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Saturday, December 28, 2013

Tech Execs & Entrepreneurs Compared


In a November 22, 2013 Information Week Commentary, E. Kelly Fitzsimmons offers the following comparison of a Senior Technology Executive and an Entrepreneur

4 Reasons You Aren't An Entrepreneur


A startup survivor shares why the traits that make corporate execs successful can undo their entrepreneurial efforts.

Listen in on the hallway chatter at any major tech conference, and you'll likely hear it: The rant about the ridiculousness of a certain startup getting an unbelievable amount of venture capital. Oftentimes it’s a successful technology executive at a big company behind that rant, who then starts pitching his startup idea he's never acted upon.

Should a successful IT leader chuck it all and try the startup route? In the weird, upside-down world of startups, the very qualities that make you a top CIO or other business leader can sabotage your chances of getting a startup off the ground. Understanding the "startup brain" not only helps you make that personal career decision, it can help an IT leader who's trying to encourage more of a startup mentality inside his or her large company.

As a five-time startup veteran, I humbly offer four factors that I think help big-company executives thrive -- but that work against their startup prospects.

1. Risk-Oriented Maturity
Leading an enterprise technology team requires an exceptional level of maturity that the average entrepreneur is woefully lacking. CIOs tend to have a more sophisticated understanding of risk and know how to leverage it for gain. Bets are made carefully with much consideration, and cherished projects are killed due to lack of speedy adoption. It’s not personal, it’s just business.

In contrast, entrepreneurs tend to have this grandiose notion that ideas can change the world. Thanks to our lack of maturity, we are willing to strike out on our own immediately. We tend, especially in the early years, to have a poor understanding of risk and what we are actually getting ourselves into. On the backend, you will often hear, “If I had known how hard this would be, I would never have started.”

2. Successfully Employed
To get to where you are now requires that you were employable from the get go -- rising through the ranks and proving yourself again and again as the “go-to” person. More importantly, you possess a significant amount of political savvy to get (and stay) where you are. It’s rare to find a successful entrepreneur who is not “colorful.” We often hail from the island of misfit toys. Behind closed doors, we laugh about how ill-suited we are for traditional corporate life and share how we got ourselves fired (for the fifth time) and knew it was time to strike out on our own. Part of the reason so many of us start businesses is that we didn’t really have a choice.

3. Power Savvy
Hierarchy makes sense to you. Thanks to your expertise and position, you hold the trump card with vendors, employees, and sometimes even with peers, as your opinion can kill another’s plans. You might wield your power sparingly, even wisely, but you are accustomed to having it, at least some of the time.

If an entrepreneur ever has the luxury of power, it's usually only very late in the startup trajectory. Entrepreneurs are in a very vulnerable position for almost the entire ride. No one is ever obligated to take our calls or help us out. A startup CEO is in a constant state trying to keep employees, clients, vendors and the board appeased. As such, there is no such thing as real positional power. If you are too proud to beg, this is not your calling.

4. Pragmatic
It’s a rare CIO who can stay in this position without showing some willingness to compromise. Pragmatism is valuable and required here. You might have power, but you know when it’s unwise to force projects and agendas.

If entrepreneurs were pragmatic, they would throw in the towel far sooner than the successful ones do. What gives most entrepreneurs their edge is a willingness to withstand discomfort and uncertainty for unreasonably long periods of time. Many refuse to compromise their vision or call it quits. We just slog it out. Ironically, it’s also why many of us never make it to the finish line, as we tend to get ourselves fired once we take on capital.

There is no such thing as a quintessential entrepreneur. We come in all stripes and flavors. And yes, some very successful former technology executives have made the leap and wowed their naysayers. And some successful entrepreneurs have transitioned into great corporate leaders. But know that the qualities that have served you so well as an executive are not qualities common in startup CEOs… and for good reason.

What do you think?

 
Steve Koenig, SCORE Counselor


 

Friday, December 27, 2013

To Brand or Not To Brand


A “Brand” is often described as the name, term or symbol that identifies a product from a specific seller. There is some confusion differentiating “Branding” from “Marketing”. Some define “Marketing” as what you do, and “Branding” as what you are. A “Brand” may be applied to a product, service or even an entire company and generally has value in the marketplace. I have had the opportunity to develop, trademark and protect “brands” during my career and believe it is important to enter this area well advised.

It was Shakesphear who wrote: “…he that filches from me my good name robs me of that which not enriches him and makes me poor indeed.” This statement can be applied to a Brand as well.

There are a number of cases where a Brand was not protected by its owner, and the uniqueness was lost. Who owns the brand Frigidaire, or Kleenex or even Xerox? These have become general terms for refrigerators, tissues and copiers and the original owners of the brands, who spent a lot of time effort and money developing them have lost their uniqueness as a result.  This raises the question: what is the value of protecting a brand?

If you have been following this BLOG you may have seen the piece on a Franchising Story, where a position on supporting a brand was discussed as well.

So, if you decide to “Brand” anything, here are a few tips:

Establish a name you can protect and keep fresh in most, if not all forums, where you compete, on line or in any media. Think long term to evolving media as well, even if you are not ready to use it. Use trademark, copywrite, domain name registration services and/or other protective notices everywhere.

Build credibility with views of the history of the people and issues that led to the development of the brand. Consider social media for this.

Protect your Brand. Do everything you can to stop others from using it. Consult an attorney skilled in these areas. If you can not or will not do this then one should question having a brand at all. Someone else could get it and force you out.

As you set up on line capabilities keep in mind that search software may find your site and load it up with spam. Plan ahead for this.

What are you doing in this area?


Steve Koenig, SCORE Counselor


 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

5 Things Super Successful People do before 8 AM


The early bird catches the worm? Ugh, who likes worms? But we can learn how really successful people start their days. Important people, RICH people. Here are 5 of those things successful people do before 8 a.m.

 
1.    EXERCISE.  Most people that work out daily, work out in the morning. Exercise will start your day with an energy boost AND a sense of accomplishment.

 
2.    MAP OUT YOUR DAY. Planning your day from start to finish will focus you and the quiet of morning is the perfect time to plan it all out. And leave time for a 10 or 15 minute break after a stressful meeting, or take a walk around the block or some quiet meditation at your desk.  Nutritious snacks are a great “stoker” too.

 
3.    EAT A HEALTHY BREAKFAST. You need fuel in your car for the day ahead and fuel in your body, so you can concentrate on your busy schedule and not your  growling stomach. A quick bowl of granola with the kids can energize and vitalize you for the day ahead. Don’t skip it.


4.    VISUALIZATION. Take some time to visualize and think about the day looming before you, focusing on the successes you will have. That kind of positive thinking can help improve your mood and outlook for the challenges and the opportunities that will come your way.

 
5.    MAKE YOUR DAY TOP HEAVY. Often we have things to do that are less than pleasant, and putting them off until later in the day just stresses your whole day’s performance. Instead of worrying and anticipating about it, make it the very first appointment of the day. You’ll be freshest and more focused and have the most energy then. And thereafter the rest of your day gets easier and easier and your free time is so much more rewarding and relaxing. Beard that lion in his den as Job One.


Martin Kahn is a  Counselor with SCORE South Palm Beach (www.scoresouthflorida.net)

Bus Lessions from Encyclopedia Britannica?


Some months ago a determined lecturer, A. J. Jacobs, decided to read all 30,000 pages to see what history revealed about the traits of successful entrepreneurs. What he discovered was 6 universal aspects that are worth noting and using in your everyday business life. Here they are:
 

1.    Engage in strategic chutzpah! You’ll never get your big break spending time at home. Take advantage of every opening, every opportunity that you find in your daily interactions. A door only opens when you push or pull.

2.    Take ideas from outside your field! Be bold. Be like Bill Gates, if you will. When he takes a vacation he stokes up on books of wildly divergent topics. We can never know enough and we should never stop learning or being open to different ideas. Hey, that’s how the “Pet Rock” got invented.

3.    Keep presentations short! The Gettysburg Address lasted just two minutes. The words will endure forever. Whatever you do, don’t exceed 20 minutes for ANY presentation, and remember to time it and test it at home first.

4.    Embrace rejection!  Well, you don’t have to love it, but you’ve got to expect it.  Even Chester Carlson, the inventor of the Xerox machine, was turned down by over 20 companies before he finally sold his idea.

5.    Being first is over-rated!  You don’t have to be first. You’ve just got to be better! Starbucks sure stung Dunkin’ Donuts, didn’t they?

6.    Adapt or die! Even the venerable Encyclopedia Britannica had to stop printing those beautiful volumes and go completely online in 2012. Tech and trends change almost overnight. Stay tuned at all times!

 

Martin Kahn is a Counselor with SCORE South Palm Beach (www.scoresouthflorida.net)

Saturday, December 14, 2013

CASH, CASH, Pay Me First


Managing the cash in your business is always a critical process. Among the things you need to do with the cash you generate is to pay suppliers, employees, landlords, lenders, mortgage holders, shippers, utility providers, partners, and of course, yourself.

YES, I said, PAY YOURSELF. If your business cannot afford to pay you what you could earn if you worked for someone else, maybe you should go to work for that other person. Check with your Accountant on a reasonable salary for yourself and the tax implications as well.

Sure, you plan on the business income exceeding expenses, but maybe this is not always the case. Maybe you are starting up. Maybe you are in a slow season. There are lots of “maybe’s”.  You need a plan to have a source of cash when needed. Lines of Credit may offer some help, but they also increase your costs. Consider the opportunity costs associated with your business and balance the risks of putting too much in one bucket.

Ideally you put enough aside when you started the business to get through the initial phases. Maybe you put enough aside during your big season to carry you over the slow time. Maybe you set up your business to get income as soon as the sale is made or work is done or progress payments, and delayed paying suppliers for 30 or 60, maybe even 90 days, providing a cash flow from the “float”. Don’t forget to account for some bad debts on the collection side of this equation.

As your business generates cash consider putting something aside for the unforeseen events that are likely to happen. Will you need to hire a consultant for some expertise?

Some people will advise setting up 3-6 months reserve of revenue for the unforeseen.

 
Steve Koenig, SCORE Counselor


 

 

 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Got the right Attorney?


Business Attorneys help small business owners in many ways. The “right” Attorney, knows you and your business well. Sometimes it takes more than one Attorney to get what you need. But even in these situations it is best to have a single supervising Attorney. They provide guidance and help setting up the business, making needed filings in the location you select, establish franchise and/or supplier and sales agreements, property and equipment leases, employee agreements, licenses, patents, and much more. These people make a career out of understanding the way through the maze of laws and regulations and are often worth their weight in gold. But selecting the “right” Attorney for you may not be as easy as you think.

The fact that your friend knows an Attorney, does not mean this is the “right” one for you. A Business Attorney does not come directly out of law school, he or she develops over time.  Look for the following characteristics:

Licensed in your state

Knows your industry and has a practice focused on it.

Promptly responds with good advice

Has a clear record with the state Bar Association

Does he/she represent a competitor?

 
For guidance you may want to use the American Bar Association (ABA) Lawyer Referral Service and/or the state Bar Association, or the Martindale Hubble Lawyer directory in the library or on line.

When you find the “right” one, others probably have as well, and time and cost could be at a premium.

Consider engaging your Attorney in business and industry meetings (at an agreed cost) as it will enable him/her to provide better advice. Think of them as business partners. Your returns could be beneficial.  If you succeed the Attorney succeeds as well.

Keep in mind that the “right” Attorney for you is the one that helps you do what your want to do. Not the one that tells you why you can’t do it.

 
Steve Koenig, SCORE Counselor


 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Finding a Counselor/Mentor


What do you do when:

Your employees quit?
A supplier offers you a “sweet” deal?
A major business or government office you depend on closes?
One of your major products is recalled by the manufacturer?
One of your products is featured in a national advertising campaign?
A natural disaster hits your business (fire, flood, storm, etc.)?

Where do you go to get help creating a plan to move your business forward?

You could call “Ghost Busters” and hope for the best…or you could have a Counselor/Mentor in the wings, ready to offer assistance.  You may recall that in another article I discussed the differences between Counselors and Mentors…THERE IS NONE! SCORE uses both terms interchangeably.

So how do you go about finding the right one for you?

First, determine what you need to succeed

Second, Make time to find and meet (if possible) with a prospective Counselor/Mentor. Look at your local SCORE chapter and/or the SCORE national web site for pointers.

Third, Find one that you respect and determine how you will stay in touch (meetings, email, phone, etc.)

Fourth, Ask the questions you seek help with

It is not hard, but it will not happen if you do not plan ahead.

Are you ready?


Steve Koenig, SCORE Counselor/Mentor


 

 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Fledgling Exporters- where to start


Start with focus on ONE market. Later expand. It is important to understand the target mkt. Be sure you understand general bus. conditions, political & social trends to isolate an appropriate market. In Europe, for example - know the diff. between North & South EU community as well as the diff. between the EC & the Eastern Bloc.

Know the payment history of the target area. For example: doing bus. in Latin America or the Middle East presents an entire set of sales problems that are like night & day from each other and Europe.

One area that is vexing is competition from other U.S. exporters who offer payment terms & financing that has nothing to do with what you are offering. These non price issues vary in hard currency areas, exchange regulation restrictions and even source origins - say China.. To establish guidelines contact overseas the local American Chamber of Commerce in the MAJOR city of the area planned for entry

MARKET PRODUCT ACCESSIBILITY

We've talked about this before. All written mat'l. in the local language. All paging. clearly marked in local. (this includes owners' manuals; labels; guarantees; etc. Pricing in Europe must take into account VAT. Hidden costs such as import duties, storage locally impact accessibility. This info can be obtained from the Commercial Attache of the target country by calling their relative Embassy in DC.

Trade barriers exist such as Import licence, (due to dollar availability); regulatory approvals (electrical, health, etc) All this can be researched by contacting the above Trade office of the target mkt. The Embassy of the target area in Washington DC will provide how to get the info. Product support services are crucial for re-ordering. Spares & parts need to be positioned locally to build customer confidence in your line.

QUALIFY THE BUYER

Asses your customer by: 1 Length of time in business; 2 Rqst. 5 references from other suppliers - preferably U.S. but foreign is perfectly acceptable (the Int'l. trade community shares this info willingly. 3 If an agent, demand who others they represent and obtain their comments; 4 ask for Banking references - who do they bank with (also readily available - ask YOUR banker to obtain that info from the bank name they give you; 5 write a contract that stipulates volume expected, territory, length of agreement and non compete with your line.

FOR SPECIFIC HELP CONTACT:
Hank Samuel - SCORE Certified Mentor
hank.samuel2@gmail.com

visit us at: www.scoresouthflorida.net