Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Advice from Grandma on Staying positive.

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

My grandma called me tonight to say hi.

I asked her: Grandma, how do you keep your positive attitude despite life wearing on you over the years?

She said to me, I don’t know. I guess I’m just able to see the humor even in seemingly terrible situations (she chuckled).

Thanks Grandma, good advice.

 

The 5 Levels of Entrepreneurial Excellence

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

Think about something that you do well, a talent, a particular skill of yours. For example, maybe it’s running, painting, public speaking, persuading people of something–something you are good at.

Were you always adept at exercising that ability? Chances are, if you’re like most people, even if you had innate talent to perform that ability, you’re better now than you were when you first started.

Entrepreneurship works the same way. You get better with experience. You make mistakes and you learn from them. I know from experience since I am currently working to grow my fourth business, PetoVera.

With each start-up, I have progressed and honed my skills as an entrepreneur. I’ve learned from reading a ton of books and blogs, and even more from actually executing on the ideas that I had.

There are certain entrepreneurs I know personally whose skill-level I aspire to reach. This list of the levels of entrepreneurial excellence is written with a special amount of respect and tribute to their ability. They are sustained or repeat Level-5 entrepreneurs, the most difficult to reach level of business prowess and mastery.

Let’s dive in and define each level:

  1. I have an idea – This is the starting point for many businesses, though there are exceptions. Entrepreneurs or a team of co-founders will come together and decide they have a specific project they want to work on. In some cases they don’t have an idea at all. Some copy other ideas that are already out there in the marketplace. However, many “non-preneuers” get stuck in this stage and simply go on dreaming, never implementing. By my estimation, since this is a low-effort starting point, 100% of entrepreneurs and wanna-be’s reach this level.
  2. I have a product - The second level of entrepreneurial excellence is reached when the entrepreneur has completed a first version of his / her product, a working prototype that can be shown to customers. Only 35% of entrepreneurial minded individuals reach this level. This key step of building a first product sorts out those who are serious about business, and those who only have “a good idea.” The drop-off between the first level and the second is significant for this reason.
  3. I have a market ready to buy! - No matter how fantastic your product may be, it is meaningless if you cannot find a market to purchase what you are selling. How do you do this? Make sure that what you’re selling solves a problem, cures a certain pain point, or meets a need. I estimate that only 15-20% of people with entrepreneurial aspirations make it to this point.
  4. I have a team that will execute and grow the business - Many entrepreneurs lack the social skills required to recruit and manage a team of talented individuals to head up sales, marketing, customer service, product development, human resources, among other roles to be filled. I estimate that 10% of entrepreneurs reach this point.
  5. I have an organization that can operate and grow by itself - Reaching this level takes both will and humility on the part of the business’s founder. The humility factor is key when it comes to hiring someone to oversee the entire business operation, and to ultimately take your place.

    If you reach this level, this means you have built a business with ingrained systems, mechanisms, and a guiding philosophy that will generate positive cash flow and adapt to market changes regardless of whether or not the entrepreneur ever shows up at the office. Only 1% of entrepreneurs ever make it this ideal state. Most who arrive at level four will stop there simply because making a lot of money and running the business is good enough.

Ultimately, (nature vs. nurture arguments aside), to reach the fifth level of entrepreneurial excellence, the secret ingredients are time, effort, and consistency.

What do you think? Are my percentage estimates completely off? Did I leave out a level?

Freedom Means Always Knowing What You Want

Friday, August 13th, 2010

ice_cream_cone

Jonathan and Adam sat at a table in an ice cream shop. Adam munched enthusiastically on his ice cream cone while Jonathan leaned back and ruminated, his eyes darting about. A line of customers was forming in the shop.

Adam: We’re lucky we go here early. Missed the afternoon rush.

Jonathan: There’s a pattern to how all businesses operate, because there’s a pattern to how all people live.

Adam: That sounds like we’re limited by whatever we’re doing, like you’re stuck or something.

Jonathan: Are we stuck?

Adam: No, but many tend to believe it.

Jonathan: Why is that?

Adam thought for a moment and then shrugged indicating he wasn’t sure.

Jonathan: How do people get to feeling stuck in their jobs or relationships?

Adam: They believe it’s because they need to work harder at it in order to get better.

Jonathan: And it needs to get better because…

Adam: It’s not what they want, or they’re not at the “point” they want to be at in that job or relationship.

Adam crunched down on the last piece of ice cream cone as more customers shuffled in.

Adam: How does this relate to starting a business though?

Jonathan raised his eyebrows and tipped his head back slightly.

Adam: … I guess it’s because entrepreneurs get stuck too?

Adam twisted his lips and thought for a moment, unsure.

Jonathan: Look at that woman over there. She owns this ice cream shop. She works harder and stresses more than all of the others, that’s in part how you can tell that she is the owner. She believes she has more to lose, because it’s her business. But even though she has a line of customers out the door today, she’s unhappy. Why?

Adam: She is? The owner?… Yes, she is… I don’t know. Why?

Jonathan: She’s unhappy because she no longer wants to work as an employee in her own business. She feels a lack of satisfaction, and yet is not fully conscious of it. If she became conscious, she would immediately have a desire, the desire to own a business rather than work in one.

Adam: So why is she stuck? Why hasn’t she realized that’s what she wants?

They watched for a moment as she raced back and forth behind the counter, sprinkling toppings, packing down ice cream scoops, and flashing a smiling at the conclusion of each purchase.

Jonathan: It’s the same reason most of the people you know — friends, family, acquaintances — are unhappy. First, they make a terrible mistake. The believe more in the power of what they feel than in what they want. To truly want something is to desire it with action, planned or spontaneous. To merely feel something is to let internal emotions drive you. And what drives internal emotion? External circumstances mostly. But for those who want, their emotions are hitched to those true desires.

Adam: But if the owner of this ice cream shop is driven by emotion, shouldn’t she be more… crazy? She’s unhappy, but her business is thriving it seems.

Jonathan: Yes. But as I said, what she feels internally is driven by external circumstances. This includes social norms, to put it nicely, or social dogma, to put it more accurately.

Adam: Dogma? I’ve heard the expression, “trapped by dogma” before but what does it have to do with anything here?

Jonathan: Dogma has everything to do with it. We’re led to believe from an early age that if you’re not working hard, to the point of being tired or strained or boredom, something is wrong. Or, similarly, that even if the work isn’t enjoyable, you’ve got to bear through it to get to where you want to be. You can’t just be where you want to be, or do what you want. ‘No, no, there’s so many levels to get there, so many more experiences that you have to have first!’ We’re also taught to believe that giving is virtue. To sacrifice of yourself, to sacrifice your wants, is the highest of all virtues.

This is social dogma — this is mental slavery to ideas that aren’t true. You earn what you want by going straight in the direction of what you want. Entrepreneurs get trapped by social dogma the same way as everyone else. They start and run companies that have no meaning; they manage ventures that they secretly hate. They do so because it makes them feel something, positive or negative, like social acceptance — because they’re working hard, or they’re tired after a day of “struggling” to meet another challenge. They move and feel good or bad based on standards that aren’t their own.

Most people do not know what they want, they simply feel differently from day to day. Those emotions come and go, week to week, year to year. For instance, Joe feels fat, but if he consciously acknowledged this he would want to act to be fit and healthy; the shop owner feels exhausted from hustling behind an ice cream counter everyday, but what she really wants (perhaps) is to expand and grow her brand regionally and not be stuck scooping orders everyday.

When you want something you act to achieve it; when you feel first, you exist.

Ask yourself, which one leads the other?

Own Your Mind in Order to Grow Wealthy, Internally & Externally

Saturday, July 31st, 2010

hero of the mind

“I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” -Invictus, by William Ernest Henley

The following is an excerpt from a recent journal entry that I authored a few months ago. To give it some context, I wrote this entry when I realized I was unsatisfied with many things, but specifically my business’s growth and my living situation.

I’ve titled this excerpt the “Prayer of My Mind.” I read it about once a day and it seems to provide me with an unlimited sense of empowerment and inspiration. I hope you will find similar value in it.

April 30th, 2010 – 10:30PM, Friday

You have a choice, so does everyone else. You can choose to be shaped by reality (by your environment, by your friends and family, by societal expectations) or you can choose to shape reality, to build your own environment, craft your own expectations, to think for yourself.

I am successful and my success will only expand exponentially from this point, because I am aware of this. I will be aware of my limits, and the fact that, in a sense, they are only my limits because I choose for them to be. Therefore all (or many) limits are a choice and I can choose to exceed them or even remove them completely.

In Business & Life: Forget Your Public Fear

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/atul666/2186632924/

source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/atul666/2186632924/

“Do the thing you fear to do; the depth of that fear is inevitable” (My Grandfather, paraphrasing Mark Twain)

We behave differently in our heads than we do in real life. The same is true about how we run our businesses. For example, if a business partner or employee isn’t performing up to par we might look the other way or give him or her some “light” feedback rather than saying how we really feel about their performance.

On the one hand you might be censoring a completely inappropriate or emotional reaction considering the circumstances.

Other times the ideas and verbal reactions in our heads are right, BUT we ignore them and choose not to project them into reality.

We are afraid to make ourselves vulnerable and we are afraid to make mistakes. This is a natural feeling but you must overcome it.

There are two ways to remove this common fear: (1) do a lot of illicit drugs or (2) force yourself to stop caring what others think.

Choice number one is out the window, so how do you accomplish number two in a healthy manner? The answer to this isn’t so clear except to say that the more you practice (by taking explicit action) the better you will get at it.

One recommendation is the practice your public speaking. Another way is to learn how to listen better. Many of us listen with the intent of responding with an agreeable response in order to get ourselves into the good graces of other people. Forget that, that’s called being fake or disingenuous. Instead, listen closely and quietly with the intent to actually learn something, if possible.

In the end it takes courage to accomplish this feat since many of us place a higher value on the opinions and feelings of others than on our own. And that is the problem.

Your Work as the End, Not the Means

Sunday, July 4th, 2010

sunrise

Everything popular is wrong. – Oscar Wilde

Adam smoothed his hand back through his young, blonde hair and looked up at Jonathan Painter who was staring straight across the lawn at nothing in particular. Adam plucked a blade of grass and held it close to his eyes to study its features. Jonathan smirked at some thought he had, held his hands behind his back and rocked forward and back on his heels.

Adam: Have you ever created something for a customer or client that you didn’t like or agree with—but did it anyway to try to make them happy?

Jonathan: Yes, when I was young.

Adam: What was it?

Jonathan: It was more than one thing. I compromised on a lot of purchase deals, customer support issues, and product development matters.

Adam: But you learned from it?

Jonathan glanced down at Adam, who was twirling the blade of grass in his fingers.

Jonathan: Yes.

Adam: So what did you learn?

Jonathan: Never compromise on your values—and always know what you want.

Adam: What did you want? Money?

Jonathan: Sure, but only as a means to an end and never the other way around.

Adam: Why? Most of my friends who are entrepreneurs say that’s what they want—what’s wrong with that?

Jonathan: Some don’t actually want money, they say they do, but rather they enjoy the challenge of earning it, and being able to hold up a number as symbol of their achievement. On the other hand, some do want money and only money. Those types will never be happy because no number or amount will bring them personal satisfaction and self-respect; they live through the eyes of others seeking a false prestige that is unearned because it is derived from what others think of them rather than themselves.

Adam: You said you compromised though, what did you compromise on?

Jonathan: I made my mistake by blindly believing the so called wisdom of others who had more experience than I. We’re taught two things about starting a business: build your product around your customers and second, that you have suffer through work you don’t want to do and which wasn’t part of your original intentions in order to get to the next step, which is hopefully better.

Adam: Of course, work is hard. It’s tough to get rich. Everyone agrees on that.

Jonathan: Everyone is wrong. Work is hard, it is always a challenge to accomplish anything the bears significant value, but the work itself must be your end and not a means to an end. Otherwise you are wasting your life and betting that happiness and enjoyment will come later rather than right now. Right now—I thought as I rationalized to myself in the past while making soul-sucking cold calls or doing work I didn’t see any true value in—I must push through the pain, I’ll just do this one thing and then I can get back to enjoying my work. It’s easier to compromise on this point because we’re taught to be selfless, to do everything in the spirit of helping or pleasing others—our customers. We’re made to believe this is the greatest virtue. Selfless customer support. Selfless product development. If a customer wants a new feature, add it. If a feature doesn’t meet his or her needs, remove it. So you compromise further on these fronts. Eventually it’s no longer your business but one ruled by the whims of customer’s ephemeral expectations. Expectations defined and shaped but outside factors or a competitor, one whose intentions were less malleable than your’s and was willing to risk being “wrong” and standing by his own desires for what his company would and would not be.

But maybe you do get rich in the end anyway. I realized my mistake and quit before I got to this point. But if you get rich you’ll have to deal with the fact that you didn’t do it on your own terms and any sort of principles because you will have built a business that was selfless and ultimately a pawned off, amorphous version of your customers fickle desires or your competitor’s integrity, who had the fortitude that you could not earn.

You’re right when you say that getting rich is tough. You can serve and be selfless and working while you hate the work.

Earning wealth rather than getting rich is even more difficult though because it requires the fortitude to stand by your own reasoning and core beliefs and never to compromise on them because that is what’s right.

Mistakes I Hope to Avoid with My Next Business

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

Here are some of the mistakes I’ve made with past attempts at starting a business that I want to avoid with this new business going forward. I know I do not have to get EVERYTHING right the first time around, but it’s helpful to remember what I’ve learned up to this point:

1) Be cheap, but not too cheap. Invest your money wisely but plan your finances according, at least 6 months out. I’ve invested monetary capital in a disciplined and very frugal way with my past companies. I might not have always gotten it right in terms of what I invested in (e.g. Scrimple t-shirts which costs around $500 but results in dubious marketing results). However, when I was cheap and cash was low, I was EXTREMELY cheap, choosing sometimes to not invest in business activity that could have returned a multiple ROI.

2) Finding the right people and putting them in the right positions relative to their talent(s) is critical to “driving the bus” (tips hat to Jim Collins) forward. With my last start-up I had my co-founder who had graduated with a Computer Science degree from Cornell and he was relatively perfect as our CTO. He was passionate about creating websites and using web technology to solve problems; he worked hard and invested all of his time into the business.

3) Know what you want and what you’re building towards. Then build towards it and don’t stop until you get there. Too often we can be led astray from the original vision that got our entrepreneurial juices flowing, but listening to others or by second-guessing our own judgment. With my first start-up, after a year I became insecure in running it and in the brand I was building in part because of the some of the negative, snide remarks I was over hearing. So instead of focusing hard and trying to solve some of the fundamental problems with the business (which, only in retrospect seem easy to solve but we difficult at the time) I re-branded and launched a new product (which definitely had it’s upsides by comparison, since it was profitable right away).

4) Be profitable immediately. Before you build or invest in your business you either need to make sales upfront or get outside investors (who can also be customers!) to foot the bill.

5) Build tangible mechanisms to keep yourself and your team going, especially after you reach significant milestones. Comfort is never the objective if you’re trying to build a great company. For example, with my last start-up, I never made the time to get around to coding a feature for our web-based sales back office which would have automatically sent each team member an email (once a week for instance), asking them: What’s new? Have you talked with new potential clients? How many? Any sales? The intention of building into your business a tangible mechanism like this is to stimulate DISCOMFORT and cause productive ACTION on the part of your team members.

Any other ideas or lessons learned from your past start-up experiences? Feel free to comment below.

Quitting My Start-up, To Start Something Bigger

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

There are many reasons why I have decided to stop working on Blue Sky Local and move into an advisory role. The primary one was that I was not enjoying the journey from zero to something big (hopefully) any longer. I worked on Blue Sky Local for about 14 months.

The company made some money (and is still making money, scoring some recent big wins). But on the night that I made this decision I asked myself: if this business made $1 million tomorrow, literally, would I be any happier in running it? I asked myself this question to determine if I was simply in a slump or an ephemeral mood of some sort, but the answer was an easy “No, I would not be any happier, nor would I be any more passionate.” My passion for the business, I realized in the same instant, had stopped the moment I stopped building and designing the website. Getting up and selling door-to-door or over the phone to these different business owners, without that creative element at least mixed in in some way, made the process mundane and un-enjoyable.

I think many entrepreneurs are driven rather than passionate, just like I was in this case. Perhaps they started out with the right feeling and ideas, but somewhere along the way it became about something else, or maybe it always was something else. In many cases entrepreneurs are driven by money. To be driven solely by money is like chasing the wind, because there is never any amount that can satisfy your lust for it. On the other hand, to choose instead to be driven by core purpose and set of values, as I now turn to focus on, will be much fulfilling for the long run. Money is a necessary by-product of business, but should not be the priority. Revenue and profit should be the earned result of a service or product, which fill a need or solve a problem.

How I will Increase My Current Revenue Stream

Saturday, April 10th, 2010

Untitled-2 copy

Getting rich takes a lot of work. Many times I’ve found myself becoming frustrated, depressed, indecisive, or stressed–and then at other times the complete opposite.

If you’ve felt this it is important to remind yourself that the start-up process is not worth this sort of angst. Try instead focusing your energies, without emotion, on defining the problems at hand. The answers will come. (Update: After re-reading this post, I realized that the answers & peace-of-mind I was looking for came to me by the time I was done writing this article!)

(more…)

How to Setup a Scalable Website Sales System

Saturday, March 27th, 2010

The Way to Paradise

The dream is to start and own a business that runs itself. This is not unrealistic. However, it takes a bit of work and hustle to get there. Here are the first 3 steps you should take on the road to achieving this dream:

(Note: This How-To post assumes that you already have a product or service to sell.)

1) Create linear persuasion paths that end in a purchase request.

The diagram below shows a standard and effective persuasion path template. It is the same one I use on my restaurant marketing website, Blue Sky Local.

persuasion path

2) Know your customer acquisition cost.

In order to establish a baseline acquisition cost, I recommend that you start by using Google Adwords to drive traffic to your site and Google Analytics to then gather quantitative data. Invest some time into researching which keywords are best to bid on. Find competitor websites to yours and research which keywords they are bidding on. KeywordSpy.com may be useful for this.

When it comes to Google Analytics, start by setting up 2 goals. First, set up one to measure the sales funnel, from the time the prospect enter the site to when reach the pricing and sign-up page. In your second goal, measure actual conversions, from the sign-up page to a key landing page that follows a purchase.

sales-funnel-google-analytics

Once you are able to drive at least 2-3 sales conversions through this method, use the following formula to understand how much it will cost you to acquire each new customer:

Customer Acquisition Cost = [ (Number of Clicks on Ad) * (Average Cost-Per-Click) ] / Number of Sales Conversions

3) Ensure that the web product meets customer needs.

Continuously test and optimize the product or service along with the persuasion path. To make smart decisions, analyze website data as well as gathered qualitative feedback from customers on what they like and don’t like.

The latter is very important to ensuring product market fit. Place a contact phone number and contact form on the site where customers can clearly see it and therefore easily reach you with questions (which may indicate usability issues) or feature requests (make sure you understand WHY they want the feature before you implement).

Easier Said than Done

All of this is easier said than done because there is one key assumption here: you need to be selling a product that fulfills a need or solves a problem. If you aren’t doing at least that, then implementing the system above will not bear fruit. In future posts I will talk more about this issue.

What are your thoughts on this?