees can be much more productive if they fully understand strategic issues and focus correspondingly.

  1. Understand the need for an investment well before results. Unfortunately we all live in an age of instant gratification, where we expect immediate payment for every effort. Entrepreneurs need to evaluate investment size and cycles for future payoffs, while employees need to realize that promotions require investment in learning and skills.

  1. Quantify the return on investment before taking action. In startups, I see technical entrepreneurs who build things just because they can. Comparably, in larger businesses, I see employees who work hard on things that have little return, for them or the business. Both need to first evaluate the value equation for the business, to become A-Players.

  1. Accept personal growth as directly related to business growth. In any business, it’s hard to be an A-Player in a business that is not healthy. In this highly competitive world, no growth means falling behind, as a business or in your career. Great entrepreneurs are always focused on the growth dimensions of more revenue, change impact, and profit.

  1. Recognize business growth means attracting more customers. Employees and startups need to focus on the two dimensions of customer pipeline – how many people need what you are selling, and what percent will actually buy, based on your actions. Everyone needs to see their actions as part of solving customer problems and selling.
  1. Increase ownership thinking on business efficiency. As an A-Player or an entrepreneur, the focus of work must not be on hours spent, but time and cost savings without micro-management. Everyone wins when more efficient work on the right items results in higher customer satisfaction, lower prices, and more profit per employee.

  1. Enhance team engagement and business culture. In every business, large or small, there must be no “us versus them.” Team success requires all members be engaged and working together. Business success requires employees, executives, partners, and customers not fighting for advantage through a business culture of win-win relationships.

Thus if you are contemplating a future as an entrepreneur, now is the time to hone your focus and skills that relate to ownership thinking. It you do it well, you will win by being an A-Player in your current role, and your odds of success in the startup world are much greater. That’s the definition of a win-win opportunity.

Marty Zwilling



Saturday, July 29, 2023

8 Steps To Creating A Business From Your Startup Idea

startup-photos-executionAs an advisor to early-stage entrepreneurs, I see a lot of dreams, but not so many business results. I’m always excited by the dream, and disappointed by what I perceive as a lack of courage in many people to take the actions required to realize the dream. I’ve always wished I had a magic metaphor to motivate the best dreamers to become the best entrepreneurs.

That’s why I’m impressed with the classic book, “All Dreams on Deck: Charting the Course for Your Life and Work,” by Jeremy Cage. He is an experienced business executive, who now leads a consulting initiative which focuses on unleashing the full potential of businesses and people. In his book, he couches his guidance in a real-life metaphor of his sailing trip around the world.

I’m confident this will work for many of you, but since not all of us are sailors, I have tried to reframe his key points here into the business context that I can better relate to. Hopefully, between the two of us, more of you with big business dreams will follow the leads and generate more successful business results:

  1. Start by getting your hands dirty. All glory comes from daring to begin, and that seems to be the hardest part. You are destined to die full of potential if you do not have the courage to make your dream come alive with a prototype, a business plan, and an implementation team. A business entity has to be created and real resources applied.
  2. Venture where no business has gone before. There is no cookie-cutter route to success as an entrepreneur. The business world doesn’t thrive with yet another social media or dating site – it’s begging for paradigm shifts in the technology or business model. Innovative dreams, when implemented, are the ones that change the world.

  3. Never give up in the face of adversity. Turning dreams into reality is never easy. One of the biggest causes of startup failure is simply giving up too early. The best entrepreneurs relish the challenges, and get great satisfaction from overcoming and learning from adversity. They enjoy the journey, as well as the destination.

  4. Ask for help from advisors and mentor your team. People don’t usually need to ask for help with their dreams, but no entrepreneur I know has built a successful business alone. Don’t let your pride or fear keep you from seeking the help that you need. As you gather your team, recognize that they will need your help and coaching as well.

  5. Summon the courage stay optimistic, yet humble. Successful entrepreneurs aren’t just dreamers, they are doers. They wake up each day re-energized and positive, with the courage to take on the next challenge, and always committed to getting things done. In the business world, it is the humble leader that has the greatest influence on results.

  6. Trust yourself and your team in making decisions. As an aspiring entrepreneur, you can dream, but it takes a team to deliver. Yet running a new company cannot always be a consensus-driven process, so you need to trust yourself in making the hard decisions. Your team also has to trust you, or they won’t deliver the alternatives you need.

  7. Practice active listening, and accept reality quickly. In business and in life, you don’t learn much while you are talking. Dreams can be static, but the real world constantly changes. Thus you need to listen and learn the current reality from your customers, your team, advisors, and experts. Good listening leads to timely innovations and pivots.

  8. Make your dreams the shared dreams of everyone. In business, to get from dreams to reality, it takes effective communication with many others, including your team, customers, investors, and partners. Only with effective communication can your dreams become theirs, and theirs become a reality. You can’t impose your dream on anyone.

It’s true that dreams are always fraught with risk, but the ultimate risk is doing nothing at all. My goal is to make your dream come true, and you can’t do that without executing. The time to get started is now. Otherwise your dream will die, no matter what the potential.

Marty Zwilling



Friday, July 28, 2023

5 Tactics To Help You Make Good Decisions In Business

making-better-business-decisionsEvery business needs both managers and leaders. My experience confirms that managers are needed to achieve organizational goals through implementing processes, such as budgeting, and staffing, while leaders are more focused on making decisions on new challenges and capitalizing on growth opportunities. Most team members aspire to career growth as managers, then leaders.

Unfortunately, the jump to leadership is more than time in the business and hard work. Most experienced business consultants and executives, like myself, look for a fundamental mind shift change from managing work to making strategic decisions and inspiring others to follow. The skills and tactics required to be an effective leader are not intuitive and are growing in complexity.

I have found that the ability to make effective decisions is a key starting point, and a tough one to learn. I always struggle with coaching along these lines, so I was pleased to see some excellent guidance on tactics in making decisions in a new book, “The Leap To Leader,” by Adam Bryant. Adam brings real insights from his interviews with hundreds of senior leaders over two decades.

I offer here a synopsis of his five key tactics in making any business decision, with my own insights added, that I would recommend to every business professional aspiring to make the jump to leadership:

  1. First get all the input you can from your team. This requires creating a culture where debate is welcomed and encouraged, and team members don’t censor themselves out of fear. Eliminate any potential penalty for disagreement and speaking up. Always push to understand the context behind someone’s opinion and be vulnerable when asking why.

    In addition, I find that most big decisions require research. While you may schedule an hour for your team to talk about the relative pros and cons of every option, you'll get much richer input if you have them each spend that hour writing up their feedback

  2. Be brutally honest about the challenges you all face. Without a shared context, people will all create their own narratives for where they think the company is doing well and where it is struggling. It is impossible to drive disruptive levels of change if people don’t agree on the need for change in the first place. People have to know what is real.

    You must realize that most team members are so self-centered that they will initially think only of impacts on their current and future roles. I recommend that you use every vehicle at your disposal, including email and public statistics, to clarify the worst case.

  3. Avoid being misled by flawed decision frameworks. Push people and yourself to understand the underlying assumptions around the problem you and they are solving. Make sure everyone has thought through all the possible consequences of a given decision, including financial and political. Find any way you can to shift the framework.

    Another good trick to avoid being led down the wrong path is to look at the framework from every angle, including what is the potential impact if you make a bad decision or no decision. In my experience, making no decision most often leads to the worst outcome.

  4. Listen to all the key people, then drive the decision. People expect leaders to step up and take charge of driving a decision to closure, especially during crises. People expect options to get to the goal and directional guidance, not micromanagement, in moving forward. Being prescriptive can help people get to the right outcome faster.

    In all cases, eliminate the emotional element in a business decision. Evidence indicates that emotional intelligence is a key factor in driving effective decisions. It’s also the key to a more successful career and living a happier, more fulfilling, and more productive life.

  5. Give people the context for every decision you make. People are more willing to act on a decision once they have the rationale and understand how it fits into the bigger picture. Be clear about overall vision and strategy, and make sure you connect them to what people are doing daily. Declare that you alone are accountable for the outcome.

As the leader, you set the bar for performance and decision making for your team. Don’t demotivate people by setting expectations too high, or become non-competitive by accepting complacency. There is no such thing as a healthy culture in an underperforming team. Making timely and effective decisions, and then executing quickly, is the key to success in business.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 07/11/2023 ***



Wednesday, July 26, 2023

6 Strategies To Anticipate And Survive New Entrants

start-new-entrantBased on my years of experience as a business consultant, I’m convinced that most business leaders are so busy with day-to-day issues that they have no time to be proactive with new innovation and staving off future competitors. Thus they are blindsided and try to react quickly when a new competitor starts stealing customers. The result is constant stress and losing ground.

For example, we all remember when Blockbuster realized too late that Netflix was stealing customers by offering videos online rather than via DVDs, but even then they were unable to adapt their processes and their thinking. The result was the loss of their entire business over time. I see this happening in smaller ways often, where there is minimal focus on competition.

Here are some key initiatives that I recommend to every business owner and leader to stave off new competitors before they seriously impact or cause a competitive crisis in your business:

  1. Continually compare yourself to known competitors. Most business metrics I see compare current performance to your own previous experience, rather than your performance compared to industry standards and competitors. You may be continually improving, yet falling behind due to higher rates of growth by new competitors.

    Real industry leaders, such as Google and Microsoft, will tell you that there is nothing like great competitors to push you beyond what even you thought you could achieve. You will be amazed to see what you can find on the Internet about competitors performance.

  2. Never assume that your “first to market” lead will hold. While your initial idea was new and not envisioned by others, it is now out there for others to attack with copies and enhancements. To stay a leader, you need to find other breakthroughs on a regular basis, and not rely on a past legacy. Look for other unsolved problems for a new legacy.

    Technology advancements and user interests evolve over time to change the market. Steve Jobs took advantage of both of these things to take the “first-mover” advantage for smart phones away from Blackberry and others to make Apple a huge competitor.

  3. Isolate a small team from day-to-day to work on the future. It’s easy to find daily problems to swamp all your resources, such that looking to stave off future competitors is not in your priorities. Balancing a focus on the future as well as today is a key to survival in the current environment. A leader that does not invest in the future has no future.

    To have the best possible outcome, you need to make sure your “futures” team is stacked with people who can both think outside of the box and figure out what kind of information you need to determine whether an idea is implementable and marketable.

  4. Reward new growth experiments and learn from failures. After initial success, most companies reward only process repeatability and stabilization. Amend this culture to highlight and reward new initiatives on a regular basis, with metrics to assess value and progress. Establish individual and team recognition events to celebrate successes.

    Jeff Bezos of Amazon is a huge supporter of innovation experiments. He believes that if you double the number of experiments you do per year, you’re going to double your agility, and thus grow and compete more effectively, as well as learn more from failures.

  5. Keep your ear to the ground for seismic opportunity shifts. Real change and big new opportunities, driven by political change and climate concerns, often can be seen first outside of customer and market channels. It pays to listen for signs of unrest and noise around the world that could lead to unanticipated competitors unless you get there first.

    For example, the value of a higher cause in business has risen greatly. TOMS shoes inspired everyone by effectively communicating a higher purpose of helping the needy by donating a pair of shoes for every pair sold. The return was far greater than the cost.

  6. Focus your hiring and training on preparing for the future. Rather than hiring to fill specific current openings, look for people with a broad range of skills, a diverse background, and a learning mindset. Balance your internal training for specific roles with a focus on market trends and change. Promote those who take the lead in change.

The key message in all these initiatives is to be proactive In solidifying your business against potential competitors by allocating a balance of time, energy, and resources to continuous change in your own business. In the long run, you need a broader personal and team mindset of innovation and customer focus to keep your business vital and relevant in today’s market.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 07/11/2023 ***



Monday, July 24, 2023

7 Keys To Redefining A Challenge Into An Opportunity

business-challenge-or-opportunityWe all face pressure in our lives, but there’s nothing like that of an entrepreneur facing customer crises and the competitive challenges of a new business. Don’t believe the myth that all you have to do to get rich is bring up an e-commerce website, and the money rolls in while you sleep. Most successful business leaders have learned how to reframe pressure situations into opportunities.

Reframing enables you to see any difficult situation in a different light so you can deal with it effectively. The science and human factors behind this approach are explained in a classic book, Crunch Time: How to Be Your Best When It Matters Most,” by Rick Peterson and Judd Hoekstra. Peterson comes from professional sports, while Hoekstra is a business leadership consultant.

Based on my years as a business executive and mentoring entrepreneurs, I’m convinced that the principles of reframing can be learned, and apply equally well to any domain, certainly including business. Thus, here is my own reframing of the authors generalized rules into some specifics for an entrepreneur or business leader:

  1. Reframe competitive threats to opportunities. When a competitor appears, you can react with fear and anger, or you can learn from what they offer, and set a goal that converts that threat into an opportunity for you. Don’t focus too narrowly. For example, Steve Jobs and Apple moved computer technology to phones to counter falling revenue.
  1. Reframe from fighting harder to changing the game. When you find yourself saying, “I need to keep lowering my prices,” you just put more pressure on yourself. It’s more satisfying and fun to say “It’s time to add my new innovation for real value.” Your best performance will always come by playing from your strengths, not your weaknesses.
  1. Reframe from tension to humor in your approach. Humor has been proven to provide numerous business benefits, including customer loyalty, productivity, and reduced absenteeism. If your team is feeling intimidated by impossible deadlines, it may be time for an event with a fun skit to break the tension and get everyone working productively.
  1. Reframe from anxiety to taking control. When the job ahead looks overwhelming, you feel threatened. An effective strategy is to break the task into bite-sized chunks, and conquer them one at a time. This puts you back in control, with success feedback at every step. That’s the value of a complete business plan, with milestones along the way.
  1. Reframe from doubt to confidence and skill. Many entrepreneurs find themselves in a downward spiral of doubt, when their first customers come slowly. It pays to have passion and confidence to fall back on, as well as in-depth skills, to turn the tide to growth and success. It also pays to have the confidence to ask for help from your advisors.
  1. Reframe from failures to learning moments. Using different words with your team enables them to think differently. When things go wrong, refrain from harping on mistakes – rather talk about the lessons learned that make everyone stronger. Thomas Edison had many learning moments before he found great success with the incandescent light bulb.
  1. Reframe from barely-prepared to over-prepared. In business, there is no substitute for doing great homework. Many entrepreneurs don’t really study competitors, skip financial projections, or don’t have a backup plan, so feel stress with every new setback. Great business leaders never stop preparing, and always have alternative plans when pressed.

When times are tough, the first battle always fought is in your mind. If you can’t win that battle, and lose faith in yourself, you are unlikely to triumph in any business challenge. The reframing strategy is really about overcoming that primal human fear reflex when you are being threatened, to see the threat as an opportunity, or see it in a context where you have the advantage.

In fact, the best business leaders I know thrive on the challenges and the pressures of their business, rather than fear them. They actually avoid the alternatives of boredom and “business as usual” as more threatening to their sense of self and well-being. There is nothing more satisfying in business than being your best when it matters most.

Marty Zwilling



Sunday, July 23, 2023

How To Pick Your Focus For Your Next Business Venture

focus-size-businessEvery startup and every new business needs a unique selling proposition (USP) to get people’s attention these days, and make it stand out in the information overload we all see. Your concept has to be understood by customers and investors in 30 seconds or less, and everyone needs to immediately see how awesome it would be, or that they would be nuts not to have it.

That may sound easy, but I rarely see it happening. As a startup advisor and investor, I’ve heard and seen hundreds of pitches from entrepreneurs, and the majority of founders are convinced that if you will just give them an hour or more time, you will love their business. I’m looking for the “hook” right up front, or I lose interest quickly, just like every customer and investor these days.

The more potentially disruptive your technology, the more important it is that this message be quick, simple, and quantified. This point was illustrated well in the classic book, “The Power of Positive Destruction: How to Turn a Business Idea Into a Revolution,” by Seth Merrin. He has had his share of failures, as well as successes, with some good evidence to explain the difference.

Merrin is a serial entrepreneur and CEO of Liquidnet, who faced the challenge of major change to some of the most complex stock trading systems in the world. I like his approach to first making sure the idea has the potential for a unique selling proposition, by asking yourself a few key questions:

  1. Does the idea solve a painful problem? Great ideas solve big problems, preferably painful needs that people will readily be willing to pay money for a solution. Will the solution give you an “unfair competitive advantage,” meaning no competitor already has it, or can replicate your solution without your skills or intellectual property.
  1. Is there an educated marketplace waiting? An educated marketplace is one where your target customers already understand the problem and the impact of your technology. Truly disruptive technologies are tough, since it always takes extra time and money to educate and motivate the customers to move away from current approaches.
  1. Is the opportunity large and growing? Professional investors normally like to invest only in billion dollar opportunities, with double-digit growth rates. A smaller market sizing may make a good family business, if you have the funding. Highly saturated domains (more than 10 existing players), such as niche social media sites, are highly risky.
  1. Are you uniquely qualified to deliver the solution? Don’t try to build solutions in areas you don’t know, even if you see a big problem there. The ideal startup founder is one who is an expert in the subject area, has prior experience running a startup business, and is surrounded by a project team and investors that he was worked with in the past.

If your idea passes muster on the above tests, it’s time to craft a unique selling proposition. Expect it to take some time and many iterations, but the results are well worth it. Here are some specific guidance points for a great USP:

  • Start with a “hook” to get customer and investor attention. This is an assertion or question that will pique their interest. Good hooks succinctly imply a real problem, and suggest the solution. Examples include Domino’s “We’ll deliver in 30 minutes or less, or it’s free!” or Geico’s "15 Minutes Could Save You 15 Percent or More on Car Insurance."
  • Keep it simple and short. Skip the fill words and fuzzy phrases, like better, cheaper, easier to use, or more productive. A unique selling proposition is no place for industry jargon and acronyms. Don’t try to explain your technical implementation, your patent algorithm, or your unfair competitive advantage here. Do include some quantification.
  • Make it ready to play in all media. A great selling proposition is one that you can use as a kickoff in all your investor and customer presentations, including your elevator pitch, executive summary, website, and customer collateral. A good one becomes your brand definition, and sets you apart from competitors and existing modes of operation.

Too many new businesses try to be everything to everyone. Creating your unique selling proposition forces you to focus on one thing, or the one element that sets your business apart from others. Startups that try to do many things end up confusing customers, and doing all things poorly, since they have highly constrained resources.

A great unique selling proposition is what your business stands for. It’s what sets your business apart from others because of what your business takes a stand on. Instead of attempting to be known for everything, businesses with a unique selling proposition stand for something specific, and it becomes what you are remembered for.

Pick your focus, make it sound simple, memorable, and valuable, and all the right people will wait in line to get a piece of the action.

Marty Zwilling



Saturday, July 22, 2023

8 Keys To Improving Your Team Engagement And Culture

happy-engaged-teamEstablishing and maintaining the right company culture is a major key to success in any business these days, especially with the growth of the millennial generation of workers. It has a huge impact on productivity, as well as morale and loyalty to the company. In this age of interactive social media, your culture image quickly spreads to customers, and determines their loyalty.

Everyone knows and admires the leaders, including Google and Zappos, but most entrepreneurs have only a fuzzy idea of what to do to get there. If you are looking for specifics, as well as the science behind it, you should take a look at the classic book, “Trust Factor – The Science of Creating High-Performance Companies,” by Paul J. Zak. He says trust is the key to a good culture.

Zak is the director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University, and he has studied the connection between trust and performance all over the world. Trust causes the brain to release oxytocin, which stimulates productivity and raises motivation.

So, how do you build trust? He cites eight leadership actions, which I also recommend, from a non-scientific perspective, as a mentor to entrepreneurs. Start with these to build the great business culture you need to succeed today:

  1. Show appreciation for individual contributions. Your team, and every individual, needs regular recognition for their accomplishments. The most effective recognition is a daily “thank you” from leaders, and positive feedback in front of peers. Monetary rewards are nice, but don’t generate the long-term trust and loyalty you need to set the culture.
  1. Make sure everyone knows what you expect. No team member feels good or performs well when they don’t know what needs to be done. Regular communication, both written and oral, is the place to start. It’s actually important to set high expectations – people like to be stretched, but not broken, for the highest morale and productivity.
  1. Let team members take control of their work. Employees don’t like to be micro-managed. Make sure the challenge is clear, but let team members do the job in their own way. Always be prepared to mentor and assist, but empowering people to share their expertise and choose how to do projects engenders the culture you need to win.
  1. Flatten management levels. A recent Gallup survey reported that 81 percent of employees would prefer to manage themselves, if their company created the right culture for it. Multiple levels of management work against this, and are not really needed when team members take more responsibility for their actions, and select their own teammates.
  1. Share more information about the business. Only 40 percent of employees report that they are well informed about their company’s goals, strategies, and tactics. All the evidence says that openness promotes trust and loyalty, rather than burdening the team. Being open is a two-way street, requiring active listening, inclusion, and responsiveness.
  1. Practice employee caring and empathy. Actions speak louder than words in building real rather than artificial relationships with the people around you at work. Caring and empathy don’t require tolerating a lack of respect or inability to perform. In fact, just the opposite is true – recognizing problems and doing the right thing are the ultimate caring.
  1. Invest in employees’ career and personal growth. Leaders who show real interest and commitment to their employees as “whole persons” quickly generate trust and loyalty. Everyone wants feedback on their performance, new career options, and work-life balance guidance. This requires leader effort daily – annual reviews are not the answer.
  1. Demonstrate honesty and vulnerability. The best entrepreneur leaders today build trusting cultures by being warm, competent, approachable, and relaxed. Everyone knows who is in charge, but the leaders don’t hide an occasional shortcoming, and are openly honest without negative emotions. They favor a “leadership by all” culture.

It’s important to get it right the first time, because repairing and replacing a negative workplace culture is far more time consuming – change is always difficult. Equally important, you need all the productivity and loyalty you can get right up front with a startup. In addition, very few people get a second chance to be trusted.

Marty Zwilling



Friday, July 21, 2023

7 Keys To Leadership In A Hybrid Office Environment

hybrid-work-environmentThere is no question that the recent pandemic has changed working in the office forever. What was once a workplace where everyone commuted to work together daily, has now become a hybrid environment where some team members rarely meet physically, and others see each other one or two days per week, while not working remotely from their home office.

This transformation challenges the leadership of every business owner and raises many fears and concerns from all involved. How will work productivity and quality be impacted, and what effect will it have on personal careers, job satisfaction, and work-life balance? In my role as business advisor, I am struggling to anticipate and find answers, just like the rest of you.

In this context, I was pleased to find some positive guidance from real experts in a new book, “Thrive With A Hybrid Workplace,” by Felice Ekelman, JD, and Julie Kantor, PhD. These authors bring a wealth of knowledge from their decades of practicing executive coaching and psychology, as well as business employment law, with real companies both before and during the transition.

I especially like and agree with their focus on how to be an inspirational leader and build new interpersonal glue among your team members, whether they see you and each other regularly, occasionally, or perhaps only virtually. I will paraphrase here their seven recommendations for how to move forward in this new environment, with my own perspective added:

  1. Culture – same values bridging office and remote. Define and share your values and mission, respecting all personal values. Create a learning environment by empowering both local and remote employees to make relevant decisions and meet deliverables on their own. Communicate your desire to achieve work-life balance for all team members.

    In my experience, a great office culture will enhance every team member productivity, as well as personal satisfaction. For example, Google has consistently been ranked as one of the best company cultures, and claim big numbers, because of their focus on culture.

  2. Change – make “journey of change” apply to all. All change is hard, so you need to provide a process that applies equally to local and remote team members. Avoid micro-management and over-compensation, always clarifying roles and responsibilities, and avoiding unnecessary meetings. Take one small step at a time into the hybrid process.

    I have found that attempting business change without a clear process that everyone feels a part of is a recipe for failure. According to Harvard Business School professor John Kotter, only thirty percent of all change programs succeed. Make yours happen positively.

  3. Connection – build interpersonal glue with each. In hybrid work environments, it’s important that leaders schedule regular office hours, and do virtual and live walk-arounds. Help your team generate team rituals and encourage networking. Create mentorship programs and conduct positive team building activities both off-site and on-site.

    I advise you to use all the skills you use to build remote client connections in your efforts to build team member connections within remote and hybrid internal teams. Evolve your approach over time to build and maintain win-win relationships for years to come.

  4. Communication – show intentionality regularly. Clear and consistent communication is essential in establishing trust in leaders and between team members Team members cannot read your mind when they are working in the office sometimes and working remotely other times. Time factors should always be considered in advance.

  5. Collaboration – sponsor hybrid action meetings. Modes of collaboration need to be expanded, redefined, and standardized. Use shared-document platforms, in-house message systems, and online whiteboards, to maximize sharing and minimize miscommunication. Schedule video meetings carefully to avoid wasted time.
  6. Compassion – show caring for each team member. Sharing someone else’s emotions requires listening and making them feel heard. It also requires actively inquiring and acknowledging concerns without being critical. Always respond to mistakes in a calm and respectful way, and provide support for physical and mental burnout.

  7. Coaching – Practice active listening and feedback. Every team member wants to grow, and people generally view their jobs, local or remote, as the place where growth can occur. They need you to be accessible on a planned and unplanned basis. You can help them set goals, and you need to provide resources and access to training required.

We all know that engaged employees are necessary but not sufficient to maximize growth and survive in this world of global competition and constant change. Individual and company-wide success entails becoming an employer of choice, hiring, and retaining the right employees, and maximizing productivity. Start today to adapt to this change, recognizing that you are already late.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 07/06/2023 ***



Wednesday, July 19, 2023

7 Keys To Minimizing Exasperating Team Relationships

business-team_frustratedWe have all had to work with annoying team members in business. If you are not their manager, it’s tempting to just walk away, tune them out, or react sharply, but these reactions are not appropriate for managers, and are equally ineffective for peers and teammates. Remember that annoying doesn’t mean non-productive – these may be top performers, with critical business skills.

Just as importantly, remember that annoying doesn’t usually work both ways. You may be annoying other people without even recognizing it. In either case, you need to understand the dynamics to maximize team performance, and for your own sanity and satisfaction. For any relationship to be maximally productive, both parties must actively manage the relationship.

The good news is that you can learn to deal with well-meaning peers and people you manage, by employing a set of proven tactics, as outlined in the classic book, “Managing Annoying People,” from veteran business leader and workplace consultant Ilene Marcus. As a long-time business advisor, I fully support her key pragmatic relationship strategies, which I paraphrase here as follows:

  1. Prevent others from sapping your energy. Limit your meetings with annoyers to small doses, optimally timed to allow a natural exit, perhaps just before a required meeting or event. Be proactive in this approach, rather than practicing avoidance or trying to tune out. Practice smiling and keep your vibes positive to prevent frustration.
  1. Tune your relationship dynamic to be more effective. Some people are “high-maintenance,” and annoyingly take excessive time to provide details and ask questions. For these, you need keep your message direct, unemotional, and to the point. Use calming and neutral settings, and forcefully turn the focus back to the issue at hand.
  1. Set clear relationship boundaries and honor them. Manager versus employee relationships can be annoying when boundaries are not respected. Team members may forget you are now the boss, or anyone can make inappropriate comments or demands. Draw the lines of intent and expectations clearly, and never allow yourself to be the prey.
  1. Overtly manage your time, and declare constraints. Share the timetable at the start of a discussion and stick to it. For example, declare you have another meeting in fifteen minutes, or must leave in ten minutes. Use all the known methods for orchestrating a meeting effectively, or sandwich interactions between known limiting events.
  1. Monitor your own nonverbal body language. Don’t assume that others won’t see your frustration and stress. You can’t change others directly to eliminate their annoying behavior, but you can change your own to improve the effectiveness of each interaction. Send a message of being open and engaged, and smile like you have a secret.
  1. Show consistency in all interactions. The art of productive relationships and leadership are tied to your ability to size up a situation and apply the right tactic consistently. That builds trust, reliability, and responsiveness all around. Be brutally honest with yourself about what is triggering your actions which increase annoyance.
  1. Separate keeping busy from producing results. We all know annoying people who are always too busy, but generate minimal output. Give clear direction and challenge people to product results, rather than tolerate or listen to how busy they are. Incent your peers and team members with meaningful requests, and reward productive efforts.

How you handle annoying team members and keep their behavior from sabotaging you and the rest of the team is the test of your productivity and career potential. If you are annoyed, remember not to respond with one of the three wrong reactions – fight, flight, or freeze. The right reaction is to focus – gather the basket of tactics outlined here, and manage full speed ahead.

Marty Zwilling



Monday, July 17, 2023

Mature Companies Can Learn Many Things From Startups

William (Bill) H. Gates, founder, technology advisor of Microsoft Corporation visits The Department of Energy on October 8, 2013. Original public domain image from FlickrSometimes I like to drop the comment socially that “I knew Bill Gates back when he was a regular guy.” I know that dates me a good bit, but it also shows that I have been hanging around startups and big companies for a long time. The honest truth is that I worked directly with him in the early days of Microsoft from my “safe” perch in big IBM, during the startup of the IBM PC.

At that time I couldn’t imagine a startup succeeding that was first called Traf-O-Data to process raw traffic data into reports, later changed to Microsoft to sell Basic Interpreters to microcomputer manufacturers. In retrospect, however, Bill Gates did a lot of things right as a startup that I still look for today in aspiring entrepreneurs and their companies:

  1. Build a strong team. In my opinion, Bill Gates would have failed without his partners Steve Ballmer, and Paul Allen. Bill Gates ran the technical show, but Steve Ballmer never let him forget the marketing and business side of the equation. Steve came from Procter & Gamble Co., handling marketing for Duncan Hines' Moist & Easy cakes – so he and Bill were a perfect mix, so to speak. Paul Allen was the visionary, believing in graphic user interfaces and a mouse, when the Xerox Star was still a kludge.
  1. Market vision, focus, and opportunity. Their vision was a world of “personal” computers, meaning every person in the world was the opportunity. We in IBM didn’t get it at all, and we insisted on calling the IBM PC a “workstation” which in retrospect sounds like “work” for a bunch of robots at their “stations.” Many of my friends at IBM couldn’t imagine why anyone would spend money on such toys.
  1. Enlist community of support. One startup, no matter how smart the people and how well it is funded, can only do so much. You need to convince a thousand partners that they can become winners, if they join you as believers. That’s real viral marketing. Microsoft spent a huge amount of time and money with software developers for applications, and with hardware manufacturers to support multiple PC platforms. IBM wanted to do the whole job themselves, because it was the only way they know how to deliver quality. Quality is a good thing, but it is not everything.
  1. Marketing, marketing, marketing. Before Microsoft, computers had never been “marketed.” Large enterprises engaged major mainframe competitors in a series of benchmarks and technical evaluations, and the best technical solution won. I personally spend many nights and weekends hunched over a computer console optimizing a job stream to make it run a little bit faster. Now CIOs, as well as consumers, buy their next computer based largely on an image set by marketing. IBM learned a lot from Microsoft on this one.

It’s amazing how things change with time (as the world turns). Now Microsoft is a big gorilla, and I am a small startup, working with new businesses. I guess you could now say that my business experience is “well-rounded.” Also I suspect that Steve Ballmer, former CEO, wished he could go back to dealing with startup problems, rather than the biases against large enterprises like Microsoft.

There is a lot more to this story than I can put here. In fact, there are several good books written about Bill Gates and Microsoft. One of my favorites is “Hard Drive: Bill Gates and the Making of the Microsoft Empire.” On the IBM side, the message did get across after lots of pain and struggling, and a culture change occurred. See “Who Says Elephants Can't Dance?” by Louis V. Gerstner, Jr. for that story.

Reminiscing is such fun. We all start out as regular guys. But for those of you that learn these lessons early, the world of ultra-billionaires is still beckoning.

Marty Zwilling



Sunday, July 16, 2023

Startups Need To Be Skeptical Of Bank Funding Offers

silicon-valley-bank-failureThe name “investment bank” somehow always sounded like a place where I could deposit my investments, and maybe even earn a little interest. Then I learned that these banks really negotiate investments and collect fees on the transactions, sort of like commercial banks do with loans to businesses. None normally work for or provide funds for early-stage startups.

Many investment banks even call themselves “boutiques.” As near as I can tell these are smaller ones, who don’t sell clothes, but typically sell companies and securities in a particular set of industries. All investment banks have to be staffed by licensed specialists, called broker-dealers. Very confusing.

None of these investment banks offer traditional banking services, as you would expect from one of the following:

  • Retail banks
  • Commercial banks
  • Credit unions
  • Savings and loans

As startup founders, you first need to deal with one of these traditional banks, probably a commercial bank. Commercial banking is also known as business banking. That would be almost any bank that provides checking accounts, savings accounts, and money market accounts to businesses, and also makes loans to businesses. It may be the same physical bank that you deal with for your personal account, except in the personal context it is called a retail bank.

Most retail and commercial banks offer investment services to their customers, but these services have nothing to do with investing in your business. Typically, their service is to help you invest in stocks, bonds, or mutual funds, much like independent financial advisors.

A few, like Silicon Valley Bank (SVB), despite recent failures, actually do provide management services to startups, invest in startups, or provide early-stage venture capital, but that is not called an investment service and is part of a function called Emerging Technologies, or sometimes Private Equity.

So unless your business is well established, and ready to sell or go public (Initial Public Offering - IPO), you should steer clear of investment banks. Officially, the investment banks mission is to raise money for companies by issuing and selling securities in the capital markets, and providing advice on transactions such as mergers and acquisitions.

Investment banks normally charge fees consisting of three components. There is an upfront or monthly retainer, and maybe a closing fee, of at least several thousand dollars. In addition, they will likely take between 3% and 10% of any capital raised. For these fees, they will develop a business plan, solicit investors, and negotiate term sheets to a closing.

Another service of investment banks is the buying and selling of “derivatives,” which many believe to be some arcane financial products to dodge government regulators, encourage foreign currency speculation by pension and mutual funds, disguise risky gambles with AAA Standard & Poor’s ratings, and avoid capital gains taxes for wealthy individuals.

After a banking fiasco surfaced a decade or so ago, resulting in the failures of Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, investment banks seem to most of us more like a place to avoid, rather than a place to entrust with the keys to our investment livelihood. I’m not sure whether derivatives per se were the problem, or the fact that they were often backed by worthless subprime mortgages.

Startups looking for an angel investor, or a Venture Capital investment usually realize that neither of these sources of funds normally has any connection with a bank. Yet every business needs to have a good relationship with a bank, for day to day operations. I guess it’s no wonder that banks are struggling these days with their public image. Their message and mission is confusing, even to professionals. As your business evolves, don’t let that happen to your own message.

Marty Zwilling



Saturday, July 15, 2023

5 Ways That Finding A Business Partner Is Like Dating

business-partner-datingPeople tell me there may be over 8,000 dating sites with scientific matchmaking algorithms worldwide, but I couldn’t find one that focused on scientifically matching companies and people for business-to-business (B2B) relationships. Yet, every business expert tells me that finding good business partners is just as tricky as a good marriage, minus the sex.

Business partnerships come in all shapes and sizes, from finding a single partner to help you run your startup, to signing a strategic agreement with another large company for development, marketing, distribution, or international sales. As with personal relationships, unbalanced deals don’t work, since the dominating entity finds it hard to adapt and appreciate the value of a partner.

Everyone agrees that successful business partnerships can provide cash for growth, reduce costs, provide new geographic markets, or bring whole new customer sets to the table. Bad ones will suck the energy out of your company, and leave you wanting more. The thrill of the chase is always the fun part, but making it work is a lot harder.

Just like personal relationships, if you are contemplating a business partnership, the first consideration should be the characteristics of the key people involved. In addition, your company engines have to synchronize, which requires changes beyond the honeymoon period. Here are five of the key elements of both:

  1. Principals on both sides need to be ready and willing to work with a partner. Some executives prefer to operate in solo mode. If you have worked for yourself for a long time, like living alone and making decisions without consulting anyone else, it may be hard to adapt to a shared decision-making environment.
  1. Look for a match in operating style and work ethics. A business partnership doesn’t come with a no-fault divorce clause. During the “dating period,” look hard for those characteristics that suggest complementary strengths, compatibility, chemistry, motivation, and values. Consider a business “pre-nup” agreement.
  1. Both sides should write down the shared objectives and vision. If there is nothing to write down, or the results are quite different, that’s a big red flag. At this point both need to put in some serious thought about common value systems and how integration will impact current operations and the “next generation.”
  1. Agree on performance indicators measuring partnership effectiveness. Every relationship needs to be mutually beneficial to foster trust and common commitment. If the value is channeled to one beneficiary, with more cost and effort to the other, the equation won’t work for either.

  1. Understand required changes to the current business model. These need to be understood up front, since implementation will likely require staff changes, process changes, and a more complex communication system. Both sides need to evaluate the intangible impact of these.

Even with the best of efforts, in my experience a high percentage of partnerships don’t work in the long run, because the underlying entities have different long-term objectives. This means prior planning for an easy dissolution. Document early the partner agreement detailing what each person is responsible for, who makes what decisions, and how disagreements will be resolved.

In summary, I did find a few sites, like and EventMatches, which are a step in the right direction, but they still seem focused on letting you do most the work (at an event) to find the ideal partner. How about finding the best fit for you through something like eHarmony’s “scientific approach to matching” with 29 DIMENSIONS® of compatibility?

I wonder how many dimensions of compatibility there are to a good business partnership? I know it is rarely love at first sight. There is still time for you to be the first of the B2B crowd!

Marty Zwilling



Friday, July 14, 2023

5 Competitive Drivers Which Limit Your Growth Ability

Free US dollar banknotes image, public domain money CC0 photo.


 View public domain image source <a href="">here</a>As the business economy is rebounding from the pandemic, many entrepreneurs are thinking that life will soon get easier, and their opportunity can only grow. In reality, the business world gets tougher every day, with new entrants, new technology, and competitors more easily entering the fray from around the globe.

Way back in 1979, Michael E. Porter proposed his Five Forces framework for analyzing the competitive environment which I think makes even more sense today. Every existing business, as well as every startup, needs to reassess their product or service in the context of these five forces:

  1. Intensity of competitive rivalry. This is where most current business plan analyses focus today. These plans just list a few key competitors out there now, compare feature richness, quality considerations, and pricing. This is an important first step, but it’s only the beginning.

  1. Threat of new competitors entry. Startups that target profitable and growing markets with high returns should realize that these will draw many new entrants. It will certainly also decrease profitability over time, as well as test your sustainable competitive advantage. That leads to switching costs, sunk costs, brand equity, and a host of other considerations, commonly called “barriers to entry.”
  1. Utility of alternative solutions. You are never the only alternative, hopefully just the best, in price, utility, and satisfaction. If you new vehicle costs too much, people take the bus. At some level of function, availability, and price performance, customers jump ship away from you. These elements are referred to as “barriers to exit.”
  1. Bargaining power of customers. This is the degree to which customers can put your company under pressure, or leverage prices, delivery, features, and quality (market of outputs). A key is your differential advantage from alternatives. Small differentials and more competitors give customers higher leverage.
  1. Bargaining power of suppliers. Suppliers of raw materials, components, labor, and services to you can be a source of power over your ability to compete (market of inputs). You need to identify substitute inputs, supplier concentrations, and employee solidarity (labor unions), which can limit you or give you the advantage.

A few years after Porter, Andrew Grove is credited with postulating a sixth force in the marketplace – government, pressure groups, and the public. This force adds the concept of “complementors,” and has led to the growth of partners and strategic alliances to balance the competitive environment.

These forces make up the micro environment of a company, which affect its ability to serve its customers and make a profit. A change in any of them should be your cue to re-assess the marketplace. All startups need to remember their core competences, business model, or network, which are the factors that allow them to maintain a competitive advantage.

One of the key sections of every entrepreneur’s business plan is the analysis of the competition. I especially love the ones that start and end by saying “We don’t have any competitors.” Investors take that to mean either 1) there is no market for your product, or 2) you don’t understand the concept of business and competition. Either way you lose.

I always remind startups that this section of the business plan should not be a negative one, merely listing competitors, with their advantages and head start. It’s your opportunity to highlight and emphasize your relative advantages, whether they be price, features, bargaining power, or any of the six forces outlined above.

On the other hand, there is more at stake for startups than enterprises because startups do not have the same financial capital of their bigger rivals. But with a clear understanding of where the power lies, you can take advantage of a position of strength, improve a situation of weakness, and avoid stepping into a pack of wolves with no protection. It’s a painful end.

Marty Zwilling



Wednesday, July 12, 2023

5 Strategies To Capitalize On Hard Times In Business

hard-times-business-ownersDonna Fenn, in her classic book, “Upstarts! How GenY Entrepreneurs are Rocking the World of Business,” was one of the first to predict that Gen-Y would lead the charge, bounce back from the last recession, and be big winners. She describes a new generation of entrepreneurs that is highly collaborative, quick and alert when it comes to new technologies, and hell-bent on changing the world in general.

Upstarts! examines and analyses this entrepreneurial revolution to reveal critical lessons every Gen-Y entrepreneur and marketer must learn. But the insights I see from her book and elsewhere are equally applicable to startup founders of all ages, and businesses of all ages. Here are five key recovery strategies that both of us recommend to all of you:

  1. Pursue repeat business. It's far less expensive to nail down repeat business from your existing customers than it is to land new ones. Now is the time to reap the benefits of those good customer relationships that you've been cultivating. Viral marketing campaigns to lure new customers will cost you big money.
  1. Focus on your core competency. Examine every cost center in your business. Maybe it’s time to outsource that call center operation, or complex manufacturing setup. Look for operations that are hogging resources without generating significant revenue. With a concentrated point of focus, your company might be well positioned for growth this year.
  1. Snap up top talent. Past layoffs at big companies usually means more great employees on the market now for newer companies. Examine your pool of higher-paid contractors and freelancers. Now is the time to bring on board those people who would have been inaccessible in a better economy.
  1. Respond rapidly to market shifts. The pandemic has almost certainly had a profound impact on your customers: they may have altered their purchasing habits, or found themselves with entirely different needs. It's your opportunity to respond to those shifts. These are chances to broaden your product line, change distribution, offer new services.
  1. Look for hidden sources of revenue. Sometimes your best source of new revenue is right under your nose, like services revenue in support of your products. One entrepreneur in Fenn’s book had a proprietary technology to efficiently manage vendors which works so well that she is now marketing it to other companies for a transaction fee.

Most companies I know agree that the pandemic has taught them the art of laser-like focus, and compelled them to make better decisions, to become more frugal, and to initiate systems and procedures that will help position them make an economic recovery. Simply deciding to lay low and “tough it out” was never a winning strategy.

I agree with Fenn that a recession or pandemic is actually a good “wake-up call” for many in the new generation – it has forced them to face the reality of hard knocks. Similarly, it should be a wake-up call for the rest of us, or we will be overrun by young entrepreneurs with their burning desire to control their own destinies.

But I’m convinced that you don’t need to be an “Upstart!” to capitalize on hard times. Use your experience and your expertise to lead the way, or you will be left in the dust. The first step is to execute your own recovery strategy. Or don’t you even have one?

Marty Zwilling



Monday, July 10, 2023

10 Startup Actualities That Demotivate Entrepreneurs

woman-frustrated-entrepreneurMost of the time, I’m all about providing encouragement and inspiration to entrepreneurs. They need it and they deserve it, because entrepreneurs are the lifeblood of our economy. But every so often, I try to give them a reality check, just to keep their feet on the ground and their nose to the grindstone.

A few years ago, I enjoyed one of Guy Kawasaki’s first books, “Reality Check: The Irreverent Guide to Outsmarting, Outmanaging, and Outmarketing Your Competition.” In his classical humorous and cynical style, he could reset your dreaming in a moment. Here is a sampling of ten themes from the book that I think are just as relevant today as they were then:

  1. The reality of starting. It’s not going to get better – it already is. Startup folks are like medieval monasteries: always convinced that paradise is just ahead or that things only recently got worse.

  1. The reality of raising money. The closest real-world analogy to raising money is speed dating. That’s right: In five minutes, people decide if they are interested in you, just as in bars and nightclubs. This isn’t right, and it isn’t fair, but it is reality.

  1. The reality of planning and executing. If you think raising money was the hard part, you’re in for a surprise. Raising money is easy and fun. The real work begins when you have to deliver the results you promised.

  1. The reality of innovating. Many people think that innovation is easy: You sit around with your buddies and magical ideas pop into your head. Or your customers tell you what they need. Dream on. Innovation is a hard, messy process with no shortcuts.

  1. The reality of marketing. Everybody wants to do the fun stuff: shuck and jive with the beautiful people, and create fun marketing campaigns. More accurately, marketing is the process of convincing people that they need your product. That’s not so easy or fun.

  1. The reality of communicating. Entrepreneurship is an outward-focused activity. It requires that you communicate with others in all the modern modes. Every one is a skill you need to master. All it takes is reading this book and practicing for twenty years.

  1. The reality of competing. If you don’t compete with anybody for very long, it may mean that you’re trying to serve a market that doesn’t exist. The question of defensibility is one of the toughest for an entrepreneur to answer. A good answer is not to stop moving.

  1. The reality of hiring and firing. These are black arts for most people. Few people are trained for either, and most depend on their gut. They believe they won’t make hiring mistakes, so will never have to fire anyone. Wrong; and mistakes hurt people and you.

  1. The reality of working. In the beginning, startups are like a clean sheet of paper: nothing but opportunity and upside with a chance to make meaning and change the world. Then the reality of work sets in. Building a success is hard – damn hard, actually.

  1. The reality of doing good. At the end of one’s life, you are measured not by how much money you made, but by how much you’ve made the world a better place. Successful entrepreneurs often switch to non-profits and social entrepreneurship for real impact.

Of course, there is much more, but I think you get the idea. I also hope these themes don’t send a totally negative message, because the book is funny as well as thought provoking. I do believe we all need reality checks to face our challenges head-on, so that we can deal with them and survive, rather than just float along in the clouds until our dreams evaporate.

Marty Zwilling



Sunday, July 9, 2023

10 Strategies For Dealing Effectively With Challenges

business-office-challenges“The devil in the details” is a quote that we have all heard, and clearly applies to startups, where success in the long run is all about execution. But for you as an entrepreneur trying to get started, the devil is really in your mind, where you must prevent drifting, and maintain that confidence, commitment, and passion, to achieve your business dream.

This is highlighted well in the classic book finally published just a few years ago, “Outwitting the Devil,” annotated by Sharon Lechter. It was written way back in 1938, by the famous author of “Think and Grow Rich,” Napoleon Hill. It was too controversial to publish then, due to religious connotations, but still has key lessons for every entrepreneur today.

The premise of the book is an interview with the Devil, where he admits that he dwells in idle minds, and finds it easy to control the minds of drifters. Drifters are people who do little or no thinking for themselves, and allow themselves to be influenced and controlled by other people and circumstances.

In an interview, the Devil confesses that all people need only follow some key strategies to outwit him (adapted a bit here for entrepreneurs):

  1. Do your own thinking on all occasions. Pursue your own dreams and your own thinking. Listen to others input, but make your own decisions. For success, entrepreneurs have to overcome any human tendencies toward laziness and indifference, which lead to procrastination and drifting.
  1. Decide what you really want from your business. Set your goal, and create a plan for attaining it. Be willing to sacrifice everything else, if necessary, rather than accept permanent defeat. Drifters chase a business idea for all the wrong reasons, and then give up easily, like get rich quick, or to please someone else.
  1. Analyze temporary defeat, no matter of what nature or cause. Extract from it the seed of an equivalent advantage. In business, it’s commonly accepted that you can learn more from failure than from success, if you choose to learn.
  1. Be willing to give before you receive. Other entrepreneurs and investors will more readily help you, if you have helped them first. In addition, you dramatically increase your odds of success if you learn the business domain first, before you try to lead in it.
  1. Recognize that your brain is a receiving set. Curb your output, and be an active listener, by providing feedback, an optimistic attitude, motivation, and a concern for people. A key part of receiving input is listening to what is not said.
  1. Recognize that your greatest asset is time. This is the only thing except the power of thought which you own outright, and the one thing which can be shaped into whatever material things you want. Budget your time so none of it is wasted.
  1. Recognize that fear generally is a filler. Fear rushes in to occupy the unused portion of your mind. It is only a state of mind, which you can control by filling the space it occupies with confidence and passion in your ability to overcome obstacles.
  1. When you ask for help, do not beg. Take full responsibility, and don’t be the victim. Make sure you earn any help provided, and don’t forget to properly thank your benefactor. In a startup, there is no entitlement to funding, or to a second chance.
  1. Recognize that business is a cruel taskmaster. Either you master it or it masters you. There is no half-way or compromising point. Never accept from a business anything you do not want. You can refuse, in your own mind, to accept it and it will make way for the thing you do want.
  1. Remember that your dominating thoughts attract. To become the master of your destiny, you must learn to control the nature of your dominant, habitual thoughts. By doing so, you will be able to attract into your life anything you choose. Your thoughts create your reality.

I couldn’t help but think that these points are still so relevant today in our own pandemic recovering economy, even though they were written during a comparable challenge over 8 0 years ago. I guess we all should take comfort in the fact that even though we live in a world of constant change, some things about human nature will always be the same.

Can you outwit the Devil today to succeed in your dream?

Marty Zwilling



Saturday, July 8, 2023

5 Sources Of Ideas That Turn Into The Next Big Thing

sources-for-the-next-startupOne of my favorite sayings is “Real change doesn’t happen until the pain level gets high enough.” There aren’t many of us who love change, just for the opportunity to learn something new, and even we won’t pay much for it. Entrepreneurs who search for real pain points, and build solutions around them, have the best chance of changing the world.

In my opinion, real pain points for most people do not include a new user interface for Facebook, a new programming platform for app development, or a new size smart phone. So why do I see some many funding requests for products along these lines?

As an alternative, if you are an entrepreneur looking for the next big thing, where should you look? Here are some key drivers that will likely lead you to a fundable idea:

  1. A business crisis. The impact of the current pandemic on small businesses and staffing is causing us all pain, and forcing new ways of thinking. Maybe we haven’t seen the results yet, but there are thousands of startup opportunities to offer new alternatives and services, to replace those destroyed by the crisis.

  1. Some kind of natural or man-made disaster. The hurricanes in the Gulf, the wildfires in California, and the monsoon floods around the world, all suggest that real opportunities for change are needed in climate control, forest management, and building design. Usually, people pay to relieve pain before buying luxury items.
  1. When the world gets smaller. When globalization or technology shrinks distances (Internet), painful missing needs become evident, and opportunities abound. Other countries can provide e-commerce with different business models, outsource manufacturing at low cost, and a huge market for new products.
  1. The impact of global instability. Unpredictable forces, such as unrest in the Middle East and China, can quickly change energy cost equations, or availability of critical products. Many of the current opportunities in alternative energy are the result of these forces, as well as the lack of effective government coalitions to conserve other resources.
  1. Truly “disruptive” technologies. I hear this term every day, wrongly applied to new social media site, or a new productivity tool. I’m looking for things like the next Internet, nuclear batteries, or a technology to cure cancer. Recent “paradigm shift” technologies, like the new electric vehicles, still spawn major opportunities.

Of course, there are caveats to every opportunity. Many of the biggest and most obvious ones have non-business and non-technical hurdles, including the following:

  • Government regulations. New medical initiatives and new energy alternative technologies can be delayed or bogged down for years by existing bureaucracies and irrelevant political agendas.
  • Existing infrastructure. Companies with huge existing installed bases and infrastructures, such as oil companies or auto manufacturers, often present major roadblocks to the implementation of alternative solutions outside their control.
  • People are slow to accept change. Change is hard for most people. Therefore, it takes time, sometimes whole generations, of education, communication, and incremental proof to get momentum going and overcome old fears.

Professional investors know all of these too well, and are sometimes hesitant to fund any innovation that is deemed to be too disruptive. Of course, you can choose to play it safe with more incremental, modest innovations, There’s nothing wrong with modesty. That’s the great thing about being an entrepreneur. You get to choose your pain.

Marty Zwilling



Friday, July 7, 2023

10 Strategies For Getting More Done In Your Business

PrintEvery business owner feels the pressure of the thousands of things that need to get done, all seemingly at the same time. There is just not enough time! The real solution is better time management to put you back in control of your life.

We all know someone who always professes to be stressed out and “so busy” that they never have time for anything – yet they never seem to get things done. The real reason is that these people don’t manage their time well. They waste too much on low-priority busywork, procrastinating on higher priority but tougher tasks, resulting in last minute crises, and failure to complete the critical work that people are really expecting of them.

I still remember the classic book on this subject by Dr. Jan Yager, called “Creative Time Management for the New Millennium.” She preaches that “Managing your time well means managing your life well. People who handle their time well do it creatively. They practice creative time management by taking control of their time and therefore their life.”

Here are ten of her key strategies and mine:

  1. Set goals. In business, this means creating a business plan before you start. I’m still amazed by the number of owners I meet who have no business plan, or who haven’t updated their plan for years. If you have no goals and milestones, you can’t measure progress.
  1. Be proactive, not just reactive. Doing things before the deadline is looming reduces stress and gives you a sense of being ahead of the game. For a startup, this means starting your networking before you need money, or building the website before the business is ready to open.
  1. Prioritize actions. The secret is to identify what really needs to be done in each day. If you look closely at how you spend your days you will probably find that there are many things that aren’t really that important, but take a lot of time. Skip those.

  1. Keep your focus. Everyday interruptions in your new business can be a key barrier to managing your time effectively and, ultimately, a barrier to your success. Close the door to your home office, or turn off the phone when you have work which needs to get done.

  1. Create realistic deadlines. A realistic schedule takes several things into account. You need to spend time working, eating, sleeping, doing chores, running errands, and spending time with family. Unrealistic deadlines create stress, rework, and unhappiness.

  1. Plan and delegate. Strive to understand the relevant capabilities of team members, and then deliberately schedule tasks, delegating to the right people to get tasks done within deadlines. Even an entrepreneur can’t do everything personally.
  1. Don’t procrastinate. Some entrepreneurs actually sabotage themselves by putting obstacles in their own path that take more of their precious time. They often choose paths that hurt their performance. This represents a profound problem of self-regulation.
  1. Be a pragmatist, not a perfectionist. A proven path to success in business is to get something out, and iteratively improve it. A new product or service will never be perfect in a rapidly changing world, so don’t delay.
  1. Balance your life. When life is busy, or all your energy is focused on a special project, it is all too easy to find yourself “off balance,” not paying enough attention to important areas of your life. This causes inefficiency and stress, and your work is not fun.
  1. Do it now. In my opinion, this is the most important element of time management. Too many people procrastinate, worry, and defer, rather than just do it. Divide and conquer what you have to do. Now, not tomorrow.

Take back control of your time and your life. We are not all endowed with brilliance, good looks, or lots of money, but we each get the same number of hours every day. Use them effectively to get your startup going, and have some fun in your life. Start with item #10.

Marty Zwilling



Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Every Startup Goes Through Distinctive Funding Phases

startup-funding-stagesSome entrepreneurs start polling venture capitalists for that multi-million-dollar investment before they even have a business plan. That’s like trying to sell part of something to a stranger for big money when you haven’t fully defined it yet. It won’t work, it costs time and money, and hurts your credibility when you need them later.

Every entrepreneur needs help and support along the way, from developing the initial idea, to selling off the successful business (exit strategy). The challenge is finding and using qualified affordable support organizations for each stage. Don’t waste your resources on the wrong ones.

It’s helpful to think of startups as proceeding through several stages, which I have defined a long time ago from a funding perspective. Let’s take a look here some similar stages from a support perspective:

  • Idea stage. The first step toward a business with any idea is to write it down, and build a business plan around it. If you need help at this stage, look for a local university teaching online courses on entrepreneurship, or how to build a business plan.

    The alternative is to work with an innovation institute to evaluate your technology, or hire a consultant. If you need money now, is has to come from friends and family.

  • Early or embryonic stage. The most common support organization at this level is called a startup incubator or accelerator, and these exist in most countries, usually sponsored by a university, local government organization, or even local individuals. Usually these will not give you money, but will provide inexpensive expert mentoring and office services.

    Their real value is your access to senior advisors with experience, and other startups in the same stage. Sometimes these will ask for 5%-15% of your equity for their support services. They are not trying to make money, but simply to recoup their costs over time.

    Separately at this stage, you may look for small funding amounts from angel investors, called seed investments. Funding of $25,000-$250,000 may be available from angels, who are private individuals spending their own money. The incubator organization can help you find them or show you how to apply for a government grant.

  • Funding or rollout stage. This is the time for you to step out on your own, find office space, and open your business. Once you have some traction, you can approach venture capital organizations, with funding amounts of $1-10 million for the real rollout, often referred to as the “A-round,” or first institutional funding.

    Support organizations at this stage are usually professional financial advisors, or investment banks, which have nurtured relationships with institutional investors. These usually charge you a fixed fee up front, and then perhaps a small percentage of the raise.

  • Growth and exit stage. Companies at this stage must have a large market, good traction, and be focused on scaling infrastructure and market adoption. This normally means more than 30 employees, and more than $1 million in revenue. Support organizations are investment banks, similar to the preceding stage.

As startups pass through each stage, they need to use support resources wisely to minimize costs, wasted time, and maintain credibility to support movement to the next stage. Typically, they must also change and tune their executive team, to keep up with the increasing demands of a growing company on process discipline and sustainable success.

Obviously, if you bootstrap your business, you can avoid all the investment implications, but you still need a business plan and professional support. Otherwise, not paying attention to the expectations associated with each stage will likely jeopardize your business success. Do it right and enjoy real progress in each step of the journey.

Marty Zwilling