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2016

8 Self-Check Questions That Keep Leaders Up At Night

Even entrepreneurs who have built many startups, or sold their last one for millions of dollars, know they make occasional people leadership mistakes. They know leadership is all about managing their own complicated, illogical, and fallible human foibles, as well as the people they depend on. These can trip up even the best, often at the cost of more than a good night’s sleep. Thankfully, most mistakes won’t be as spectacular as the America Online merger with Time Warner for $350 billion, back in 2000, engineered by then superstar entrepreneurs Stephen M. Case and Gerald M. Levin. They apparently ignored all conventional wisdom and advisors, and struck a deal which crashed both companies, now a case study in many business schools. By most accounts, this case exhibits almost all the lapses ...

What the 5 Stages of Grief Teach Us About Technology

How many times have investors heard startups start their pitch by touting that their technology is “disruptive?” What entrepreneurs forget or don’t realize is that most customers are wary of all technology, educating the market on new technology is expensive, takes a long time, and people buy problem solutions rather than technology. Investors will likely wait for more traction. The concept of disruptive technology was first introduced by Clayton M. Christensen in “The Innovator’s Dilemma” way back in 1995. Such technologies, like the digital camera and mobile phones, introduce such novel concepts that they displace existing technology quickly by societal standards. Unfortunately this “quickly” may be too slowly to save initial startups in the space. In this time of rapid change, it’s easy...

Use Key Strategic Elements To Avoid Business Plateaus

One of the biggest challenges I find for new business owners is for them to move from working in the business to working on the business. You are so engaged in building and selling your product or service, that you “don’t have time” to focus on strategy and the next round of changes for the business to survive and grow. The result is a business plateau that hits you like a ton of bricks. As a business advisor, when I bring this up, at best I will hear the defense that you are focused on the strategy of the moment, such as such as how to increase sales, or reach a new market. I have to admit that I have struggled with this myself many times, trying to understand all the dimensions of strategy, which has always seemed like an amorphous and overwhelming subject. I was happy to see some good g...

10 Ways Your Startup Co-Founder Is Like A Good Spouse

As a long-time business advisor and angel investor, I’m a believer that “two heads are better than one” in building a new business. Very few entrepreneurs have the range of skills and experience to be the solution creator as well as business creator, or operational as well as sales leader. The challenge is to recognize and recruit that ideal partner match early with minimal cost and risk. In fact, I would broaden the definition of partner from co-founder to “business partner.” The reason is that good attributes apply equally well to “external” partners, as they do to internal partners, like a co-founder or CTO. A good overall example is the synergy between Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, as well as long-time Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt. In all cases, the challenge is the...

10 Innovation Myths For New Venture Founders To Avoid

Most people think innovation is all about ideas, when in fact it is more about delivery, people, and process. Entrepreneurs looking to innovate need to understand the execution challenge if they expect their startup to carve out a profitable niche in the marketplace, and keep innovating to build and maintain a sustainable competitive advantage. Everyone thinks they know how to make their innovation into reality, but I can’t find much deep research on the subject. At the same time, myths about innovation are commonplace in business. Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble, in their classic book “The Other Side of Innovation: Solving the Execution Challenge” have done some good work on the execution side. They take you step-by-step through the innovation execution process, in the context the te...

9 Elements Of Every New Venture That Investors Expect

New entrepreneurs are always looking for a shortcut in getting their venture story and plan across to investors, and closing on the funding they need. An effective tool I see used more and more, as a prelude to a more detailed business plan, is the Business Model Canvas, first introduced by Alexander Osterwalder back in 2008. It forces you to bridge the gap between idea and execution. The canvas is a visual chart with elements describing your value proposition, structure, finances, and customers, to help companies identify and align business activities. Now I see in an excellent book, “Business Models for Teams,” by Tim Clark and Bruce Hazen, an extension of this process to down inside the venture, for teams and individuals. It shows you how everyone works in synergy. In my experience as a...

7 Wise Leadership Strategies When Smart is Not Enough

Most of the entrepreneurs I have met are smart, but many are not always wise. That means they may show great insights into a new technology that has marginal business value, their passion may motivate team members more than customers, or they may allow themselves to be pulled over the ethical line in their success drive. Wise leaders are authentic, timeless, and enduring. Of course, experience is the ultimate teacher of the differences between smart and wise. But none of us can afford to make that many mistakes, so it helps to understand the basic principles that are key to making wise, as well as smart, decisions. In their classic book on the subject, “From Smart to Wise,” Prasad Kaipa and Navi Radjou offer some great observations, based on their years of research and consulting experienc...

8 Ways To Learn From Your Team And Succeed Together

Starting and running a company is a team effort. Yes, it takes a leader (entrepreneur), but you can’t do it alone, without a team. Maybe only you and a co-founder comprise the team at first, to provide key skills, back you up, and test your ideas. As the startup grows, the team has to be able to really push you in making growth decisions, rather than you pulling them along. The responsibility for leadership rests on you as the founder or CEO, and your leadership style. Many entrepreneurs still fall back to the traditional “control” leadership paradigm, but I don’t see it working so well any more. I agree more with Dr. Roger Schwarz and his classic book, “Smart Leaders, Smarter Teams.” He outlines eight keys to an effective mutual learning approach as follows: State views and ask genuine qu...

10 Challenging Insights From New Venture Innovators

Most people agree that entrepreneurs have to think differently and take risks to have much chance of building a successful business. Yet I have found that serious entrepreneurs usually go way beyond these platitudes in their actions and thinking, and often won’t volunteer their real views, for fear of alienating “regular” people, and being branded a fanatic. In the classic book “The Entrepreneur Mind,” from serial entrepreneur Kevin D. Johnson, he outlines 100 essential beliefs, insights, and habits of serious entrepreneurs. Most of these are predictable, like think big and create new markets, but I found a few, like the ten below, that will likely raise the hackles of many people outside this lifestyle, and many “wannabe” entrepreneurs. Yet, based on my own years of experience “in the bus...

6 Keys To Growing Your Career Through The Gig Economy

While everyone agrees that the “gig economy” is really here, the practical realities, other than not counting on long-term employment, are not so obvious. In my role as a mentor to many business professionals, I still see some who have no idea how to adapt to the new realities. The simple answer is that we all have to start thinking like entrepreneurs, rather than entitled employees. To me, that means treating your career more like a business than a job – with a continual and global focus on keeping up with competition, finding customers, preparing for changes ahead, and taking responsibility for your own finances. With entrepreneurial thinking, this can be a win-win, with you getting more control, and good for companies, who want the more flexible staffing. On the other hand, if you expec...

How To Ensure Results From All Business Conversations

Whether you are trying to motivate your team, close a deal with a customer, or get funding from an investor, a casual conversation is usually a waste of your valuable time. These result is a founder who is always “too busy,” but never seems to get the business done and the team moving. All real business is conversations focused on creating results. Shawn Kent Hayashi, in her classic book “Conversations That Get Results and Inspire Collaboration” makes my point very well as she outlines the top twelve types of conversations that relate to working together in business, and provides tips on how to make each of them more effective for all concerned: Conversation for connection. Connecting with others happens when we slow down our talking enough to be in the present and really listen to one ano...

6 Ways To Help Others At Work And Still Save Yourself

Don’t you wish you were better at saying “no” to all those extraneous requests for a bit of help at work? Every business owner and professional I know is struggling with their own workload, yet they let themselves get signed up for other people’s work, either out of frustration that things aren’t getting done, or guilt, or just plain sympathy. It’s time to stop jeopardizing your own future. For example, as a software executive, I once had a talented engineer working for me who was always helping others, to the extent that he consistently missed his own project deadlines, and was ruining his health through lack of sleep. After some tough love by me, he admitted that he just couldn’t say no to all the people around him asking for help. He didn’t realize that he had become part of the problem...

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