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Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

“Minimum Viable Product:” What It Is & How To Build One

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If you’re gonna build a hot dog stand, what are the few key things you need to focus on?

I grew up in New York City where the hot dog guys had to have a minimum of a good wiener, fresh bun and mustard

The weiner will probably be first…then the bun…then some mustard and then a stand or cart, right?

If those four items weren’t satisfactory, your hot dog stand would be in big trouble.

Surprisingly, most businesses don’t take that same sensible approach.

Note: thanks to the 37Signals guys who wrote the entrepreneurial-focused Rework book for that hot dog stand analogy!

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Thursday, March 17th, 2011

How To Create The Next “Shaper” Business Like Facebook, Google & Microsoft (from SXSW)

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Boy, I love John Hagel — This guy is a walking web site. I’m amazed his thoughts on “shaping’” have not become more famous!

Afterall, how many of you wouldn’t like to create the next Google, Facebook, Microsoft or Visa type of ecosystem?

He covers “shaping” and other concepts in his book The Power Of Pull.

I got a chance to meet Mr. Hagel when I sat in on his latest “shaping” presentation  at South by Southwest (SXSW) this week.

What follows is a part 2 to the first piece I did on Hagel called How to Shape A Market.

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Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

Reid Hoffman’s 10 Rules of Successful Entrepreneurship

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I’m here at SXSW and LinkedIn founder (and investor) Reid Hoffman just rattled off 10 tips for entrepreneurs.

Enjoy:

10 Rules of Entrepreneurship

1) Disrupt — Ask yourself is this ’10X’ different. If it takes $10 in revenue and replaces it with $1 in revenue (e.g. Skype), then that’s disruptive.

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Monday, March 14th, 2011

Barry Diller’s Thoughts On The Internet

2 Comments On the iPad — “I have a truly emotional thing about the…

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Barry Diller was interviewed by Poppy Harlow of CNN here at South by Southwest. A few nuggets from the Q&A are below:

 

On the Internet in general — “The Internet is a miracle…you put stuff together w spit…you push a button & publish to the world.”

Internet valuations are”mathematically insane” but can work if there is a “willing dumb buyer.”

On the iPad — “I have a truly emotional thing about the ipad.”

Charging for Internet usage — 30% of traffic on cable systems is Netflix. There will be charges for Internet usage (like electricity).

On Internet television

“Thirty million households are connected to the Internet but noone knows how to navigate them.”

In 3 years, you’ll have Internet Television be out there and navigated by everyone.

Google TV wasn’t good…not a consumer product really…but they’ll figure it out. They may be run over by the Playstation or xBox or any PVR machine (which are ready today).

Advice for Internet entrepreneurs

“Get as much money as you need to get started. Give away as little as possible. Keep your head down. Don’t listen to anyone. And keep going on your path. It’ll either work fabously or fail miserably, in which case you can do it all over again.”

“And think in longer forms of video (than just short (3 or 4 minutes). ”

“The cable companies want Netflix to succeed as much as they want destruction. They’re going to try to kill Netflix.”

Which is more important: content, context or conversation?

“Sumner Redstone invented ‘Content is King’ because he had content and wanted to be king.”

They are all important.

 

 

 

 

 

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Monday, February 21st, 2011

A Quick Rework (By 37 Signals) Book Review

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I recently finished reading the book Rework by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson, the founders of the small but powerful 37 Signals company.

Rework and 37 Signals’ last book (Getting Real) are unique in that they give you a birds eye view on operating a small business (37 Signals has just a few employees) whose  products (software for design & productivity) are used by millions.

Here’s a sampling of 5 tips I liked from Rework:

1) The Easiest Product To Make Is One That You Want To Use

The main reason here is that you don’t have to worry about focus groups; you know what the products needs or doesn’t need first-hand.

2) What To Work On First In A New Product

“What’s The Hot Dog In Your Hot Dog Stand?”

I love this quote: Fried & Heinemeier Hansson are suggesting that if you were to start a hot dog stand, the first thing you’d want to work on is the…hot dog (as opposed to the napkins or relish).

I’ve found this hot dog stand analogy to be a simple way to help entrepreneurs figure out where to start on new product creation.

3) What Features To Launch A Product With?

Entrepreneurs face “feature-creep” all the time.

Fried & Heinemeier suggest you ask yourself: If you had to launch your product in 2 weeks, what features would you include?

For example, Crate & Barrel didn’t wait to build fancy displays when they launched their first store (they flipped over “crates and barrels” that the merchandise came in and stacked products on top of them.

4) A Great Quote About Usability:

“Cool wears off, useful never does.”

That’s a good quote I like for erring on the side of usability over coolness with product design.

5) Hire Managers Of One

Fried & Hansson recommend you hire people who set their own goals and execute and don’t need a lot of hand-holding.

This is similar to the “Drivers” (DACI Model) most imperative to getting things done.

One measurement of whether someone is a Manager of One/Driver, the 37 Signals founders say, is that if you leave these people alone, they surprise you with how much they get done.

Overall, the Rework book is a simple read for people trying to create a new business or running a small business; it didn’t make the Top 20 Best Business Books Of All Time but it’s not too far off.

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Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

How Good Is Your Team’s Vision/Mission Statement?

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Does your organization have an effective Vision/Mission Statement?

If you’re involved in starting any team endeavor, the very first thing I recommend you figure out is your Vision Statement. (note: I consider “Vision” and “Mission” Statement interchangeable for this post).

What is a Vision/Mission Statement?

A vision statement is a single sentence that explains clearly and specifically what it is you or your business are trying to create in the future.

I have three tips for you:

1) A Vision/Mission Statement Is Concise

When Sergey Brin and Larry Page walked into Sequoia Capital’s offices to ask for an investment into their new startup Google, they explained their vision in these words:

“To provide access to the world’s information in one click.”

Those 10 words were so key to Sequoia’s investment in Google, that Sequoia now requires all of its entrepreneurs to have a Vision Statement of 10 or fewer words before they even get a meeting with Sequoia.

Note: While I don’t recommend you get hung up on your vision statement being 10 words or less

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Friday, November 19th, 2010

How To Build A Successful Business From The Ground Up (Tips From Gerber!)

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If you love business and are, or are considering, starting a business, the book E-Myth by Michael Gerber (sketched below) is a must-read.

Gerber is a master of teaching business who has taught thousands of business leaders.

Here are some key takeaways from The E-Myth Revisited:

The Three Personalities Of Every Business-Person

1) The Entrepreneur

  • The visionary
  • The dreamer
  • The catalyst for change
  • Turns a trivial condition into an exceptional opportunity

Blind Spot: Most people are problems that get in the way of the entrepreneur.

2) The Manager

  • The planner
  • Thinks in the past
  • The catalyst for status-quo
  • Looks at opportunities as potential problems

The Manager chases after the Entrepreneur to clean up their mess…for without the Entrepreneur, there would be no mess!

3) The Technician

  • The doer
  • The tinkerer
  • Lives in the present
  • If the Technician doesn’t do it, it won’t get done

The Three Stages of Business

1) Infancy Stage

In Infancy, you (the founder) ARE the business. You’re often working 10+ hours a day and absolutely nailing your business. You’re likely mostly being the Technician described above.

How do you know if you’re in Infancy?

Answer: If you were removed from the business, the business would disappear.

So, you don’t want to be an Infant very long.

Infancy ends when you decide that your business can not continue to be run where it’s nearly 100% dependent on you (many owners quit in their Infancy stage).

2) Adolescence

If you don’t quit your biz at this point, you move on to the Adolescence stage.

Adolescence begins when you decide to get some help.

This is often precipitated by a crisis in the Infancy stage. ;)

Gerber cautions that a major mistake many entrepreneurs make during Adolescence is that when they make their first hire they  Manage by Abdication (handing off an assignment and running away) rather than Manage by Delegation.

And Gerber points out that when you Manage by Abdication, the person/people you hired will begin dropping some balls…you may start to notice that:

  • the product might not be quite the same quality as when you built it
  • the marketing might not convert quite as well
  • customer service might become a little loosey-goosey

The reason: because you didn’t teach your new hire well enough!

You weren’t being a good “Manager.”

And then the Technician in you jumps back into action…micro-managing every part of the business process to fix the product, the marketing, the customer service.

Before you know it, you are back doing all the work again…being the “Technician.”

At this point, a business usually faces 3 scenarios…they:

  1. Get Small Again — They go back to the Infancy stage; the owner may get rid of their new hire(s)) and revert back to a sole-proprietorship.
  2. Go For Broke — They just keep going and try to scale up…these usually end up in a melt-down.
  3. Remain An Adolescent — They stay put as a grumpy owner of a small poorly-managed business, usually to the detriment of their friends, family and, especially, their business.

But there is hope, Gerber points out, and that’s the highest level of a business performance.

3) Maturity

So how do you become a “Mature” business? Simple…you start out that way!

Gerber points out that IBM’s Tom Watson attributed the following to IBM’s success:

“I had a clear picture of what the company would look like when it was finally done”

“I then asked myself how a company which looked like that would have to act.”

“…we began to act that way from the beginning.”

“In other words, I realized that for IBM to become a great company it would have to act like a great company long before it ever became one.”

These moves by an “Entrepreneur” at the beginning of a business are thus quite key.

How To Create A “Mature” Business From The Ground Up

Gerber then recommends a series of tips/approaches to how an Entrepreneur can design a business from the ground up as one that will become mature and successful. They include:

  • Turn-Key Systems — Provide the rest of the business with the system to execute. This will likely require documentation of the business’ systems in Operations Manuals that serve as a checklist for each component of your business.
  • Work On Your Business, Not In It — “Your business is not your life,” Gerber emphasizes. It is an “organism…that will live or die according to how well it performs its sole function: to find and keep customers.”
  • Your Primary Aim — You the business owner need to articulate (for yourself) your “primary aim” (as Gerber calls it). I call this a Life Purpose and you can try my How to Write A Purpose Statement article which includes an exercise that you could use to figure out your “Primary Aim” in life.
  • Strategic Objective — Develop a clear statement of what your business has to do to help you achieve your Primary Aim.
  • What’s Your Product — “What feeling will your customer walk away with? Peace of mind? Order? Power? Love? What is he really buying when he buys from you?”
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Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

5 Frustrating Things About Paypal

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A sharp colleague of mine vented about some frustrating things about using Paypal (as a seller).

I wanted to share this so that:

  • Folks know what they’re getting into when they sell through Paypal;
  • Paypal will be pushed to be better; and
  • Entrepreneurs will see opportunities to create alternatives to Paypal!

Here are the 5 Frustrating Things About Paypal

1) Batch Payments

To do batch payments (i.e pay a load of affiliates or staff by uploading a spreadsheet with the data) you have to first fund the PayPal account – this can only be done by bank transfer which takes a long time and means you need to predict the payment amount up front and fund it beforehand.

This is a cumbersome process. Uploading the CSV and just being able to pay immediately without preparation as with any other payment would be helpful.

2) Support

PayPal support was pretty awful in the past, although it is getting better and you can now actually find a phone number on their site to call them, but from what I read they only did that because of legal pressure, which is a signal of how the company works.

3) Cost

Paypal is quite expensive. Enough said!

4) Random Blocking of Funding Sources

They randomly block funding sources for security reasons. This means at times I am unable to make payments or it delays payments that have to be sent by eCheque.

PayPal won’t rectify it if you contact them, the problem just disappears – it happens more to me when travelling.

5) Canceling of Subscriptions

If you have subscribers or are subscribed to a service via PayPal, then PayPal will automatically cancel the subscription when your credit card expires, you change a credit card and a few other reasons – I have lost a lot of paying subscribers this way.

PayPal does not explain this process very well to subscribers so a lot get confused and don’t know what they are subscribed to, or how to fix it.

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