2015 Words To Live By


 

The ending of one year and the beginning of another is a natural time to take stock of all that was accomplished in the past 12 months, and more excitedly, to dream and plan on the great promise of the New Year.

In this spirit, below are a few of my favorite quotes regarding dreaming, planning, goal-setting, and "Going for It!”

"You see things; and you say, 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say, 'Why not?'"

- George Bernard Shaw

(My comment: reflects the essence of the entrepreneurial spirit)

"What is not started today is never finished tomorrow."

- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

(My comment: the "fierce urgency of now" must always inform and drive us. We live in too fast-moving a world, too merciless a marketplace, to in any way dawdle or delay.)

"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts."

- Winston Churchill

(My comment: The most accomplished executives and entrepreneurs that I have worked with have impressed me as much with their fortitude and resiliency as they have with their “glamorous” attributes - brilliance, connections, salesmanship, etc.

"Really great people make you feel that you, too, can become great."

- Mark Twain

(My comment: This is the essence of leadership in modern, collaboration-driven organizations. The best managers build alignment and focused energy around shared goals and objectives.

"Goals are dreams with deadlines."

- Diana Scharf Hunt

(Our comment: The great ones dream it and do it NOW!)

Happy New Year, and may 2015 be the best year of all of our lives!

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The Three Year Plan


 

December is a natural time to reflect upon the accomplishments of the past 12 months, and to set goals and objectives for the New Year.

In doing so however, most of us think too much about next year, and too little about our longer term and multi-year business horizons.

There are some benefits to this, I mean who can really forecast market and competitive conditions and customer wants and needs beyond just a few months these days?

And, given high rates of personnel turnover endemic to our ever-increasing “low switching cost” workplace, it can feel even more difficult to do so from a “bottoms-up” resource and organizational chart basis.

But forecast we must.

Because it is only through thinking and planning long-term that we access the reflective cores of our minds and spirits to “come up with” breakthrough business ideas simply inaccessible from the “reactive” present.

Ideas like:

•    How to better leverage our company’s intellectual and brand assets to develop new products and services
•    How to lay the ground work for new marketing campaigns, targeting new customers in new markets (with more favorable competitive conditions)
•    How to expand globally
•    Rethinking our companies’ organizational charts (and rewriting job descriptions)
•    How to access outsourced and virtual pools of human talent to scale quicker and more cost-effectively
•   Re-languaging our organizations’ value propositions (More pithily describing the features and benefits of our product and service offerings)
•    Redrafting our mission and vision statements (and by so doing re-motivating and re-focusing ourselves and our organizations)
•   And perhaps most importantly, defining with a laser like precision The Exit Plan for our organizations and for everyone in it (and getting out of No Man’s Land!)

Figuring out how to pursue opportunities and how to overcome challenges like these is almost always best done with a Start at the End approach: visioning out to the future and working backward from there.

How far to look out? I think Three Years is best.

It is long enough to get to that space of the “unbounded future” (reflect on being three years older than you are right now), while being short enough that the projects and action items arrived at very much need to be “gotten after” right away.

So, let’s all use this special time of year to reflect longer term on our more idealistic and on our bigger opportunities…

…the pursuit of which will transform our sometimes humble and prosaic day-to-day work into something far more profound.

A legacy.

Happy Holidays to You and Yours!

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Happy Thanksgiving!


 

Thanksgiving is the quintessential American holiday.

It acknowledges the best qualities of our blessed land - hard work, diversity as strength, and a focus on solutions not problems.

Whenever I am feeling down about America’s prospects in this brave new world of ours, I reflect on Thanksgiving’s timeless lessons.

As every schoolboy and girl knows, Thanksgiving traces its origin from a 1621 Pilgrim harvest feast to celebrate surviving an extremely difficult first winter in the New World.

The Pilgrims owed their survival to the goodwill of the Wampanoag Indians - the original inhabitants of the area - who taught them how to grow corn and how to fish in the very unfamiliar New England soil and seas.

As a gesture of thanks and goodwill, the Pilgrims invited the Wampanoags to sit down and break bread in a spirit of friendship and camaraderie.

What a story! First, let's reflect on the guts, tenacity, sense of adventure, and just “never say die” hard work and perseverance of the Pilgrims.

Think about it - if they can make it then with their oh-so limited 17th Century resources, what can we do / where can we go with our virtually limitless 21st Century ones?

And let's reflect on that happy day of brotherhood and be justifiably proud of the powerful diversity of modern America.

Doubt me? Then spend a Saturday with me and my 7 year-old son’s AYSO soccer team. 

With its Hawaiian coach.

Its son of Ethiopian refugees star player.

And its African - American, Mexican - American and suburban white kid players all happily frolicking in a melting pot scene not to be duplicated anywhere in the world.

Soccer with my sons is a welcome break from what I am sad to say has become a bad, gossipy vice – keeping up with the “news.”

Between the dire talk of tepid economic recovery, government gridlock, perpetual Mideast crisis, disease scares, and impending environmental doom, if you don't catch yourself you can't help but feel sorry for yourself, the country, and the planet.

It is 99% bunk.

Both the world and America have NEVER offered more opportunities for a larger percentage of
us to live affluent lives, to do self-expressive, remunerative work, and to be amazed daily by the wonders of modern technology than it does right now.

On Thursday, let’s give thanks for all that and more.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

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The Power of NON Disclosure


 

Every day I see entrepreneurs trying to find that right balance between keeping their intellectual property and business models confidential while sharing and promoting themselves to the investors, partners, and customers whose interest they so very much need to pique.

My bias generally falls strongly on the side of transparency - both because it is a virtue unto itself - and because it takes a lot of effort in our “everything end up on the Internet for all to see” age to truly maintain confidentiality.

However, I have a more fundamental reason why I generally advise entrepreneurs and investors not to worry all that much about confidentiality.

Supply and demand.

Quite simply, there very few entrepreneurs out there with the “right stuff” to actually build profitable businesses.

And those that have it are on balance, either too busy, too rich, and/or my favorite just too ethical and decent that 999 times out of 1,000 as opposed to the problem being someone of substance stealing a business idea, that the far more likely reality is a vast and unrelenting sea of apathy toward it.

Now, this does not mean that there is no place for confidentiality in modern business.

But the reason why it is important is usually more subtle than the fear of idea theft.

You see, for the vast majority of companies without eight figure+ R & D budgets, the reason why confidentiality is important has to do with the under-appreciated context of mystique.

Oxford defines mystique as "a fascinating aura of mystery, awe, and power surrounding someone or something."

I would combine this definition with one of my favorite lessons from my long ago MBA marketing class - namely that in a modern marketplace there is zero difference between "actual" and "perceived" value.

So, in these contexts, the value of non-disclosure derives not so much from the threat of a nefarious competitor stealing an idea as it does from how the aura of confidentiality bestows on an idea that “fascinating aura” that draws people and resources to it.

And from this aura flow many wonderful things: brand equity, pricing power, and marketing effectiveness being chief among them.

Now for those who say that this is quite the cynical view of things, I would encourage them for the next seven days to not take in any entertainment media - no movies nor television nor Internet - nor to appreciate the lovely design of an iPhone, and certainly to not gaze fondly on an elegantly dressed and coiffed woman or man.

In other words, to suffer for just one week like the terribly poor, extraordinarily unfortunate and very mystique - deprived people of North Korea must unconscionably suffer through every day of their lives.

And then come back and tell me that mystique doesn’t matter.

So let’s appreciate mystique - that beautiful elixir of the modern marketplace – for its own sake as the incredible gift and blessing it is.

And as marketers, as salespeople, as product designers, as entrepreneurs let’s gracefully use confidentiality and discretion to help create it.

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Does Anybody Read Business Plans Anymore?


 

It is hard not to laugh when I hear tired old refrains like "Nobody reads business plans anymore" or "In a world of lean startups, there is no time for strategic planning."

Why do otherwise intelligent and well-meaning businesspeople say and think things like this?

Well, for starters as human beings we all struggle to emotionally grasp the impact of the history not made, of the things that don't happen.

You see, poor strategy does not manifest itself as much in high profile flame-outs as perhaps it did in days of yore (see Pets.com, eToys, etc.) as it does in nothing of note ever being accomplished.

As in companies that grow slowly, if at all.

And make no profits.

And are led by entrepreneurs whose talent and work ethic doesn’t translate into the kind of pay and lifestyle they seemingly deserve.

Missed opportunities, lost years, unrewarded work.

These are the real but hidden costs of poor strategy.

Now, the other big misconception around strategic plans is confusing the “form of deliverable” with the process itself.

Again, this is a case where otherwise smart and well-meaning businesspeople make an obvious, but critical error: They equate the plan with a physical document.

And when done poorly, more often than not a document that is only tangentially connected to the “real business” it supposedly represents.

Now, the good news is that the literature is filled with great best practices - tested over thousands of businesses - as to how to lead strategic planning processes that are connected to the actual marketing, sales, operations, and finances of a company.

Even better news: Inexpensive, effective, and everywhere accessible business software-as-services are connecting the dots between “big” strategy and the “small” to do’s, tactics and action items at the living, breathing heart of a business.

Tools like CapitalIQ, Simplycast, The Resumator, Box, Grasshopper, Wufoo, Smarsh, IfByPhone, SnapEngage, Docusign, Hootsuite, Infusionsoft, and Interspire that automate traditionally laborious and repetitive business functions.

This is where 21st Century Strategy lives.

Now, as for those who prefer to cling to their tired clichés, well I guess they can always reminisce about how things were back in the 20th Century.

But for those who need more than nostalgia to sustain them, there has never been a better time to win by doing strategy right.

P.S. Like to demo our dashboard offering? Then Click Here to learn more.

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Exploring Big Data and Executive Dashboards [Webinar Invitation]


 

In my posts over the past few weeks, I have talked about the power of business intelligence dashboards, and why companies that use them enjoy triple the revenue growth and double the profit growth of companies that don’t.

This is driven by the simple two facts that a) businesses today collect more data than ever before and b) wading through and making sense of it all is overwhelming as this data is collected and stored in multiple locations, including in CRM and ERP systems, in accounting software, in advertising and marketing platforms, in social media sites, and so on.

So it is the executives who quickly access this data - and connect the dots between it all - that incrementally but inexorably make better strategic and tactical decisions, gain competitive advantage, and win.

Webinar Invitation

Intrigued, but not sure exactly how an executive dashboard would work for your business?
 
If so, you’ve come to the right place, because my team and I have created a special webinar where I share best practices as to how today’s best run companies use executive dashboards to:

•    Identify the most important business metrics to track
•    Develop real-time visibility into their organizations
•    Improve employee performance
•    Make more intelligent business decisions
•    And ultimately grow sales and profits

Importantly, this webinar will neither be an academic lecture nor a sales pitch in disguise.  Rather, it will be an intense hands-on workshop where I will share key tips and tactics as to how to harness the power of executive dashboards in your business right away to grow revenues and make more money - while working less and having more fun.

Sign Up Now

Note that to promote interaction, we are limiting this program to no more than 35 attendees. So click below to register before the spots fill up!

https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/452495706

Look forward to your attendance!

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Why NOT Manage by Data?


 

Last week, I wrote about the power of business intelligence dashboards.

How, for the first time, smaller businesses can harness the power of big data to more efficiently and profitably manage their companies.

Some readers expressed skepticism that this "stuff" actually works.  

That it is just more "noise” that causes entrepreneurs to get “lost in the weeds” versus long-term thinking and planning.

There is some truth to this.

Heck, “Big Data” at its worst is probably best personified by Wall Street “quant jocks” who equate positive expected value "bets" with larger, more foundational truths of right and wrong, and of good and bad.

To these concerns, let me offer a few suggestions as to how to best utilize business data to support, but not drive, leadership and managerial decision-making.

The first point is that for the vast majority of small businesses “getting lost” in the data is the least of their concerns.
 
A far bigger one is simply analyzing anything more than the barest minimum of balance sheet - "i.e. How much money is in the bank?" and profit and loss statement - i.e. “What were our sales last month?” data.

And when broader data, like the number of incoming leads, sales proposals, average call hold time, marketing spend per action, e-mail open and click-through rates, is analyzed…

…so much of it is either incomplete or just flat-out incorrect to make doing so an exercise in futility.

AND the data that is complete and accurate sits in so many places, Excel worksheets on the sales manager's computer, deep in a little understood (and used) CRM, in the reporting functionality of software as services like Grasshopper, IfByPhone, Constant Contact and Google Analytics to name just a few…

…that a way too high percentage of the time and energy set aside to analyze it is outright wasted in simply accessing the reports from the data sources that house it!

The simple answer to these challenges is to utilize a best-of-breed business intelligence dashboard that:

•    Automatically collects and updates all the data in one easy to access place;
•    Has alerts built-in to flag incomplete or way-out-out-the ordinary data; and,
•    Is arranged and presented in a visual and formatted way that works for the executive reviewing it.

But it goes deeper than this.
 
You see, leading and managing a business based on proper data collection and analysis is no longer a choice - it is a necessity. 

Because all of our best competitors are doing it.

And doing so along with proper and appropriate strategic repositioning as the consistent and correct interpretation of the data allows, affords, and demands.

Or, as David Byrne of the Talking heads once so famously said “This ain't no party…this ain't no disco…this ain't no fooling around. “

You see, when it comes to data-driven decision-making, it has become a matter of going big or staying home.

As in admitting that one is really not that serious about growing and sustaining a business of lasting value - one agile enough to adapt and evolve in the face of technological and marketplace change, and of competitive threat.

Now, I don't believe this.

No, the best entrepreneurs I know are as serious as they can be about not just surviving but thriving in this massively opportunity-filled world of ours.

Just take it one step, one click, one API integration at a time.

Sooner than you think, your business will be running more responsively, more nimbly than ever.

Then watch the profits follow.

To Your Success,

P.S. Like to demo our dashboard offering? Then Click Here to learn more.

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A Unicorn of One’s Very Own?


 

Last week, I wrote about the strong ambition across the globe to have a "Silicon Valley of One's Own," and to replicate the otherworldly innovation of a region that has produced more than 75% of the World’s Unicorns - technology companies started since 2003 that now have valuations of more than $1 billion.

Then, on Monday I went deeper into the drivers of this remarkable concentration along with the macroeconomic drivers of today’s very hot IPO and M&A Markets: long-term low interest rates, the $1.5 trillion in cash held by big tech. companies and private equity firms seeking deals, and venture investor’s now almost universal realization that only via extremely large exits they obtain alpha.

All of this is well and good, but what we found out was of much greater interest was to look at the common attributes and mindsets of these unicorns and their prospective investors and then how to integrate these elements into YOUR entrepreneurial and investment approach, especially when:

•    As an entrepreneur, you know that you don’t have a business with “billion dollar potential”

•    As an investor, you are more frightened than excited by the “big outlier” return phenomenon

We put it all together and boiled it down to the most essential and actionable insights, and are going to share them via webinar on Thursday at 7 pm ET / 4 pm PT.

Do sign up now via this link: https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/622073466

I look forward to your attendance and feedback!

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Tech. Exit Trends in Today's Hot Markets [Webinar Invitation]


 

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Webinar Invitation

Tech. Exit Trends in Today's Hot Markets

Monday, September 29th

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My Wednesday column as to tech. opportunities far from Silicon Valley was well-received, but frankly left a lot of folks wanting more.

Mostly what was asked was a variant of a common theme: How can I apply the wisdoms and best practices of the Uber - successful Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and investors to my business, or to the one I advise, or are invested in.

It was almost a hope against hope, something that most unfortunately are almost too scared to dream about…

...Having / being involved with a unicorn of one’s very own.

How important is this?  Well, given that last week's $25 billion Alibaba IPO was greater in size than 2014’s other 154 IPOs - combined - even slightly improving one's "Unicorn Landing" odds has enormous expected value.

Webinar Invitation

So I and my research team collected and analyzed some of the best research on the topic, from the Kauffman FoundationNVCAPricewaterhouseCoopers,Dr. Robert WiltbankHarvard University, and TechCrunch’s Aileen Lee, including:

- Categorizing the common attributes among 39 companies started since 2003 that are now valued at more than $1 billion

- The relative likelihood of success of enterprise (B2B) versus consumer - facing (B2C) business models

- How the great liquidity in today's market, with some estimates showing more than $1.5 trillion in cash being held by strategic tech. buyers and private equity firms, is impacting deal modeling and valuation analysis (all the way down to the startup stage)

- How and if yesterday’s report from Harvard University that for their endowment VC return for FY 2014 was 32.4% (compared to a 15.4% return for its total portfolio and the S&P 500's 21.38%) was an outlier, a harbinger of an over-heated market, or a reasonable return expectation given the high variance and the illiquidity of the asset class?

We put it all together and boiled down the most essential and actionable points, and are going to share our findings via webinar on Monday at 2 pm ET / 11 am PT.

Do sign up now via This Link

I do look forward to your attendance and feedback!

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Far from Silicon Valley: From Startup to IPO?


 

I had the good fortune to moderate a panel at last week's IBA Silicon Valley from Start-up to IPO / Exit Conference.

With entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, attorneys, and investment bankers from over 18 countries represented - from places as far afield as Switzerland, Singapore, and Spain (and Santa Monica and Silicon Valley!) - it was a truly international gathering.

Predictions were shared ranging from the outcome of the Scottish independence vote (incorrect) to Alibaba’s 1st day’s trading closing price (correct!), to animated discussions on the differing perspectives on Internet privacy in the U.S. and Europe.

But, the main thrust of the conference call was quite simple.

It was an inquiry, especially from the conference’s international attendees, as to how and why such an incredibly high percentage of the tech. start-ups that turn into “Unicorns” - businesses with exits via IPO or acquisition of greater than $1 Billion - emanate almost exclusively from the United States, and far more specifically from Silicon Valley.

How concentrated is this phenomenon? Well, as shared by Doug Gonsalves of Mooreland Partners, more than 70% of these Unicorns - names like Dropbox, Airbnb, Facebook, Splunk, Uber, Waze, LinkedeIn, and Palantir - were born and are headquartered in a “30 mile circle around San Francisco Airport.”

The “top down” effect of this cannot be overstated.

These huge exits and investor wins drive the fact that the Bay Area - with less than 6 million people - ingests close to 50% of all U.S. venture capital funding, which in turn is four times as much as in all of Europe.

This in turn drives an as large disparity in the number and quality of tech. startups and innovation emanating from various points on the globe.

Now, my perspective on this concentration has been mostly as an American businessman, as one that lives and works in Los Angeles (which may seem close to Silicon Valley, but to those who know both places can attest are worlds apart).

But visiting with entrepreneurs and executives from Europe, Israel, India, Singapore, and beyond brought the matter into much sharper relief.

Gil Arie of Foley Hoag shared the Israeli perspective - one where the best tech companies there as often as not are making the simple and powerful decision to move themselves (and their families) from across the globe for a Valley presence.

Sure, these companies can (and prefer) to build engineering teams in the lower cost, talent rich environs like Israel, India, Eastern Europe, etc., but for the “top of the pyramid” stuff - strategy, product design, capital formation and funding – being in the Valley feels like a necessity.

But expressed also was a strong counter-balancing sentiment, a deep desire to prove that world and industry leading technology companies can be born and grown far from Sand Hill Road.

And surely it will be so.

For this ambition - always in abundance in the world's best entrepreneurs - to build something that is theirs will eventually push back on the Valley's admirable yes, but also unnatural hegemony on global tech innovation and wealth.

And the great thing is that it will be far from a zero sum game.

Just think about it - if even a small fraction more of the world's Seven Billion People could live, work, and dream in a culture as forward and possibility - filled as Silicon Valley's…

Anything is possible, is it not?

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