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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Good leaders understand that questions often appear as an inquisition

Discussions often consist of questions and answers.  Some require excessive questions in their effort to understand situations.  It is critical that leaders understand the circumstances, issues and activities leading toward potential business relationships or project developments.  Teams or potential business partners may be on the receiving end of the questions.  Sometimes the questions are more probing and aggressive while at other times they are simple and seeking information only.

Take for example the recent barrage of questions in Poland asked of Mitt Romney on July 31, 2012.  The questions got rather aggressive and sounded more like probing gaffes rather than collecting information.  Reporters are always trying their hardest to get a news story even if it means creating the news.  Interestingly the location of the questioning was on a site that was sacred to the country.  Whether this was the issue or one of Romney’s advisors got upset, the responses started to become aggressive.  The result of verbal exchanges later triggered apologies from the advisor to the reporters later.

Questioning always has the potential to sound aggressive and probing.  People will interpret the questions as attacking or probing based on personalities and current situations.  It is not possible to be politically correct every time and it is difficult to control emotions when feeling attacked.  The person asking the questions may be attacking but they may also be probing to gain a better understanding.  It is in this middle ground that confusion and possible incorrect responses may arise.

Responses may equally seem aggressive or inappropriate.  The person asking questions may feel clear and precise answers to questions are possible.  The interpretation of the questions by the listener may be far different from the actual intent of the question.  Many times when answering, the response contains information for what the listener thought was being asked.  Interpretation of questions is rather common and result in answers different from what the questioner was expecting.

The ability to communicate in this difficult situation takes a greater effort because no one wants to be communicative when feeling attached.  The protection mechanisms rev up and tensions become excessive.  This occurs between family members, team members at work, prospective partners, and most anyone.  Making an effort to understand the goals of the questions and respond to provide information that is useful and direct is very important.  Listener may not accurately interpret a question and the questioner may become frustrated and start sounding more aggressive.

A good leader learns to be a good listener and to monitor the emotion of the other parties.  Engaging in an exchange requires attention to detail and prevention of miscommunication or at least the correction of problems early.  It is easy to look like the bad person and have those you are talking to shut down.  Make every effort to listen with care and understand questions.  Try to interpret when the intent is being aggressive and mean spirited and when the questions are just seeking information.  Sometimes the difference is hard to detect. The overall objective is communication and understanding, not fighting.

Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed to via Amazon

Friday, July 27, 2012

I do not trust you is bad feedback

Watching the elections brings out many point that entrepreneurs can learn, but mostly from the negative aspects of the ads.  Look at the controversy of taking lines of text out of context and using the information to form a campaign ad against the candidate.  It is not just the presidential election, it nearly all candidates running.  The negative ads relay a message that candidates can only win by beating down their opponent not by showing their skills.  This is very SAD!

Showing one’s skill set and pointing to the how situations will be improved is a promotion demonstrating the benefits of the product or candidate.  How would your product or business grow if your advertisement read, “Their product sucks, so buy our product?”   Leaves one speechless and wondering why buy any of them. 

Marketing any product should address the strategic advantages and benefits.  People need to understand the value proposition of their purchase or investment.  Investors want to understand that their money is going toward a great new innovative idea that will change lives and make money.  Marketing the product must convey the how and why the product is the best, not that the other products are bad.  Bad is a relative judgment that each person must determine.  The delineation of the greater value of your product based on solid facts, leaves only the option of a focus on the facts and benefits.

It is hard to sit and watch TV these days with so much negative advertisement about the elections.  The elections are coming down to a vote on whom you dislike the least, not who is the best candidate.  It would seem that the candidates have business people advising them, but perhaps they are not listening.   Maybe the political advisors do not know how to market skills or the skills are just not there.  “Lying” or “stretching the truth” to paint the other person in a negative manner says one candidate does not “SUCK’ as much as the other person.

When preparing your marketing information to raise capital or promote your product, make every effort to use facts and be honest.  A bit of positive spin is expected, but not so much that it is a dishonest representation.  Demonstrate the value proposition of your company or product.  Show your investors or customers how great the product(s) are and gain their confidence in company and product(s).  You do not want to be labeled as a dishonest person, otherwise, investors or customers will develop a problem with the product or investment.  Remember, that “I Do Not Trust You” is something that is hard to change in the future.  Regaining confidence in your company or product is much more difficult than building it and maintaining it.  The negative will just make people run away!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Corporate Spy Shop

Leaning what your competition is up to has a value to your business.  OK, there is no real legal spy shop for corporate intelligence but there are things you can do. Your business plan should have a competition section where you provide some analysis of products and companies that may present a problem for your business.  You can gain info in a variety of ways even though it may not be as complete as you like.

The internet presents a great way to find some of those competitors.  You will likely get data indicating a little of what they are up to.  Timelines and capital on hand may even be part of the data you capture.  Public companies will have more info available than private, but data is available on most of the companies that have left their garage and seeking money.

Many ways legal ways exist to obtain info on competition. You need this info to show any investor you are in command of the space and your products can be competitive.   A few ideas on ways to identify and obtain information are below:

Literature search:  Companies may have obtained the idea for the technology from someone that was in a university.  The technology may even be via a license.  Literature searches on the founding scientist will provide intelligence about the research areas and possibly info on the technology.  Institutions often have a technology section that provides technology descriptions for their scientists or licensing candidates.

Intellectual Property Search: The US Patent Office has a searchable database and there is one for Europe as well.   Other searchable sites exist and your patent counsel can perform searches as well, but the attorney will charge you fees.  Searching for inventors, assignees, and other parameters may help identify patents that are part of the competitors stable.

Internet:  Searching the internet for specific products areas and companies in the space may bring a wide range of prospects for your review. Many will show their pipeline and estimates a date for product launch.  They often review their technology and team.  Reviewing the sites and possible news for the competition will provide further insight.  If the company is public, the SEC has a searchable database where these companies must file all documents for shareholders.  The annual and quarterly reports are a gold mine of info. In addition, private companies sometimes have an analyst or blogger following them.  These entities will put out reports that may be useful.  Many times documents will provide confirming info on market sizes and strategies for marketing the products.

Investors & Potential Partners:  If you are on the road raising capital, investors or potential partners may have reviewed companies that compete in your space.  Sometimes they will bring up the “I got you,” because you were not aware of company X. They may be willing to discuss “public info” about the competition.  The investor or partner is usually trying to rank your technology relative to the competition and obtain knowledge of your skills.  Regardless of their intent, the information may prove to be useful info.

Regulatory and Legal sites:  The Freedom of Information act makes data from government-sponsored projects available.  You may be able to obtain some info if government money used in the conduct of research for the program. The research may have taken place in a university or in the company.  For FDA relevant products, clinical trials are reported in their website.  One can also request a Summary Basis of Approval for approved products.  This document is extensive and describes much of what lead to the approval.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Share your vision with your team

Starting a company requires a concept of the business, the market, the product, and the fit in the landscape.  The planning that goes into a startup company is extensive as is the research required to develop a solid plan.  Entrepreneurs often start with one plan then adjust or switch entirely as the company progresses.  Changes often match alterations in the landscape or adjustments in the future vision of the CEO. 

It is no surprise that the competition will alter their directions to try to capture market or dominate a business area.  The CEO must be able to read the shifts and determine a new path to ensure that the future of the company is a success story.  Think of the process as playing a chess game.  Moves and counter moves are required until the game is over and the winner takes the king.  The ability to “PIVOT” is essential for all startup companies.  They must be able to identify new paths and shift rapidly to survive.

This is especially critical when the startup is in a space with a potential competitor being a large company or a highly aggressive small company.  These companies have assets on their side and may have large sales and marketing teams.  Jockeying for position in a crowded space or against a highly competitive business is difficult.  A small agile company can win, but only if they are continually adjusting to meet the challenge. 

Visions and rationale at the start of a business must change.  Strategy is important and, like in any game, the better the strategy the better the game play.  Increasing the odds of success depends on vision, rationale, and strategy, but have you informed your team? 

Your team will be very attentive and follow your direction.  You shared your vision, strategy, and rationale with them early in the startup life.  As the landscape changes, you naturally began to adjust.  Meetings to follow progress and timelines fit your original objectives.  As you change, your team is working on what they believe you want based on your last instructions.  They are not able to read your mind nor are they informed on your strategy to succeed unless you tell them.  Planning and strategy discussions may be critical to keeping your team involved and on the path of your vision.

Your vision sets the framework for success of your company.  You will change or alter this vision as the company progresses.  You must develop a practice of making sure your whole team is aware of changes. You may even want to have them participate in the process of the CHANGE or the discussions leading to the change.  Getting their input may help you identify new and better ways to meet the challenges. 

Are you keeping your team appraised the landscape and your vision?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Leadership Lessons from the 3 Tenors

Really? The 3 tenors have lessons on leadership?  Many have heard of the original 3 tenors:  Plácido Domingo, José Carreras, and Luciano Pavarotti.  They had some of the most distinctive and great voices on the opera circuit.  The “Three Tenors” name came later in their careers when they started performing on stage as a group and the songs sold on CD.  As you might expect, each of the tenors had such strong voices that they often sang solos.  Even when performing as the 3 tenors the solos were frequent with each taking turns.  Sometimes the real music came when they sang together in harmony.  This is when great talent found a way to put egos aside and form one beautiful vocal blending the distinct voices together.

Think about the egos involved in entrepreneurs and their startup teams.  The desire to standout and be recognized in a crowd is critical to many.  When working with the team, finding a means to be part of a team to achieve something extraordinary is often a mismatch.  Egos get in the way and desires for credit or power prevent the harmony needed to achieve goals faster and with higher quality.

Leadership sometimes requires knowing when to sing solo and when to harmonize.  This is a lesson that comes mostly from experience.  Some learn and others have difficulty.  It is often said, there is no “I’” in “Team.”  Your team will certainly agree.  Especially when the I and me become rampant in trying to build a company.

The 3 tenors figured this out, at least the times they appeared on stage.  Each had every right to be the star of the show, but they found a way to make the solos turn into trios.  The result was a performance that attracted many viewers and lead to greater revenues and a better product.  Interestingly, it is easier to remember the “Three Tenors” than to recall each of their individual names.  The team became famous and better recognized as a brand. 

The goal of every leader is to achieve optimal performance.  They must learn when to direct, when to lead, and when to follow.  Achieving a great company and line of products requires the vision provided by the CEO.  Then finding a way to achieve the harmony and quality allowing for optimal time to product launch and sales becomes a function of the team.

The overall goal of the entrepreneur CEO is to know when to sing solo and when to harmonize.  Do you agree?  Leave a comment and share your thoughts.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Entrepreneurs are Different from the Crowd

Entrepreneurs are often willing to stand out from the crowd.  Most do it with honor and dignity.  It is part of the startup culture to be innovative and creative.  To make things that may improve the lives of people all over the world.  It is no surprise that it is risky to create a business starting from nothing.

Risks are common in everyday life.  Taking risks comes with potential rewards; "the greater the risk the greater the reward."   Some people are able to tolerate the risks better than others are.  They see the end of the potential rewards of developing a new company with novel and exciting products.  They love the innovation and challenge of doing something that make others cringe. 

Without the entrepreneurs, you would not have a cell phone with a multitude of capabilities.  Your TV set would contain a picture tube and flat screens would not exist.  Discoveries for novel disease would not continue in the numerous small companies.  Cost of goods at the manufacturing level would remain high.  Few companies would be seeking new forms of renewable energy.  Products created because of entrepreneurs touch our everyday lives and make them better.

Innovation and entrepreneurship go hand in hand.  The desires to create new products enhance the innovative push in companies.  The competition to be first to market accelerates the development timelines and attempts to capture market share first. 

No wonder entrepreneurs have different personality traits.  They see the glass as half-full or even better seek ways to fill the half-full glass.  They see problems and they see potential solutions.  They have no fear of trying to develop the solutions.  OK, so they also want to make money.  That is capitalism at its best. 

So to all those entrepreneurs in the world, I say stand up and be proud. Your efforts have the potential to make someone’s life just a bit better.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Sales and Marketing Is Up to the Startup CEO

Entrepreneurs are not often equipped with the sales and marketing experience for products.  They have a burning desire to develop a business and create products.  They come with a set of experiences most often that are industry related.  Some professional marketing and sales trained individuals are entrepreneurs, but many of the startup CEOs do not have sales and marketing experience.

Critical product sales and marketing staff are future hires to a startup CEO.  A company with no products does not need dedicated people early in the company development.  Consultants or advisors can provide the needed experience in this area.  However, the CEO soon realizes there is a product that requires extensive marketing and sales early in the company cycle.  The product is the COMPANY and the sales and marketing person most responsible is the CEO.

Raising capital to run a company can take an extraordinary effort.  The marketing information comes from a business plan and data from the plan is incorporated in a pitch deck for investors.  The CEO must learn how to find and attract the attention of these investors.  Then meet, present, and close the sale.  A successful set of meetings will end up with a closure of a financing and cash to run the company.

CEOs sometimes hire finders or bankers to facilitate in the sales and marketing of a financing.  These finance professionals help to bring interested parties together like a matchmaker.  The selling and closure of the deal still comes down to the responsibility of the CEO.  Many times the CEO has helpers like members of the senior management in the company.  The senior staff is often part of the road show, but investors are mostly betting on the CEO.  If the CEO comes across in the wrong way, the investors go no further than listening to the pitch. 

The technology does carry a lot of weight in the attraction of investors.  The CEO usually does not even get a meeting if the technology is not a fit.  In the situations where the technology is stellar but the CEO is the wrong person, the investors may invest on the condition that they replace the CEO. 

Learning to sell the company is not much different than selling one’s self in a job interview.  Most entrepreneurs have this level of experience.   Some learn to enhance that skill and others do not.   Interestingly, the selling requirement is not simply for financings.  The selling is required for business deals with partners.  Partnering does allow more help from the team as they interact extensively with the potential partner. 

Over time, every entrepreneur will develop the needed skills to attract and close with investors or partners.  If they do not, the company will fail!  Startups need money and/or partners to grow.  Most often, the funds come from investors or partners.  Lean startups may need fewer funds, but they will soon start selling product or services.  Marketing and sales are extremely important to startups and in many cases not limited to the final products.  The CEO entrepreneur must learn to make the transition to a sales and marketing expert.  At least in order to convince investors or partners there is value in the company and they should be interested.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Freaking Out is Not a Management Style

Certainty defines the likelihood something major will occur in the life of your startup.  How the issues are handled will define you in your role as the CEO of the company.  Experiences usually influence the way new issues are addressed, but care and thoughtfulness are always important to resolution of what faces the company.

People have different personalities.  Some are thoughtful by nature and others tend to be more spontaneous.  Reactions to issues run a wide range.  Everyone has their own way to address problems and resolve them.  However, when you are in charge, the team expects more in the way of leadership and control.  They will follow your lead and be calmer if you are and they will panic if you do. 

You want your team to react to issues without panicking.  For this reason alone, it is in your best interest to learn to be more reserved and calm in approaching problems.  It may be harder than you can ever imagine.  For example, what if you get a call indicating you just lost 60% of your cash reserves and will not have resources to pay the staff.  Suppose you receive a lawsuit describing you as the primary person being attacked.  Remember, that being the diplomat is part of your job and being calm and reserved is a trait you may do well to learn. 

In short, “Freaking out is not a management style.”  Next time you find a situation that seems to make you so angry, you want to hurt someone.  Try a few of these ideas:

 Stop and reflect: Walk away from the building for a while.  Get a cup of coffee and sit down alone.  Reflect on what the action was that made you angry.  Determine if it is really so bad and consider the most optimal way to handle the problem.  It also may help to go do some physical activity and think about the issues.

Generate ideas:  Nearly every problem has a solution.  Thinking of possible ways to resolve the issues allows you to put things in prospective.  Try to visualize the solutions and extent of work required to resolve the situation.  The more solutions you can develop, the more you have to work with to solve the problem.

Seek advice:  Talking the problem over with your advisors or a trusted board member will help you no longer be alone.  The more help you can find the better you will be able to manage the problem.  At least, you will have time to calm down and consider the most rational approaches.

Try the solutions:  Being calm and rational in your approach will allow you to execute the solution(s) or approaches you derived.  You will be able to monitor the progress or engage in a discussion in a way that may better yield results. 

Repeat the steps above needed.  You may need several attempts to reach a final resolution.  In some cases, it may take a very long time.  Just put thing in prospective.  Do not lose focus on your company goals and continue to build.  Your best offense is a strong defense and a strong company.