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If the Shoe Fits: What is Failure?

December 19th, 2014 by Miki Saxon

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mWhat is failure?

Is it having a startup/project/marriage go left instead of right?

How many times can a person fail?

Once/twice/several/more?

Failure in the startup world has essentially become a non-event, since that outcome is more likely than success.

According to research by Shikhar Ghosh, a senior lecturer in the entrepreneurial management unit at Harvard Business School, 30 to 40 percent of venture-backed start-ups blow through most or all of their investors’ money, and 70 to 80 percent do not deliver their projected return on investment.

However, I believe that you can only fail once.

That’s because the only failure I recognize is that of not trying again.

Also known as quitting.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/pictoquotes/14385726019

Image credit: HikingArtist
Image credit: BK

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Entrepreneurs: a Tale of Two Billionaires

December 18th, 2014 by Miki Saxon

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jasoneppink/9229714799Chamath Palihapitiya grew up poor, became a billionaire, but found it wasn’t enough.

As a VC, he is building the kind of real legacy he wants by investing in companies like Glooko, a mobile diabetes management company, and Treehouse, a company that trains computer engineers and helps them find jobs.

Compare his attitude to billionaire Vinod Khosla, who blocked access to a previously public beach and now is ignoring a judge’s order to return public access.

Khosla’s actions even spurred passage of a new law that can use eminent domain to force a sale of the property.

Perhaps it’s time to follow an old Roman custom that was used to keep victorious generals’ egos in check; they were required to have a person in their victory chariot who kept repeating “Remember, you are not a god.”

It’s definitely time to rewrite the adage, “money is root of all evil” to a more accurate “ego is the root of all evil.”

Flickr image credit: Jason Eppink

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Ask Tough Questions.

December 17th, 2014 by Miki Saxon

https://www.flickr.com/photos/valeriebb/3006348550I’ve been in sales in one form or another my entire career.

One of the most common questions successful salespeople hear is along the lines of, “What is the secret to successful selling?”

Most answers are some variation of ‘hard work’, ‘persistence’, ‘it’s a numbers game’, etc.

My response is a little different — ‘you have to ask the tough questions’.

Of course, people then ask ‘what are the tough questions’?

The answer to that is simple. A tough question is any question to which you don’t want to hear the answer.

In sales the hardest question any salesperson asks is the one to which the potential client will say “no.”

It’s what’s called a “closing question” and it can take place anytime after the first hello.

Salespeople often avoid closing questions to keep the discussion going, kidding themselves and their boss into thinking it’s a live one.

A no means having to make more cold calls to refill the pipeline whereas it’s more comfortable to avoid the no and believe they can rejuvenate a deal with additional contacts.

More subtly, salespeople (like the rest of us mortals) want to be liked.

By asking the question that will either take the deal to the next level or end it, the salesperson is risking not being liked any more, i.e., rejected, AKA, no.

Tough questions permeate not just sales, but hiring, product/software development and all parts of life.

The trick is realizing that the faster you ask them the faster you will hear ‘no’ and the faster you can move on to something more positive.

Flickr image credit: Valerie Everett

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Ducks in a Row: Short-Term or Long-Term?

December 16th, 2014 by Miki Saxon

https://www.flickr.com/photos/21923568@N00/9582074886

I’ve written many times describing the value of benefits and their effects on worker productivity.

Last year we looked at Amazon as a poster child for treating lower-level employees as expendable, replaceable ciphers.

However, some companies are eschewing Wall Street’s demand for short-term profit in favor of treating their employees and the environment better in the name of long-term profits and sustainability.

However, some companies are eschewing Wall Street’s demand for short-term profit in favor of treating their employees and the environment better in the name of long-term profits and sustainability.

… a new type of business called a benefit corporation, which means its mission is to consider the needs of society and the environment, in addition to profit. There are 27 states that have passed legislation allowing companies to incorporate as benefit corporations…

Companies not located in one of those 27 states can apply as Certified B-Corporations.

The companies pledge to think about people and the planet in addition to profit, and an outside nonprofit inspects them and makes sure they’re doing so.

The premise is more back to the future than original — it’s called “stakeholder capitalism” and dates back more than 60 years.

Economists like Robert Reich, the one-time Labor Secretary, wondered if the Market Basket saga was a sign that the country was “witnessing the beginning of a return to a form of capitalism that was taken for granted in America sixty years ago.” He wrote that he hoped it was a return to “stakeholder capitalism,” in which employees and customers are also part of a company’s decision-making, as opposed to the “shareholder capitalism” of the last few decades that has focused on maximizing shareholder value.

While it’s Wall Street’s short-term, investor-as-god thinking that’s behind the minimization of workers and customers, it’s those same people, i.e., workers and customers, who are driving the change in attitude — along with multiple studies that prove treating all stakeholders well pays off.

More proof that, as I and others have said multiple times, business is like a three-legged stool — customers, investors and employees. When one or two legs are wildly out-of-whack with the third the stool falls over.

Maybe not immediately, but sooner than you think.

Wall Street and investors don’t care; they just go their merry, destructive way.

Flickr image credit: Gábor Kovács

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The More Things Change…

December 15th, 2014 by Miki Saxon

https://www.flickr.com/photos/croweb/2836990301

the more they stay the some.

Does this sound familiar?

“Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.”

The result of a new study? The words of a trusted expert?

No, it’s a quote from Socrates (469-399 B.C.).

Just as the Boomer generation was defined by the actions of a large minority, not all Boomers did drugs and dropped out, so the millennial generation has been defined by another large minority.

But they are a minority.
New patterns show they may not be as self-absorbed as they first appeared — maybe as a result of ageing.

But a very different picture of millennials emerges from what may be the most illuminating literary project of our era, the Pew Research Center’s sequence of reports on millennials. The 2010 edition, subtitled “Confident. Connected. Open to Change,” offered an X-ray of its first wave, the “roughly 50 million millennials who currently span the ages of 18 to 29.”

After all, you wouldn’t expect a 29-year-old’s attitudes and goals to be the same as an 18-year-old’s.

Socrates’ words show two things clearly.

  1. Every generation has been sure that the following generation will be the downfall of the human race.
  2. Every generation has been wrong.

Flickr image credit: Ben Crowe

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Lean Startup Conference 2014: Wrap and Thanks

December 12th, 2014 by KG Charles-Harris

kg_charles-harris

KG Charles-Harris is once again attending the Lean Startup Conference and sharing his impressions and what he’s learning with you.

Once again the team of Sarah Millstein & Eric Ries has created a weeklong conference – the Lean Startup Conference – that hits it out of the ballpark! 

If you didn’t see my updates from last year’s conference, I must reiterate that this is the most useful of all the tech/business conferences I have attended.  And this year they took it to a new level of excellence in several different areas.

There were two very notable differences from previous years, firstly, the larger contingent and programming for enterprise organizations and government (intrapreneurship), and secondly, the significant inclusion of women and minorities in the speaker and mentor lineup.

One would think that for a startup conference, having a large portion of programming dedicated to mature and large organizations would be a distraction or departure from the core values and intent of the conference.

However, the way in which they developed the programming, it became a learning experience for aspiring entrepreneurs of how to not only grow their companies, but also for how to keep their companies vital and vibrant as they became larger.

Several of my conversations with people who came from large organizations and governments, both nationally and from far flung destinations like Norway and Portugal, displayed a tremendous optimism that the Lean Startup methodology had potential to revitalize their organizations and how they serve their customers/constituents.

The second important difference from previous years is that the conference was characterized by the diversity of speakers and mentors. 

In terms of gender, age, racial background and experience, the conference was replete with different perspectives that give us the knowledge that Lean Startup is good execution regardless of whether I am a diminutive woman from India or a large, bearded white male. 

This made the conference much more interesting than any other I’ve attended and the networking was exceptional as a result. 

Clearly the conference organizers thought carefully of how they could provide both a learning experience in business and a culturally expanding perspective. 

Thank you Sarah and Eric for both a superb learning experience, as well as a personally expanding event – truly exceptional!

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Lean Startup Conference 2014: Mikkel Svane and Zendesk’s Story

December 11th, 2014 by KG Charles-Harris

Startup Land book

KG Charles-Harris is once again attending the Lean Startup Conference and sharing his impressions and what he’s learning with you.

It was especially interesting to listen to Mikkel Svane’s talk about Zendesk’s story, because I had read a pre-publication copy of his book Startup Land.

The book was the basis of the talk, I found Mr. Svane to be enlightening, honest and real and all that carried over in his book.

Startup Land was an enjoyable read from a strong entrepreneur, with real stories about the struggle of starting, moving and growing a technology company. 

The fact that they started as entrepreneurs in Denmark and moved an embryonic company to the US only increased the complexity and challenges that the three founders had to traverse in making the company a success. 

Not only were the founders outside the normal Silicon Valley entrepreneurial eco-system, but they were also in a different country with little access to the information or thinking patterns common in the US.  It is a testament to the tenacity and determination, and even more so to the “hustling mentality” of the founders – they were willing to take significant risks and stay completely focused on two things — building a great product and getting immediate revenue on this product.

The author rightly credits the Scandinavian social system for their ability to take some of the risks that they were able to assume — they knew they would never end up on the street homeless, but could suffer a temporary reduction in living standards if they failed.  This is radically different than the case in the US and many other countries where startup failure can lead to destitution.

Regardless, the ingenuity and determination displayed during the process of bringing Zendesk from birth to maturity was an inspiration.  I’m a serial entrepreneur with international background myself, and I know how much effort is required to make that kind of move. 

The major challenge, however, comes with adjusting to the new mindset and culture in your host country.  Startup Land discusses this to some extent, but it would have been interesting to get some more insight about it.

Mr. Svane does a good job of synthesizing his experience into practical advice, summarized in special sections at the end of each chapter.  As such, the book can be a practical guide to such things as what to consider when hiring team members or how to think about particular aspects of the business. 

Also, some of the most interesting, and sometimes funny, parts of the book are found in how the three founders interacted based on their particular personalities and proclivities. 

Considering that founder dynamics is one of the most prevalent reasons for startup failure, this information  should be studied closely.  The difficulties and required tolerance for navigating these issues is core, especially the sensitivity required by the Founder/CEO.

In short, the book is well worth reading — it’s a quick and easy read with practical insights and a good dose of humor.

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Lean Startup Conference 2014: Metrics: The Data That Will Make or Break Your Business

December 10th, 2014 by KG Charles-Harris

kg_charles-harris

KG Charles-Harris is once again attending the Lean Startup Conference and sharing his impressions and what he’s learning with you.

Tuesday

Metrics: The Data That Will Make or Break Your Business

Alistair Croll, Solve for Interesting, @Acroll

The first day at the Lean Startup Conference 2014 has been excellent!  I’ve been at an all-day seminar by Alistair Croll – the author of the book Lean Analytics.  A very boring sounding name, but really the essence of how to create a sustainable product market fit and scalable business.  How do I know that I’m on the right path with my products?  How do I know that the pricing is correct?  How do I find the factors that are influencing the growth of the company?  Etc.

I must say that every minute spent in the seminar (from 10 am to 5:30 pm) was worthwhile, even the time spent on the larger organizations, as he made it very useful by comparing to startups in every single part of the process.  Even for a startup guy from a tech startup, the part of the session that focused on innovation within large enterprise companies was fascinating.  Understanding the difficulties those intrapreneurs experience almost made the travails startups go through seem simple.  Alistair’s suggestions and advice for how to think around these issues and attain success.

The room was filled all day and I noticed that I wasn’t the only participant with rapt attention on the presentation – everyone else was very focused on what he was saying.  The sessions were very interactive with people feeling comfortable to ask questions and Alistair encouraging discussion.  Everyone I spoke with during lunch said they were captivated and that his lectures were transforming their thinking.

I am lucky to have been able to participate in this seminar – it is clear that it will have a strong effect on how I execute within my startup as we begin interacting with customers on a broader scale.

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Ducks in a Row: Don’t Do As Sephora

December 9th, 2014 by Miki Saxon

https://www.flickr.com/photos/34804353@N02/5743701159

As workloads have increased, companies are pushing people to move faster and faster—often to the company’s detriment.

At the same time employee engagement (AKA, giving a damn) has been plummeting like a rock.

This is especially true when it comes to written communications.

Whether errors are from lack of knowledge or carelessness doesn’t change their effect on readers.

Some errors just make a company’s workforce look ignorant and uneducated (here’s a list of 15 common errors), but some can make it a laughingstock and cost big-time.              

Consider the effect of a spelling error on Sephora.

In the lead up to its launch in Australia Sephora has made a doozy of a spelling mistake, leaving out the ‘o’ in its #countdowntobeauty hashtag on Facebook.

Social media is having a field day and it’s doubtful it will go away any time soon.

Obviously, the error wasn’t intentional; it’s more likely the result of not taking time to proof the copy, whether from being overloaded or just sloppy.

Either way, the damage is done.

Here are three simple things you can do to avoid finding your company in a similar situation.

  • Spell and grammar check should be the default on all company computers—executives and senior personnel aren’t immune to errors.
  • For critical content, writing and proofing should be done by different people; the second person is less likely to unconsciously correct an error.
  • Budget enough time to allow for proofing; reading a sentence backwards makes it easier to catch errors.

Flickr image credit: Jean-Daniel Echenard

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The Wonder of ISS

December 8th, 2014 by Miki Saxon

Rather than writing today I thought I would share my wonder and show you something amazing.

It’s the stuff of human dreams since time began.

The stuff that fires the imagination of anyone who sees it.

It’s a real-time view of Earth from the International Space Station.

Commentary and explanations from Business Insider.

Enjoy!


Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

And in case you are a reader, here’s a link from KG to The Best Science Books of 2014.

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