Category Archives: Companies

Company directory to comment on specific company strategies

A Poem for Startup Entrepreneurs

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IF---


IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
' Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!


My favorite poem by Rudyard Kipling...

He must have been a startup entrepreneur 😉

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Tech CEO's...don't be a pansy if you're forced to layoff

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layoffnothinkingI've been involved in 6 layoffs, 3 on the delivery, 2 as a surviving employee and 1 on the receiving side. These included wildly successful companies before and after layoffs.  There are common elements in big and small companies but small companies suffer more organizational trauma (those affected suffer the same trauma). This post is directed at small competitive company CEO's (<100 people).

First and foremost as the CEO you need to lead, be in the middle, present and available for all meetings with the affected, feel the pain, remorse and self-examine what you could have done better. This event will shape the company culture and it's capacity and capabilities going forward. Laying the bulk of the problem off on your leadership team is pansy, this is your station as the CEO.

Follow advice from people experienced in human resources e.g. safety during the event (police present), documentation, exit interviews, outplacement etc. but this isn't HR's job,  as CEO you need to get the details right while keeping the big picture view to re-energize the company.

Here are my core principles:

Company

1) Future

The business outcome after the layoff is profoundly impacted by how well you managed these 2 issues:

1- Who's in the boat going forward?     -Everyone is fair game in a small competitive company cut, seniority and past contributions are tie breakers, not policy. Friends and founders are the hardest to let go.lifeboat

2- How deep did you cut?         -Size for the worst realistic scenario by cutting deeper than you think. You get one shot for people to bounce back from the adversity, make it over... take the big hit now! Rolling layoffs = dead company.

2) Speed

- One bad day. Execute swiftly in a single day, plan every 15 minutes, communicate clearly to everyone involved... all eyes are on you.

3) Relief

- After the affected have left, communicate clearly that it is over. It's OK to be sad and grieve along with the company.

4) Repurpose

- You're smaller... take work off the table and refocus on core initiatives going forward.

People Affected

layoff

1) Them

- Tell them you're sad, it was absolutely necessary, it's not about them you'll miss them, but the decisions are final.

2) Compassion

- Be compassionate to everyone, this will ripple through their self-esteem, lives and family. Expect crying, anger and shock, possibly even violence and vengeance,  treat with utmost respect.

3) Forward

- Describe how important it is for them to look forward to new beginnings but be the backbone that moves everyone along, thank them for their service and contributions.

4) Help

- Provide as much help, references, out-placement, severance etc. as you can. Employees will be watching, this is where the rubber meets the road for trust,  what-you-say vs. what-you-do is in high definition regarding company values around people.

Employee's Remaining

1) Imperfect

- Make it clear you did your best, probably made mistakes, but after discussing with managers, you made the final decision for the people that were forced to leave. Take the responsibility hit from your managers because some employees might think the company picked wrong people, you're batman... you can handle it.

2) Over

- Time for an all hands meeting message:   "... it's over, we planned for a worst case, you're secure ... questions?"

3) Sad

- Be sad the world's this way along with everyone else.

4) Focuslongdistancerun

-Communicate clearly that this is not for nothing, you need their help. Re-energize by removing some work and focus the whole company on the critical challenges, be it sales, new products, customer retention etc. Ask for inputs on improvements, remind everyone that business is a marathon, not a sprint.

My worst experience was as a CEO during the 2000 tech bubble burst when I had to layoff over 1/3 of thepansyceo company including founders and friends. Our VC' s had portfolio teams that curled up and sucked their thumb during those times, don't be one of those, they were pansy's and were canned.

Layoffs change all companies, from temporarily reducing morale to rewriting the "employee contract". Small companies don't have the "cultural momentum" large ones have, so they are always profoundly changed.

The best way to avoid layoffs is by making tough love business and people decisions everyday... especially when times are good.

I hope this helps.

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Don't let nosebleed levels of abstraction kill your ability to make leadership decisions!

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Politicians spend their lives mastering it. Good BS'ers have practiced it for years. It's a great way to make people think you have "senior management potential".

budgetjoke

Abstraction  

  1.  the act of obtaining or removing something from a source : the act of abstracting something
  2. a general idea or quality rather than an actual person, object, or event : an abstract idea or quality
  3. the state of someone who is not paying attention to what is happening or being said : an abstracted state                                                                                   - from Mirriam-Webster

Back in the day I worked for a brilliant manager who had his team meet with 2 PhD psychologists regularly  to practice the latest and greatest theories on effective behaviors and team building skills. During one session we read and worked over "Language in Thought and Action" by S.I. Hayakawa (a U.S. Senator). First published in 1949, it is  considered a classic work on semantics.

My first takeaway was  to recognize conversations moving  from lower-to-higher or higher-to-lower levels of abstraction.  This is critical when making decisions since it is usually easier to move up rather than down yet YOU CANNOT RESOLVE ANYTHING MOVING UP!

Consider making a decision about Betsy, the cow....  cow1

cattle...we can talk about her contributions to our herd of cattle....

....or what a valuable piece of livestock she is but...
livestock

...unless we go the other way, perhaps applying our policies on Livestock to Cattle and Cattle to  Betsy,  we can expect a courteous and politically correct conversation  but CANNOT ADD DECISION VALUE on what to do about Betsy.

Unfortunately my experience is that  1) resolving problems  2) recognizing opportunities and 3) defining strategies happen at lower levels of abstraction (often the lowest).

"We're customer oriented"  detail-devil1

"Innovation is the lifeblood of our Company"

 "Lets make America Great Again!"

"It's time that we move from good words to good works, from sound bites to sound solutions"

"It's irresponsible to question the science of climate change"

Software indirection

Abstraction layering (implemented as indirection) has driven Software development productivity to grow exponentially by allowing us to label and manipulate "cumulatively all that went before". But even in this virtual world, constructs of the mind have limitations.

 


 

Good stuff, BUT going lower often makes conversations more confrontational, especially when stakes are high.  My second takeaway is that it is ALWAYS helpful to rebuild trust by moving up the abstraction ladder. Stating COMMON GOALS AND DESIRES rebuilds confidence that we're still on the same team. This leadership trait is demonstrated spectacularly in Apollo 13 by Jim Lovell when the crew is getting frayed from rapid-fire life and death decisions...

Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks): Gentlemen, what are your intentions?

[Jack Swigert and Fred Haise turn around and stare at Lovell]

Jim Lovell: I'd like to go home.

They did too.

 

" You've got to be careful when you're talking about reality"    -- my friend Ed Hudson

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5 Questions to Attack your Competitor's Strengths and Win

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"We are not in the watchmaking business, we are in the true luxury business."

- Yves Piaget

 

When I ask many young CEO's and marketing people "Who's your competition and why are you better?" they answer with a list of both strengths and the competitors' longer list of weaknesses.  In addition, they rarely include the big competitor which is the customer's status quo.

Here's how to think strategically about competition.

HIGHLIGHTING A COMPETITOR'S WEAKNESSES RARELY WORKSlion-and-mouse

  1. Today's customer's are more informed of competitor's strengths and weaknesses (especially if they are already using the products)
  2. Customers buy because the perceived strengths outweigh the weaknesses (which they're told are temporary)
  3. Often the competitors' strength is much broader than just the product (e.g. financial strength, longevity, service etc.)

DE-POSITIONING A COMPETITOR'S STRENGTHS CAN TIP THE BALANCE

Here are 5 questions to get you started  de-positioning a competitor...

1)  If me and my competitor both had the same product who would win and why? 

Neutralize those... through partnering, guarantee's, customer insurance etc.

2)  If we swap products with our competitor who would win and why?

Extends the issues from above, neutralize these also

3)  Who is  my "Perfect" customer that would buy from me instead of my competitor?

 Qualify leads to this description and keep closing gaps

4) What is my  competitors "Perfect" customer that will buy from them no matter what ?

FIlter leads and don't  spend energy here, learn what they value in the competitor's strengths

5) Can the opposite of my competitor's strength also  be a strength?

  If so... consider positioning there and migrate customers to the other side

nobody-gets-fired-for-buying-ibm

apple_think_different2

The opposite of a fact is falsehood, but the opposite of one profound truth may very well be another profound truth"    

- Niels Bohr

You must fulfill a minimum requirement on every axis of competition... but you only need to differentiate on one (see my 60 Minute Marketing MBA Presentation). Here are some examples I've experienced:

THEY HAVE...    Great technology              BUT...     not based on open technology price curves

THEY HAVE...    Large existing network    BUT....    compete with customer's  cycles of learning

THEY HAVE...    Financial strength              BUT...      not as strong as our combined partner's

THEY HAVE...   Been around                        BUT...      don't offer disaster insurance

THEY HAVE...   Big user base                        BUT...     you're not that important to them

You get the picture... a little progress here can pay off in higher sales!

Miles-Davis-Cool

"Half of being cool is doing what nobody else is doing."

-My friend Tommy Nelson

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How do customers recognize the truth?

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Image result for truth

Marketing (marcom in particular) is communicating  about your product and company things that customers  believe are true n'est pas? Therefore, understanding how customers recognize truth is a pre-cursor to believable communications.

I've found three groups of people who've worked "truth" really hard. Religious, philosophers and mathematicians. Apparently there are ..... 9, NINE,  IX, 8+1 ..... different theories your customer (assuming they're people) might use to decide whether your statements are true!  Here they are:

1) Coherence                    - fits within a whole

2) CORRESPONDENCE    - proved by evidence or individual opinion in a similar context

3) Constructivist               - constructed from social processes, culturally specific

4) Consensus                    - whatever is agreed upon by a specified group

5) Pragmatic                     - verified by results of putting one's concepts into practice

6) Pluralist                         - "property" of a statement which makes a proposition true

7) DEFLATIONARY           - assertions of truth don't mean anything,  they're a tool of discourse                                                     to emphasize claims or form generalizations (also called Minimalist)

8) Redundancy                - asserting something is true is the same as asserting the real thing

9) EPISTEMIC                    - notion of truth is epistemic (all of the above)

Whew...there you go.  Now we know what to do.

If it helps, mathematicians thought they were on the most solid ground before Godel's incompleteness theorems http://goo.gl/Z50liu now they'd rather not talk about it.

Wait there's more ... "according to a survey of professional philosophers in November 2009 (taken by 3226 respondents, including 1803 philosophy faculty members and 829 philosophy graduate students) 44.9% of respondents accept or lean towards CORRESPONDENCE theories, 20.7% accept or lean towards DEFLATIONARY theories and 13.8% EPISTEMIC theories." (I'm not sure what happened to the other 20.6% maybe they told them to buzz off).

Here's your takeaway....

1)  ~45% of your audience will find 3 or 4 independent testimonial sources that corroborate your pitch (customers, thought leaders, editors, bankers, car salesmen etc) credible

2) ~20% will think you're just BS'ing to make a point

3) ~15% will think that it's all so complicated whatever anyone believes is cool

4) ~20% won't show up (read or listen)Image result for truth

http://psychology.wikia.com/wiki/Truth

"The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of profound truth may be another profound truth"          -Niels Bohr

"A lie makes a problem part of the future, the truth makes a problem part of the past."                                                                         - Quote from YMCA Camp Marston

 

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Business Development title is up for grabs

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There's been lots of activity on LinkedIn groups discussing the role of Business Development or BizDev.  I found it interesting since I've occupied this slot and hired/promoted people into the slot.

This is a title that is being used to describe many roles now, including:

  1. Inside Sales
  2. Territory Sales
  3. All or part of Marketing Product Management
  4. Social Media content management

and others...

What surprises me is people in the first decade of their career with the title. I am schooled that BizDev is bolted to the CEO or division level executive leadership and working 3-10 years out. Self-driving cars, contact lenses and fiber to the home is BizDev for Google.

What are you going to do when your market saturates? All products, markets and industries mature and create challenges for the leadership. I believe the role should be led by people after accomplishments in Marketing/Sales and General Management with solid foundations in finance and some law. They should be able to sell stakeholders on how taking an "out of bounds" risk makes sense and be able to manage an acquisition or divestiture.

It is sometimes a convenient title for  founders if the company grows up around them. This is fine if they grow into the role. Don't mistake a practical people decision with the strategic role longer term.

Worst case I see the title sometimes being used to avoid using "sales" in someones title, the dead giveaway here is when the title is assigned with  1 year sales metrics.

Sloppy strategic thinking...

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iPhone 4s was the Vax 11/780 of Pocket Computers

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Old engineers remember the Digital Equipment Corporations' VAX 11/780 computer. The Vax 11/780 was the "benchmark" unit of computing (1 MIP) in the engineering world of the 1980's. Competitors had to compare their performance to the VAX 11/780. It was the machine Unix grew up on.   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VAX-11

I think the iPhone 4s  became the first "benchmark" of pocket computers  (i.e. smartphones). It hit the "sweet spot" of cost/performance running a general purpose dual core iOS 5.0 (shared with iPods) with a MAC look and feel and properly virtualized i/o.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IPhone_4S

iphoneVax

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Apple's Down Market Strategy

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fishjumpApple is way out-thinking Wall Street as they move down market.  "Talking-heads"  at Bloomberg, NBC, and securities analysts have argued they need  cheaper phones to stem the market share growth of Android. Apple has kept it's cool and devised the best of all compromising strategies... BOTH.

Both a) more affordable phones and b) maintaining revenue and margins for the premium product/ecosystem.  They did this by taking a strategy lesson from BMW and Mercedes. Enter lower price markets by selling used phones at Android pricing, and replace the high-end  with enhanced functionality (i.e. AC7). Would you rather have a used BMW 3 series or a Ford Focus?

Steve Jobs long ago recognized how to use Moore's law to fill out product portfolios. Rather than designing high, medium and low end products, he would ride Moore's law cost reductions to sell yesterday's functionality at lower prices. The Apple software and manufacturing ecosystem rides along for free. Once customer loyalty is captured, it is easier to up-market sell the high end. Engineered cost-reductions can focus on the most bang for the buck products.

Now Apple's marketing strategists have convinced the organization to recycle 4, 4s and 5 phones by providing trade-ins.  It extracts the residual value of Apple phones into Apple's pocket, helps the high and low-end customer, and is ecological to boot.

This is an example of a key idea in good strategy. Good strategy increases efficiency somewhere in the value chain. In Apple's case it is extracting value from the oligopolistic carrier distribution channels by leveraging it's stores. Retail became a necessary evil when telcos had to sell phones to people (mobile) instead of buildings (landline).  Apple uses retail to build customer relationships (genius bars) not an every 2-year visit to re-new a contract.

Apple knows these machines are "pocket computers" first and phones second 🙂

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