Friday, December 12, 2008

Training for Instinct

Instinct is the inherent disposition toward a certain behavior. Killer instinct is the unquenchable desire to move forward (and win!) at any cost. We often do things in our business and lives that feel like instinct, when in fact, you have simply trained so much and so often in a certain way or activity that it is second nature.
In a long run last night, deep in thought about how on earth they make cheese into cheese strings (not all thinking-while-running is world changing:) ) I noticed that although I hadn’t thought about it for a while, my feet were moving one in front of the other without me asking them to. When I first started running, I actually had to ask each step to happen, sometimes out loud. But now, after much training, they seem to know how do it without me even knowing about it.
This concept is easily transferrable to business success. Taking principles and activities that are proven to work, and putting them into repeatable, routine practice will build instinct in your teams, allowing great success without the drain of great effort. Take a serious look at what has driven success in the past, and what specific activies are repeatable, and build them into your routine practices and daily routines to ensure that these are instinct for your teams.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Empire Strikes Back

From the back of the bar at StartupEmpire, over the glass half wall of the VIP section-turned-standing room only, I look out over a sea of roughly 150 students, startups, investors and interested folks. At the front of the room is Rick Segal, quipping that yes, we are in a bar, but no, there is no bottle service – Yet. David Crow is up there with him, a seemingly fitting example of their verbalized Goal: Let the conference be Conversational.
Peter from Price Waterhouse Coopers, who is sponsoring, is proud to be a part of the “Ecosystem” (oh boy)

The venue is packed with folding chairs, and the Conversation gets pretty difficult at coffee breaks and interaction abandonments abound as people tire of others trying to shuffle past. The day is less interaction and more lecture, but the first speakers are good, and I’ve included a summary of a couple below.

The first speaker is Don Dodge, who fittingly crafted a talk around starting a business in difficult times. I perk up! This is the stuff we need to feed our spirits, whose beatings are second worse only to our portfolios. Though a bit of a commercial for Microsoft, Don gets me with one statement: All Markets are driven by Fear, and Greed. Fear is Temporary, Greed is Permanent, and the markets will get better, they always do. Whew.
So knowing that things are going to get better, why start a company now?
Great people are the number one thing…great people are available now that the economy is in a shambles
Big companies are retrenching; buckling down and great people get bored and leave. Scoop them up.
VC’s have tons of money and want to invest – Oh wait, this is Canada. He’s talking about Boston. Doh.
You are already down, you don’t have anything to lose right now! (Gee, thanks)

So what is different now? Investors are doing things differently. Ask yourself a question: is your product a vitamin, or a pain killer? A pain killer is solving a problem that can’t be solved any other way. This is what you want. Vitamins aren’t interesting when the market has a huge migraine.

For the sake of human progress, down-turns are a good thing. Investors will still invest in GOOD ideas. In bad times, crappy ideas got funded. Marginal ideas and people got money before 2001, allowing these companies and people to flourish, and diluting the rainy day funds.

Nowadays, Me-Too startups won’t get the cash, and better yet, ad-supported models are being scrutinized.

This was a good talk; from here it becomes a bizspark commercial. I suppose that was to be expected.

Austin Hill took the stage, and didn’t sweeten up the bitter pill. A mocked cover of Time Magazine silently shouts “We are F*&^ed”. Wow, this roller coaster reminds me of yesterday’s TSX. Austin embarks on a vehicle-based metaphore that I can’t quite keep up to – something about rickshaws and submersible RV’s. (Don’t be either of these, be a Prius, if this makes any sense to you)

Keeping with the roadtrip theme, Austin gives us some tips on what to pack for your investor adventure. This is useful.
1. Your Pitch. 95% of entrepreneurs suck at this. Suck. No Really. Suck (Examples of this come later in the day)
a. Paint a compelling, passionate and believable pitch
i. Practice and get coaching
ii. Got to web 2.0 summit videos, get ideas
iii. Don’t step into the room before you are ready
b. Pirate Metrics - Analytics
i. Startonomics
c. Waterfall and Cash model
i. See the template on Austins blog
ii. With this much $, we accomplish this, with $$, we accomplish that.
iii. Be honest with yourself about what will happen going forward
d. Risk Reduction
2. Product Planner
a. Process flow and rates user flows… love this!!!!
i. Resource for web property
3. Pirate Metrics – 5 step startup metrics model
a. Acquisition
b. Referral
c. Retention
d. Revenue
4. Balsimiq
a. wireframe tool – love it

The last minute addition of “Insta-Pitch” attracts a large number of startups willing to share their ideas, and is entertaining when most are lambasted by the 4 investors on the stage. A Reminder: This was a last minute addition, and none of these startups would have prepared for this.

Here’s the Wrap:

One Data
You are organizing a blog
You have documents with company name all over it
You find out you need to change the company name…. but you are ready to ship your product.
What if you could have the data to update itself automatically?
Distribution Model:
Sell one, then use consulting companies to distribute it (Um, what is it?)
Back end technology for this service is set to become the platform for web services in the future
If One Data get’s investment, will hire sales and product management

You wasted time announcing what you are going to pitch, instead of just pitching…first four minutes should be consistent, tight, nailed. Get to the WHY, and HOW you solve a problem. Use it IS, we HAVE, then ask for the money. Don’t tell us what you don’t know. It is a crowded space; get a clearer focused strategy with a tighter differentiation of the product
What is the really hard pain point that you are solving?

Media Zoic
Use the wisdom of the cloud – the cloud knows what is good for you; lastfm and itunes genius know what is relevant for you. We believe the paradigm is evolving to be the wisdom of your own network. Social leveraging – you want to use the technology out there, but you don’t trust the cloud for it; you want to look to the people you know for the recommendations (music, business, lifestyle). Media zoic is IM platform that delivers the content from your network; delivers information in real time through your network. We bolt into all IM clients.
3 principles:
1. so easy dads can use it,
2. don’t need to learn new software,
3. Chunkable
We are 3-6 months from revenue on first chunk

4 minutes doesn’t mean saying a 7 minute pitch quickly. You have to know who you are pitching to; I needed you to highlight key things more, with less fluff; Big introduction but disconnected from product
Scott Pelton
I don’t believe you bolt into everything; prove that you work on the big things, and then grow
First part was abstract of a novel; Never use paradigm shift in a pitch; buzzword; Don’t pitch that you are all things for all people I’m Looking for confidence in YOU as much as the idea, I didn’t see it.

Yow Trip
(see my blog post here)

You don’t make me greedy over the pitch
It’s about scale; I see the need and market (student type of play) but I don’t see the size and scale
I would repitch… talk about potential market – those that would travel if they had people to travel with – define the market
I want more info on your management

What comes after email? FB, Twitter, etc. Jacksified aggregates all the info into one place. Jacksified sends all your messages from all your places to one place. Anyone who sends msg on msn, twitter, fb, can come to SMS for example

Good pitch, but don’t like the market; big players are making huge bets in this area, deeply embedded in big companies; Differentiation is weak; users just deal with this stuff anyway
I’m just not inspired
I am inspired; I want ppl to know where I am; I can’t see how this gets monetized

Software development companies either go over budget or over time; Target is companies where teams deliver large projects, but members are not in one place; Usual user spends 2.5 days doing research that someone has already done; We post and package expert solutions and post them for other users in the company

Like the pitch in the first 30 seconds, but it went nowhere
You need to deliver a tight solution; I want a tight solution to a big problem; you threw out some flippant things; get to the point

Deliver digital content 10-100 time faster than wifi; Download feature film to handheld in minutes in airports; Kiosks in airports – ads on kiosk and on media

Good clear pitch; immediately gave something you can understand (dl movie in 2 minutes). Take it back to how big opportunity is
I totally get it. I don’t believe in the monetization with advertising; but if you just charge me 5 bucks, I’ll do it

Facilitates quality business deals
You are an entrepreneur, seeking funding where do you go? Seeking advice, where do you go?
Investor looking for deal flow, where do you go? You need CFO where do you go?
Service provider, looking for customers, where do you go?
Answer is Entrebahn
Would you pay a subscription to solve these problems?

This is going to be painful
as I was growing up at school you used to get these guys that would tell me a joke that was layer upon layer upon layer, and at the end there is no punch line. Stringing you out for nothing. That’s what this was.
It reminds me of that terrible commercial: Headache on, headache on… every question you asked, I have better answers, I have linked in. Core part of pitch is to get to point of what you do. It is an authentic moment. You missed the point of what you do, and what value you create. You discredited yourself in your pitch. 30-40 seconds to get to the point. I need to retrain you to talk to customers, investors, and media. I’m not interested in retraining anyone.
The worst thing is making me guess what you are talking about. No I’m not interested.

I say kudos to those willing to put themselves out there on a moments notice, and boooo to the investors who treated them like they should have been ready for a Venture Forum. Constructive feedback is needed, even desired by these folks, but the panel needed a Paula Abdul to temper the Simon-ish wrath.

After 5 hours of speakers, my bum is numb, and my head has checked out. The last couple of speakers were lost to me, and I glazed through the rest of the day (I heard I didn’t miss much, but those folks could have fogged out too, who knows)

The after-party upstairs at This is London allows for some good networking and much needed refreshments. I heard a few connections were made, and that Conversation that Rick and David were looking for, finally took place. Glad to be a part of it.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

But, is it Efficient?

A few weeks back I was fortunate enough to stand on the 10x2 panel at Democamp Guelph. The idea is that 10 people give a 2 minute answer to a common question. The question was simply “What will be the next big technology idea?”

After a small bit of thought, I formed my answer around a theme that has been a focus of my own for the past 6 months or so: Efficiency. My answer then was “The next big technology advancement will be in any software or device that can effectively and economically measure efficiency.” Yes, it’s vague I realize, but it is so simple that the idea can be distilled into almost every facet of life and business to make marked improvements. Here is my Top of my Head list:

Energy Efficiency. This is a no brainer; everyone is on this bandwagon. We have sites both large and small dedicated to it, government organizations spending tax money on it, new devices, ideas and technologies dedicated to it. Most assuredly the next big technology idea will surround Improving and/or measuring efficiency of energy expenditure in:
1. Transportation
2. heating/cooling
3. manufacturing
4. waste management
5. energy production overall.

People Efficiency. Time is money, right? There are studies that say we waste up to 2 days per week at work. Are there ways for employers to get back those two days per week? Maybe, but I would guess that any measures would be temporary fixes at best, and we humans would find new ways to waste that time. But what if there were a way to objectively prove that you were more efficient than your former self, or other employees? Could you get a whole week’s worth of work done in 4 days and prove it? Should not employers pay on results or at least amount of work vs amount of time? I know it’s a pipe dream to think that if you could prove it, your boss might just give you every Friday off for the same pay, but measuring personal efficiency at work at least gives you a benchmark for annual reviews, promotions, and raises.

People efficiency is also about companies ensuring that they are able to use their human resources in the best way possible; ensuring that jobs and tasks are matched with the skills of the worker. Additionally, ensuring that workers are trained in such a way as to be able to do their job without a significant amount of wasted time and materials is important, and measurable. Coaching, mentoring, and moral measurements are also important in maximizing the efficiency of a workforce, and quantitative measurements over time would be a beneficial technology.

Economic Efficiency. Money is well, Money too. How well does a system produce goods and services for a set amount of input resources? Any improvement in the amount of goods and services produced without additional input is an improvement in Economic Efficiency. If we macro-scale this, and only use monetary input, we can put a measure on the Economic Efficiency of government programs, grand scale projects, and countries. There are many good measurement techniques out there for this type of analysis, but we still manage to waste significant amounts of money. Is a new technology for easily and objectively measuring economic efficiency the answer?

Efficiency is a Quantitative measurement. As the government and private sectors give time, attention, and money to efficiency improvements, surely the tools and technologies that can prove and protect the inputs will be (one of ) the next big attention grabbers.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Doing Online, well, Wrong

Doing online (traditional, social, 2.0/3.0, ) right has a variety of meanings, and can vary from market to market, product to product, even person to person. There isn't really a "right" answer, there is just doing Online Well, and even that is a qualitative analysis at best. But, there are some things about online marketing and promotion that can be described as just wrong. Let's leave aside the obvious ones like all out spamming, and purposely or inadvertently becoming linked on or to porn (unless of course, that is your business).
As social media and new media technology becomes increasingly popular in the B2B space, and trickling down to the SME B2B space, there are companies that want on this bandwagon, but don't experts on their team, there are some pretty big mistakes that can be made.
2.0 and social media marketing is by it's nature open to much more public critism than traditional methods, therefore attention to your message, media, and tone are more important than ever. Here is my take on some of the just plain Wrong ways of going about things.

1. Having no content other than your (often outdated) brochure. Would you like to have a Facebook page for you company? Have people become fans? Cool. FB is beoming a standard in companies online strategies, and can work well. You need to be sure that the content you are putting up is new, informative, and fresh; give your readers (and hopefully FB Fans) something to be excited about.

2. Disregarding your core Brand and/or Message. Just because you are playing in new media, doesn't mean you should completely abandon the ideas, messages, and packaging that have made up your business thusfar. By playing a theme that is out of tempo to the rest of your overature, you will simply alienate the very message that you wanted to keep tied to your company.

3. Being a one-trick pony. New media is in a large part about capturing a viral wave in the internet ocean. Like any good surfer will tell you, if you only paddle out to one spot every day, your chances of catching a wave aren't very good. You need to repurpose your message for a variety of mediums. Do you have a great White Paper? Cool, now grab the best bits of that and write a great blog. Can you make a video related to some of that content? Do it. Is there a new idea or technology that people can become Fans of on Facebook? Make page or even a group. Are there related topics or macrotrends that your original whitepaper can offer insite to? Look them up, and participate in their forums. Social media is not a one shot deal, or a quick fix.

4. Faking it. Do not, I repeat, do not pretend to be someone or something that you are not in social media. Do not make a facebook account pretending to be a person, when indeed you are a business. Do not pretend to be an anonymous or impartial forum poster and respond to blogs or postings about your business or related topics. You will get caught. The results are never good.

5. Spamming. This goes beyond traditional spamming (buying/finding/stealing email lists and sending out mass mails - don't do this. No, don't.) and includes putting your ad/website randomly as a comment to a blog post, forum posting, facebook group, etc. If you have valuable insights on a topic, add them. Include a link if it will help the community in the particular topic being discussed. But if you are putting a link just to put the link, and not adding any immediately available and directly related comments or content, just don't. Worse, do not post your company's website where it is totally unrelated. Commenting on a great article on nuclear energy? Great, just don't include a link to your dog grooming business. That's just irritating.

It's a brave new-ish world, but not one to be feared. A great deal of WOM is driven by altruism and the notion of providing goodwill to the community, and even the company. That being said, my last bit of advice: Don't be a dick. What goes around, comes around is faster, and more true than ever.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Be Stubborn

I like to draw paralells in life. It helps me deepen my understanding about things, simple or complex, but more importantly, it often opens up different angles for looking at ideas or problems. I'm a runner. I'm not new to running, but I am new to putting any distance to it. I plan to run the 30k around the bay road race in Hamilton on the 30th of March. I learned the hard way that you don't just decide to go from 10 or 15 k to trying out the 30, and I ended up in tears at km 23 of my pre-run of the course. There is a plan to getting to the 30k; it's been cooked up by a specialist who does these things, and it is a menu of runs of different lengths and speed that should get you through the race sans tears.
It's important to note that this is Canada. More important is that the training plan takes you running 4-5 days a week through the months of January, February, and now, March. This particular year, the weather just sucks. It hasn't just been cold, it's been windy, snowy, sleet-y, rainy, ice pellet-y. In my lifetime I don't recall such a rash of just plain bad weather. And still, I run. Why? Because I want the goal. I set the goal, I want the goal. Heck, I'm not even looking forward to the running part. The course isn't nice, it ends in hills, there's going to be 5549 other people jostling around me, and I don't have a running partner. BUT I WANT IT. Is it perserverance? Naw, that would be too "Rudy" of a word for me. I'm just plain Stubborn.
During my last run, I began to think about the Startups, and my own recent foray into working without a boss. I though about how many people must start, but don't make it. And I thought, I bet those who get to their Startup dreams would probably be out here running in the windy-sleety "snow-rain" nightmare, if the race was their goal. Starting Up can't be easy. There are people who tell you that your idea sucks, or that you'll never get off the ground; there are times when money's tight, and planning or development is stalled (or going backwards!); there are times when vendors can't deliver on time, or what they give you is crap..... and worst of all, there are times when you just plain feel like crap yourself, and you have no idea what you were thinking getting into all of this, and you doubt that you have the talent to make it fly, and you aren't even sure the goal is worth it. These are the times when no "chin up! you-can-do-it mom-style cheery optimism" is going to cut it. I'm gonna try treating it just like the running, with the consistant actions that are going to get me to the goal; the crappy running in the sleet. Me, I'm gonna Be Stubborn. I'm gonna do it just because I said I was gonna do it.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

It's all New, Kids

Things have changed. I no longer work at a large Canadian success story, and I'm investigating what life might be like not to be tied to a regular gig; a sure thing. But it's more than that. I've stumbled on a new place, and a new perspective, and by finding this have re-ignighted that fire that I was known for; that cracker-jack spark that people would tell me about, but that I thought lived in everyone. Neat-o.

What is this brave new world? Startups. Startups and pseudo startups (former startups looking for the next big thing; the diversion from n+1 product development within their own companies). Ideas mashed with spirit, searching for the tools to make the dreams come alive. I know, I know, very Lewis Carroll. Some might argue that there is no fairy dust, but for me, right now, I disagree. Compared to a corporate world where 100+ hours a week go into seemingly benign tactics supporting someone else's dream, and your biggest reward is your paycheck and not getting ripped by an overworked VP, Startup Land might as well be Neverland.

But as far as I can tell, the world is new for the startups, too. With seemingly endless places to turn for community thanks to the web 2.0 tools that many are hoping to add to with their own endeavors, and ultra-cool (but not in the Swingers, Money Baby flavor; but it could be Swingers 2.0... perhaps more on that another time) gatherings of like-minded dreamers, dreamer helpers (read: Tools and Money) and wannabe dreamers at BarCamp, DemoCamp, StartupCamp around the country and the world, getting the stuff from lab to reality is bound to be faster than ever. Community driving innovation. No bubble-boy, plastic coated, locked up, class 100 clean rooms here. Lay bare your idea (and your soul in some cases) for the world to see, publicly critique, and yes, HELP. Yeah, yeah, your big secret is then out there, for someone to steal and make their own. Secrecy be damned. As Austin Hill, Canadian entrepreneur and angel investor said at StartupCamp Waterloo on Tuesday (and I paraphrase because I took poor notes) If you have thought of it, so has someone else. Do it anyway.