Entrepreneur, Business Leader and Owner of Two Startups

The balance between an all-star and a disaster can often be determined by one thing.  Culture.  Do they fit it, do they define it, do they believe in and do they practice it.  This as you know is incredibly important in the corporate world but can be disastrous to a startup if not identified early.  Let’s split the conversation in two parts, the convergence of startups and corporate.

In the startup world, think about the founding partner whose ambition is tied more to their own success and well being than that of the team, common sense and the good of the business.  In place of making decisions best for the company, theirs are rooted in ones that are generally short term.  Ones that they see benefit their standing, possibly even their next startup rather than the one you are working on together.  Often times, this person might even be more interested to work directly with a venture capitalist, investor or strategic partner rather than you, a co-founder.  This person is a disaster.

In the corporate world,  this person can take down and entire team and we call these “destructive hero’s”.  These are the poisonous employees who succeed short term, many times by cutting corners and usually share the following characteristics.  They are un-coachable, inexperienced, curt and believe you serve their existence.  Worst yet, they succeed with a fierce selfish determination in the short term and rally the team in a negative way over the long.

The best way to confront both situations is to empower a strong team of ethical leaders from within your organization who can help set the right path.  If you find yourself as a co-founder in this situation, this can be tricky and is why I advise all owners to carefully protect each other’s interest in the operating agreement as co-founders.

In business and in the startup world it is impossible to do one thing.  Manage down to crazy.

Great leadership can come from anywhere. The best leaders interact with you, their teams and their companies in such an interactive way you are inspired to come to work.

Typically, we see great leaders as those who can innovate in the marketplace while continually and ethically growing their current market share. That is only the second part to great leaders and how they operate. The first, inspiring their teams. Great leaders have the ability to hire the best people to surround themselves. These teams and people are not only allowed, but required to challenge the norm but doing so in a respectful, thoughtful and meaningful way.

Helpful Tips To Lead In The 21st Century

  • Be confident that you have a plan and by executing that plan your team will see success
  • Create an environment where you seek out people that can look at the old way, new
  • Trust, educate, teach and inspire

I am fortunate to not only work for that leader but the opportunity to inspire a team to achieve greatness. By approaching our day as entrepreneurs and believing in our plan, anything is possible.

Entrepreneurship is often thought of as being limited to coming up with a great new idea that offers something different in the marketplace.  But what if you approached your career the same way an entrepreneur approaches the launch and growth of their startup business?

Successful entrepreneurs often follow a path that looks something like this.

  • Identify a need in the marketplace
  • Develop the business model, write a strong business plan to take that idea into the marketplace
  • Forecast what your business will look like in Years 1-5
  • Embrace continuous learning to grow areas of need in your business
  • Create a successful culture that rewards success and creates accountability

When you think about it, by approaching your career with many of the same disciplines you can also create a successful venture.  Yours!  Let’s take the same list and apply this to your career.

Successful career paths often chart their course like this.

  • Identify how you can differentiate yourself from other employees in the workforce.  Are you a person that adds tremendous value to culture?  Do you outwork everyone in the office?  Accentuate your talents and how you can stand out.
  • Develop and write a complete, brisk and thoughtful 10-15 page career plan.  It is an amazing exercise that will allow you to thoughtfully think through your goals and how you plan to achieve them.  Include a sales plan in how you plan to ‘sell’ your skills to your company.
  • Forecast what your goals are in Years 1-5.  In years one and two, you may be content to work hard to overachieve your goals by 30% each year.  In year three, your goals might include being promoted and learning two new skills.  By the end of year five, your plan should include a goal that is substantial and rewards your hard work over that period of time.
  • Embrace continuous learning each and every year.  Target one or two new skills you can master each year.  By the end of five years, you will have ten new skills and be considered way more valuable in the marketplace. An M.B.A is a person that is considered a master in business through education.  Become a master in the areas that are important to you and your success.
  • Create a personal culture that charts your course each year to become a better person, leader and team player for your company.  This is important, because over the course of your career you are creating your own brand.  Own your brand and improve your brand just like all successful entrepreneurs do!

The key as in all successful startups, entrepreneurs and overachievers is professional measurement.  You cannot manage if you cannot measure.  To be successful in your career and reach the goals you aspire to reach, develop a plan and then go out and execute that plan!  All startups, business leaders and people that are successful do this, why not you!

On LinkedIn and throughout most other social networks, you often see “entrepreneurial thought leaders” tell entrepreneurs what they should or should not be doing.  They challenge entrepreneurs to think differently but often times sit on the sidelines when it comes time to support entrepreneurs who are hard at work growing their companies.  Today, I challenge these thoughts leaders to roll up their sleeves, support the entrepreneurship movement with actual followup and support that entrepreneurs need every day.

This is in response to the original post found at http://ramanations.com/2013/09/28/lean-startups-and-passion/#!

“Lean Startups require networking and support to problem solve and grow the new business idea as it accelerates in the marketplace. Since Ramanations is considered by many a contributor and influencer of the entrepreneurship movement, I challenge you (www.ramanations.com) to support the Lean Startup by leveraging your network to help advance young companies and the challenges they face. Entrepreneurs are bred to be passionate. We need more people willing to help make the entrepreneurship process more efficient or as your blog states less art and more science. In other words, less talk and more action.”

It’s time to let your customers become part of your office.

In the typical sales office, there are 20th century expectations meeting 21st century realities.  Gone are the typical office layouts, cubicles and reluctance to accept instant messaging and social media.  To be an effective leader, you must embrace how millennials and in many cases your customers are communicating.

Communicating is the key to sales and securing the confidence in your customer to keep them coming back.  If they can see how hard you are working, they will appreciate the effort and know that you are most likely hard at work for them too.  The key is to embrace your communication using 21st century tools.  Here’s how.

  • Take Pictures Of The Team Hard At Work Or Celebrating A Win, Post To Your Social Media
  • Embrace Twitter, LinkedIn and FB As Opportunities To Get Your Message Out
  • Hire Social Media Interns At The Local Uni (but be sure to give proper direction)
  • Find Trends Of Your Customers And Give Them “Shout Outs” In Social Media
  • Create A (Fun) Rewards Program At The End Of The Year For Your Clients “Most Entertaining New Media Message” or “Largest New Client for 2013”  (people love being rewarded and yes your customers are people too)

This last one is my favorite.  A simple framed “award” cert can go further than you may believe.  Imagine your customer opens up a package with a nice hand written note and a framed recognition of their efforts.  That frame will sit on their desk and everyday you’ll have a chance to mutually recognize one another.  Using social media, showing your office talent off to your customers and creating a new rewards program is a great start to engage and open your office to new and ongoing customers.

Endo Strategy Planning_Black and White

Getting past the gatekeeper takes skill, determination, intuition and a little luck. One of the tools we use is LinkedIn as the first step in that process. Here’s how. LinkedIn is a large database that provides you with key decision makers names, their contact information, past employment and professional interests. All of this information amounts to keys that help unlock the puzzle in getting past the gatekeeper or many times bypassing the gatekeeper all together.

First, I will search LinkedIn with exact keywords that will provide me with direction to decision makers that we would like to talk to. For example, our team might type in “e-commerce Dick’s Sporting Goods”. From there, I will choose the contact that is most relevant to our business partnership pitch and send a LinkedIn request to that person. The LinkedIn request must include a personal note, why the connection request is relevant, proposed times to talk and how the partnership request will benefit their day to day. When accepted, a timely note thanking them for accepting their invite will follow.

Second, we will track the corporate phone numbers for each LinkedIn profile or key decision makers, call their corporate office and ask for that specific person found through LinkedIn. In most cases, you can’t get past the gatekeepers unless you have the specific name of someone you are trying to reach. LinkedIn is the solution.

Most importantly this is done with respect to how social media, in a professional way, should be managed.  Using these techniques would be something I expect an ambitious potential business partner would use in getting in touch with me.  I would respond as I do with all of my professional requests.

These tips have successfully allowed our team to set up meetings with higher-ups at key strategic partners for two startups including, Yahoo, Best Buy, Siemen’s Transportation, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and more to pitch our business concepts to each strategic partner, by using these tips!  For business partnerships and entrepreneurs, this is invaluable.

Making the decision to run for office is one that takes an incredible amount of thought, commitment and understanding. Late in 2012, I was approached by leaders from the national, state and local parties to gauge my interest in running for Congress. With a young, growing family and running two businesses I had reservations and was humbled by the request.

After a brief stint this summer, I ended my campaign for for U.S. Congress. From the beginning, I have talked about running a campaign that puts our family first. Recently, my wife Katie and I decided that there is too much at stake that requires attention while trying to raise both a newborn and toddler in our household. There was much thought and consideration that went into the decision and ultimately we know this is the right thing to do at this time.

For anyone interested to learn more about why we ran and how this relates to entrepreneurship, business and our community please send me an email to russ@myendostore.com. Thank you to everyone for all of your support, I am forever grateful.

Sincerely and warm regards-
Russ

As entrepreneurship grows, so do the numbers of “entrepreneur thought leaders“.  You see them all the time, sharing updates on LinkedIn or Twitter. What does that really mean to an entrepreneur?  With the advent and growth of social media over the past ten years, the sharing of knowledge has become a hallmark of entrepreneurship.  You can easily access someone in your network to help you build on that really big idea that you’re working on.  With the rise and continued interconnectivity of people’s ideas on the internet, it’s easier now more than ever to become an entrepreneur.  That has spawned an industry where some people want to interact with you as an entrepreneur and even give you unsolicited advice or point you in a certain direction.  But what does that mean to you?

Typically, there are two types of people.

First, there is what we call “connectors“.  These can be invaluable to an entrepreneur.  Think about the people in your network that share valuable information that is constantly meaningful to the development of your business.  You also know that if you were to reach out to them, they will try their best to help.  If you need a connection to find a new designer for your web-based startup, they are there to help.  Often times, their network is their resource, and they know that to help you as an entrepreneur their greatest asset to help is to connect you to the right people.

Second, there is what we call “self-fulfilled connectors“.  These are people that have just as great of a network but typically lack actual entrepreneur experience and are more interested to be known for their network instead of leveraging it.   If you need a connection to help bootstrap your business, they may politely decline believing their network is more valuable to be left intact than to be put into use.

How to tell these two apart can be simple.  “Connectors” are responsive, polite, often times will come through for you as an entrepreneur and immediately you can tell they are well intentioned.  They typically ask for little in return.  “Self-fulfilled connectors” you might read about in the local newspaper as being an expert on entrepreneurship and often times, if you look into it, have little entrepreneurship in their professional background.  Can they add value, absolutely but the question is will they be willing to?

Modern entrepreneurship is about sharing resources for the collective good.  As entrepreneurs can attest, putting your network to use and helping one another is an important part of this ecosystem.  For those of you that help, all we can say as entrepreneurs is “thank you”.

 

Building your new start up in 2013 is way different than it was even as recently as 2010, certainly more so than in 2008 when I launched Commuter Advertising or the turn of the century.

One of the great things about launching a company in the digital, web and social media age is the absolute must for a business to effectively evolve and the ease of gaining traction quickly in the marketplace.  If a business model doesn’t innovate their offering (see the book Return Driven Strategy by Dr. Mark L. Frigo), they fade and fade fast.  The pure exchange of data demands businesses adjust their model to a consumer that gets their information in dozens of new ways each year.  That’s why it amazes me that entrepreneurs still think they have to raise large amounts of venture capital.  Let’s consider the following scenario.

The Idea:  Entrepreneur has a new way to connect with a consumer.  The platform is built and the brand is delivered online to the consumer.  To build that business you need the following.

Team Building Route (Primarily Equity Based Team Building)

1.  Hacker:  This is your CTO who can oversee the development of your site

2.  Hustler:  This is your founder who evangelizes the product and builds consensus amongst teams

3.  Hipster:  This is your team that makes the experience of your offering come to life in a meaningful way.

4.  Designer & Developer:  This is the part of your team that builds and develops code to make your site functional.

5.  The Network:  These are networks starting with the original founding team to evangelize your product and gain valuable early and late test users.

Pros:  No equity given for capital.  No control lost.  Shares not split between preferred and common

Cons:  Building the ‘right’ network.  Finding talented people to work for equity and put in enough time to get the job done.

Did anyone notice there was no line for venture capital here?  What exactly could a venture team bring to the table?  They certainly could provide money.  Money to hire developers, designers and a small team to build out your concept.  But can’t you simply form connections with talented people by offering varying amounts of equity to achieve the same result?

Venture Capital Route

1.  VC Due Diligence Process:  Go through 2-3 month due diligence process of finding partners who may or many not want to invest in your business.  This is often called a “traveling road show”

2.  VC Deal Docs: Go through 2-3 month process of finalizing the negotiations.  How much of the company will the venture team own?  How much control will they have?

3.  VC Inspired Board of Directors:  Develop a board of directors that will take time and may not ultimately be successful in aligning to one vision.

4.  Capital To Hire Team: Take the capital to hire out the team as described above.

Pros:  Can scale fast

Cons:  Can scale fast.  Initiatives may not be aligned with founders vision.  Lost control.  Split class in stock.

Wouldn’t an entrepreneur be better served concentrating on their business during this critical time collaborating with like minded people who have a shared vision for where you want to take your business? Now more than at anytime in the modern economy has business relied less on traditional means to reach new customers.   The same can be said with building your business.  Retain control, reach customers through social networks and build a fantastic team you look forward to working with. Relying on new nontraditional ways to build your business may very well be your best bet.

 

Coming up with the right idea to launch a company is the first of many critical milestones for any entrepreneur.  I say the first and not the most important because you can have a great idea but poor execution that will amount to a failed enterprise.  One could also say that you can have an average idea with excellent execution and have a success on your hands.  It makes sense.  That proves having a great idea is only part, albeit an important part, of the process of creating a successful startup.

Building teams, creating culture, creating partnerships, evolving, staying ahead of competition are all important if not more important elements of building a business yet so many entrepreneurs struggle with step one, idea creation.  Here’s why.

Too often, entrepreneurs are simply looking for the next big idea.  Trying to connect dots that may or may not be there.  In most aspects of life, when someone is pushing or stretching or trying to hard to make a square peg fit into a round hole they are not successful.  The same is true with idea generation.  Many times, the answer or next big idea is sitting right there in front of you.

It’s called interacting with life.

As you grow older, many times your ideas evolve or mature.  This is natural.  It’s called seasoning.  Everyone knows a person that just has great ideas or is a great idea generator.  Ones that not only fulfill otherwise unmet customer needs in the marketplace, but can explain that idea in under ten seconds. As that person grows older in the marketplace one thing remains constant, the way they interact with life.  By doing this, this breed of entrepreneur is constantly challenging themselves to find ways to do every day tasks more efficiently.

The second thing to do is think about where the marketplace is heading and then try to innovate towards that.  One of the biggest mistakes that entrepreneurs make is thinking short sited.  How many times have you met someone that has pitched you on the best new app for your smartphone?  That is taking something that already exists and slightly tweaking the process.  For example, compare that to a new business idea where an entrepreneur is trying to charge your wireless devices using wireless electricity.  See the difference?

When all else fails, do two things.  Work with someone that you believe has an awesome idea where you can make just as big if not bigger of an impact than coming up with an idea that might fall short yourself or wait until you do have that transactional new business idea.  When that time comes, launch it!