Business Intermission or Post-Mortem?

Sometimes taking an business intermission to reflect, re-group and then re-engage is best, better than quitting.

I’ve tried a lot of business ideas, some better than others. Some fail, more succeed and many of the successes have had to take a break before breaking out.

With there being so many complexities in creating, building and effectively running a business, it is pretty hard to get them all right the first time around.

While busy most of the time working on VoIP Supply, my core business, I often build prototypes of businesses/products, prove their viability and (the hard part) hand the idea and basic objectives off to someone hired to build it from the ground up. Ideally remaining very hands-off and allowing the professional hired to build a plan around it and successfully execute on their plan. “Ideally” isn’t always the outcome.

One such project led to the following analysis which is shaping the second period, areas for improvement in many businesses. These are listed in no particular order.

  • Insufficient Planning and Metrics for Accountability and Measurement: If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail. That which gets measured gets done.
  • Ineffective Leadership, Not Able to “Wear All Hats” as Needed in Start-Up Mode: You have to be able to see the business at 30,000 feet AND 30 feet.
  • Confusing Messaging to Customers and Staff:  Within a multi-tenant holding company, who are we, how do we fit, why are we here.
  • Lack of Focused Effort, Too Much Time Spent on Non-Essentials: Customers (sales) pay the bills, focus there first. Profits make pretty.
  • No Simplistic Message (“Why Buy”) to Present to Customers and Partners: Explain it clearly in 30 seconds, once.
  • Not Leveraging Strength in Brand and Reach of Strategic Partners: Don’t walk past five $10 bills just to get a $20 bill.

It is my belief that, had the leadership been more tech savvy with interest in learning and using tools to improve efficiency, had they created a plan that included measurable goals and the activities required to achieve them and had they rolled up their sleeves to complete the required tasks before dwelling on non-essentials, they would have been more successful. Furthermore, the messaging, the “who, what, why and how”, the “why buy”, along with their visual and textual representation needed to be simple and crystal clear without detailed explanation. Lastly, the pre-established partnerships and primed customer base wasn’t leveraged effectively.

Second period, back on the ice, avoid these six bullet points and do the opposite. Simple right?

Don’t be self-defeating! Innovate.

Big companies need you, don’t let their presence prevent you from moving forward with your ideas, designs and inventions.

How many great ideas have been crushed by thoughts like, “What if I take my product public and a big competitor just replicates it, crushing me and my idea?

There was a good article in Entrepreneur magazine last month (Buy vs. build – Sam Hogg) that I want to summarize, in effort to promote progress rather than hesitation.

In short, big companies typically don’t build, they buy, they typically don’t innovate, rather they automate. Their shareholders demand guaranteed, successful growth, a requirement that start-up entrepreneurs can’t afford and also are not shackled by.

Innovation requires people (entrepreneurs) with wild ideas, solutions to problems and visions of a better future.

Large companies cannot afford the risk nor the time required to create something that may fail, it makes them look bad to their board and investors.

Entrepreneurs can make plans on a napkin and decisions over a couple of beers, large companies struggle to get a memo crafted in a day to call a meeting for next month.

Risk vs. reward…. it makes a lot more sense for a big business to buy a hot innovation than run the risk of trying to make it and failing, even if they have to pay a premium on the guarantee.

If you are thinking of innovation and afraid of getting stepped on, don’t be, just run faster and prove your success to a strategic partner or buyer (big business).

For Entrepreneurs Only

Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely job, often thankless and a non-stop roller coaster.

Explaining even that simple statement to someone that has never been one is more or less futile as much as explaining what it is like to visit space to someone that has never even been on an airplane.

After building and running companies for more than 15 years, I decided to seek out a group or organization of like minded individuals in order to discuss various business and personal situations only experienced by those that have founded and run a business of some significance.

I have never been the type of person to join networking organizations that have a primary objective of meeting, swapping business cards, soliciting business and/or seeking ways in which members can work together. I was not looking for a networking group, there are plenty of those out there.

Surely I can have conversations with colleagues, friends, my family, spouse or even my children about work related topics, but the feedback I can expect to receive will never be experience based nor will it be delivered within the context of business as a whole where each decision affects multiple areas of the business and not usually just the topic at hand.

For example, let’s say I find out that a senior level executive has been stealing from the company for several month, quite likely even longer. In deciding what to do, there are legal, financial, ethical, morale and operational impacts to consider, how to inform or not inform customers, vendors, partners and possibly even other employees. Do you react immediately or play dumb to gather evidence and catch them in the act? — I can talk about this to non-entrepreneurs and at best receive emotional support, but with other entrepreneurs I may receive a lot of comprehensive information in the format of “Wow, that happened to me last year and this is how I handled it…”

What to do? Where do I find these people?

In the search for people, groups and organizations of fellow entrepreneurs, I found the group to join in EO (Entrepreneurs Organization).

EO is a global collection of more than 7,600 members, all of whom have walked the walk and are in the organization to share and learn together. While not an invite only group, in order to be part of EO you must be the founder and/or owner of a business generating more than $1 million in annual revenue. For me, these basic requirements set the bar immediately and profiles the types of people I can expect to interact with. The organization also has a fairly strict set of rules as to how members interact in a non-solicitational, experience sharing, safe environment designed to help those that have all hopped onto the same roller coaster ride.

If you are an entrepreneur and find yourself, from time to time, seeking like minded individuals that can truly understand and help you run your business, I would highly encourage you to take a look at EO and all of the benefits available to its members.

Great Site for Young or Budding Entrepreneurs – young people. grownup business.JuniorBiz - young people. grownup business.

I’m always looking around and exploring resources for entrepreneurs, both to share and to learn from. This site has a lot of excellent content from writers young and old.

One of their posts in particular has a lot of good ideas for teens looking to build a summer (or year round) business venture.

While there are a lot of ideas listed (100+), I’d look at it as more of inspiration for your own unique idea.

If you get started on and idea and find yourself running out of mental and emotional fuel, read these stories and see if they can motivate you.

Lastly, there was a good quote from a young businessman named Nick Tart. He “gets it”.

“Starting a business often involves weeks, months, years of hard work and fruitless labor. If you don’t enjoy that work, if you don’t passionately love that work, you’re not going to finish it.”

Good luck, it can be done!!

Initial Entrepreneurship Questions (9945)

Some feedback after initial questions about being an entrepreneur and starting one’s own business…

I got started on this project with some discussions around entrepreneurship, some with my 11 year old and some with various people that I interacted with who have some of the spirit in them.

Starting with my oldest son, I’m discovering if he has what it takes, is it too early to explore for him individually, does he have some understanding of the task, ideas on where to do and any fundamentals that are brought out in the subtleties of the answers themselves. Without going into great detail, some of the questions are:

  1. Do you want to be an entrepreneur?
  2. Do you know what it means to be an entrepreneur?
  3. Do you want to run your own business?
  4. Do you have any ideas as to what you’d like to do with this business?
  5. Why do you want to run your own business?

He had some good answers, the best was the answer to #5. We talked about writing content to help others understand a particular product from the vantage of an 11 year old and how he could monetize that service, expand on that type of service and where it could go from there. His answer(s) were as you’d expect with the addition of the value side of it whereas the service (business) would be helping others and solving some of their problems with a greater understanding. Centering the mindset of running a business around helping others and solving problems is a huge step in the right direction. Making financial reward (non-value) the focal point of starting a business and/or running a business is a recipe for failure.

Then on to some general discussions with various others during the week.

I received this from a business student finishing up at university. I’ll leave out the specific answers, they are as you might expect.

  1. Do you have any specialty in study as a business student?
  2. What sort of business do you want to run?
  3. Why do you want to run your own business?

While it is completely hypocritical of me, please don’t start your business to revolt against years of others that “don’t get it” or can’t do it as well as you can (think you can). The business was a good one but the motivation was wrong in my opinion. The idea of starting the company because my boss sucked and because starting my own business will allow me to make my own schedule is a rational one, just not particularly realistic. Maybe my boss does suck or maybe he thought the same thing and is now overwhelmed with the realities of running a business. Making your own hours… I suppose this works it if is a lifestyle business, but as they say, if it’s not growing it’s dying. To build and grow a business allows you to set your own hours alright, you get to set them between 6 am and 2 am with a few hours to sleep or maybe eat. It is a lot harder than it looks, takes a lot more time than you think and can often pay a whole lot less than you’d hope. The rewards though far outweigh the negatives if you truly want to fulfill a need, solve a problem and provide value.

I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes.