[To listen to a recording of the webinar, Click Here]
The artificial intelligence (AI) market is projected to grow extremely rapidly - from approximately $800 million this year over $5 Billion by 2020, a growth rate of over 50% annually (IDC).
AI Sectors leading the way include healthcare, advertising, security, education, e-commerce and robotics, with key business and consumer applications including virtual agents / chatbots, natural language processing, personalization of user experience, and process automation.
Perhaps more than any other next generation technology, AI applications like the above are making meaningful profit and loss impacts right now for businesses of all sizes.
Webinar Recording: Entrepreneurial and Investment Opportunities in Artificial Intelligence
You’re invited to listen to a recording of the webinar, via this link, where a select group of AI entrepreneurs who will share how they and their companies are winning in this incredibly dynamic space.
My panelists include:
On the web conference, our panelists will share:
Listen to the Webinar Recording via the Link Below:
“The chief business of the American people is business.”
- Calvin Coolidge, 1925
“I went back to Ohio / But my city was gone”
- The Pretenders, 1984
My 1980’s childhood growing up in Worcester, Massachusetts was a blessing that perhaps I never fully appreciated until having sons of my own, now ages 9 and 10, and especially so through the darkness and despair of this political season.
It’s just hasn't been easy to try to explain to them how the nation I love so much - the nation of Lincoln, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Washington...
...has come to this.
National conversation so unattractive - from its lack of intellectual rigor, of manners, and of even lip service to that most blessed of American virtues -freedom and the role that limiting the size and scope of government plays in its preservation.
So as a father and a businessman, what is the best explanation and response?
How do we communicate and embody that beautiful and so admirable concept of Virtue, the “sense of our own interest in the preservation and prosperity of a free government” without sounding like a total hypocrite or a “martyr” through standing on principle as others propel themselves forward on bread, circus and nonsense!
Now, both by constitution and choice I pride myself as an inveterate optimist but try as I might I can’t reframe this in a fully positive light.
Something very special, civic idealism, has been fundamentally lost.
I feel this loss badly for my sons, who unfortunately will not grow up in a world as I did where admirable role models could be found in the national conversation.
These modern times of ours, so empowered by technology, are filled with inspiration and empowerment like never before.
We just need to find them in different places.
Places beyond the standard societal institutions, beyond government and traditional education, religion, and health care.
I mean really, who do you think is more likely to solve the challenges of modern transportation - innovation master companies like Tesla and Uber, or the State of California and the National Highway Administration?
Or address the challenge of delivering high quality, low-cost health care - legendary winners like Apple and Walmart or the AMA and the VA?
Or, for peace and friendship amongst people and nations - Facebook, LinkedIn, and Airbnb, or the fundamentally conflicted synagogue, church, and mosque?
A pair of important points to be made here.
First, all of us, through connections made around the world for business and pleasure by the click of a button, are able to be empowered and inspired in ways big and small.
So while it is sad that my sons will not get to live in that decent, homespun, and wonderfully dignified America of Arnold Palmer and Vin Scully, it is beyond awesome they will live in a world connected, working and playing together like never before.
The second point is that developing personal and professional proficiency in this brave new world is a beyond full-time vocation, habit, and way of being.
Doing so can and should easily “crowd out” any / all time and energy wasted in following and engaging with that which passes as “news.”
So sure, it is sad that our national life has come to this.
But this discouraging reality is far outweighed by the world of commerce, connection, learning, doing, possibility, and inspiration only growing more remarkable and awe - inducing by the day.
I suggest focusing on the latter.
Both your psyche and your wallet will thank you.
Last week, I wrote about how and why the most prized, but often overlooked asset of any organization is its capacity to change and innovate.
But as I wrote in that post, innovation can be a scary and often misunderstood word and concept.
And unfortunately many entrepreneurs and executives who otherwise could be excellent innovators and change agents simply are NOT, and thereby their companies suffer.
The key idea is that innovation isn't that hard and is well within the ability and capacity of any executive of serious and high stamina ambition. Simply:
Business Innovation is...
...accepting that it is impossible to do something new in a business - a new marketing campaign, a new hire, a new product launch - without also accepting that that new thing has a significant probability of not working. And doing it anyway.
Business Innovation is not...
...positive thinking that sits in a vacuum. Yes, the effective executive always focuses on opportunities and not problems. But when leading change initiatives, he or she does so with both a thoroughness of preparation and mature respect for competitive challenges and realities.
Business Innovation is...
...understanding that all modern companies are technology companies.
That technology may be in actual hardware and software sold to customers, or in how an otherwise "low tech" business utilizes it to improve the efficiencies of key work processes - marketing, sales, operations, organization design, customer service, etc.
Business Innovation is not...
...believing that one’s own business, because of its age, its type of work, its bureaucracy, is permanently "stuck" and incapable of changing and growing.
Rather, Business Innovation is...
...believing in the power of "cascading” change - small improvements that on their own might seem insignificant, but because of their “multiplier effect” on other key processes, have a dramatic impact on growth and the bottom line.
This is particularly true in our digital business age because as we increase our marketing to sales conversions percentages only slightly, we are in turn able to increase instantaneously the size of our marketing budget, which in turn immediately grows revenues and gross profits.
However, Business Innovation is not...
...believing that we are just one change away from breakout success.
The sturdy and wizened modern executive recognizes that no one business breakthrough - that new product launch, that great new client (or hire), raising growth capital, etc. - ensures our ultimate success. Modern competitive forces dictate otherwise, so the best we realistically can hope for is temporary success from any one innovation.
Instead, Business Innovation is..
...with the whole of our professional being committing to ongoing change attempts, i.e. that the very definition of what makes up a honest day's work includes examining with a cold, dispassionate eye all of our work processes, and then every business day acting to improve one or several of them in ways big and small.
But Business Innovation is not...
...believing we have to come up with and make happen all of the positive change in our companies on our own.
Help is always available, from our work colleagues of course, and also from the limitless universe of "around the world" consultants and contractors accessible to us at the click of a button.
Yes, the Capacity to Innovate is the most prized asset for any business seeking to:
a) Protect itself against obsolescence, from a fire sale, from bankruptcy;
b) “Turnaround” from a recent string of declining sales / underwhelming growth;
c) Structurally enhance the sustainability of its long-term success.
So let’s plan to innovate and then let’s innovate to be successful.
And then innovate some more to maintain and build upon that success.
We start by defining ourselves as innovators, we “walk the talk” with consistent and ongoing innovation - focused thoughts and actions, and then...
...we watch the magic happen.
The most prized, but often overlooked asset of any organization is its capacity to change and innovate.
This can be measured by the premium investors will pay to buy into the business.
Slow moving and growing companies are valued at very low multiples to their revenues and cash flows, while those possessive of strong brands and proprietary technology (ideally both!), and the capacity to build more of these assets are valued at very high (sometimes infinite!) multiples to theirs.
Investors realize that innovation capacity empowers that most valued coin of the business realm: Sustainable Competitive Advantage.
We live in a world where anything and everything we do can and is mimicked, copied, knocked off...
...and thus always under severe threat is our ability to efficiently attract and secure new customers , and more profoundly to sell and service those customers at price points where we can actually make a profit.
The logic is succinct: if we don’t constantly innovate and just get better, eventually, inevitably we will lose our competitive advantage and in turn lose money.
Now, “innovation” can be a scary word.
It conjures images of hotshot Silicon Valley technologists - of engineers, scientists, and programmers.
But while for sure technological prowess is a key component of innovation, it is not the only one.
Innovation, best thought of as simply introducing new ideas to change things for the better, can be imparted on any aspect of a business.
On the refreshing of its brand.
On the vigor of its culture.
On the "customer effectiveness" of its products and services.
For most companies, the easiest-to-grab and “make happen” innovations lie in process improvements.
Little things like moving from “wet” to electronic signatures with tools like Docusign, or seamlessly connecting disparate data platforms through integration tools like Zapier, or migrating business documents from desktops to hosted platforms like Google Spreadsheets, Dropbox, etc.
These little process improvements build upon one another, and as they do we have more capacity and confidence to take on big initiatives like brand and culture refreshing and the launching of new products and services.
Now, here is where many of us might feel that we just don’t have the creativity, the charisma, the technical chops to effectively innovate and grow in big ways like this.
Luckily, here is where the flip side of that brutally competitive world we all live in comes to our aid.
You see, while all of our “best stuff” is out there for all to see and mimic, so is everyone else's!
We don’t need to come up with all of the great ideas, we can just “borrow” from what our best competitors are doing and really from any business whose stuff we like.
And no it does not mean it is okay to plagiarize.
But it is a foolish, lazy or unnecessarily prideful executive that does not take advantage of the wealth of innovation ideas available to them at the click of a button.
It is even better than that.
Not only do we not need to come up with all of the big ideas, we don’t even need to implement them!
We can hire a marketing firm to refresh our logo and brand identity.
A change management firm to refresh our culture.
Tech. developers to design and launch our new products.
We just need to always vigilantly and ruthlessly look everywhere and anywhere in our business where things can be done better.
And then act.
Slowly but surely our innovation “muscles” will grow stronger and leaner and as they do...
...our ability to grow and make money will be both more effortless and sustainable.
The passing this week of Arnold Palmer at 87, and the retirement from broadcasting of Vin Scully at 88, is a moment to reflect on the time, world, and value system these men represented, and on the wisdoms from their careers that can be applied to our modern life and business journeys.
Arnold Palmer and Vin Scully - their names are synonymous with “old school” character and decency.
These were men highly comfortable with who they were and what they represented to their adoring fans.
And this heartfelt character and decency was wonderfully magnified by so many of those fans having their first exposure to them as impressionable youngsters, or as deeply from stories told by their fathers and grandfathers.
Yes, we wanted to see in them these old school qualities, which they embodied to begin with, and the more we found them when we looked, the more developed they became in them.
Is a great business brand any different? When we communicate our “best business self," and as it is positively received, this in turn encourages more of whatever these best qualities happen to be to grow in our business, and so on and so on.
And then by just “keep on keeping on” - as Arnie and Vin did for over 60+ years - the high virtues of consistency, longevity, reliability, and trust are washed over our brand.
Now, with these virtues alone Messrs. Palmer and Scully would be great men.
What made them legends was being insanely great at their chosen fields.
While many only remember Arnold Palmer in his grandfatherly later years, in his prime he was the best golfer in the world, winning four Masters, two British Opens, a US open, and over 90 other professional tournaments.
Well into his 80s Vin Scully still remains universally regarded as the best broadcaster in baseball - uniquely working alone and doing both the play-by-play and "color" game analysis in his perfectly paced and wonderfully melodious story telling way.
Now for the rest of us that fall rings below these world class talent levels, let’s first find and focus upon those areas where our talents are most competitively advantaged and then have faith and confidence in the truism that “hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard.”
It goes deeper than this, though.
Beyond character, beyond longevity, beyond talent, the reason why the passing of Arnold Palmer and the retirement of Vin Scully touches so many is because they represent a certain and sometimes sadly seemingly gone for good Mid-Twentieth Century America hopefulness and innocence.
A hopefulness that the future will be even be better than the past.
An innocence that the world and the people in it are at their essence good and well meaning.
These are at the heart of the childhood imaginings we all once had, and that Arnold Palmer and Vin Scully maintained throughout their long and storied lives and careers.
Rest in peace, Mr. Palmer. And rest well, Mr. Scully.
Let’s best honor them with more spring in our steps, cadence in our speech, and hopefulness and innocence in our hearts.
Above all else, business leaders are tasked with solving the fundamental challenge of growth.
Growth in the form of increased revenues and profits, of more and better assets, and of more organizational “innovation” capacity and results.
This is extremely challenging work.
The challenge starts at the top, with “revenue regression" - the statistical tendency for most companies to grow as the economy does - just a few percentage points per the average in most developed economies.
Then there is the unrelenting “bottom line” pressure brought on by technology and globalization - the “competitors are everywhere and available to buyers at a click of a button” phenomenon that presses down prices and margins.
And in between lies the leadership challenge of innovation.
How do we "keep up" and "ahead" in all aspects of our business?
With the creativity and efficacy of our marketing and branding, with new product and service development, with an invigorated and inspired company culture?
And oh yes, for smaller businesses how do we do all this in the face of limited capital, of the "hamster wheel" pressure to just live to fight another day?
But while the challenges of growth are everywhere, so are the answers to overcome these challenges everywhere too.
And most of them can be found in one of the buckets of inspiration, information, and collaboration.
Inspiration. Every day in the financial and business news are awesome examples of business leaders “getting it done” - reporting record revenue and profit growth, rolling out new products and services, raising tens of millions of dollars, selling their companies for many multiples of that, and the list goes on.
Our first reaction to hearing of this success should simply be: If they can do it, we can too.
Here is an easy suggestion: Let’s consume a lot less of the gossipy soap opera called political news...
...and a lot more business news: tales of professional success as is featured on CNBC, in the Wall Street Journal, in Fortune, Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Inc. Magazines, and on countless websites, podcasts and social media postings.
And as we get inspired by it all, we naturally get better and more informed.
You see, while I am proud of my UCLA MBA, a 21st Century MBA gets re-earned each and every business day.
How great is this? Any and every needed growth idea for any business is there for the having if we just take the time to look for it in the places mentioned above.
So with just a bit more inspiration and innovation our results will improve.
But for the kind of growth that gets us featured on CNBC, or on the cover of Inc., for that we need to stir in the magical element of collaboration, so wonderfully defined as "the action of working with someone to produce or create something."
Yes, great collaboration starts with “the action,” the recognition that business is not a spectator sport nor a game of perfect so let’s get our hands dirty and “fail forward” while...
...“Working with someone,” recognizing that no matter our technological progress we are all at our essence hunter-gatherer primates that thrive tribally, with those tribes being of our fellow employees, our customers, vendors, partners, service providers, our community...
And with them, we “produce or create something.”
We market. We sell. We innovate. We bring beautiful things into the world.
We make money where before there was none.
Inspiration. Information. Collaboration.
So many business leaders do these and more and grow and win every day.
We can too.
CCS Insights forecasts that 411 million smart wearable devices, worth a staggering $34 billion, will be sold in 2020 (up from 274 million this year).
These wearables include eyewear (97 million predicted to be sold in 2020), hearables (9 million est.), fitness and wellness wristbands (164 million), wearable cameras (25 million), tokens, clip-ons, jewelry, and smart garments (6 million), and smartwatches (110 million).
These devices and their associated technologies and software applications are already transforming industries as diverse as healthcare, telecommunications, entertainment, gaming, and more.
Webinar Invitation: Opportunities in Smart Wearables
You’re invited to listen to a webinar recording at This Link, hosted by Growthink co-Founder and Managing Partner Jay Turo, where a select group of wearable entrepreneurs and investors share how they and their companies are winning in this incredibly dynamic space.
On the web conference, our panelists will share:
Please listen to the webinar recording via the link below:
Happy September! For many of us, this week is a turning of the page - from the slower, vacation and family-focused summer months - to the full-on business sprint to the end of the year.
In financial markets, the window between Labor Day and Thanksgiving is often referred to as "Capital-Raising Season," as it is a very active time for companies and investors to connect, to diligence each other, and to do deals.
I call it the "No Excuses" time of year.
Summer is over, the holidays are far away, tax season further, so now is the time to get deals done - growth financings, strategic partnerships, big new customer sales, key new hires you name it - if a mission critical deal is to be done, this is the time of year to do it.
You see, good deal makers get good deals done. Great dealmakers get great deals done fast.
So let’s all set a goal this fall to do twice the number of deals, in half the time, while maintaining and even improving quality. Here's how:
#5. Use the 20% Rule. In a previous post, I described The 20% Rule, whereby improving four key business processes by just 20% each leads to results doubling.
Simply identify four components of your deal-making process - for example 1) marketing-to-lead conversion 2) lead-to-proposal conversion 3) proposal-to-sale conversion and 4) repurchase rate, and then work to improve each by just 20%.
I run through the math here, with the net result of revenue increasing by 2.4X via these “cascading” 20% improvements.
#4. Build a One Month “Micro Plan.” While longer time horizons - 1, 3, 5 years - are powerful and necessary for more “global” business and strategic planning - for many mission critical projects shorter timeframes can be invigorating and catalytic.
For example, let’s look at how to raise capital in one month, a process that is not unusual to stretch out for six months, a year, or longer. To get it done in one month would require:
i. the business plan and all investor presentation materials to be completed in a week to ten days;
ii. a well vetted and relationship-based prospective investor assembled in parallel;
iii. contact with / promotion made to these investors within 7-10 days after completion of the plan;
iv. detailed diligence provided and talked through with those showing interest within an additional 7-10 days; and,
v. respectful yet urgency - driven “closing” done with the most interested prospective parties over just a few days.
Is this an “aspirational” timeline? Sure, but whether or not we actually get it done this fast the act of setting a timeline like this and then working like heck to meet it is in itself transformative.
And you just might surprise yourself and raise money far faster than you thought possible!
#3. Enlist Help. In modern business the old aphorism of “Many Hands Make Little Work” needs to be updated with the caveats that “Many Well Led Hands get High Quality, Important Work Done Fast.”
It is so awesome that modern executives have with just a click of a button access to high quality, on-demand resources of all types: marketing copywriters, graphic and website designers, telemarketing sales help, contract fulfillment and customer service and the list goes on and on...
...for any business process there is quite likely an outsourced provider that can do it better, faster, and cheaper than in-house.
The key is having the know-how to source the right vendors and then leading them such that they seamlessly work together as to “de facto” become in their aggregate part of a full-time, in house team.
Hard to pull off? Well, if you feel this way, then hire an outsourced firm to manage the outsourcers!
This may seem like a Dilbertian Skit, but the reality is that the tools of virtual communication and collaboration are now so good that building a fully outsourced, on demand work model like this often makes far better business sense than the old “all under one roof” W-2 model.
#2. Work Harder. There are actually 168 hours in a week, not 40, and by working both longer hours ourselves along with orchestrating a global team per the above, we can get things done four times as fast as under the old "9 to 5" model.
I like to re-frame working longer hours as a blessing, as the vast majority of people just don't have the opportunity to work hard on challenging and remunerative projects like those of us in the Knowledge Economy.
And oh yeah, in addition to the “it is its own reward” nature of hard work, just plain old outworking the competition is the most tried and true strategy of winning deals in multiple bidder/vendor dynamics.
#1. Recognize that There are No Rules. There are no longer any rules whatsoever as to how long things should take.
Like Amazon making deliveries in 2 hours or less, Uber bringing a driver to your door in a few minutes, and Google giving us detailed answers to the most esoteric and niche questions in just a few milliseconds, the great technologists and innovators among us are constantly resetting the frame as to what fast is.
Let’s bring this “speed sensitivity” to our businesses these next two months.
Identify those areas where incremental (20%!) improvements can have a big cumulative effect, design “micro plans” to make those improvements, get help everywhere and anywhere, work hard, hard, hard, and let go of any pre-conceived notions as to how long things should take.
Do all this and we can rename this “No Excuses” season as the one of “Big Business Breakthroughs” for all of us!
Last week, I wrote about how any business - no matter how "Old School" - can benefit via emulating the strategies of "High Flying" companies in industries like virtual reality, wearables, 3D printing, autonomous driving, and more.
One reader whose opinion I respect wrote back..."Jay, loved the post and agree with the sentiment, but can you make it a bit more actionable? Perhaps offer some specific “high flying” ideas and examples applicable right away to companies in slower growth industries and markets?"
Here are four critical business domains - financing, sales, organization design and goal setting where the high-flyers get it right:
Financing. Most companies in high flying industries raise money (and a lot of it!) on an ongoing basis.
Like Uber raising $8.7 billion over 7 years.
Or Airbnb raising $2.3 billion over 8.
Or Dropbox raising $607 million over 9.
They keep raising money because money buys speed. Speed of product development, of brand-building, of customer acquisition, of team-building and talent aggregation.
Now, for how long will they continue to do it?
For as long as they are in business.
Quite simply, investor promotion is a mission-critical process that should be undertaken by every company of ambition on an ongoing and continuous basis.
For smaller, less "glamorous" companies, look at it this way - if you go out and ask for money, you might surprise yourself and raise it. And if you can't, it's a canary in the coal mine - flagging needing to be fixed problems with your strategic model, your management execution, or both.
Sales. Over the past 15+ years, advising hundreds of companies across diverse industries, I have seen a consistent, disturbing trend: The older, more "established" a business is, the less enthusiastic, inspirational, and “Big Deal Effective” is its sales approach and execution.
Yes, any sales team for any business, no matter the industry, would instantly perform a LOT better by just emulating the "Messianic Enthusiasm" of the high flyers.
Well, you may say, if my business, my industry, my product was as exciting as theirs, then I would be more enthusiastic too!
Enthusiasm, at its heart, is a choice. Let's have our salespeople be as enthusiastic as those at the High Flyers and watch results improve right away.
Organization Design. When it comes to how that "Collection of Humans" that make up how a modern business is organized, long gone and never to return are the days of all a companies' people being W-2 employees working under a common roof.
Beyond a “virtual” workforce, beyond utilizing overseas development partners, best practices around modern organization design include "Scrum-like" reporting structures, all calls being done as video calls, always on chat, in-person meetings conducted standing up, no landline phones, "e-mail free" days of the week, and the complete elimination of office environments altogether.
Of course, not all of these approaches are appropriate for every business, but if your company is not growing then why not try everything and anything so that it does?
This is the high-flying mindset - to never be complacent or "me too," but instead to strive for efficiency and creativity in all aspects of how a company is led and managed.
Goal Setting: High flying companies set big and exciting goals, design bold plans to reach them, and then organizationally work, work, work to make them so.
Compare this with the approach at too many older line businesses. They set goals like “growing 5% next year” or “hiring a new salesperson” or “redesigning the email newsletter.”
In the famous words of Daniel Burnham - “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood.”
Dream a little. Push the growth plan right to that edge of “Hot Air.”
My experience is that we are usually pleasantly surprised both by how close we come to reaching those “stretch” goals, and as importantly how much just going out on a limb a bit builds “elan” and confidence in the entrepreneur and the organization.
Financing, Sales, Organization Design, Planning.
Do like the high flyers in these business domains and soon enough your company will be one of them, too.
Earlier this month, I moderated a webinar panel focused on technology and entrepreneurial opportunities in Virtual Reality, a market sector growing at over 100% per year, and transforming industries as diverse as medicine, real estate, entertainment, gaming, and more.
Driven by five amazing panelists from the worlds of entertainment, software, healthcare, and venture capital, it was an inspirational and thought-provoking look at a market space brimming with opportunity, possibility, and bullishness.
It was also the first in a series that over the next few months I will be hosting featuring entrepreneurs and investors from some of the world’s hottest market and technology sectors, including 3D printing, drones, artificial intelligence, technology wearables, autonomous driving, and more.
I am doing this because first, it is simply exciting and inspiring to visit with innovators - folks who "connect the dots" between technological change and business opportunity.
And as an investor, I know that the only way to earn outsized profits is to identify businesses early, before they go through their "Hockey Stick" growth phase, and most of these kinds of companies are to be found in fast growth industries like those listed above.
But as importantly, I am hosting these webinars for those of us who do NOT work in high-flying sectors, but who can benefit tremendously from the type and quality of innovation thinking and strategic planning as done in them.
Thinking, planning, and doing that is fresher. More opportunities-filled and possibilities rich.
More easily embracing of new technologies, not just for their core customer value propositions, but also for internal business processes, team building, communication, collaboration, and more.
As I wrote in my Olympics Post last week, we must always be vigilant to maintain this "always innovating" mindset, especially as we and our businesses age and mature.
Unfortunately, too often the media and the world wants us to believe that breakout business success is only for the chosen few - for the young technologists, for the geographically advantaged. For startups.
But this just isn't true.
Breakout success is available to any business, no matter how young or old, no matter its industry or market, so long as its leaders have the guts and the competitive spirit to do whatever it takes to grow their companies.
And a huge part of doing whatever it takes is letting go of the conventional wisdom that so suffocates too many older businesses...
...and instead learning from and emulating innovators who are dreaming and doing big, breakout business things.
The best entrepreneurs and executives in high-flying sectors are exposed daily to the best and latest technologies, to the most creative business thinking and planning, and are infused with the most unlimited sense of business possibility and opportunity.
Let’s learn from and be inspired by them.
And let’s think, do, and dream big things in our businesses like them.
So in the months ahead keep a look out for your invitation to meet these awesome innovators.
And maybe, just maybe, a little of their growth magic will rub off on your business too.