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Friday, October 30th, 2009

Pareto’s 80/20 Rule

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The 80/20 Rule is one of the most powerful ideas you can use in most aspects of business.

You’ll find it discussed in my post on The 20 Best Business Books of All Time.

In The Four Hour Work Week, author Tim Ferriss recommends focusing your attention on the 20% of projects that contribute 80% of your income; and firing those 20% of your customers who take up the majority of your time and trouble.

The 80/20 Rule is also featured in the Tipping Point (where author Malcolm Gladwell calls it The Law of the Few).

The 80/20 Rule — also known as the “Pareto Rule,” “Pareto Law” or “Pareto Principle”– is named after Vilfredo Pareto who observed in 1906 that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population.

Pareto and others quickly learned that the 80/20 rule is applicable to numerous situations (business and otherwise).

To find out more about Vilfredo, and the mathematics behind Pareto’s Principle check out Pareto Wiki.

My Personal Examples of Pareto’s 80/20 Principle

Here are some 80/20 examples I’ve personally experienced in life (note: I’m rounding my numbers).

  • 80% of the money I’ve raised for startups came from 20% of investors.
  • 80% of the Web traffic to this blog comes from 20% of the traffic sources.
  • 20% of the advertising campaigns generated 80% of the Web traffic for a business I’m associated with.
  • About one in seven venture capital investments is said to be a major success (that would be 14.2% of investments creating the cast majority (80%+) of investment returns).
  • 80% of my happiness every day typically comes from something I did during a few hours (e.g. 20% of my awake time)
  • 80% of our profit comes from 20% of our products.
  • 95% of sales in one business I ran came from 20% of my sales team (one of five sales people)

You’ll notice that in a couple of my Pareto’s Rule examples the numbers aren’t 80 and 20: The Pareto distribution doesn’t have to be exactly 80% and 20% nor does it have to add up to 100%. It’s just an approximation.

I was amazed to see how many 80/20 and Pareto books are available on Amazon. While I haven’t read any of them, here’s a link to some:  Books on the Pareto 80 20 rule.

Thanks, Vilfredo!

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Thursday, October 29th, 2009

DOS Exercise

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A lot of people have checked out my article  on SWOT Analysis: Strengths Weaknesses Opportunities Threats (amazingly, an estimated 300,000 people Google “SWOT Analysis” each month, according to Google’s own Keyword Tool).

If you want a variation on an exercise for strengths, opportunities, etc., there’s another simpler one called D.O.S.

DOS stands for Dangers, Opportunities and Strengths.

DOS Exercise

It’s very simple to learn DOS. Here are the steps:

1) Pick a new goal or thing that you’re considering taking on.

2) List out the dangers of taking on such a project.

3) List out the opportunities of taking on such a project.

4) List out the strengths of taking on such a project.

I’ve been using DOS for a few years and I’ve learned it’s important you go in the order of danger, opportunity, strength because psychologically it’s best to end on a positive — this is one advantage the DOS model has over the SWOT model (in SWOT analysis you START positive with strengths and END on a negative with threats).

Here’s a DOS example on a new challenge a friend of mine’s business is having with fundraising (she needs to raise some money to fund her new startup).

Dangers (of raising money)

  • She’ll take her eye off the ball of a new product launch.
  • She’ll be distracted from managing her newest hire (an engineer)

Opportunities (e.g. what the opportunities for her to take advantage of to raise money)

  • She has 100+ “friends and family” who might be able to invest
  • She has a new advisor she could add to her advisory board who is well connected and has raised money for a couple of different startups.

Strengths

  • This woman is very persuasive and can make a great pitch!
  • She has a superb team
  • She has an amazing product

That’s the DOS exercise.

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Saturday, October 24th, 2009

Porter’s Five Forces

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I met a guy named Dan Neukomm recently who has a real zest for business-life. He’s got an MBA degree from Paris (where as an American he was a minority) and he has been a key member of a couple of successful start-ups.

He and I brainstormed mutual areas of interests and strategic planning was one of them. He kindly agreed to share his thoughts on one key strategic model: The 5 Forces from Michael Porter.

5-forces-pic-of-daniel-neukomm

Here’s the Q&A — I hope you enjoy it:

Please explain the origin of “Michael Porter’s Five Competitive Forces That Shape Strategy”

Strategic assessment models are utilized by senior management and other stakeholders to assess external factors to direct and efficiently distribute resources driving growth.

While many such models exist, few have become as widely valued and practiced as the Five Forces model, developed by Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter.

This model helps to analyze external variables and structure, primarily at the industry level, which influence the attractiveness of entering and successfully competing in a specific marketplace/industry.

Each of the five forces can be attributed a weighted numerical strength on a scale of 1 to 10 and then added together to determine industry attractiveness.

Please describe each of the Five Competitive Forces?

Porter’s Competitive Forces are barriers to entry, bargaining power of suppliers, bargaining power of buyers, threat of substitutes, and competitive rivalry among existing players.

1. Barriers to Entry

Accurately assessing barriers to entry in a given industry are vital to understanding the ability of a venture to succeed. High barriers to entry almost always directly relate to higher costs, both for the venture under consideration as well as potential competition in the future.

Understanding those barriers can help to effectively identify and leverage market entry routes without removing existing barriers for future entrants to navigate. Examples of barriers include economies of scale, IP protection and government regulatory restrictions.

2. Bargaining Power of Suppliers

The power of suppliers is almost entirely supply side driven, resulting in reduced costs as the competition among suppliers rises, and increased costs as suppliers monopolize the supply chain.

Attractive, high growth markets tend to present low supplier power at early stages of the industry life cycle, steadily increasing as growing volume and high margins attract additional suppliers.

Examples of supplier power include the concentration of suppliers, threat of forward vertical integration, and costs associated with switching suppliers.

3. Bargaining Power of Buyers

Buyer power can have considerable implications and influence on price and is a function basic demand side economics. Buyers can be defined as end consumers in B2C sales or another business in B2B sales. The power of buyers in the marketplace can have two distinct impacts.

First, an increasing number of buyers in the market, resulting from increased demand, results in higher prices. Second, as the volume and demand of buyers increases so does the incentive for buyer collaboration to leverage economies of scale.

This can be further offset by attracting additional suppliers who in turn offer more choice and drive prices back down. Identifying and measuring variables influencing buyer power are necessary for accurately assessing viability and price control.

Such variables include product differentiation, brand identity/value, buyer’s incentives and the threat of reverse vertical integration.

4. Threat of Substitutes

The threat of substitutes relates to those products or services that can directly displace or offset the demand and/or consumption of the penetrating product or service being considered.

Perhaps the most considerable implication is the ability for the buyer to directly substitute the product or service for a something similar but equally effective at satisfying demand. Another consideration is the cost incurred by the buyer to switch to the substitute.

5. Existing Rivalry

Those firms currently competing within the target industry whose existing competitive dynamic is dictated by numerous factors define this. These include the concentration within the industry, the differentiation among products/services, the barriers to exit and the growth rate of the industry.

If the market is large and rapidly growing, it is more likely to contain a large number of competitors with a diverse offering of products and services and diluted liquidity values for exit due to the high number of options.

When’s the best time to use the Five Forces framework?

  • A new/existing firm assessing the implications of entering into a new product or service industry.
  • A firm contemplating an investment in a new/existing firm moving into a new product or service industry.

Where ultimately will the Five Forces analysis lead a business to (what results?)?

The Five Forces Model should be utilized for determining market viability as well as identifying and ultimately avoiding potentially risky and costly pursuits.

Most importantly, Five Forces provides a relatively subjective framework with which to input values designed to determine strategic direction and resource allocation accordingly.

Remember, Five Forces is only one strategic assessment model designed to help understand the variables that shape the competitive dynamic of a given industry. As such, other models should be utilized in conjunction so as to paint as clear and concise picture of both internal and external factors for consideration.

Can you give us a Five Forces example?

In 2001, I founded and grew Mountain Oxygen, a company which provided oxygen products, systems and services to visitors of high altitude ski resorts in Utah and Colorado who suffered mild symptoms of altitude discomfort such as fatigue and insomnia.

Our core/primary service was renting oxygen generators via hotels and resorts to guests for the duration of their stay so they could rest, rejuvenate and enjoy their limited and expensive vacation time.

Porters Five Forces directly articulates the assessment I went through to determine the competitive dynamic and ultimate success of this venture and as such is outlined in further detail below.

Since the recreational oxygen market at high altitude ski resorts in Colorado and Utah did not exist prior to Mountain Oxygen, there were relatively few barriers to entry, making the venture appealing and lucrative (i.e. no IP needs, limited gov’t regulation and no competition).

I was able to secure (at a cost) exclusive agreements with ski resorts and hotels to be the sole supplier of such services, giving me considerable control over my buyers allowing my firm to dictate price more aggressively.

Additionally the act of establishing and maintaining non-compete agreements meant that almost impenetrable barriers of entry existed for future competition.

Since there were numerous suppliers resulting in relatively limited power, my costs remained low. Furthermore, the availability of substitutes was also extremely low, entirely due to the specific nature of the need my firm was meeting.

For example, once vacationing in a resort town like Aspen and altitude malaise sets in, the only other option is to retreat to lower elevations as no drug is available that is immediately effective in alleviating adverse symptoms. As such, my firm was the only provider of the only solution!

My business maintained low buyer power as a result of minimal substitute products and lack of competition allowing me to maintain price control and increase margins.

OK, lets integrate the weighted values of the five forces to this model:

  • Barriers to entry: very low for me (2 out of 10)
  • Power of suppliers: very low (2 out of 10)
  • Power of buyers: very, very low (1 out of 10)
  • Threat of substitutes: very low (2 out of 10)
  • Competitive rivalry: none (0 out of 10)

Total weight: 7 out of 50 and as such very, very attractive/lucrative.

Food for thought: The lack of non-compete clauses at host resorts would have meant additional competition and subsequently increased buyer power resulting in lower prices and tighter margins.

This would have increased the weighted value of both power of buyers and competitive rivalry towards 7 or 8 out of ten shifting the over-all industry attractiveness score accordingly.

Mountain Oxygen was split up and sold in 2006 to strategic buyers.

Is there a Five Forces diagram for us to look at?

five-forces-diagram

source

Can you recommend any Michael Porter books?

Competitive Strategy: Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors by Michael Porter.

What are your other favorite strategic planning frameworks besides Porter’s Five Forces model?

In addition to utilizing Porter’s Five Forces to assess external industry level dynamics, PEST(O) is useful in assessing external factors at the most macro of levels.

SWOT also helps to identify and match internal strengths and weaknesses to external opportunities and threats. Understanding Michael Porter’s Value Chain (another Michael Porter model) is also useful in measuring and guiding supply chain dynamics.

If someone wanted to get in touch with you, what’s the best way for them to contact you?

You can email me at dneukomm@gmail.com or here’s my LinkedIn profile.

Thanks, Dan!

Note: Check out Michael Porter Wikipeida for more about this leading strategic planner.

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Friday, October 23rd, 2009

Multi-User Blogging

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I’ve been fascinated by the power of blogging since I began experiencing it back in April.

Now I’m interested in multi-user blogging: specifically, providing a platform that allows multiple people to blog.

Some Top Multi-User Blog Tools

The two multi-user blog tools that I’m noticing the most buzz about in my couple of hours of research are:

  1. WordPress MU — WordPress Multi User (MU) seems to be the most popular multi-user blogging tool. I first heard about it from eBay’s SEO point person Dennis Goedegebuure. They were the only multi-user blogging tool that made claims about the specific number of blogs it could support (e.g. 32,000 blogs (if you use their upload feature) and 230,000 blogs (if you turn the upload feature off).
  2. Drupal — This is a an open-source content management system that has some modules to help you build a multi-user blog . Its main benefit will be customizability and, according to some, speed. A drawback: some Drupal users are reporting that it won’t allow Themes or blog rolls.

Both are free, though you may have to pay someone to customize it for you or to buy some add-ons.

Here is an interesting comparison of WordPress MU versus Drupal MU.

Other multi-user blog software includes (all of them appear to be free):

  • b2Evolution — Open-source PHP/MySQL tool.
  • Elgg — This open source “social engine” was named after a town called Elgg in Switzerland and was started in 2004.  They suggest you have someone very technical help you use it.
  • Compendium — This blogware company claims its differentiator is that it focuses on businesses.
  • 21Publish — This company was founded in 2004 and counts some good-sized media companies in the U.S. and Europe as its clients.
  • Serendipity Weblog System — PHP-powered.
  • Apache Roller — Open source Java blog tool.
  • Moveable Type — This tool is provided by the well-connected Silicon Valley start-up SixApart (they also offer TypePad (for creating an individual blog) and Blogs.com).
  • PyBlosxom — A Python open-source multi-user blogging engine.
  • Text Pattern — An open-source content management system.
  • ByteFlow – A blog engine written in Python using Django (a content management system).
  • ExpressionEngine — Content management system with multi-user blogging features.
  • PressPublisher — These guys appear to focus on online publishing/blog tools aimed at magazines, journals and newsletters.
  • Lifetype — Another open-source tool.

Paid Multi-User Blog Tools

A couple of multi-user blog tools that cost money include:

  1. Userland’s Manila — This is priced at $1,099 (U.S. Dollars)
  2. Invision Power — It appears that you buy the Community Suite for $249.99 and then buy a blog add-on for $49.99.

Make sure that whatever multi-user blog tool you pick is well-supported. One tool called Lyceum has a notice on their site that their development team’s last bug fix appears to have been June of 2008.

Other multi-user blogging tools I’ve heard mentioned include the Blog product that comes as an add-on to Scoop and Elgg.

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Thursday, October 15th, 2009

How to Create A Sales Pipeline

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I’ve been teaching someone on our team recently about how a sales pipeline works — and so I thought I’d summarize my sales approach here for you (I’ve used this for straight up sales as well as for partner sales).

Note: I’m going to refer to the party I’m selling to as a “customer” but it could easily be a partner in the case of partnership sales.

There are any number of sales pipeline stages you can use: I’m going to use Leads, 10% Opportunities, 50% Opportunities, 90% Opportunities and Closed Won/Lost. I first adopted this methodology when I began using Salesforce.com which mapped well to how my mind works.

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Monday, October 12th, 2009

Warren Buffett Quotes

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I’ve been into motivational business quotes lately and I was reading the Tao of Warren Buffett (which I highly recommend!) and it reminded of the great quotes Mr. Buffett has shared.

Here are some of my favorite Buffett quotes:

How to define friendship

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Sunday, October 11th, 2009

OODA Loop

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I’m a big fan of using Colonel John Boyd’s OODA Loop strategy for reacting to events in business.

I’m so into the OODA Loop theory that I once chanted “OODA, OODA” (like “Toga, Toga”) at a strategy session!

OODA stands for:

Observe — As in collect the inputs/data of the situation.

Orient — Analyze the inputs/data to determine your position.

Decide — Determine your course of action.

Act — Execute your decision.

It’s called an OODA Loop (or OODA Cycle) because the event/situation taking place may be changing and so you may have to change your decisions as new data/inputs are gathered.

While Col. John Boyd’s OODA Loops were created in military situations, he made recommendations on their use in business (and OODA Loop Theory is widely used in business today).

For example, Boyd recommended that decisions/actions be distributed throughout a business organization so that decisions and actions are made by the people who are directly observing and oriented to a situation (as opposed to an isolated commander/CEO who is only indirectly involved).

Colonel John R. Boyd is no relation to famous businessman John Boyd Dunlop who founded Dunlop the tire company or peace nobelist Lord John Boyd (United Nations, nutrition).

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Saturday, October 10th, 2009

30+ Charlie Munger Quotes!

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I’m a huge fan of Charles T. Munger (aka “Warren Buffett’s right-hand man”) – I named  Poor Charlie’s Almanack the #1 book in The 20 Best Business Books Of All Time because I find myself quoting and utilizing his knowledge all the time.

In the mean time, here are some of my favorite Charlie Munger quotes:

  1. Never, ever, think about something else when you should be thinking about the power of incentives. (For more on incentives, see  my articles on the Incentives Mental Model and  “Are Cubbie Fans The Reason The Cubs Have Sucked For 100+ Years?”)
  2. Almost all good businesses engage in ‘pain today, gain tomorrow’ activities.
  3. Spend each day trying to be a little wiser than you were when you woke up.
  4. In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time — none, zero.
  5. Choose clients as you would friends.
  6. The best armour of 0ld age is a well-spent life preceding it.
  7. When you borrow a man’s car, always return it with a tank of gas.
  8. If only I had the influence with my wife and children that I have in some other quarters!
  9. Take a simple idea and take it seriously.
  10. In business we often find that the winning system goes almost ridiculously far in maximizing and or minimizing one or a few variables — like the discount warehouses of Costco.
  11. Don’t do cocaine. Don’t race trains. And avoid AIDS situations.
  12. We look for a horse with one chance in two of winning and which pays you three to one.
  13. You’re looking for a mispriced gamble. That’s what investing is. And you have to know enough to know whether the gamble is mispriced. That’s value investing.
  14. It takes character to sit there with all that cash and do nothing. I didn’t get to where I am by going after mediocre opportunities.
  15. A great business at a fair price is superior to a fair business at a great price.
  16. All intelligent investing is value investing — acquiring more than you are paying for.
  17. You must value the business in order to value you the stock.
  18. No wise pilot, no matter how great his talent and experience, fails to use his checklist.
  19. There are worse situations than drowning in cash and sitting, sitting, sitting. I remember when I wasn’t awash in cash — and I don’t want to go back.
  20. …it never ceases to amaze me to see how much territory can be grasped if one merely masters and consistently uses all the obvious and easily learned principles.
  21. Once you get into debt, it’s hell to get out. Don’t let credit card debt carry over. You can’t get ahead paying eighteen percent.
  22. If you always tell people why, they’ll understand it better, they’ll consider it more important, and they’ll be more likely to comply.
  23. Spend less than you make; always be saving something. Put it into a tax-deferred account. Over time, it will begin to amount to something. This is such a no-brainer.
  24. You don’t have to be brilliant, only a little bit wiser than the other guys, on average, for a long, long time.
  25. Three rules for a career: 1) Don’t sell anything you wouldn’t buy yourself; 2) Don’t work for anyone you don’t respect and admire; and 3) Work only with people you enjoy.
  26. I won’t bet $100 against house odds between now and the grave.
  27. I try to get rid of people who always confidently answer questions about which they don’t have any real knowledge.
  28. …being an effective teacher is a high calling.
  29. I believe in the discipline of mastering the best that other people have ever figured out. I don’t believe in just sitting down and trying to dream it all up yourself. Nobody’s that smart…
  30. Without numerical fluency, in the part of life most of us inhibit, you are like a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest.
  31. In my life there are not that many questions I can’t properly deal with using my $40 adding machine and dog-eared compound interest table.
  32. Perhaps the most important rule in management is to get the incentives right. (source: Poor Charlie’s Almanack)
  33. I do not think you can trust bankers to control themselves. They are like heroin addicts (source: CNBC interview May 2013)
  34. The best thing a human being can do is to help another human being know more.”“The best thing a human being can do is to help another human being know more.

 

 

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