Archive for August, 2006
This past year has been a tremendous learning experience for me. It is a huge understatement to say that at 24 I did not have the experience necessary to start and run a company. Looking back, if there is one area where experience would have served me well is in how to prepare and run a meeting.
I am by no means an expert in this regard, but below please find some helpful pointers I have picked up a long the way about what it takes to get the most out of a meeting.
1. Do your homework and prepare for the meeting
This one seems like a no-brainer, but I can not stress it enough. You need to know everything about the person you are meeting with, about their organization, and about their goals for the meeting. Take the time to look them up online, talk to people who know them, find out exactly who will be at the meeting, and think about why it is that they are meeting with you, and what they want to get out of it.
2. Figure out what you want out of the meeting
Once you know everything there is to know about the meeting, think up a desired outcome. What is it that you are trying to get out of the meeting? What needs to happen at this meeting for you to consider it a success? This is not obvious. You might think you know what you want in general terms, but you need to be very clear as to exactly what you want to come away with. Are you trying to create a partnership? What kind of partnership? What terms? For how long?
3. Have a plan B.
In some meetings your desired goals will either be shut down or it will become very clear that they are impossible in the first 20 seconds. You need to have an alternative agenda so that you can still assure a productive meeting.
4. Map the meeting
So now you know exactly what you want out of the meeting, but you need to figure out how to get it. Map it out. Set up an outline of what you would like to cover, in a step by step fashion.
5. Memorize your opening sentence
Every meeting is decided in the first 5 seconds. No reason to leave this to chance.
6. Memorize a closing sentence
There is nothing worse than a meeting that goes on too long. When you have achieved what you set out to do, have a closing sentence. This is especially true for a presentation. Knowing when and how to end is critical.
Everyone is talking about Google’s attempt to go head to head with Microsoft over the office productivity suite, and I just don’t buy it.
There are three main reasons why I don’t think this will happen:
1- Large companies, which are the real money makers for Microsoft Office, are not going to make a switch. There is way to much invested from their perspective on the software and training to start experimenting with a new alternative, especially an advertising based product.
2- Google’s product sucks. I hate to say it, but if you have tried their different office offerings, you would know that they just don’t work well. Not yet at least. I think we need 3-5 times the broadband speed for a applications to really be on-demand…up until then, they are just too limited.
3- Google is terrible at launching new products. Other than search and maybe Gmail, what have they done lately?
What this means is that for at least the next 3 years Google won’t even make a dent in Microsoft’s market share. By that point Microsoft will have the time to roll-out the next version of its product and fine-tune all of the collaboration tools they are working on. If they really feel threatened by Google, then they have Live.com to release a striped down on-demand version for the home and small office, with which to compete with Google.
There is nothing that gets me more excited than developing a new technology.
There are many aspects of business that I enjoy. I love teaching and managing people, it is hard to pull me away from a strategy session, and I love forming partnerships. That being said, there is nothing that sparks the adrenaline rush quiet like the process of formulating and implementing innovative technology solutions.
I love the feeling that comes with solving a big problem, and it is only magnified when I can get my hands dirty designing the framework for the solution. I love shaping, refining and implementing technology, and doing things that haven’t been done before.
If you have ever felt the thrill of imagining a new solution and building it from the ground up, shaping it in your head and then seeing it come to life, then you know what I am referring to. It is one of the most rewarding parts of working in a start-up.
A few days ago we solved a significant hurdle for our company, and over the last few days we have been developing the framework for this solution. I can feel it through my veins; I am really pumped to get this going. There will be some very long nights, but the adrenaline is already pushing me to move harder and faster.
See you at the finish line.
In the previous post I wrote that everyone has an idea, but you need a lot more to start a successful business.
While execution is more important than ideas any day of the week, there are certain concepts that are better then others. A good idea won’t build you a company, but it will make your task a little easier. So I thought it would be interesting to write a few lines on how I structure ideas to determine if they workable or not.
As soon as I think of an idea I try to pass it through a number of simple filter questions.
1 – Can I explain the essence of the concept in 10 seconds or less (not how it will work, but what it does)?
This question is critical, because if I can not say what I will be doing in less than 10 seconds, then I probably will not be able to communicate it to customers, investors, family, friends, or partners.
2 – Is there a need for the idea? What is the value will it add?
Some ideas are very exciting and cool, in that they make use of very innovative concepts or technology, but at the end of the day they don’t add any real value and thus are not great business ideas. One example is Sony’s dog robot, which was very cool, but did absolutely nothing and thus never worked as a business imitative.
3 – Do users have to change their behavior? If yes, do the benefits outweigh the current alternative by at least 10 times?
This is one of the central arguments in the book Pip Coburn’s The Change Function. Getting people to change their behavior is tantamount to moving mountains, and so even if the benefits to the customer are huge, I still try to stay away from these types of businesses. Only if the benefits are very clearly seen, quickly realized, and of a huge magnitude, will I even consider passing such ideas through the rest of the filters.
4 – Is there a revenue model?
It might be a great feature, a useful service, or a fantastic idea, but if there is no business model than I might consider it as an extracurricular activity, but it drops dead as a business idea.
5 – Who is the customer?
By this point in the filter system I should know very well who the customer is, but knowing isn’t the same as knowing. In order to take the idea further and start spending more time on it, I like to be able to identify exactly who will pay my bills, and seeing if they have the money to spend, whether they will spend the money, and finally, if they will actually end up buying this product/service.
6- How will I reach the customer?
This is I think the most overlooked filter. There is a general feeling that if you build it they will come, which couldn’t be further from the truth. More businesses fail because of a lack coherent marketing plan than anything else. That being said, this filter isn’t meant to require a marketing plan, but just a quick conceptual idea of how you might be able to reach your customer. Come up with a couple of general concepts at the least.
Bear in mind that these filters are just a starting point. There is still a lot of work that needs to be done. You need to talk to potential customers. You need to get feedback from people in the industry. You need to put together a financial model. You need a business plan. There are hundreds of steps that still need to be taken to get from idea to potential start-up, but before you waste your time, make sure the idea passes these few filters.
A day doesn’t go by where I do not hear from someone who claims to have the next Google of an idea and just wants to pick my brain about how to start a new business.
This is the equivalent of fool’s gold. Ideas are a dime a dozen. Everyone has an idea, and those that don’t can buy or rip one off. Ideas are as meaningless as they are plentiful.
If there is one thing I have learned as an entrepreneur is that the hardest aspect of starting a business is implementation and execution.
Let me give you an extreme example. There are thousands of people who are incredible writers. They have the ability to construct fascinating stories and entertain the mainstream population. Why don’t they just take their stories and turn them into movies? Because a movie is so much more than just an idea. You need a script, a budget, cameras, sets, producer, director, actors, distribution…and probably a few thousand other things.
It is absolutely no different with a business. Yes, you need an idea to start a business, but there is so much more to it. Just having an idea or a goal means nothing.
Mark Cuban and others think they are doing the world a favor by giving away business ideas, but seriously, those are a dime a dozen. If they really wanted to help out they would give advice, strategies, and lessons learned. Then they might actually be doing someone a favor.
In the past 12 months we have been featured on ABC7, Telemundo, NPR, CNN Radio Espanol, BusinessWeek.com, Crain’s NY, NewYorkBusiness.com, WSJ Career Journal, Inc. Magazine, Entrepreneur Magazine, Newsday, El Diario/La Prensa, Hoy, Workforce Management, StaffingIndustry.com, Hotel & Motels and various other smaller publications and blogs.
That is a tremendous amount of press for a very small company. How did we do it?
Every company has a story. Either it’s the great story about new imitative just launched, or the great things being done in production, or maybe just the special way customer service is being handled.
The problem is most of the stories being spun by companies are old and boring. That is why you need an angle. Fortunately for you, you work in a start-up and nothing is more interesting than a new product or service when there is a David vs. Goliath story involved.
The next step is letting the media know about it. First craft a one line pitch sentence which will grab the media’s attention. Don’t use crazy lines, but do find a way to communicate what you are doing in 15 words or less. This will come in handy for your pitch letter, and when you follow-up on the phone.
The next step is tedious, but you can not take any shortcuts. You need someone (preferably a professional PR agency) to manually pitch the story, one at a time, to your target editors. You need to send a pitch letter or email, a company fact sheet, and any other relevant information, and then follow that up with a voicemail and a telephone call. There are a lot of people who take a list of editors and just blast them with news releases and pitch letters. That never works, never. Editors want to their product to be great. The only way they can do that is by having original content. They don’t want to publish a story that they know 500 other sources will have.
This brings us to exclusivity, if there is one media source which you know would be perfect for what you are doing, offer them exclusivity. There is nothing an editor likes more than to hear they will have an exclusive.
So to recap: find a story that is interesting, craft a message for the media sources, let them know about it, and if necessary, use the exclusivity card. Then hold on to your hats while you bathe in all the free publicity you will reap.
You would think that a start-up CEO is a terrible risk taker. The likelihood that a new business will emerge from nothing and be able to compete against tremendously bigger competition is next to none. And yet, the start-up CEO puts everything on the line for a chance to show that his idea and business skills will take the company to incredible heights.
That isn’t the whole story though. For most CEOs, being part of a start-up isn’t a risk-benefit analysis, it is about a calling. Just as very few people go into teaching because of the money, very few entrepreneurs decide to quit their jobs, work incredibly long hours, receive little compensation, and invest most of their life savings, for the remote chance that they will be the next Google.
The mind of an entrepreneur is wired to differently. We want to build and we want to create. It is not so much that we see inefficiencies in this world, but rather we see solutions.
We also tend to be rather competitive – we welcome the chance to go up against bigger and stronger rivals.
We love the business exercise of molding a company from the ground up, having to puzzle it all together, making every decision from the color of the carpet to the font of the logo.
Yet I think that the most important element driving an entrepreneur is an innate need to make a mark on the world – to build something that will last. In a way you can say an entrepreneur is no different than anyone else out there, it is just the method chosen that is a little different and crazy.