Everything I Use Gets Bought By Google

A month ago it was Feedburner...now it's Grand Central.  If you're unfamiliar with Grand Central, it's effectively a portable, local phone number that you own for life, that can be set up to ring at any number(s) of your choosing.  For example, if you have a Grand Central number for your business, the inbound calls will ring to cell, office, and say a remote office number if you'd like.  There are many more features that you can read about yourself, but the bottom line is that this plays right into Google's world domination plan.

Read this piece about Google's purchase of "dark fiber" lines and massive bandwidth to completely circumvent the telcos offerings.  I think GOOG is building the server farms, buying the bandwidth, owning the applications, providing the wi-fi(wi-max), delivering the mobile apps (gmail and maps for mobile phones) and partnering with the right companies to provide a completely ubiquitous solution that bypasses and disrupts the typical channels.  If your iPhone has wifi and you can make/receive calls on it in 90% of metro markets for "free" in the future, doesn't Verizon become a little less important?  Having one phone number controlled by the Google...where ads could served based on the content of the message????? would be interesting right?  Give permission for the Google bot to use analytic key word analysis in your CONVERSATION to produce the right kinds of ads.  Heck they do it gmail right now.  (They promise the content isn't used for any other purpose).

Do you think Apple is a player in this scheme?  Is the iPhone the first Googlephone?  Wouldn't it make sense for the GOOG to deliver its message and apps across the hippest, coolest, most radical devices out there?  Imagine Googletunes where the music (or much of it...)was free if you listened to ad snippets before the song started.

Heck, both companies have the same last 2 letters in their names, there's some synergy there.

Des Moines a Tech Hot Spot? You Make the Call

Des Moines has been named by the folks at Fast Company magazine (a great tech rag) as a city about to break through into an official tech hot spot.  Silicon Valley it will never be...but we've seen cities like Minneapolis thrive in tech even though they trade lawn mowers for snow shovels like we do.

We have the talent and desire here...just not a free flow of capital to "try things out".  Proven business?  Great!  Here's a wheel loader full of cash!  Business plan for something revolutionary?  Next please.

I'd like to see us lead in tech rather than simply service the other larger tech cities with more affordable tech service labor.

On-shoring is a reality and DSM could become a major hub for it.  Bring it on.

UPDATE: I commented on the article at the Fast Company site...did you?

What's the Official Policy of ATT (Cingular) On Unlocking Cell Phones?

Most of you are probably aware that cell phone companies here in the US lock your GSM (verizon and sprint folks this won't apply to you) cell phone down so that ONLY that providers SIM (ATT/Cingular for example) can be used.  Thus, you cannot go buy a "pre-loaded" 100 minute SIM card from "Joe's Wireless".  Nor can you use SIMS purchased while traveling internationally.  However, ATT/Cingular will gladly turn on international calling for you at $.99+  per minute (inbound and outbound).  Europe and other countries are more liberal in their cell phone minute purchasing whereby you can hit any drug store and buy a pre-paid SIM with XXX minutes and a local phone number.  Inbound calls are free.  Outbound can be made at a greatly discounted rate vs. ATT's.

I'm trying to ascertain whether or not ATT has a policy of unlocking a phone if consumer asks to have it done. There are plenty of 3rd party people that sell unlock codes, etc...but I'm wondering, has anyone gotten an ATT/Cingular employee or local store to unlock their phone for them?  If yes, which store?  If not, what is the reason given. 

I'm going to buy an unlock code on line if I cannot get quick unlock resolution. 

(I'm traveling to Panama City, Panama soon and would like to keep in touch at a reasonable rate).

Tormented by Clutter

I have finally figured out the cyclical nature of my psyche as it relates to my cleanliness around the office.  I clean up when I'm energized and excited to be "on task" on a project...totally engaged, etc.  When that juice wanes for whatever reason like interruptions, doing work that's not so pleasurable, etc...the clutter returns and seems to exponentially grow until the pain is too great.  (Cue the whirlwind graphics and Wayne's World music) The cycle then rinses and repeats.

I'm not sure why I haven't really picked up on this until now.  Maybe it's because my desk looks like an ad for Pledge and Hefty waiting to happen.  Power up the shredder dear....it's time.

More Observations on Google's Iowa Invasion

The quotes in this piece say it all.

"This community has changed," Mayor Tom Hanafan said. "It puts our face in a place we've never been before."

DM - Yes, it does...clearly into Google's rearward facing parts.

"We can create the Silicon Valley of the Midwest," Gov. Chet Culver said. "This will put us on the map even more."

DM - Don't you read Paul Graham's Essays?  Especially the one called "How To Be Silicon Valley"? This stuff sounds good in a press release and makes most locals gush...but a data center is not the foundation for a tech revolution in the Midwest.   Here's a quote from Graham,

I think you only need two kinds of people to create a technology hub: rich people and nerds.  They're the limiting reagents in the reaction that produces startups, because they're the only ones present when startups get started.  Everyone else will move.

Observation bears this out: within the US, towns have become startup hubs if and only if they have both rich people and nerds.

"Full-time Google employees will earn an average salary and benefits equal to about $50,000 for positions that include facilities support, systems administration and data center technicians. Additional support services - like security, catering and grounds keeping - will be contracted."

DM - Average salaries of $50k.  Did they scale their salaries to those of dealers at the Horseshoe Casino in Council Bluffs? 


"While an impressive package of tax rebates was created, a release from Google said the company expects to pay about $65 million in real property taxes over the next 15 years and an estimated $6 million in sales tax during next two years from the purchase of building supplies."

DM - Notice "expects" to pay and "estimated".  Nice.  I expect that that GOOG will never pay an estimated anything when it comes to the "non-public" stuff here.  Sales tax sure...they'll pay on building materials.  Big whoop.  I can't wait to study the docs online when they start paying out their estimated expectations.

I'd suggest reading Nick Carr's work on the Google server farms in North & South Carolina.  This post contains links to the other relevant posts on the subject.

More to come.






 

Giving Away the Collective Iowa "Farm" for the Google Server Farm

There's a googolplex of reasons why the state of Iowa is gushing over a new Googleplex being built within its borders. There are about 100 articles/posts hitting the wires every hour about it.  Here's a post at InfoWorld on it.

But has anyone done the math on this project with the tax credits, sales tax exemptions, and alleged jobs this facility will produce?  Does Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) have so much "star power" that legislators are willing to sell their souls to the "do no evil" Googolopoly?  I wonder if some GAAP accounting applied properly would yield that the cost to operate and build this facility is net zero for the next 20 years...just in time for an exit? 

I'm going to head out to Council Bluffs and do some investigative reporting a la Stone Phillips to get real resident reactions, etc. 

Are you nervous about Google and their continuing global domination...or are you concerned with them terraforming (or Googleforming) another colony here in the heartland?  Or are you just happy to have your city in the paper in a positive way?  More reports from the field to come.

Iowa Has Been Googled

I've been reading teasers about this for months, but it was announced today that Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) is going to build a server farm in Council Bluffs, Iowa...just across the Missouri River from Omaha. Now there's something more cool than "The starting city of last year's RAGBRAI" to talk about)  (Forbes Article Here). This is a massive boon to Council Bluffs I'm sure and pretty cool for the state in general.

The bottom line is that GOOG is concerned about power and the consistent delivery thereof.  MidAmerican Energy Co.     (other-otc:       MDPWL.PK  (Thank you Mr. Buffett) just spent $1.2 billion upgrading their systems, etc. 

Bring on the anti-GOOG crowd now to discuss conspiracy, corporate welfare, and invasion of privacy, etc.

Dale Jr's Business Decision

If you aren't into racing, leave now and spare yourself.

Unless you've been hiking in the Himalayas, you've heard that Dale Earnhardt Jr., the driver of the DEI (Dale Earnhardt Inc.as in his dad's company) number 8 Budweiser Chevy, has opted to leave DEI at the end of the season.  This is some of the biggest news in auto racing history. 

The bottom line seems to be that he wanted 51% controlling ownership of his dad's company.  Of course, most folks feel that Dale Earnhardt senior wanted this but he died before the formal plans were laid out.  Dale Jr.'s step mom obviously favors the control more than she desires her step son's driving abilities and the legacy fulfillment that we crave.

Pundits are giving their opinions and most believe this was the right thing to do.  I agree.  This is not about the money.  Dale Jr. has plenty yet still lives in a nice but modest home in NC.  He could probably buy a small island yet opts to race karts and play xbox with his buddies.

He made the same business decision that most of us have faced.  He chose to walk away from a "job" where he would constantly be second guessing his decision to stay.   He opted to feel some short term pain and angst over leaving his "legacy" in favor of creating his own legacy.  I think it was a great move.  It's the same move that entrepreneurs make when they turn down the 24 month massive comp package to go and do their own thing. 

Where will he go race now?  The NASCAR soap opera for men has many story lines to choose from.  If he goes to Hendrick, he'll be partners with Jeff Gordon.  (gasp from the crowd east of the continental divide). Imagine the parties with Budweiser and Jeff Gordon Chardonnay. Would the Gordon hating fans convert? 

If Jr. goes to the Richard Childress racing stable, will they bring back the black #3 car that Jr.'s dad drove?  Imagine the constant comparisons between father and son...and the thrill of seeing that car on the track again!

My belief is that he should go to Childress for 2 years while he builds his own JR Motorsports team infrastructure, but drive his own car and not the #3.  Childress would probably let him have the flexibility to accomplish this goal since he views Dale Jr. as a son anyway.

I can't wait to see how it unfolds.
Like sands through the hourglass...so are the Days of Thunder.

What's Your Ratio?

What's your ratio of having some ill effect from eating at restaurants or food vendors while home or traveling?  My ratio stands about the same for home and travel.  I'm at about 50% or 1 in 2 meals that cause me gastrointestinal issues.  Am I hypersensitive?  Maybe...but I've really become jaded about eating anywhere where someone else, someone that I cannot see, is preparing my meal.  Have  you even taken a course in food safety?  Have you ever simply watched as a waiter grips your glass with his/her fingertips right on the place where you just sipped?  How about watching a cashier sneeze, cup it with a hand, wipe that hand on a pant leg, then use the register with that hand...and pick up a cup that's about to hold your ticking time bomb and write on it?  "Grande doubled over chocolate latte with extra foam" Argh.  I'm felling ill thinking about it.  Pay attention and CALL PEOPLE ON IT when they do it!  "New cup please, that one has your DNA on it."

You know most of the issues we get about 2 hours after eating at a restaurant are NOT "food poisoning" caused by the food itself.  These are human transfered issues that I don't want to think about. Check some of them out here.

I once met a business traveler who told me, "You know, I like to eat light, you know...salads...but I don't dare eat them on the road because there's so many possibilities for contamination".   I've had trouble eating them since.  Honestly, I think fast food may be the best possible choice.  It's likely that the ingredients are turned over rapidly and that the people are at least trained in the ways of food safety, and that hot grease kills.  I don't know...just a theory.

There was a great piece in the WSJ discussing this topic that sparked this post and it honestly had me rolling on the floor with laughter, mainly because I had suppressed the tears from my past experiences.  Read the article if you want a good laugh...I think it's a freebie forever.  Here's an excellent quote that will expose you to the flavor of this delicacy,

Mr. Stender once bought a sandwich at the Santiago, Chile, airport before flying to Lima, Peru. When he arrived, he could barely stand up. He was forced to let his vice president do all the talking during client visits and nod a lot. "There was a devil in my stomach," he says.

That diablo is known variously as Montezuma's Revenge, Delhi Belly, Hong Kong Dog, the Aztec Two-Step, or the Trotskies. In a global economy, toxin-wielding bacteria and dodgy mayonnaise happen everywhere.

I'm still in tears over this article...and praying that I don't have an episode of the "Aztec Two-Step" any time soon. God willing.



Blog Fitness

I just had a "get to know you" session with Steve Reese from Fitness Together in Clive.   

We talked about everything from my fitness desires to blogging.  The most interesting part of the session was when I began to describe my "emotional triggers" for food.  (Steve seemed a little impressed)

I think most folks don't do a deep enough dive into themselves to figure this part out.  Find out when you eat more and how your feeling when you do and you'll be well on your way to modifying the behavior.  I'm not suggesting that I have solved the problem yet...rather that it's actually quite simpler than we make it.

Overcoming the problem for life is my goal. I've made strides over the last few months in making better choices with food more often and being more active with my family.  However, you know there are a litany of excuses that enable me to remain under my maximum potential.

My triggers fire off subconsciously and the next thing I know, I'm gobbling down 3x the amount of food that I need to feel full.  I'm not a "junk food junkie" but I am addicted to food.  I'm not an "eat to feel better" person...but I associate eating a lot with pleasure, not with being fat or feeling bloated.  Those are the items that I need coaching to change.  Personal training is not cheap, but it's an area of life that I have determined needs fixing and that I have not been able to fix for about 15 years (when pant sizes began their annual incremental inch expansion).  I'm all for paying for coaching to break through barriers that limit us. 

Something tells me that Steve will be looking for the same coaching in his marketing efforts for Fitness Together.   I let him know that I'd received his 3 letters introducing his services to me via mail.  They were actually very effective direct mail pieces and I really wanted to respond.  BUT...
Not one of those direct mail pieces had his email address on them.  I'd have emailed him and potentially become a client 6 months earlier, but I did NOT want to pick up the phone and chat.  I expected the "hard sell" gym type membership phone call.  It turns out, that's not what would have happened as their approach is very consultative and partnership based...but my preferred method of communication was not available.  Thus, it went to the circular file.  I really considered calling him to tell him this back then but just didn't find the time.

A referral from a fellow blogger brought me to Steve.  Now, after our chat this morning, I think Steve is thinking about his blogging goals while he's helping his clients attain their fitness goals.   




Iowa State MBA

I went to an informational seminar yesterday hosted by the ISU MBA program.  It was really enlightening.  The ISU MBA program is VERY flexible including night classes in Des Moines, and Saturday classes in Ames.  Additionally, you can go to EITHER class so if you're busy on the weekend, just do it downtown on a Wednesday.  It can be done in less than 3 years too. 

Very interesting. 

I'm not exactly sure what has re-sparked my interest in executing on this milestone.  Possibilities include:

  1. My desire to increase the depth and breadth of knowledge I have or don't have in certain key functional areas. (You can still keep statistics for all I care...and yes..this is coming from a 6 sigma black belt
  2. The idea that I'd be forced to read fantastic modern business books and case studies (the same ones I can't find enough time to read now)
  3. The idea that I'd feel like I'm competing in my own little "Apprentice" without leaving my family for 15-weeks
  4. The desire to pit myself against others and see where I land with my experience and skill set
  5. Because I have latent desire to relate to other Cyclone fans
  6. The idea that I can get an MBA with a specialization in Logistics Management..something I'm immersed in daily anyway so why not be better at it
  7. I've always wanted to get an advanced degree because it seems like the right thing to do (parental education indoctrination good)

The reasons I'm not thinking of when considering this:

  1. Increasing my pay
  2. "Getting a new job"
  3. Hanging another degree on the wall

In some ways, I think the time has come and gone for me to get the big bang out of the MBA.  I'm not suggesting that I know everything (please)...but that the MBA process of case study and analysis is something that I've lived...and am living on a daily basis.  I'm now 35 with the most incredible value coming out of the last 8 years of my work and it's still going at warp speed.  If I take the time to focus on the degree, will I feel let down if it just validates my experience? (keep in mind I'm not looking for a career move or big pay hit as a result of this)

This would be yet another big project for me to tackle.  Hummmm...deep thought time...to the man room I shall go.  Argh.

New Gameshow: Win Ben Stein's Brain!

Ben Stein has a great piece out called "How To Have A Business Conversation".  This should be required reading for everyone entering college.

There's a simple Top 10 List in the article for you reading pleasure.

Here's how Stein closes the article.

You'd be amazed at how many people don't know any of these rules. If you do, you're way ahead of the game.



Enterprise vs. SMB

In chatting about acquisitions and financing yesterday with a colleague, I was lamenting the "enterprise" vs. the SMB space.  My contention was that the enterprise is complicated, expensive to win, expensive to maintain, etc.  I was countered with the point that, "At least the enterprise has the money to buy". 

I know there's nuance here, but having dealt mostly with the enterprise and the inevitable travel (writing this at DFW airport), I can see why folks love the "hosted, on-demand, SaaS, self-service" model so well. 

It takes extreme discipline to avoid the temptations of the enterprise (the hunt, the big check, the professional services revenues, etc.) if your determined to grow differently.  To become "big" doesn't one have to engage the enterprise?  At least currently I think so.  Even SalesForce.com has required serious enterprise style integration and modification to do what's needed at the GE's of this world.  At least, that's my opinion.

Power of Intention - Willing Things To Come True

I'm having one of those days...you know the kind where if someone asked you to move a mountain you'd say, "Where would you like it sir?"

I'm feeling absolutely large and in charge and firing on all cylinders.  I'm actually emitting a ton of positive energy that's breaking down whatever barriers stand in the way of success.  In exchange for my vibes, I'm getting a massive amount of return vibe that's saying, "This works, keep pushing, go for it, don't stop, this is only the beginning, let the energy flow from you and it shall return 100X"

My goal is to make this happen every day...oh yeah, and train for RAGBRAI. I just got to feel the Trek Madone 5.2 SL at my buddies bike shop yesterday.  I can only say that I was left speechless by its minuscule weight.  My first thought was, "Is this thing rated for 235?"  Avoiding embarrassment, I quickly muffled the words before they exited my mouth.

Business Travel

I think the worst part of business travel is the discontinuity.  Last week, I was in Las Vegas Monday afternoon-Thursday afternoon.  Translation, I lost part of Sunday and effectively all of Monday and Thursday to travel or preparation.  Now after some weekend work to catch up, I'm off again in about 15 minutes to California for 7 days.  This AM was crazy with a magazine interview, conference call, and other preparation.  I'll most certainly get back and spend 2 days figuring out where I stand, just in time for a weekend.  Basically, I've just mapped out nearly a month of not having that creative, home office, deep thought, energy flow, power of intention time that amazes me sometimes when I look at what I've produced. 

I commented to another blogger today randomly that I "can't do this much longer".  This isn't a work-life balance plea...it's simply a productivity plea.  I guess there are lots of road warriors that become uber productive squeezing each minute out of a layover, etc.  I think I'd rather focus on not having to do this in the first place.  I don't mind day trips or overnights so much...but multi-day treks are pinching my brain power. 

I don't travel so much that my wife's angry, kids don't know me, etc.  I think i juggle that pretty well.  (More in depth post on that coming soon).   I think it's nearing the time when someone else should do this for me.  Is human cloning perfected yet?

Why can't you see this!!!

I've had quite a few experiences lately where big company A doesn't "see the vision" of little company B.  Big company A means well, but requires multiple explanations to multiple management layers with the net result being "we don't exactly see the fit".  Little company B knows the value and vision are exactly in line with what big company A wants to accomplish.  It's exhausting and frustrating.

However, little company B should not give up.  Big company A has many layers of management, process, problems, personalities, and past pain to worry about.  Things take time.  Little company B should focus on projecting a consistent message and producing results on a smaller scale.  Many small results do often translate into BIG results and a BIG mind shift in big company A down the road.

If you get enough big company C, D, and E's to listen along the way, you may find yourself not having nearly as much time to communicate your vision to big company A since you're actually booking huge revenues and rolling out products and services to C,D, and E's. 

At that point, big company A will probably call you and emote the same vision you had, take credit for it, and offer to buy your company.

The end.

The Tax Man Cometh

Taxmancometh_1 I'm just back from the annual CPA vist.  When I walked through the door, I realized that it has been almost 1 year to the day that I'd been in that office. That made me feel as though I've ingored someone only to call them when I needed something.  Come on, even CPA's need some love in July and August.  This year I'm going to stop by and just say HI.


It's almost like going to the Doctor's office isn't it?  You know you're probably OK but "what if" runs through your mind every now and again.  Of course, I kept thinking about "abundance" and the "law of intention and attraction" (not in the government's favor mind you but mine) and it worked!  Another good year of planning and business success resulted in paying the government some money to support what it is they do and no extra was owed. 

Now, call up your CPA and let him/her know that you care, you realize that they're busy, and wish them a prosperous tax season!

What do Algae & Venture Capital Have In Common

They're both very GREEN.  This simple graphic shows the total VC investments in US based companies in 2006 alone.  The NYTIMES article is here.

Shall we keep discussing the price of corn or develop fundable technologies and ideas and capture some of the billions?

0307bizwebalgae

Helping College Grads Save Time & Misery

Over at McLellan Marketing, Drew "Top Dawg" McLellan is trying to put together an e-book that will assist recent grads in landing that first job.  He's soliciting nuggets of wisdom from his readership and I'd encourage you to add yours.  I've created a top 10 list for general career strategies to share with him.   Click on the above link to see his post and to add your comments, stories, or advice.

Doug's Nuggets - College Advice 13: 6-33

I graduated in 1994 with a degree in International Business.  I knew that I wanted to have an international flare in my vocation but I had no idea what that meant.  Like many business majors, I spent the first 5 years of my career in sales jobs that were fairly unfulfilling.  However, I spent those 5 years thinking, planning, learning about myself, improving myself, and building relationships. The time was not "wasted". 

Then, in 1999, I had a conversation with an early twenty-something guy that I'd built a relationship with in my sales days, "I'm looking to get venture capital financing for my start up company, He said, "I have one month's salary to give you to write the business plan.  If we succeed, you're in.  If we don't, that's it."  I took it, we did it, and the rest is history.   

So here are a few nuggets I've crystallized from my experience:

1. Always build relationships in everything you're involved with.  You NEVER know when that person might be EXACTLY what you're looking for in an employee or advisor.  These relationships will likely be the ones that either provide you jobs, financing, or business partners.  I haven't had a resume since 1999 and wear that as a badge of honor.

2.  Foster relationships with mentors.  I didn't do this early enough.  Create an honest self-assessment.  I call it a "Life Resume".  When you find someone you truly admire for their skills, business acumen, relationship skills, etc...ask them for a formal mentor/mentee relationship.  Structure it and meet monthly. I found a venture capitalist and said, "I want to know what it's like to be you and what you do all day," and that's been over 2 years now.   

3. Shift your thinking to solutions and you'll be a winner.  Everyone has problems.  Meetings are filled with idea killers and lamenters. Have you noticed though that many leaders are aware of the problems...but driven to break through to solutions without harping, getting down, or developing negative energy?

4. Become very comfortable in your own skin.  Speak in public, get terrified and overcome it.  Conquer that inner voice of doubt and break through to excellence.  Nothing will serve you more than being able to communicate to large numbers of people. 

5. Write. Become an effective writer by having your prose torn apart by someone good!  Don't be afraid of the red pen!  Learn to embrace it.  Say more with less (I should listen to my own advice).  Blogging is a great way to accomplish this.  Please keep the party photos and youthful indiscretions off the myspace pages though.

6. Follow your passions (hint: they may change). I'm not particularly passionate about a subject like real estate, economics, or art.  But I have discovered that I'm extraordinarily passionate about growing small companies into bigger ones NO MATTER WHAT THE SUBJECT MATTER.  It took me a while to gain the perspective and breadth of knowledge to grasp this. But when I did, doors began opening for me.  If you love an industry or segment, you may want to get some experience in any part of the value chain you can.  I bet if I took a job sweeping the shop floors at a NASCAR team's garage just out of school, I'd be a marketing executive by now. 

7. Embrace technology and be an early adopter.  This does NOT mean become a programmer!  Learn how to use all of the technology tools that successful companies use.  There's nothing more powerful than "the girl who just seems to know how to do it all".  It doesn't seem like it, but it will become harder keep up when you get older so consciously extend beyond your comfort zone throughout your career or you'll get passed by.  

8. Consider the option of NEVER getting a "real job". Self-employment may not be everyone's first best destiny, but you may not know until you try.  It may seem safer to be employed by someone else, but I'd beg to differ.  If you have it in you, do it.  I'd rather see try and fail vs. never try. 

9. Dress Well.  It's advice that seems to be missing from the "Golden Rule" list when growing up these days.  It's NEVER harmful to be the best dressed person in a room.  You will command more respect by being well dressed.  If you don't know what looks good, seek help. 

10.  Have initiative. Take on tasks and roles that extend beyond your comfort zone and knowledge base.  This could be the largest single factor in your success.  Immerse in something new.  Passionately obsess about something until you know more than most about the topic.  Do this enough times, and you'll find yourself able to participate in a much larger sphere of influence.  Nothing pleases me more than hearing, "I don't know how to do that, but I'll figure it out and have it done shortly."

Biofuel Funding Continues to Impress...IF...You Don't Pay Attention to the News

4aces I have about 10 blog/news searches automated in my blog reader covering renewable fuels (especially ethanol).  Daily, I'm deluged with articles from around the U.S. concerning the future of the food supply, the lack of available land, the high price of corn, kids starving in Mexico, and the scientific reasons why ethanol and bio diesel are totally inefficient. 

Yet, the industry keeps forging ahead and innovating buoyed by $1.28 billion (with a b) in venture capital investment in 2006 alone.  Cellulosic technology, (making ethanol from anything organic vs. just corn by using enzymes to break down the really tough stuff) is getting funded with BIG dollars now and it's happening right here in Iowa.

In fact the Department of Energy just dump a few hundred million around the US into the technology.  It's also obvious now that some of our friends in other states have figured out that cellulosic ethanol production is good business too.

This is a BIG ISSUE that has BIG IMPLICATIONS for a BIG SEGMENT of the population that costs BIG DOLLAR$ and involves BIG BUSINESS and BIG GOVERNMENT.  However, this big issue's  power is that it transcends the news!  Can you feel that?  No matter what the cadre of news pundits keep spewing,  the cash keeps arriving  as if a John Deere wheel loader kept filling a CAT dump truck scheduling drop offs by the hour.  "$34 million today, where do you want it?" says the operator.  "Just dump it on top of the pile of pundits that got it wrong."

Ethanol and renewable fuels in general have become a reality and it's up to Iowa to maintain leadership in the segment.  Pay no mind to the nay saying punditry (they probably live in LA or NY anyway).  If we do not seize this opportunity, it shall be recorded in history as a FOLD by the state at the world poker table that was holding FOUR ACES.


 


If Charles Ingalls Had Venture Funding (or How America's Heartland Is HOT)

Joel Kotkin, internationally recognized author on global economic, political, and social trends, has written yet another fantastic piece called Little Start-up on the Prairie.  Maybe it's that we in the Midwest are just jazzed when someone notices us or that our geometric shape stood out when flying over it, but the bottom line is that our humble agrarian rooted section of the country houses much of the greatest economic growth potential for the future.  Kotkin's tale begins in Aurora, Nebraska, a town of 4500.  Kotkin states quite simply that,

"Aurora and other places in the American Heartland will provide a critical outlet for the restless energies and entrepreneurial passions of its people. In some senses, such a trend represents a reprise of the region’s role in the evolution of the country and the shaping of its national identity."

In fact, since folks are realizing that on-shoring and in-sourcing are not only economically feasible, but highly desirable, the problems shift from lack of affordable housing...to a lack of any available housing at any price and a dearth of workers. 

Kotkin goes on to mention Iowa and specifically Des Moines many times in the piece highlighting that,

"In virtually every measurement, students in key rural states—particularly the Dakotas, Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas—tend to perform better than those in more urbanized ones, as measured by graduation rates, college attendance and enrollment in high-level science and education programs."

The key take aways for me are:

  1. Be bullish on the Midwest (and specifically Des Moines) economies. 
  2. Iowa has a massive amount of talent and future skilled workers from a robust and respected University system so we must cultivate that talent.
  3. We must impart upon these young minds that the best for them does not lie 6 hours away to the north and east.  Rather, it lies here.   There are great reasons to visit other places but even more reasons to build a life here.
  4. The opportunity to be a bigger fish in a smaller pond can accelerate your path to success.  I've lived that coming from Riverside, CA where I was but a simple GPS coordinate on a suburb that extended 250 miles in any direction. 
  5. The talent pool here is immense.  It seems every day that I meet someone new that teaches me something. 
  6. The people here are different.  There's something deeply rooted in much of the Midwestern population, but it's subtle.  It's a pleasant, hard working, almost zen-like kindness that's exuded since years have not been spent strengthening a "coastal exoskeleton."
  7. Buy as many houses and high rise condos as you can.  We will be successful in our quest to convince the next generation (is it Z now?) that staying can be profitable and cool, and someone will need to rent to these people as they flow through the more natural progression of home ownership. The life path of a twenty-something is so very skewed in the large metros where someone graduates college and is faced with the prospect of a $600k starter home 1.5 hours from their job.  We can help break the cycle of thinking that this is acceptable by providing a wonderfully fulfilling alternative.
  8. The ethos does exist that, "If I can't make it on the coasts, I'm a loser compared to my peers that can".  This type of thinking is outdated.  In fact, if making it means spending 5x on housing and generating debt, then yes, you're a loser.  I'll take the label and remain more economically viable.
  9. Renewable energy is perhaps the most clear example of the power of the Midwest economy.  Daily, I read economists and social commentators (I almost used "Socialists") that bemoan the continuing process of discovery and innovation in this area.  "We're starving kids in Mexico" and "we'll never have enough land or corn" are the battle cries.  Thankfully, few have listened and the process of harnessing the true power of the earth goes on.  If we put the brakes on or take one step back in this area, we'll simply hand over the power to those who never stopped believing.  Recently, Iowa State lost a $500 million funding opportunity in renewable energy to UC Berkeley and U of I (Champaign-Urbana).  Maybe we need a journeyman-actor-Governor to lead our charge?  Who would you pick?  I'd pick Brandon Routh since Tom Arnold would have a tough time using complete sentences.

Of course when I executed my geographic arbitrage from CA to IA, I really didn't appreciate what I was doing.   I knew that I loved what I'd seen and I was drunk with joy over housing prices.  It turns out that I'm smack dab in the middle of Ethanol Alley and the heart...of the heartland Renaissance.  Michael Landon would be proud.

The Secret

Secret Let me begin by saying that I've ordered "The Secret DVD" and the audio book too.  I'm totally into all manners of self-improvement and believe in the concept of attraction and positive energy that I've read about previously, heard tidbits about around the blogosphere, and seen on TV (I've glanced at Oprah as I walked by my wife but you'll never get me to say in print that I watch that show).  However, what fascinates me MOST about "The Secret" are the following nuggets:

  1. It seems that society was "ready" for its next Tony Robbins.  There were many before him too but he was probably the most prolific guru of the 90's.  His tapes, CD's, etc. sold millions of copies around the world via the viral media of the time:  INFOMERCIALS.  Robbins did what many gurus do, repackage many teachings into a "new paradigm" that's easier for folks to adopt.  Throw in a flame thrower personality, huge white teeth, and put him on 24x7x365 and you have a commodity that a bunch of people really wanted and were willing to pay for.  His program was quite a bit more expensive I think though maybe a couple hundred bucks vs. $30 for a DVD.
  2. The Secret has been marketed expertly via viral word of mouth media.  It's not the first product/company to do use these methodologies, but perhaps the first "self-improvement" system to do it.  I started getting YouTube clips and such here and there and honestly, I had built up anticipation about what the heck it was (and still do since the products haven't arrived yet).  These marketing campaigns don't happen by accident usually and mega kudos to The Secret staff for orchestrating this (or rather for emitting the positive energy that attracted the positive attention, etc). 
  3. I really like the realism that many gurus have taken with regard to life's little pleasures.  Many gurus skim over things like drinking, nice clothes, and fine automobiles.  The abundance mentality accepts and embraces the fact that there's nice things in life to be had and that utilizing these things is part of a full life (if you want them to be and they don't throw your energy off in the other areas of life)...i.e. don't get plowed and crash your car.  The abrupt end of many a program for me was the "drinking is bad and must be stopped" part. 

Those are my pre-watch thoughts on the program...now off to the mailbox to see if it's there!

Going Home On Time..What If You're Already Home?

I read a nice entry by Bert Webb called, Get More Done By Going Home On Time yesterday.  Bert talks about the creeping habit of working late and how we should, "Put that sense of urgency back to the early hours of the day where it belongs."  I couldn't agree more.  Mr. Webb also mentions that basically, early rising is the only way to fit in that which we must do.  Again, I'm with you Mr. Webb and I've subscribed to that belief since my early twenties when I figured out that getting 3 hours of work done before others rise actually produced a sense of balance and calm in my life.  Even today with 2 little ones running around, I can still achieve more by 7AM than most.  Living in the Central Time Zone and having an office in the West only magnifies the power of this since I typically don't get calls or emails (interruptions in the creative process) before 9-10AM Pacific.

But, what if you work at home like I do?  Getting up early and selecting a "finish time" is even more important for us.  If we don't have that sense of urgency...all we have to do is "slip downstairs" or "be right back" while you're checking some emails..only to find that 2 hours has time warped you away from family time.  My wife often reminds me that on my scale "a couple of minutes on the computer to finish an email" means that I'm fully engaged for at least an hour.  I still swear that I was just gone for a few moments, but the clock tells the tale.  I fight tooth and nail to maintain this awareness that it's not acceptable to work at all hours.  I love what I do and often it's easy to work ad nauseum but it seems to be sage advice to rise early, execute on that which you're passionate about, and what MUST be accomplished today, then wrap up at a well defined time. 

Of course, we must often spend extra time on business affairs to execute on something important...but don't you find that once you get in that habit, that just about everything can fall into that "very important must work late category"? It's difficult enough to focus these days with the myriad interruptions that cloud our brains.  The best thing one can do to maintain a sense of control and focus is to rise early, execute, enrich, and then turn some of the burners off.

Get A LIFE Bloggers!

I hope the headline has captured you and left you wanting more.  When you read this post, please keep in mind that I'm not attempting to discredit the internationally known author and speaker involved...rather I'm trying to make some observations about the fit of blogging into marketing tactics for any business. 

Background
I recently participated on a panel discussion and presentation on heavy equipment GPS monitoring and tracking at the American Rental Association show in Atlanta.  My session immediately followed one on Guerrilla Marketing for the Rental Industry presented by Orvel Ray Wilson.  Mr. Wilson has authored many books and his "hit hard and hit fast and be different" approach is awesome.  His company is called the Guerrilla Group and I recommend you explore what his company could do for your business.  His seminar was by far the best I saw, full of energy, humor, and valuable marketing advice.

The equipment rental industry is somewhat old school...but the perfect playing field to stand out and be different right?  Mr. Wilson's discussion had included only a mention of email marketing...but had zero mention of social media or blogging.  Anytime someone stands in front of me and ignores something that I believe to be incredibly powerful, I feel obligated to discover the big "why".   

I approached and asked the question below and I'm paraphrasing the best I can recall based on notes taken immediately afterward.

The Chat
Doug:  "I didn't hear you mention anything about blogging during your discussion, what role do you believe it plays in the guerrilla marketing equation?"
Mr. Wilson:  "Ahhhh blogging...well I don't blog...basically because I have a life...(chuckling)...I mean there's a million blogs out there and there's a lot of garbage.  You have to know how to write...write editorial copy...and write well....(he got busy and began doing some other tasks).
Doug:  "Interesting...I really wanted to see your take since blogging is a powerful tool for some."

Mr. Wilson was busy cleaning up his laptop, etc. from his speaking session and was interacting with many of the A/V staff so I stopped asking questions and tried to take in what I'd just heard.  Of course, the first thing that fired off in my brain was, "This is going to be a good post for discussion among my readers". 

So I'll leave you with a few observations and questions that are still resonating in my travel fogged head.

The Takeaways

  1. The belief that blogging is something for only good copy writers is a serious miscalculation.  Blogging exposes the writer's true voice and reveals their style, tone, and method doing business very often.  Anyone that reads my blog "already knows me".  They know my positions, my pauses, my emphasis and my passions.   Many of my top 10 marketing blogger friends around the U.S. often use "real language" to communicate their vision/passion/point.   Editorial blogging is typically as boring as "mainstream media"...you know the media that folks are paying less attention to.  Although many bloggers write well and with clarity, others destroy the English language and its grammar and do just dandy.  Should everyone blog?  I'm sure there are reasons why some shouldn't...but one of those reasons should not purely be the editorial quality of the writing.  Should everyone read blogs or have searches automated to see what folks are saying about them?  Yes.  In fact, Mike McLaughlin who wrote Guerrilla Marketing for Consultantsblogged on this same topic a while ago.  Interesting.  Mike says, "If the purpose of a business blog is to reach your targeted audience, it’s best to know someone out there would want to read your stuff. Any one of us could rattle off a number of industries where blogs are still an oddity, not a fixture."  No and Yes.  How would I have ever known that finding a certain part number for an internal air card on my Dell laptop could help so many people around the world?  Well...it happened, because I blogged on it.  I had absolutely no idea that anyone would find that valuable...but they did, by the boat load.  In the heavy equipment rental space, I bet there are few blogs if any.  If yours was the first and you blogged with even a modicum of skill in tagging or linking, you'd be found.  Trust me.  Why must the only value in your blog come from your direct industry?  I've achieved higher search engine rankings and first page results on many key topics that I blog about often like customer service and relocation.  In many cases, my more popular blog entries show up well ahead of the company's intended marketing message.  Old school business models may benefit from a blog more than more high tech businesses.  There's more cutting edge technology and marketing taking place in some seemingly old school segments than one would imagine.  GPS technologies and telematics are taking this industry by storm and allowing equipment rental companies to provide an unparalleled level of service. I'd bet that within 90 days, I could place higher than most when searching for "equipment rental" if I put my blogging efforts toward it.
  2. The belief that blogging is relegated to those that don't "have a life", is putting it lightly...ignorant.  AUTHOR'S NOTE:  I received a phone call from someone that knows Mr. Wilson suggesting that his comment about "not having a life" was likely geared towards his own personal schedule...meaning that "He'd not have a life if he were to try and blog". I have updated my post to reflect that I can see this point of view.  I had been quite fair that the comment was probably just a passing commentary lacking much context, but the rest of my post stands on its own and I hope the larger point is still the overriding one)  I'm pretty sure that Mr. Wilson's comment wasn't meant as a direct derogatory commentary on me, Seth Godin, Brad Feld, Tom Peters, Mark Cuban, and Guy Kawasaki.  Likely it was a humorous off the cuff remark that we all make from time to time.  I could list a thousand other blogs written by not so known names but the point holds.  We have a life.  In fact, we've taken on blogging as a means to communicate in an unfiltered way with our customers, potential customers, and casual observers.  We're using our real mojo and experiences in the life-business ecosystem to provide value for others.  We've all simply put a priority on understanding a new technology and new media platform.  It's the platform that our future employees are very familiar with.  It's the platform that can bring thousands of visitors scrambling to see what you think about the business trends and emerging issues.  Undoubtedly, this post will reach Mr. Wilson because of linking and tagging, and will probably be forwarded to him by a blogger with a life. 
  3. At the very least, interpret "blogging" as maintaining automated blog searches and tag searches to find out what people are saying about you when you're sleeping.  Nothing is more powerful than receiving an unsolicited "Thanks" or "Ooops" from the CEO of a company because they were paying attention.  If you're paying attention you have a serious competitive advantage vs. those who aren't.  Leverage that and odds are, you'll do better than "the rest".  Period.

The essence of guerrilla marketing for me is doing what isn't normally done, doing it cheap(er), doing it different.  Blogging is the pinnacle of cheap, different, and REAL.  It's worth an hour long workshop to understand the basics.  Then, if the CEO can't seem to put a coherent thought together, then find someone in the organization who can or hire someone. 

I think next year, you'll see a seminar by Doug called, "Social Media and the Heavy Equipment Rental Industry:  How To Get A Life Through Blogging!".   I invite your commentary.

Sunrise in Hot'Lanta

Img110It's amazing how powerful face to face human contact is in the business relationship.  All of the emails and webinars in the world don't allow reconnection with your fellow man the way a social visit does.  Last night, I spent a couple hours reconnecting with old friends and clients while getting that "unfiltered communication" that comes when folks enjoy a few cocktails and tell you how they really feel.

As I look out the window this morning high above the earth (I took this photo 15 minutes ago), I can't help but dream of squeezing my loved ones and eating real food, making coffee at home, and chatting with the neighbors.  It's hard to imagine, but Spring is right around the corner.  Hold on...because soon we'll be cutting the grass a couple times a week and visiting Lowe's each weekend.  See how fast Winter races by...when you're running the race of life?    

Delighting in other's pain

There's a fantastic word that I use as often as possible:  shadenfreude.  It's German and means "delighting in the misfortune of others".  Now I don't sit around and live this word...but every now and again, the feeling does pop up (like when multi-hundred million dollar businesses laugh you off and dismiss you as childlike, then 18 months later their executives are applying for analyst positions at your company).  Yes, admit it, you'd relish in that for at least a moment.  Well...that's shadenfreude! 

Today, uber business blogger Paul Kedrosky has coined a new phrase Schadentraffic.  He defines this as:

...the vicarious thrill you get while in your office surfing various traffic webcams around the country and taking pleasure at all the poor bastards still sitting in their cars.

Yes!  Now that I'm an Iowan, I admit that I do feel Schadentraffic constantly...but I never had a word to express myself.  Problem solved.  Thanks Paul.

Gaining Clarity on the 35th Floor

Img109Img108_1These are night and day photos from my room in Atlanta at the Marriott Marquis downtown.  I'm in the last stretch of this road trip and can't wait to get back home, even if it's been in single digit temps forever in Iowa.  I always begin to feel a bit disconnected after a week and I start to crave "that which I know and love":  The Panera crowd, blogging workshops, Bloganostra summit meetings, walking with my boy to pre-school, seeing our "family squirrel" (nicknamed Burger by my boy) romp from the front tree to the roof to the backyard where he torments my dogs...you know the simple stuff. 

The "busy-ness" level so far in 2007 (really began December 2006) is quite absurd but reaching critical mass in a few areas that will hopefully activate the relief valve soon.  I'm experiencing a situation where it's very difficult to get deep into something and use creative brain power.  Time constraints are forcing a skimming of the surface - mercenary type approach to business.  During these times, it's helpful to have start up or small company experience on your side.  Many that go through this blow up or crash because of sensory and task overload.  However, a good sense of prioritizing your "high value targets" and setting clear expectations will get one through. 

Anytime someone tells me they're at the end of their rope or just "in the red" I'm usually able to bring them back from the brink with some shared experience wisdom since, I've read this book before.    

Career Warping: Start doing Stop Complaing

My tolerance for those in business that harp on problems...endlessly explaining what's wrong or what can't happen..is waning.  For some reason, I've been thrust into many uncomfortable but much needed conversations about strategic plans or processes that have led to nowhere.  I'll consistently attempt to bring things back.  "We know the challenge exists and what the ramifications are...but what plan do you (the manager of that department let's say) have to fix it or address it or make things happen over time?"  (chirp....chirp....."But the X won't do Y because of Z!"  End of Conversation (EOC).

This probably hurts me more now because I was one of these chronic problem dwellers early in my career.  My youthful exuberance and inexperience led me to believe that of course my boss was an @#[email protected]#$%@$% and that I actually knew exactly what to do.  I also understood that everything in the company that I disagreed with was a problem to bitch about over lunch.  "The man is out to get us".  Of course not every organization fosters an environment where one can affect positive change...but that's not the point.

I'm privileged to have my very first boss as a close friend and financial adviser now (he switched careers quite some time ago).  I used to complain incessantly to him about "the man keeping me down".  Sometimes, he had to take the "look some things are the way they are and you'll have to find a creative way to get around them or work within them or quit" approach.  I took that advice to heart much earlier than many I still encounter who've been professionals for 30+ years.  Today, we can laugh about those days. 

Those days provided some valuable training in how to deal with uncertainty, change, factors beyond one's control, and the simple fact that small companies are often owned by folks who've mortgaged their houses and missed 124 dinners at home with their kids this year...while your paycheck cleared as planned. 

Learn this global perspective early in your career and you'll avoid needless years of lost productivity and growth.  If you are the disenfranchised malcontent, stop and look around.  You've probably acted like a sun, attracting many negative "cling-on" moons orbiting your brilliance.  Bust out of that orbit and engage career warp factor 9 and create a new solar system that breeds growth and change. Engage.

2007 Started in 2006

It's only early January and yet I've been traveling a ton since early December.  Most people generally assume that "As the year winds down...business travel and business in general wind down."  That has not been the case.  I was thrust into another volley of travel right about December 4 and it hasn't let up.  We all know how pleasurable it is to travel when weather is a big question mark.  My two trips in December both had cancellations that had to be resolved with "business travel wizardry".  Being the somewhat savvy traveler, I've booked a trip that leaves today through Dallas (DFW).  I'm dodging the Des Moines (DSM) bullet since the big snow isn't expected until later.  I leave in a couple hours.  However, leave it to me to pick DFW when it's going be a high of 30, with forecast ice storm, etc.  I'd have been much better off choosing Chicago (ORD) for today's adventure...who'd a thunk it?

God willing and 8 Sigma safety levels holding true, I shall land in CA at about 5PM Central today.   Or, I may be blogging at various airports around the U.S.

Engage!

My telecom nightmare

I moved to Iowa about 13 months ago. Upon arrival, I was welcomed and really hooked up by Mediacom, the cable company presently embroiled in a battle with Sinclair Communications. I've posted on that deal before.  At the end of the day, I'm at the nexus of the perfect storm regarding my whole telecom infrastructure:

  1. I no longer have Fox (24 being the main issue) so I cannot DVR it and must switch over to rabbit ears to see it in scratchy low def.
  2. All of my discounts just expired.  I now have a $180/mo bill for internet, phone, and cable.  That does include a $20 discount on phone.  Mediacom seems to have no interest thus far in keeping me as a customer.  They must be trained with shock therapy to not even flinch when you say, "I'm going to take all of my services elsewhere unless you sharpen this pencil."
  3. My wife wants to keep a local 515 Des Moines, Iowa phone number (now with Mediacom using their excellent unlimited VOIP.  I'm in favor of ditching regular phone all together.  Our cell phones are CA area codes and must remain that way for another reason not worth explaining.
  4. I have Vonage for business already in the house
  5. I have a skype account and skype IN phone number but they don't even offer 515 area code for that nor does Yahoo Phone.

My buddy forwarded me a link to Grand Central where you can use one 515 phone number and it will ring to any phone you want it to ring on (cell, office, etc.)  It's free right now but probably wont be forever and it's a bit clunky.

Anyway, I'm anxious to hear someone's suggestions if they have them..but I'm pretty sure I've covered every conceivable way of doing this..and that I'm left with bending over for Mediacom and living with rabbit ears, or going the DirecTV / Qwest phone/DSL route.      

De-Branding

Istock_000000401371xsmall I'm not sure if I've heard the term "De-Branding" before, but it appeared today in a piece from the NY Times.

AT&T is going to eliminate the Cingular brand over the next 6 months since buying the cellular phone company a while ago.  It's hard to keep track of the acquisitions/mergers in this space...but basically, AT&T, broken up many years ago into regional "Baby Bells" has come back to life after one of those baby bells bought AT&T.  Huh?  Exactly. 

At the end of the day, I know their are many well paid analysts that decided this was the way to go but here's my focus group of one.

  1. AT&T equals old, stale, high priced long distance, and failed customer service
  2. SBC, the baby bell that bought it's former mother ship (AT&T) back, had plenty of name recognition and did better at customer service, but SBC is a boring name and never really took off as a brand.
  3. Cingular is "hip" and new.  It represents the future (wireless, connectedness) and now, even the iPHONE by Apple announced a couple of days ago.  Doesn't Cingular just sound good?  Like the "Cingular source for X, Y, and Z?"

Of note were these quotes by Wendy Clark, a Senior VP of Advertising for AT&T,

“What consumer and business customers want is a single provider of services for the way they live and work today,” Ms. Clark said, “and if it’s one company, they want it under one name.”

Also from the piece

As for the opinions of some brand-identity consultants that the Cingular brand appeals to youth more than the venerable AT&T name, Ms. Clark said: “The youth market is incredibly fickle when it comes to branding. If you give them what they want, the brand is secondary. It’s incumbent upon us to keep delivering what Cingular offered its customers.”

These are very powerful statements!  And their weight should not be "mis-underestimated" (It's Friday let's have fun!).  Think about what Ms. Clark is saying.  I think she's hinting that they went with AT&T vs. Cingular even though they knew better.  The brand is secondary!  So what you deliver (the most important thing) apparently "Isn't the brand".  Interesting.  I think they're missing the mark here and valuing "unity" over "reality".  That darn fickle youth market (and probably the one that drives a massive portion of their revenues since most over 30's don't use their cell phone for music, TV, or texting) is not as fickle as you think.  Those "Yutes" love a good brand and they'll spend endless sums of their parents money supporting it.  Just ask Mr. Jobs.

I'd love to hear the experts chime in on this deal. 

Business Plans...Formalized Obsolescence

There's a great piece in the WSJ on line called "Do Start-Ups Really Need Formal Business Plans?" by Kelly Spors.  I'll leave the meat of the article for your reading pleasure, but I wanted to throw my 2 sheckles in.  I think the core of the matter is really whether or not you're creating the plan for yourself or to raise capital.  If it's for yourself, you wont waste the time on the unnecessary fluff anyway.

  1. If you've decided to make it or fail...you're always right.  A business plan means nothing for you in the determination equation.
  2. Most of what you put in your plan will be meaningless within X months.  Especially in today's business climate, it's more important to know that you'll adapt well vs. how well you format your market research. 
  3. Elaborate financial models are manipulated to yield the results required to get the funding you need and will typically net the numbers below.  If VC's know this, why do they keep asking for 5 years of fake financials?
    • year 1:  Loss
    • year 2:  Break-even
    • year 3:  $3 mil
    • year 4:  $7 mil
    • year 5:  $21 mil
    • IPO
  4. Your company will likely morph into something you never planned for. Looking back at your business plan, you'll be shocked at what you didn't know.  Big elaborate plans = way more material that was irrelevant and more wasted time discovering it.
  5. It's really more about what you're NOT going to do isn't it?  "I'm going to take on the world with $1mil is a battle cry I've seen in more than 50% of the plans I've encountered.  Big plans are typically chock full of "stuff for stuff's sake"

I'm curious, what do you think YouTube's bizplan looked like?  I'm sure some research will yield the answer...but I'm guessing it was pretty simple..or a few PPT slides. 

Spend time on your market, why you have a defensible niche, and how you and your team will be able to roll with the punches and adapt. 

Warning: Six Sigma Applied Incorrectly Can Net One 9 Figures

Sixsigma The business world felt a mild tremor a few days ago as Bob Nardelli, the controversially well paid CEO of Home Depot resigned from his post.  It was ironic that only days before, I received my January 8 Forbes magazine that contained an article with Nardelli's thoughts on how he was going to grow the company during the current building (or at least selling) slump.  How quickly things change.  Don't feel too bad for him.  His severance package is over $200 million.  Money doesn't buy happiness...but it sure does let you deal with your problems in style.  Remember that Nardelli was one of the top guys under consideration for the top job at GE when Jack Welch decided to leave...and he was snubbed.

A very nice article in the WSJ yesterday by Karen Richardson really dove into what 6 Six Sigma has meant for some top companies in the U.S including Home Depot...and it's not all knock out Judo chops.   

"Six Sigma is not the end all be all," said Robert Ferris, a spokesman for Honeywell. "It is simply a set of process tools. We would never suggest that a company's performance is solely linked to the adoption of these tools."
  Good plan Mr. Ferris. 

Consider the following facts about stock prices in a post 6 Sigma deployment world:

Since announcing the adoption of Six Sigma on July 1, 2001, Home Depot shares are down 8.3% compared with a 16% rise in the S&P 500 over the same period. The stock rose more than 2% yesterday on the New York Stock Exchange, to $41.07, after Mr. Nardelli's resignation.

Honeywell shares are down 7.2% since its Six Sigma announcement in early January 2000, compared with a 3.6% fall in the S&P 500. Shares of 3M are off about 1% since late December 2003 versus the S&P 500's 29% climb. GE shares rose sharply in the 1990s, but they're down 16% since July 2000, when the company adopted Six Sigma, compared with the 2.6% fall in the S&P 500.

There are companies who've done better than the S&P using 6 Sigma including Caterpillar Inc., Federated Department Stores Inc., Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., Target Corp. and Whirlpool Corp.

But what's the big takeaway here...

Nardelli imposed 6 Sigma at Home Depot to bring order to its somewhat chaotic "cowboy culture".  He also cut staff and ran the organization more militarily...in a very customer intensive retail environment.  This type of implementation is destined for failure because it denies the culture and context of the deployment. 

6 Sigma is NOT just for manufacturing...but it must be molded and shaped a bit in a more human and transactional environment.  I was trained as a Black Belt in 2005 and found that about 10% of the training was spent on change management, breaking down cultural impediments to improvement, and the proper tools for use in a non-manufacturing environment. Additionally, I've found that 6 Sigma can create information silos and sometimes encourage band-aide solutions to bigger problems.  That's not a slight on 6 Sigma, it's simply fact in my interactions. 

6 Sigma takes on big issues like "My customers are dissatisfied" and breaks that down into manageable projects...limiting the scope so that meaningful data can be gathered, analyzed, and hopefully improved upon.  But, when scope is limited often times project teams can't see the forest through the trees.

I've done a lot of work with one of the companies and it's subsidiaries that's beaten the S&P since deploying 6 Sigma.  What I've seen in about 80% of cases is that narrowed scope on certain issues caused solutions to be implemented to the detriment of the "big picture".  At the end of the day there was improvement.  But will that improvement earn out over the long term?  The big picture check and balance is often relegated to the top executives at the company.  Their goal is to, "Oversee the entire value chain and project flow and put the pieces together so that small fixes don't cloud the big picture".  I've seen that work about 20% of the time.


 

Wiki - Collaboration Acceptance

Zane Safrit, CEO of Conference Calls Unlimited, posted about his company's time line for acceptance of wiki technology.  It's taken them over a year.  As a principal at a small dynamic company, I can relate.  While I use Central Desktop vs. Basecamp, I know what his company is up against.  He says,

"We have a fairly small company. Even so, open and efficient communication is critical. We don't have the inertia that carries a large corporation forward. We also don't have any hiding spots for malcontents, non producers, rear-guard experts or those who can't cooperate and collaborate. We can't tolerate feifdoms, kingdoms of secrets and jealously guarded expertise. Wikis, the requirement to use them, helped flush all that out into the open and show how open and honest and constructive interactions made everyone's lives smoother."

Very accurate.  In my business, it took some authoritative top down management to break up the "fall back information silos" that cropped up when something didn't go exactly to plan or there was a feature that someone wanted but it didn't exist...even if it was a "two percenter" (a feature that only 2% of the human population would ever even dream up and thus can be jettisoned as unreasonable and not economically viable to ask for or even look for in another package).

I posted a short time ago on my case study in which I was going to use wikis to make a company's actual corporate web site easier to update and maintain.  I think I've taken the wiki idea to its extreme...literally replacing corporate web page and content management infrastructure with wiki pages that are instantly editable by the designated person(s).  I achieved the goal in my case which was to stir the pot and cause a bit of short term trauma to get my point across.  It worked, and the pages are still live. 

Why Iowa? From a CA expat

I thought I'd chime in this topic that was floated a while ago.  I'm not sure who started it...but here's my two blog-cents.  Why Iowa?

  1. Agrarian roots seem to give Iowans even long removed from farming a warmth that says, "I've got a pot of coffee on and something in the oven...come in and sit a spell"
  2. Neighborhoods still have "marauding bands of kids of various ages" being kids, sometimes doing bad stuff, but mostly just being curious kids.
  3. There are few walls and fences.  Neighbors talk, see each other, and interact more.  We did not have this in our former home...and we relish it now.
  4. Quality of life.  This is a broad generalization...but the ability to "Pretty much do what you want when you want without having to plan too far ahead" is my definition.  Getting in the car at 5PM and heading into the heart of downtown Des Moines is no problem.  Getting into the car and just getting onto the freeway was a problem where I was from.  I routinely don't remember the last time I got gas, and my wife has halved her petrol usage while doing whatever she pleases.  Everything is just close.
  5. Connectivity to a thriving business community.  I have met more people in the greater Des Moines business community in the last 6 months than I met in all of my career in CA.  From top business leaders to venture capitalists...from business blog coaches to branding experts...from renewable fuel experts to ..you get the idea.  If I'm looking to open the door to something, I've got multiple folks lined up with keys and looking to assist me. I hope I can give more back than I've taken.
  6. Housing.  One can easily procure a 3br, 2ba, 2car garage type home in a very nice neighborhood for $150k.  Additionally, one can find a $80k 2br home and a $500k 5br home.  All of these places could be within the same general area.  At the end of the day the "normal" American progression from starter home...to family home...to big dream home...and everything in between is obtainable. 
  7. Weather. I know, coming from CA the cold has gotten to me a little and frozen a few brain cells!  The bottom line is that I enjoy the differences in weather, the rain, the snow (we've only had 1 inch this year so far), and the seasons.  I've written before that weather is such a small part of normal life when you're busy with the family that it really doesn't matter as long as you can do what you want to.  I enjoy sitting around a fire on a cold night as much as I do around a patio table on warm summer evenings.  Also, if you do your own yard work (as I do now), you have a full 3 month reprieve from doing anything!  It's not as cold and snowy here as up north in Wisconsin...and not as temperate as Kansas City.  I think it's just right.

We chose Iowa about a year ago...and it has most certainly chosen to embrace us, welcome us, warm us, and provide us with new friends and opportunities that we never dreamed of.  It's our turn to give back and we're going to make that a priority in 2007 and beyond.

Thank you Iowa...and that's why.

Sage Prediction for Cleantech by Kleiner Perkins

Paul Kedrosky at Infectious Greed posted some great quotes from the prolific VC firm Kleiner Perkins. Most amazing and encouraging to me is line item number 3.  I write about renewable energy/ethanol quite often...thus I'm very encouraged by Ray Lane's prediction.  Bigger than the Internet!  Yes .  It should be...it will be.

Here they are:

The Internet:
John Doerr (1997-2000): "The Internet is the largest legal creation of wealth in the history of the planet."

Mobile
John Doerr (2005): "[The cell phone boom will be] ultimately be more important and will likely offer a larger wave of investment opportunity than the personal computer."

Cleantech
Ray Lane (2006): "This is bigger than the Internet, I think by an order of magnitude. Maybe two. I'm taking the entire energy industry."

The Glamour of Business Travel

Yeah right.  I've been posting lightly since I was gone for 9 days.  Most of which was spent in CA with a last minute jaunt to St. Augustine, FL.  I'm tired and trying to imagine how my kids actually grew and became smarter in such a short time.  My wife remembered me which is good.

I think I've been tagged 2x with the "5 things you don't know about me" deal...I'll get on that tomorrow and it's not forgotten. 

I stayed at a Renaissance Marriott in the World Golf Village at St. Augustine, Florida last night.  Nice.  But only 25% full.  The restaurant had no patrons at 9PM when we arrived.  I thought winter was popular in Florida?  Oh well.  No crowds, no wait = good time for me.

Local Space...On the Cheap

I'm sure there are many inexpensive options around the metro, but I just read about the Johnston Library offering up space for up to 200 people.  Here's the text of the news piece and a link to the original. 

The Johnston Public Library has meeting space available to the public, with rooms available for booking a year in advance.

One meeting room accommodates 200 people seated in rows or up to 64 seated at tables. The large meeting room can be divided into two smaller rooms with up to 90 seats or up to 36 at tables. A catering kitchen is available for the large meeting room and for the divided east room. The archive room holds 12 people at a table.

Meeting rooms are available from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and from 2 to 5 p.m. on Sunday.

Rooms may be scheduled with the meeting room coordinator at the Johnston Public Library or by filling out an online form. Each reservation must include the name, address and phone number of the contact person. Following receipt of the written request, the library will confirm the meeting room reservation via e–mail and/or telephone.

Costs range from $20 an hour for non-profit organizations to $52 an hour for use of a meeting room during hours when the library is normally closed. Call the library at 278-5233 for information.

Mystery Shopping

Lately, I've been assisting my wife with some local mystery shops (where you engage in certain scenarios designed to measure and test customer service in a technical way in exchange for a small payment + reimbursement of a set expense limit).  What I'm more and more convinced of after doing this...is how undervalued Starbucks Coffee stock is.  As I've said before, "It's the people" that make your brand.  By and large, Starbucks hires right and its baristas live the brand. 

There are shining stars to everywhere to be certain (glass half full approach) and some baristas have flamed out I'm sure...but it fascinates me that Starbucks can achieve excellence on such a grand scale.  I visited a Starbucks last night randomly wandering through the mall and was seriously impressed with the barista's abilities to connect with my wife and I. 

I know that more companies are attempting to reinvent themselves into a service excellence culture.  Are you aware of any that are succeeding on the Starbucks scale or close?

Maybe I just need to get out more!   

Wikipedia & Google: Antibacterial soap for historical cleansing

I'm getting nervous.  It's not over the climate or human rights or the safety of our universe.  It's over Wikipedia and Google.  Nick Carr at Rough Type has written about this and much better than I, but think about how Google is gathering the collective knowledge of the world (books too) into a historical record...a record that is only as "valuable" as its component's relevance or "click frequency". 

Wikipedia editors are passing judgment daily over what's important or not.  Our children are using what's "out there" as the gospel truth and the foundation of all historical knowledge.  Heck...why do we even have libraries anymore right?  In a few more years, once all old books have been cataloged...we're home free since everything new is electronic first.

Can you remember something that has "become truth" or the common story after so many years of misinformation being published? 

Today the "truth" has become a subjective relevance quotient...with it's own CPM rating.

At our current pace, is it unreasonable to believe that within 50 years our history will be rewritten and edited...cleansed by the Illuminati and Google-ati...in a Bradburian fashion until we have no real history (who would know anyway since we all use the same source) or that it will be ripped from us by the wiki-police? 

I hear the fire trucks coming now...gotta run.   

Verizon EVDO in Des Moines

I picked up my Q phone today and the broadband was in EVDO mode vs. 1xRTT.  I was informed sometime ago by a blog reader of mine that Verizon was testing it's EVDO (very fast broadband via wireless) in the area..but it seems to be staying on.  The speed is great and Sprint will finally get a run for its money here in the Metro. 

Personal vs. Business: A blogging conundrum

I blend personal experiences, business bits, and other things I'm interested in (ethanol) on this blog.  Some like to separate those things out into separate blogs...not me.  Time will only allow me to maintain 1 feed, 1 set of widgets, etc.  Besides, my blog is a tool for me to communicate with the world at large and share my Moments of Clarity wherever they show up in my life.  This blog gives readers an indication of who I am, what makes me tick, and what it would be like to sit down and have a conversation with me...whether it's business or just because. 

Today Fred Wilson posted a cool piece on what blogging means to him.  Fred is the real deal and he shows his readers what his life is like as A VC (A venture capitalist and rather good one at that) by blending personal, business, music, and other things that fancy him into blog topics. 

Fred says, "At first, I really didn’t know what to write about. So I wrote about the things I was passionate about; my work, my family, music, politics, new york city."

Exactly.  Share your passions...contribute!...and if others find them interesting...well...they'll read what you have to say. 

Branding! Red Robin Go For It

A Texas Red Robin franchisee is trying to connect with their customers in new ways.  QTAGS put out a release a couple months ago that said:

"Beginning today, Red Robin guests in Texas who use their mobile phones to text “rrmarqe” to 78247 (q-t-a-g-s) will receive a text reply welcoming them as a new Red Robin VIP, with instructions for redeeming a $5 voucher that can be used on their next visit. Guests will also receive future updates from Red Robin about promotions and news via the qtags’ text message service."

This is a fantastic marketing method and way of extending the reach of your brand with permission into customer's lives.

“Text messaging through qtags™ is a fun, easy way to connect with our loyal guests who want to hear from us outside of the restaurant,” said Tim Moore, vice president of operations for Cowboy Red, a franchisee of Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, Inc. “It not only will enable us to reward guests, but also communicate upcoming specials and promotions more effectively.”

“Our guests are increasingly on the go and interested in real-time information,” said Moore.  “qtags allows us to communicate quickly and easily with those guests who opt-in wanting to learn more about Red Robin.”

After the text message is sent, the reply includes a link to a branded microsite that provides a voucher for $5.  This is an ideal platform, along with RSS feeds of new menu items, specials, and promotions, to build more brand awareness and loyalty.  I am a loyal Red Robin customer.  I'd probably tell far more people about my loyalty (aka "spread the love") if Red Robin helped me do it with branding/marketing tools like this.  Hopefully, my earlier posts on customer service and recovery give a bit more juice to Red Robin corporate's decision to maintain a blog as part of their branding strategy.

Home network trek 6.0: A new beginning

I'm staring at it...the bag.  It's from Best Buy and it has a new router and a vonage telephony box in it.  I'm frozen...motionless...tormented by what the bag contains and what it means to my home network.  I asked the guys at Best Buy if there was any difference between the Linksys and the DLINK and he muttered something about security and backwards compatibility.  I was kind of numb at that point. 

I spent a good a good 6 months on and off getting my live web cam to stream onto this blog.  You'll recall, I went through a ton of customer disservice back then but ultimately arrived at my current solution.  Why change routers now?  I use a VPN quite a lot and no matter what I do, my current Linksys WRTP54G (built in vonage) either drops the connection or times out randomly all day long.  I don't know why...it's got the latest firmware, etc.  It just does.  I have a 1mb up and 10mb down cable connection that is excessively fast...but my machine acts like I'm on dial up.   

I know what the experience will be like if I call customer service.  The DLINK people are the same that told me to "let my camera rest" once during an hour long customer service session.  Let it rest as though the electronics were "tired"!!! 

I just have to take baby steps...open the bag...and get through this. 

More to come.

A Life Moment

Maybe you're like me...you feel good about yourself for the most part, you have a great family, you're generally doing good.  But...when you make positive changes in your life like eating better, getting more exercise, reading more, really establishing yourself in the business community, working in a more focused way, etc...you reach a point where you feel momentum picking up. It's glorious right!  You're on all 12 of your perfectly firing Italian cylinders (homage to Ferrari), you have clarity, you're dressing well, losing the baby weight (or sympathy 50 daddy weight) feeling well, and really just taking your vitamins daily kinda good.   

Then...out of nowhere you begin to stall.  The once concrete ideas about how to succeed and not eat those extra bear claws become fuzzy.  You begin to revert to older ways of thinking.  The newspapers stack up, the desk is messy, and the once ultra focused approached to work becomes more sporadic. 
Guess what changed?  NOTHING.  Except your brain began to really sense that you were breaking out!  You were headed toward the land of superior effectiveness and achievement...and your brain hit the brakes and began to allow your actions to sabotage this success.  You were getting too far outside your comfort zone and your jack in the box was about to burst open.  Screeeeeeech!

Well, what if one recognized such self-sabotage early enough to immediately do something about it and right the ship?  Bingo! I just experienced this moment of clarity and without much effort at all..was able to refill the humidor of mental growth in a flash.  Once I acknowledged it was happening and accepted it...I simply rolled past the limitation and am back at it again full steam. 

The_breakthrough_1
Instead of having a down period of confusion and incongruity in my thought patterns, I broke through again.  In the past, these down times where the brain is subconsciously moving you against your "new plan" have lasted quite some time, leading to frustration.  Now, I believe that I recognized the problem and took control within days.  Maybe the next time it will be hours (there will be a next time....the brain is very comfortable doing the comfortable thing)...and perhaps at some point, I'll get into real time!!! 

I guess I should have listened more closely to Tony Robbin's Personal Power...I'm pretty sure this was CD number 3.      

Do your Workhome

Steve Richards posted a nice piece on working at home...and how to make it productive and enjoyable. He makes some"not so commonly pointed out" work-at-home advisories.  My favorite is  to meet up with colleagues whenever you can...like going out for lunch. 
Wifi

One of the most rewarding things I've discovered is that there's an army of "virtual office" folks at local coffee shops and eating establishments.  If you're interested in making some connections, first find out where wi-fi is free.  Then, of course look for laptops.  Here's a general guideline: (varies of course and these are just my opinions).

  1. A Mac:  The person is a student, marketing/advertising person, graphic artist, or is between gigs.
  2. A Dell:  This person is either self-employed or works for a small company since Dell has great prices and great financing.
  3. IBM Thinkpad:  This person is a sales person or other field rep for a larger corporation.  Thinkpads are standard issue by the corporate IT folks. 
  4. Sony, HP, Toshiba, et al:  This group is an amalgam of the above 3.  These laptops are typically cool but not as adopted by the mainstream so you never know who you're going to meet if they have one of these.

I've met bloggers, business owners, medical students, venture capitalists, graphic artists, writers, professional speakers, consultants, sales reps, moms, dads, families, etc..by working out of my local Panera Bread.

It will only take about a month of making introductions before you start to have an "office away from the home office" group to have a coffee or share some lunch with. 

   

Office Space Fans Rejoice

Office Space is one of my favorite movies of all time.  Another very talented and funny person has done a "recut" producing an entirely different theme.  If you have a couple of minutes...and want to laugh quite a bit.  Click here to see Office Space Recut.

1GB email file? No sweat

I'm a little slow to pick up on the gagillion little tech tools out there until I need one.  The other day I was attempting to get a 198mb file to someone else remotely and PANDOmonium (sic on purpose...anyway) ensued.  Among a few others, there's a cool feature (company) out there called Pando. I read about this in the WSJ.
Pando
Pando let's you send up to 1 GIG files via their portal.  It's simply a secure file sharing mechanism. 

"Pando works by merging the mechanism of email with its own small program and a modified version of BitTorrent, a back-end file-transfer system best known until now for speeding up the downloading of large, unauthorized files, like pirated movies."

Cool. Living on the edge!  An Outlook plugin is coming soon apparently. 

Warning: Protect your Nuts!

Prices in the nut market, a commodity grown extensively in the central valley of California,  have skyrocketed leading to theft of large loads of nuts, as reported in the USA today.

Nutbag A "growing black market" has cropped up providing ample cash for those with no production costs, i.e. thieves. 

In fact, "The nuts are worth so much that thieves who drive away whole truckloads have been known to abandon the vehicles and keep just the almonds."

Now that is absolutely NUTTY!




Kottke on Economic Realignment

Jason Kottke posted a piece on the changing economic forces driving reallocation of corn production.  He points out much of the corn in Mexico is brought in from the US..since it's become too expensive to grow it.  Thank American farming subsidies for that but on to the next issue.   He confronts the looming bidding war between "Americans who want to fill their gas tanks and Mexicans who want to feed their children," and states that, "Odds are the tanks stay fuller than the stomachs." Agreed.  But this is nay a temporary realignment in my opinion.  Corn prices and the massive amount of reallocation farmers are undertaking now (sacrificing soy or other crops to grow the golden money printing crop) will not sustain. 

Scientists know that corn based ethanol production is cheap, quick, and easy...but terribly inefficient.  The transition to cellulosic ethanol production (effectively the same booze made from just about any organic matter) must take over.  That way, we can develop more genetic hybrid crops that grow tall and dense...rather than trying to usurp every bit of arable land to grow a very inefficient crop.

Photo by Bob Elbert/Iowa State University
Verkadeoshel01_

Iowa State University, among others, is working hard to develop enzymes and other chemical compounds that will facilitate the rapid breakdown of organic matter into basic sugars. On Tuesday, an article came out discussing a 40 year old breakthrough made at ISU that was just "dug up" and is being researched full steam now.  Scientists figured out back then how to cook up some compounds that, "break down the tough cellulose that forms the structure of a plant’s cell walls. Breaking down the cellulose can release the simple sugars that are fermented into ethanol. Making that happen could add some value to Iowa crops or the fibrous co-products of ethanol production."

The bottom line here is that we can genetically engineer the heck out of some grass or ultra dense, super high growing plant instead of using corn.  This will happen, it must.  For now, farmers are just happy to be getting insanely high rates for their corn.  The ethanol plants are virtually printing money by making alcohol.  And, the people of Midwest are trying understand what capturing this moment and not letting go could mean to the region.  It's the heartland's chance to shine. 

It's not nearly as glamorous as Silicon Valley or the Tech Coast...but our own little Ethanol Alley, and if the politicians don't mess it up, we'll be the epicenter of energy independence.  Be warned Mr. Chavez...we're armed with corn cobs and grain alcohol...and we mean business. To the hungry citizens of Mexico, hold on.  It's only a matter of time before we'll replenish our supply.

Setting Fees

An interesting piece just arrived from Forbes.com called "How To Set Your Consulting Fees"

The general synopsis is that new consultants undercharge dramatically for their services.  Agreed.  Most have an idea of what others charge...then discount it to "get their first clients". 

Additionally, the piece points out that "entry level consulting" is $175/hour and that typical partner rates are ~$300/hour on average.  Also, "coastal and urban consultants can "command premiums up to 25% higher than their Midwestern and Southern counterparts." 

Consultingposter

Poster available at ThinkGeek.com

Great General Synopsis on Working From Home

Matthew Stibbe posted a great piece today on working from home.  The key take away that I believe many home workers don't get is to "be businesslike".  The concept of the home worker being a smelly, unshaven, unwashed lump is pervasive.  Dress well, get out and meet other telecommuters often.  I learned a valuable lesson in my business career that is still an absolute constant:  It's NEVER bad to be the best dressed person in a room......EVER...no matter what the popular fashion is for the day. 

Also, I'd like to fill in some items not covered by Mr. Stibbe.  If one has family at home, we have 2 kids under 4, establish clear rules and regs with your stay-at-home wife/mom about "interruptibility".  My guideline was that I'm technically "not there" from 8-5 daily.  Thus, I can get up at 5AM and get about 2 hours in before everyone else is up...and still cook the kids breakfast and get my boy ready for pre-school...then dart into the office without announcing my intentions whatsoever.  My wife is great this way. 

Additionally, I like to have the office be a peaceful and calm place.  I took some cues from Steve Pavlina on this one.  It may sound a bit hokey...but scented candles (cue the "Ladies Man" quotes from SNL), a water fall fountain, relaxing music, plants, etc. make the office feel more conducive to brilliant thinking...and perhaps moderately dim writing.

A Key Observation about the "Ethanol Boom"

A piece in the Des Moines Register , written by Anne Fitzgerald called:

Ethanol growth helps spur jobs in wide array of fields

really sparked my interest since I've read conflicting reports about ethanol's ability to create jobs.  In fact, I've heard that it only takes about 13 people to run a $100 million gallon ethanol plant.  Instead of lauding that "efficiency", most have decried ethanol's inability to create "more jobs".  This piece however highlights the diverse background of people that a particular plant in Nevada, Iowa employs.  (In Iowa, it's a long A vs. sin city's home state). 

Here's a quote:
Economists disagree on the ripple effects of an ethanol plant. John Urbanchuk, an economist at LECG Corp., a California-based consultant, says a 100 million-gallon ethanol plant can generate nearly 1,600 jobs across several industries.

This is a very accurate assessment in my opinion.  When you extend the reach of an ethanol plant, you really do touch on a multitude of industry segments, science disciplines, and technologies.

The key piece in the article, and the one that I'm most focused on is the following:

"Call any trucking firm in Iowa and see if they're hiring truck drivers, and the answer will be, 'Yes.' There are a lot of reasons for that, but the biofuels industry is a big part of it."

Each day, thousands of semi-trailer trucks deliver grain and other products to the plants, while tanker trucks and railcars haul fuel to market.

Tanker_1


BINGO!!!!  The million dollar observation.  The key component in the ethanol business right now and for the foreseeable XX years is transportation.  This is about the first article I've read that touched on this point.

Getting the supplies in, the by-products and production out are a massive part of the equation.  If someone were to give production facilities the edge in this aspect of their business with a technology platform that reduced transport expense and created the kind of logistics infrastructure that automated much of the process and paperwork around it...I think that would be rather valuable....and fundable...and "growable" into "The logistics platform for the segment". 






e-85

Corn2 Iowa has 3 new E85 ethanol pumps opening today that brings our state total to 51.  We're getting there.  If you're in Iowa, traveling through, or just have some good old fashioned curiosity, click this link to the news story and you'll find a listing of all pump locations in our wonderful state.

Pucker Up For This One

I cannot come close to reviewing this book or analyzing it any better than Guy Kawasaki did today.  To do so...would probably make me look like an....well....here's the book title and and some quotes/analysis from the book that had me laughing for a while. 

The No Asshole Rule:  Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't

The first step is to recognize who is an asshole. Sutton’s blog cites one method. It’s called the Starbucks Test It goes like this: If you hear someone at Starbucks order a “decaf grande half-soy, half-low fat, iced vanilla, double-shot, gingerbread cappuccino, extra dry, light ice, with one Sweet-n’-Low and one NutraSweet,” you’re in the presence of an asshole. It’s unlikely that this petty combination is necessary & the person ordering is trying to flex her power because she’s an asshole.

I need my Honda Air Taxi

I need to go to California for what will likely be a 4 hour meeting on the 3rd of November.  This will inevitably mean leaving on the 2nd, dealing with a connection, and the associated hassles now synonymous with air travel. 

The ticket on most normal airlines and most normal times is about $800-$1000 at this point from Des Moines to Ontario, CA.  (Southwest doesn't fly to DSM so let's forget for a moment that I could drive 2 hours to Omaha and get a reasonably priced ticket OK).

Is there any alternative out there for me that exists today...while I wait for my Honda Air Taxi service to evolve?  Can I hitch a ride on someone's jet just once here...I'll pay!  Is there a site out there that matches excess private jet capacity with folks like me begging for it? 

More Ethanol Alley

It was an amazing few days for Ethanol news around Iowa. Here's a story of an overturned tanker clogging the roads...most notably..check out the last section about "replacing any plastic pipes underground because the seeping ethanol would corrode/degrade it.  Corrosion is a problem that if solved...will make pipelines possible.  Right now, it's tankers and rail cars.

Our friend Chuck over at Domestic Fuel posted on 89 octane gas at a Hyvee in Iowa...being LESS expensive than the 87 octane NOT blended with ethanol.  This caused me some trauma when I first moved here too.  I hope Chuck found the folks here in Iowa as friendly as I have.

Here we see that the Northern Iowa Railway company received a big chunk of change to build out some of its infrastructure to facilitate smoother operations...sparked of course by the massive ethanol/bio-diesel output increases and continued growth projections.

Of course the political candidates are spewing about how they'll do better to promote biofuels, etc. but I don't believe any of them truly grasp how important this is to our state...and our nation. 

You'll see my blog ETHANOL ALLEY soon offered as a NAV BAR link on this blog.  I will begin posting on this site only within the next few weeks.  If you visit Ethanol Alley, you'll still see all the posts from the past and all future ones there as well.  It's just too much for me to manage 2 blogs and 2 sets of this and that. 



Frustration!

Argh!  I sent this email to the Marketing Manager, Laura Manatt at the Iowa Speedway, our new and wonderful raceway here in Newton Iowa. 

Hi Laura:
Do you have any plans to offer RSS feeds of news and upcoming events on the site? It would extremely helpful and is a great marketing tool.  Thanks for letting me know.

Below is the response I received:

Please sign up for ou fan club out on the website.  We will send you updates from time to time regarding activities out here at the track.

Laura

I understand the response and I'm not angered at it's simplicity and redirect...but it didn't answer my question...and I'm sharing the way in which I'd like to be marketed to!  How valuable is that?  I have signed up for the "Fan Club" already anyway and I've not received jack since I did.  I don't want to sign up again...besides email updates are NOT the preferred method of receiving information for me, nor is it for throngs of hungry bloggers and others that had NO IDEA that NASCAR Nextel Cup teams were practicing at the Speedway today and through this week!  I found out from a friend who visits Jayski.com daily (even though they don't offer feeds...he still goes there religiously which is more than I'd do)  It's so darn simple to capture an additional stream of people's attention if you use a tiny bit of nearly free technology to market yourself. 

Rusty Wallace, please find this post in the blogosphere and get a blog and some RSS feeds going...I want to spend money and attend your facility...but I don't know what's happening there.

I hope these call center folks are well trained

Tom Peters posted today on an ABC News special that highlighted "Outsourced Surgery" and how a company called PlanetHospital handles the logistics and arrangements for surgeries that...for whatever reason, couldn't be done here in the US (cost to much, not covered, lack of insurance, etc.). 

What a fantastic example of the inefficiency of medicine these days...but encouraging to know that this is an option.  The piece described how a woman flew 30 hours to have a 30 minute surgery at 1/3 the cost.  Unreal.

I am just hoping that when you call to describe your situation and set up the surgery...that the call center agents are NOT outsourced.       

Mediacom's Continued Service Recovery

Last week, I posted on a Mediacom Cable VIP program customer service experience that went from bad to good....while pointing out some serious marketing program flaws that I assumed larger companies like Mediacom had the smarts to avoid.

Here's an update since my phone service was out for a day until I reset my router last night.

1.  I called the VIP phone number that was given in the marketing documentation: 1-877-304-7466.  It now identifies as "The VIP customer service line". 

2.  The website for VIP's  http://www.mediacomcable.com/VIP is working now.

I'm not sure if my post had anything to do with these victories...but at the end of the day...my big beefs have been resolved.  Power to the people.

Youthful Exuberance

Ben Casnocha talked today about young people and the freedom they have to "develop a cultural identity" since they're unencumbered by the ,"But what will they think" modality. 

Cultivating the, "Try like hell and fail...now is the best time in your life to explore what you can do without boundaries, fear, or the prospect of ruin," is the most important lesson I believe we must impart upon our children. 

I'm rabidly focused on this with my two children.  The best teaching method however is to lead by example and involve ones children in the processes, decisions, day-to-day operations, and planning of ones ventures.  Let them see that daddy still has that spark and attitude that, "It doesn't matter what the neighbors or the other big people think...it's what you think and do that matters."




Honda Airtaxi Is Here

Will over at 2-Speed posted on one of the most awesome developments in aviation history...the release of the Honda VLJ (Very Light Jet).  I'm not a pilot, nor do I intend to become one.  However if there were a fleet of these babies offering me a hassle free business trip along with Honda's safety and reliability to back it up...I'm on it.  Of course Honda will be about 30% more fuel efficient than its competition...standard fare for Honda.  Honda's design will provide a quieter ride and more interior space too.  Sound familiar?  I'm just wondering if they'll keep their concept of packaging options in the LX or EX models.  "I'd like the 420 knot, 6 seater, EX model...does that come with A/C, leather, and navigation?"

As reported by Will, "The big news is that Honda just announced that they have taken orders for well over 100 of these piloted missiles in the first 30 days of sales.  At $3.65M per plane, it appears that their move into the aerospace market has been validated by potential customers.  Honda is applying for FAA approval now and expects to be shipping planes to customers in 2010."

When we have fleets of thousands of these jets in the air...the business models of traditional air carriers will be challenged yet again.  I don't think they'll survive the next salvo without massive disruption and business model flux.  The only problem I see is pilot training and safety.  Some of these jets are so "easy to fly" from what I've read and require less hours than their larger cousins, that I'm afraid we'll see a bunch of them making boo boos that cost lives.

Google's Ceramics Lab

Nicholas Carr had some interesting thoughts on a piece in the Washington Post
about Google's headquarter restrooms. 

Bidet The piece exposes that GOOG toilets have Japanese style bidet heated/blow drying seats.  Carr states, "Those Japanese commodes are nice, but it's important to remember that they're merely transitional devices. We'll know that Google has truly fulfilled its vision when the Googleplex no longer needs toilets at all."  Nice. Now there's a VC pitch that would get some attention.  "What's your potential market size?" Everyone. "Who needs this product?"  Everyone.  "What is your concept?"Eliminate the need to excreet waste from human body. VC response:  "Dude...are you s[email protected]&*#$g me!!!" 

But let's remove the sigmoidoscope targeted on Google's ceramics lab for a moment...and examine the bigger implications.  What you are seeing here (and what Carr and commenters are completely missing) is a glimpse into the secret to GOOG's success.  Stand back and let this diamond of clarity emerge from your dilating...eyes. 

Google's founders have discovered what I did years ago (I have 2 of these lovely machines in the house now)...that a sparkly clean and healthful posterior cleanses one's mind and fires synapses that hitherto may have been dormant, disconnected, or misaligned.

No wonder Mark Cuban funded Brondell the fantastic bidet toilet seat company that is poised to conquer the market here in the U.S. Brilliant! 

Now anyone who knows me...recalls that I had about 15 minutes of fame when my online Bidet company Bidets Direct was interviewed by the Kevin and Bean show in Los Angeles a few years back.  Well, Bidets Direct was my attempt to convince the American populous that paper was not enough. Once again I was ahead of the curve and lost momentum before I could cross the chasm. Now I have validation from the company that is nearly omnipresent in American homes.  Only slightly fewer use GOOG than use toilet paper (but that's changing thanks to GOOG).  Someday, we'll all be using GOOG while using the bidet toilet seat.

Now, I shall celebrate my incredible vision, cleanliness, and lack of execution by mixing a grain alcohol and rainwater cocktail.  Here's to freshness...it's not just for breath anymore.

Follow Up To The Iowa VC Conference

I'd like to add an addendum to my previous post on the Iowa VC and Entrepreneur Conference put on here in Des Moines by the Iowa Economic Development Department last week.

Here are some observations / personal preferences:

  1. If you're at the conference pitching yourself or your brilliant idea, invest the $30 for 1000 real business cards.  I know the technology, look, feel of self-printed and perforated ones have gotten better, but I get the impression that this is only a "thing that you're doing on the side".  Besides, if I spill my conference coffee on the card, the ink will run and ruin my shirt.
  2. Even more importantly than number 1, at least have a business card.  Some really interesting people and I will never cross paths again unless they contact me (because I gave them a card.)
  3. Buy a domain name and use the free email account they give you to have a more professional image.  Visit GoDaddy for a really cheap domain registration, great management tools, free email account, and lightning fast account modifications.  You can even forward your new fancy domain email to your regular account if you'd like.  I've recently dumped all of my Yahoo and DNS Central domain registrations in favor of Go Daddy after Mike Sansone at Converstations turned me onto it.  I remember the revealing super bowl commercial a few years back but really didn't explore it after that.  It's just a bit more validating to see something other than @yahoo, @hotmail, or @othercrypticandimpersonaldomain.net on your card if you've invested the $8.99.
  4. Don't leave home without your cards.  Carry some in the car, your wife's car, and anywhere else that ensures you'll have them when you need them most.  I have a leather business card holder that goes most everywhere with me + back ups in the car.  I ran out the other day since Mr. Sansone introduced me to more people than I had cards in reserve :)  A quick visit to the car in the Panera parking lot made sure that I was back in action.

So there we have it.  A total investment of $38.99 + tax to reinvent yourself, your business, and your image.  Oops, I forgot to add the $1.39 for the cup of coffee at the Panera University Virtual Office and Social Networking Club. 

Marketing & Customer Service Fumble and Recovery: Mediacom

It seems like I'm attracting customer service incidents these days.  I'm a walking trouble ticket apparently.  I'm really not trying, but as an advocate, watch dog, reporter, blogger, dad, concerned netizen, value conscious consumer and evangelist...I must do my duty.

A few days ago, I received a very impactful direct mail piece from my cable company Mediacom.  This piece was shiny opalescent light blue and had the words "Open to explore your VIP benefits".  I'm hugely in favor of being treated well by them since I get my TV, Phone, and Internet service from them...resulting in a monthly bill upward of $120.  I shrieked like a school girl and ripped the envelope open with eager anticipation.  Then I read this....see below.  Read the sentence marked with an arrow at least 2x and get yourself in the state that you get in when you're given something pretty darn cool..absolutely FREE!

I was about to actually PAY FOR THE UPGRADE to the higher bandwidth about a month ago...now it was being handed to me as a VIP!  I was told back then, "It would be $59.99/mo (versus the $29.99/mo I am paying now) and that my equipment had to be upgraded along with an installation fee. (I have a VOIP Aeris telephony modem)....Now all costs were to be waived...oh joy! 

I decided right away to visit the special web site that had been created just for me! http://www.mediacomcable.com/VIP
Wow, my very own special place.  Notice that there's an 800 number just for me too.  I figured the website would likely answer all of my questions and allow me to upgrade at will (after all, cable companies are big into "ON DEMAND").  I typed in the URL and found this:

Not good.  I tried again and again...and at the time of this posting, the website still doesn't work. 
Next I called the 800 number.  It's nice to have your own "hot line" and I let the website issue slide.  When I dialed in, there was nothing special about the menus or the options.  It was simply (so it seems) a generic 877 number created to track response to the direct mail piece. 

Fine.  So I reach a human.  He was very kind and I explained my new VIP status and asked for my free upgrade.  He had no idea what I was talking about.  After 5 minutes of explanation, he put me on hold for about 5 minutes (not feeling much like a VIP now).  He came back on the line and proceeded to explain that actually, what automatic free upgrade means is that my price is going up to $59.99/mo and that Mediacom is only waiving the "fees to upgrade".  When asked what's involved, he said he said he simply "changes a setting in his software" and my speed is upgraded automatically....love those "installation fees".  Even though I've cropped the letter in this post...there are NO fine print sections and no small * sections explaining that free is actually quite expensive.  For once, I really thought I had scored big.   After reading my letter verbatim and having the rep politely say that he checked with 2 supervisors and 2 managers and that I was wrong and he was correct...I informed him that I would not be taking my "free upgrade" today.  (He did refund a pay per view movie that I had purchased quickly and efficiently that had awkward pauses in the audio recording on the DVR).

After two days of stewing in my own juices and discussing this offer over and over again with my lovely wife, she said, "The way I read it, you don't even have to DO ANYTHING!" rather this upgrade should just happen.  After another 10 reads...I concurred! 

I called back my VIP hotline again and a nice woman answered the phone.  (A+ for politeness).  This time I took a new approach.  Instead of being verbose (my curse)...I simply said, "I'm calling in for my VIP free upgrade to the faster internet connection" and shut up.  The woman proceeed to handle the change and when asked about why I'd been derailed a few days earlier..she told me explicitly that this offer was not explained to anyone there and that she had peformed the same customer service labotomy on a few people before realizing that this offer was REAL and had been sent to potentially thousands of subscribers.  She (like the other rep) had to go through many layers of management before getting to the truth.  The upgrade was requested and I was a happy customer once again. I did have to email after 48 hours since tests confirmed that I was still at the slow speed.  By morning, a tech had replied and apologized that things didn't happen the way there were supposed to but it was done.

Here are some lessons that I would have thought were learned a long time ago by big highly profitable companies:

  1. If you send out a direct mail piece with a marketing offer, make sure your people actually know about it.  I don't care if they're trained directly...but at least have this in the "intranet or customer service wiki (yeah right) so the reps can access the details and find the "codes" they need to authorize things.  Nothing is as embarrassing as having no clue, then confirming with 4 different supervisors that you really don't have a clue, nor do they.  Goodness.
  2. When you publicize and send out a URL for VIP's make sure it works!  Marketing 101.  Don't buy the super bowl commercial and give the phone number and URL...when the website doesn't work and the phone number is piped to a single line somewhere in Peoria.  Companies don't often get a second chance so get it right the first time.  I guess cable monopolies get two chances..but I was within 48 hours of switching to DIRECTV or DISH.
  3. If you say it's a special toll-free number, make it so.  I want to be acknowledged for my big check every month...not the subject of a direct market "response percentage".  I was very disappointed and expected to reach a human upon first ring since I'm their "golden child"  Where's the gravy?

I'd like to personally thank Jill at Mediacom for making this upgrade happen.  My video conferences are flying now and I'm on top of the bandwidth world!  Close call Mediacom...but you still have me.

Tom Evslin on Ethanol...and then there's Doug's Opinion

I love reading Tom Evslin's blog.  There's always a fresh perspective to twist your synapses a bit.  He posted a wonderful piece entitled:  Ethanol:  Boon or Boondoggle?  This subject is near and dear to me as I'm smack dab in the middle of Ethanol Alley.  Evslin's piece talks about the science, environmental impact, and efficiency (or lack thereof) of producing ethanol.  I propose that although this part of the discussion is valuable...that the most important piece of the ethanol discussion is the mental shift that the citizens of the United States have undergone in the last 12 months regarding our energy independence. 

The debate has shifted away from "Can we, should we" to "How can we, what technology should we use".  Over a billion dollars of venture capital has poured into my humble Midwest ( that my family and I adopted last October after executing geographic arbitrage to Des Moines, IA from SoCal) and there's no sign of slowing. 

Those that have poo poo'd the inefficiency of corn based ethanol are sitting back now and watching hundreds of millions more gallons be produced from this method.  Additionally, our beautiful and humble state of Iowa is "getting it" by helping the Universities pursue the technologies, methods, and breakthroughs that will likely spawn the next generation of cellulosic ethanol production (making fuel from any plant/vegetable matter like corn stalks, grass, or ground up trees). 

Additionally, home grown Iowa start ups will provide supporting technologies and platforms to solve the other inefficiencies in the process of creating ethanol and getting it to the market place (distribution, logistics, etc.) (Contact me via email directly if this last sentence intrigued you)

The bottom line here is that we've begun the transformation and it will only take a hero to make it happen in a respectable time line.  I had a great conversation with my dad last week (I'm so stoked that my parents live a 12-hour drive away now versus 2500 miles).  During that conversation I found myself again stumping for an icon, a Presidential candidate that will arise and cut through the BS of the political process and promise us a Kennedyesque Man On The Moon Plan (this link contains my revisions to the speech appropriate for this discussion) to become 75% independent within 8 years (if we choose to re-elect him/her).  I'm a pretty fiscally/socially conservative guy...and I find myself passionately begging for a progressive tax levy on all Americans that will create an energy Independence race fund to drive our global dominance in this category.  Every single person I've talked to is in favor of such a levy.  Is this our rallying cause?  Is this the scientific area that the U.S. will dominate in this Century? (Stem cell is too much a political football) Is this my calling to run for office? I think not.  Where's William Katt when you need him?

I Quit! PLEASE Stay!

A great piece appeared a while ago in the Des Moines Register called,

You're quitting, but now the boss wants you

The article discusses the very common practice of companies countering offers on the spot when you announced your intention to leave.  What does this say about the company?  Would you still leave if they offered you a bunch more ca$h to stick around?  The article points out that money is not the only reason you're probably leaving in the first place so THINK before you accept. 

I realize that its a tricky situation on both sides.  Of course companies attempt to minimize labor expenses thus your pay scale may be behind...especially if your role or responsibilities have changed.  Have you worked somewhere that kept dumping on you, you met the challenge, exceeded expectations...yet when review time came around, you were given the conciliatory X% raise?  I have.  Not good.  Of course when you work for yourself...review time is daily...at about 10PM when your head hits the pillow.  Sound familiar?

Dawn Sagario's piece goes on to accurately explain that communication between employee and employer along the way is key to avoiding this situation.  If the company you work for takes a hard stance that "It does not discuss compensation unless it's review time"...or "It will not entertain talk about compensation because it would be unfair to others"...run...don't walk to your sphere of influence, LinkedIn, or some other means that uses your relationships to find a position that suits you.  By the way, I believe it is fair to agree not to discuss compensation for X months once you've reached an agreement.  It's a struggle for both parties to discuss this topic monthly. Or better yet, create a position that fits you. 

When I quit my position at a major Telecommunications firm without having one to back it up in 1999...I had reached a cross roads.  My family was a little freaked.  My wife stood by and said, "We're behind you".  But that's when my start-up, out of the comfort zone, business plan writing, venture capital funding, learn new things every day, expand your mind, immerse and conquer, let it rip, "hey, I just learned a little html today"...attitude coalesced. 

That one decision launched a no resume, relationship based, just totally cool work life that is totally in balance with my personal and spiritual life.  Not bad for becoming "unemployed" by choice.




Arnold Palmer...Flying High

One of golf's living legends, Arnold Palmer, still flies himself around the U.S. to engage in his golf and business activities.  Palmer says in the Sports Illustrated piece that, "It's a convenience, it's a business tool for me and it's also one that I enjoy doing," Palmer said. "I've been doing it 18,000 hours. That's almost a lifetime in itself."

Every time I go to the airport for a 1 hour flight (I just requalified platinum on American again darn it), I think about becoming a pilot and flying myself.  There's something magical about flight and taking this ultimate responsibility into your hands.  I must say I'm always edgy and nervous on flights and I think that taking my destiny into my own hands could really help that.  After all, who has time to be nervous in the cockpit when one is so busy making sure things are going right, on course, and out of harms way.  I read a blog called Flight Level 390 maintained by a commercial airline pilot.  I'm just drawn to the conversation, decision making, problem solving, and "cool factor" of flying big jets.  If I'm so interested in something...and that something could be a time saver and efficiency tool...then why not do it? 

I'll contemplate this through the holidays as the weather turns cold and I envision getting stuck in a snow storm and using instruments to land while sweating through my clothes.         

Venture Capital Flowing in Iowa

Yesterday, I attended a fantastic conference put on by the Iowa Economic Development Department.  The conference had the dual purpose of announcing the winners of the John Pappajohn Business Plan contest that has been in process for months here in Iowa.  John Pappajohn is very well known here in Iowa, using his fortune to found 5 John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Centers around the state.  I'm going to hit a few topics here so I'll break them out to make some sense of this post.

  1. The 1st place winner of the biz plan contest has developed a "geometric search engine".  A demo was given that shows a bunch a 3-dimensional spheres and when mousing over them or clicking on them, a relational database of "similar parts" (I think automotive was the example used) became visible.   Here's the deal.  I'm fairly smart but really didn't "get it".  My sense was that the room didn't "get it" either.  I'm sure this business is fantastic and very sexy to investors looking for the next big search tool...but this idea collided with the very premise that was preached over and over again at the conference...your business must be explainable and understandable to the venture community and to the people who'll use it within a paragraph, a few sentences, or a few slides.  Sorry.  Maybe it's just me...but my thoughts were echoed through my ad hoc survey.  I'm certain that this business is deserving and they'll probably be in the news soon as a breakthrough disrupter but I'll be standing by wondering what I missed.
  2. There was a wonderful talk given by Tom Bedell.  Tom took over his father Berkley Bedell's  (Berkley & Company) business at the age of 29 after the company had begun to suffer from systemic management malaise.  Tom described how he reinvigorated the company, helped it rise to meteoric heights...and ultimately how he sold 80% of it to a private equity firm when he "Wasn't able to do his job effectively anymore because the company had grown too large. (honesty)"  Now the company does in excess of $300 million and is called Pure Fishing.  Tom's main point was the leading a company to simply "build shareholder value" is wrong and ineffective over the long run.  Tom strove to make the company a good place to work, took a genuine interest in his employees and their families, and too chances challenging those around him to dream about what could be instead of limiting themselves to what's "possible". 
  3. There were 4 Tracks of break out sessions to attend.  The first track I attended was called "Writing a Business Plan to Attract Capital".  The session was presented by David Hensley of the University of Iowa.  The session gave some good information but the same I've heard for years now.  One thing that made me chuckle was the Mr. Hensley's comment about numbering business plans.  He said that once he received a "#47" business plan and that he was offended for being well down the list and very skeptical since theoretically 46 others had rejected this plan before him.  I would take the opposite approach (remember how many people gave google the boot before someone listened?)
  4. My second session was called "Branding with Sparks" and was given by Nancy Garberson of Marketing & Communication Strategies, Inc
    Now this session was VALUABLE.  The demographic of the room was tilted in the twenty-something direction due to a slew of college students...but otherwise, I'd say the balance were thirty-something and up professionals.  Guess what?  The rules and stats about "How many people know what blogs and RSS are held true!  I was clearly surprised when only a handful of people said that they actually blogged.  Only 2 people in the room knew what RSS was!  That was about the 2% that I've heard but having to explain it and what I do with it (since I was called upon) was like explaining fire to homo habilis!  Ms. Garberson spoke of YouTube (which people knew because Google is buying them), and the changing face of marketing and communications.  She kept it "marcom 101", not diving into "tagging" or really getting deep into what "blogs are"...but that was PERFECT.  I am amazed every day (and my mouth waters at the opportunity) that even many PR/Communications/Marketing firms don't know about these tools and how they are driving today's marketing efforts if you pay attention.  There was a gentlemen at this session that runs an aircraft hanger development company called Carousel Condos in Clear Lake, Iowa.  He participated in the session and answered/asked many questions posed by Ms. Garberson.  Notably, he asked, "What's a blog" and explained that he used direct mail to drive traffic to his website.  I believe that after the session and after I had an extended chat with him about blogging and what it means to connect with customers, the industry, and potential customers...he left with the spark.  That's the spark to know more and explore the foreign world of organic marketing done by having dialog with the world at large.  I'm guessing that he'll become an advocate and pro-blogger in no time.  Besides, he's just gotten his first blog link to let's all pound his site and show him what blogs do for traffic generation!
  5. I had a wonderful lunch conversation with a table full of entrepreneurs.  First, I chatted at length with Barbara Rasko of Make Mine Wine Magazine.  Her new magazine is focused on the "good life" here in Iowa and the surrounding states.  She highlights the 62 wineries here in Iowa and writes informative articles about the states viticulture and rich history of producing some of the world's finest grapes for wine production.  I brought up blogs and away we went!  She needs to build buzz and gain eyeballs so advertisers will pay her bills.  What better way than to have conversations with Iowa wine enthusiasts and watch that spread around the world.  I gave a little "Blog 201" about tagging and how searches for Iowa Wineries could be owned by her if with a little editorial effort.  She concurred and I hope she reads this entry to see what a random meeting with her meant to the blogosphere.  Again, pound her site for me so she'll see what a traffic spike 1 link means.  Also, subscribe to the magazine if you're in the Midwest and enjoy local wines like I do.  Her first issue looked beautiful.
  6. Next I met 3 guys from Defyance Watercraft.  They're building a personal watercraft that is purely electric powered.  It's a small craft and will fill the "no gas motors allowed" niche for smaller lakes.  They tell me they have an abundance of "willing prototype testers" in the wings and I'd like to add my name to the list.  They hopped on the blog conversation and we chatted about building buzz, building an audience, building a community that investors would eat up as "validating the model".  Man that was fun!  The guys are working in a garage (it still happens) and need the money to build a prototype and launch the company.  Doesn't this sound more fun than another Web 2.0 software company right now? 
  7. I also met a mom looking to re-enter the workforce after growing her child and while taking care of her ailing mother.  She said, "I don't see starting a blog anytime soon" after our group's embrace of the concept.  I countered that she's exactly the type who SHOULD be blogging...about her situation, her desire to enter the workforce, etc.  If she engaged the world in conversation through blogging and reading blogs, she may find herself sifting through offers or finding the perfect situation that she didn't know existed.  Heck, if she'd had a blog, I'd have link to her here and who knows what would happen from there?
  8. My final encounter was with Eric Branson.  He's started his own Human Resources Management firm.  He's the ideal candidate for blogging about his industry, his business, his life, etc.  People recommend and hire based on relationships.  Start engaging your world in conversation and see what happens Eric!

When lunch ended and we got up from the table, I told everyone there that, "I'd love to link to your blogs when I do my post on this event...but you don't have them, so get started on them right away!..I think it struck a chord.  It was a pleasure meeting all of you and I hope we continue the conversation(s) soon.

One final note.  Isn't it dandy to be immersed in so many people with ideas and enough chutzpah to come to a day of start up talk?  However, if you're there and pitching yourself, or just meeting people that may someday be a part of your life, have a business card! They're $30 for 1000 at Office depot but 30% of the people I met didn't have them!         

Customer Service Victory

Have you noticed that in some businesses, the goal of their "customer disservice" is to leave you "benefit neutral".  In other words, the main driving force is to leave you no better than exactly what you paid for.  Companies like this struggle to get you satisfied but to cover themselves so they don't lose anything by making you happier than you ought to be. 

I've found this model to be far more in play when things are either expensive, labor intensive, or low margin. (Example:  Car dealership...when is the last time a dealership comped the entire service and parts if they missed a deadline, made an error, or caused you a substantial inconvenience?)  I've found that companies offering high margin cheap stuff are more likely to leave you "better than when you started" if a customer service issue comes up. (EXAMPLE:  We made your latte incorrectly, here's another one and a coupon for another free one for the inconvenience.)

This past weekend my family went to see Open Season.  Start time was listed at 12:55PM.  Everyone knows that movies have about 12 minutes of commercials...but we still arrived at the door of the theater at 12:54PM as confirmed by the lobby clock.  The movie had already started.  My wife went to the front and asked if something had malfunctioned, etc.  The manager confirmed that the movie should not have started and said that refunds would be offered.  No questions were asked, and the counter worker reimbursed my family for 5 movie admissions.  We probably missed the first 5 minutes of the movie, sat through the rest of it, and were left "enhanced" by the free tickets for the future. 

This issue was handled properly.  A five ticket reimbursement is a tiny fraction of what revenues are taken in during a weekend day.  The refund made us "better than even" since we had actually seen 98% of the film we wanted to see.  I didn't even expect the refund...but it was suggested by their management.

The point is, I'm writing a positive and glowing review of the West Des Moines, Jordan Creek Town Center Century Theater right now and I'll continue to patronize them and spread the word that they care about their customers. I might even host a seminar or meeting there now.

Excellent customer service spawns positive commentary and perception.  If someone would have made a stink over this refund...I'd be aggressively attempting to dissuade everyone in my sphere of influence and beyond to avoid this place.  Whether it's $1500/day consulting...or a $6.00 movie ticket...the rules apply equally.

See how much can happen in an instant?  They probably don't even know they did something so powerful with so little thought.  In their case, policy worked properly.

Getting Attention...in Des Moines

Thank you Mike Sansone for pointing out this wonderful piece in the Wall St. Journal on the changing face of PR and "Attention Getting" in the blog era.  I promise it's worth the read.  The article points out many truths about blogging and getting noticed. 

One of the key points established in the article is that in blogging, "There's also etiquette involved. For starters, once you find an appropriate blog community, you can't just expect to jump right in and have it instantly hawk your wares or link to you. "It's like going to a dinner party," says Mr. Rubel of Edelman. "You don't just come in and start selling your product. You listen to what other people are saying and find a way into the conversation."

Very accurate.  After you've been blogging, linking, making relevant comments, trackbacks, etc...you will begin to get some "street cred" if what you have to say adds to the conversation.  My efforts (pleasures) have yielded links from a few A-List bloggers that have driven a ton of traffic to my blog.  In turn, that traffic and those links have driven a few key topics that I discuss (and my name) to first page google results.  I'm fairly confident that I could not have paid for this publicity...and it all happens between about 4:30AM and 6AM each day here at Midwest Command (home office in Des Moines)...rather than in a high priced PR firm in NYC.

Like most things in life...you must simply start doing them and seek out those who already do them well...and model their behavior to increase the velocity of your success.

The Economics of a Lost Parking Lot Ticket

I returned to Des Moines the other day and retrieved my car from the long term lot.  Much to my dismay as I reached up and pulled down the sun visor, alas there was no ticket.  This has been my spot for years and I know that I put it there when I left.  It must have slipped out and fallen on to the ground outside the car when I put it there.  That has happened once before and I noticed.

This time, I spent 10 minutes scouring the car and no luck.  I rolled up and told the attendant when I arrived and that I had lost my ticket.  She told me it was her second day on the job and the acid started building in my stomach.  Looking behind me, the cars where stacking up.  Each person had the same look that I get when you just know that the person in front of you is an idiot (no matter what the cause of the delay).  She then marshaled the resources of the only other agent on duty...yes the one that was helping the people as they bailed from my delayed line (elapsed time now 10 minutes).   

After another phone call to a supervisor, there were now 3 people in the booth trying to figure this out.  It was clear that I had to pay $9 extra for the lost ticket and they specifically said that "We know when you came in because of your license plate."  I queried them, "Why do I have to wait here while you all figure this out...since I'm willing to accept whatever charges you tell me and I'll sign off on them."  There was some nervous laughter and they kept going without excusing me.

Next, another supervisor was called in to execute the transaction. (Elapsed time 20 minutes). I was asked, "Do you have a credit card?" to which I replied, "Yes, in fact I've already given it to her." (My card  had been through some kind of old school imprinting process for people who lose their tickets).   At this point, supervisor #2 changed his tone.  He said something about me "bearing with them".  I replied that I had "bared for 20 minutes now and nothing is changing so carry on". 

Another 5 minutes later and my card was charged and the girl at the booth apologized again.  I sat there for a minute or so waiting to see what the "leadership" was going to say about my experience.  Granted I had lost my ticket...but there is a procedure for this and I was more than accommodating.  The sups just began talking amongst themselves and I drove away.

Here are some lessons:

  1. It's not very often that you delay a customer for nearly 30 minutes and that customer is not extremely angry.  (I'm cured of LA road rage and commute stress)  When you encounter such a customer, go above and beyond to treat them well.  Overcompensate and they may write a glowing review on their blog and forward it to some kind of person above them versus what you're reading now.
  2. Find a process that empowers the field level workers taking the arrows to expedite things when they are either untrained or inexperienced.  You could have sent me away and billed me later or worked out your issues on company training time, not on my time sitting at a booth while everyone else around me pays the price.
  3. You should ensure that everyone is cross-trained.  After the 3rd person entered the booth (about 4x6) I commented that they're probably violating some kind of OSHA law to which he replied, "If we can just get one more in here...we'll really look like a government operation!".  Agreed.  Only the "head guy" and the one with the least accommodating attitude about this situation knew how to get me out of there.  He wasn't rude...simply unforgiving of the situation.  Anytime someone tells me preemptively to "bear with them please sir" when I've exhibited no signs of discontent...they're need some coaching.

On to more positive things.   I made it home after an awful trip involving bad weather, circling airports, refueling in a remote Midwest airport, nearly having to sleep at O'Hare for 8 hours, and countless delays and cancellations.  That will be another post soon.

The Streets of Philadelphia

The picture below is the view from my room at the Ritz Carlton downtown Philadelphia.  I'm in town for a few days presenting at a conference.  As an infrequent visitor to this area of the country, I am always invigorated by the "buzz" and energy that comes from having big buildings, lots of people, and a million great restaurants in a small area.  I'll be more excited to get back to my wife, kids, and the pumpkin patches in Iowa...but for now, I'm enjoying the elitism.  I'll probably dine at The Capital Grille tonight and have an absinthe and a Padron 1964 at the Mahogany on Walnut Cigar Lounge.  By Wednesday, I'll be back to pork chops and apple sauce.

Boutique Cities

I was just introduced to a blog written by Ben Casnocha.  Anyone who lists Burn Rate as suggested reading on their blog is a web friend of mine :)...so nice to meet you Ben.  Also, I grew up in Glendora just to the west of your new college.  Claremont's downtown will provide you a sliver of the "feel" you probably have in SF without all of the madness (and without all of the digerati...because no matter how far up on the list LA County moves in terms of VC funding and tech start ups...it's too spread out to have tangible collection spots for these these types).  Try Winston's if you haven't already.  It's a wonderful place to have breakfast on the patio (in December).  If you ever bump into John Tulac downtown, tell him Doug Mitchell says hello.  He's a fantastic lawyer, educator, and mentor that had a massive influence on my life and my entrepreneurial spirit.

Ben recently posted a piece called The Emergence of Boutique American Cities.  His post along with the quotes he provides from Joel Kotkin do a good job of explaining this phenomenon. 

America now consists of "boutique" cities -- Boston, San Francisco, and New York City -- which house educated, elite, and wealthy residents at the exclusion of most everyone else. In boutique cities the debate is over where to put the next sushi bar, or if one neighborhood has too many coffee shops, or how condos should be regulated...not how to solve the affordable housing problem.

What boutique cities leave behind, however, is the "incubation of social mobility" that metropolises historically have provided. Houston, Charlotte, Orlando, Phoenix, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Detroit, St. Louis: all these cities are now better "aspirational cities" for middle class people. The problem is they're all trying (and failing) to become boutique cities by introducing slick cultural ammenities.

I have a much greater clarity on this subject since I executed my Geographic Arbitrage to Des Moines, Iowa from Southern California.  Des Moines is attempting to become more "boutique" (albeit at the slower Midwest pace), by renovating many of the old warehouses and complexes downtown...creating flats and condos within walking distance to downtown jobs and restaurants.  We already have the "Court Ave. District" with enough restaurants and coffee shops to support the demand. 

I believe Iowans are realistic about their slim chances to rise up among America's hot boutique cities.   We have about as much chance to become boutique as finding a cup of coffee in San Francisco for less than $1.  We still have a 3 hour a day show on the number one AM talk radio station here dedicated to AG business (that's AG for agriculture for my West Coast readers).  Heck, 30 minutes outside of the Des Moines metro you'll find only corn fields and a bit further east...the I-80 World's Largest Truck Stop. 

Unlike the boutiques...Des Moines is not full of elites and those who service them.  It contains a rich blend of wealthy folks and common folks and plenty that lie between.  The metro provides the opportunity to "move up" in life's ranks and progress from modest beginnings to the penthouse flat.  The people here in Des Moines seem comfortable with this reality.  I've mentioned before in postings that Des Moines social events often produce a collision of cultures yet all seem to blend quite well.  (The farmers don't wear overalls to the Embassy Club for the Cigar dinner and the elites don't wear suits to the state fair). 

I think a key success factor for the smaller metros today is the wide availability of broadband...making  workers "location independent" (read Karlgaard's Life 2.0 for a primer).  One can find numerous small metros now that have scaled down versions of what the big ones have.  My beautiful metro has enough to keep me and most I know satisfied.  There's upward mobility for the corporate types...and if you look, you can find the technology/start up culture.  There's probably not enough choice for true big city metro elite but I can now live in the burbs and get downtown in 15 minutes to eat in the more elite restaurants, giving no concern to traffic or crowds.  Now, if we could just get In-N-Out to come out this way.

The SECRET To Effective Outsourced Tech Support/Customer Service

The secret is......"Just give the stuff away".

After my recent rants about Dell, it's nice to post on a success story.  About a year ago, I purchased that nifty Kensington laptop power supply that provides a "2-prong adapter" at the end enabling charging for 2 devices simultaneously such as all the major laptop manufacturers, pda's, cell phones, ipod, etc.  The device is lighter than the typical laptop power source..and it eliminates the need for for the additional cords and at this point, any reduction in rats nest is a good thing.

On a business trip about 2 months ago, I lost the adapter that makes this charger/power source work in the car or on the airplane. 

I just got around to Kensington tech support asking to purchase a replacement.  Here's the net result:

Dear doug:

Thank you for contacting Kensington Technical Support.

I understand your concern. I wish to clarify you that, We can not replace the individual parts of the product. Hence, In this regard, I will go ahead and replace the entire product that is, the new power adapter with model number 33197 for you for free of cost.

Hence, I request you to please reply with your complete shipping address and daytime telephone number, with your area code. Be sure to include the apartment number, mailstop, or suite number, as well as your ZIP or Postal Code.

Wow.  Now I understand that with high margin, low price tag items, this is far easier for the manufacturer to provide...but Kensington really hit the mark here.  The rep didn't grill me about purchase date, registration, etc...she simply solved my problem (and really enhanced my position considering I'll have 2 almost completely functional devices when this is said and done.)

I believe this to be outsourced tech support since my communication was done only via on line sessions and my representative has a name that I can't place...but recognize as "non-native U.S." Besides, the rep used the word "hence", distinctly absent from most U.S. based tech support conversations. (I have to make some assumptions here).

This is the kind of ease of service and support that will make me write blog posts...and buy Kensington products from here on out.  So, without hesitation, I recommend this power supply and Kensington as a manufacturer that stands by and easily supports their products. 

Why You Should Quit Your Sales Job Soon

I know way too many people who are caught in the "Sales rep" bucket, unable to exit because they've accumulated years of experience in an area that leaves them scrapping for the next best position that pays a higher base, with less commission risk exposure, and a company car.  Don't get me wrong...everyone is in "sales" whether it's ideas, software, refrigerators, or governmental programs.  But, I've met very few sales reps in my life that are truly excited and thriving on the rejection, followup, phone calls, etc.  Almost without exception, these people tell me that they're "More of a relationship sales person that people trust and that literal or figurative "banging on doors" is unappealing.  I was that person many years back until something wonderful happened to me.  I quit my job without having another one. 

Shortly thereafter, a couple of guys with brains and vision hired me (the old sales guy) to write a business plan and help map out a strategy to take their small memory configuration software company to the next level with Venture Capital.  They were stretching the limits of what they were doing with their business...and stretching by letting me participate.  I had a 1-month contract.  "We have no more money after that Doug".

When I began, I was told, "You'll have a few weeks to get your arms around what we're doing and get something ready for submission to VC's".  I was ready to immerse and produce when the bomb was dropped that we had about 48 hours before an angel VC group was willing to hear our pitch.  48 hours later, something resembling a 12 page brain vomit landed in the angels hands and they funded us a month later. 

A post appeared a while ago that I tagged in Bloglines (soon to be google reader again for me) from Rick Segal called "Why I Like Working With Startups"  that brought a flood of memories back.  In his post, he links out to a blog called Debanter run by a woman working at a start up.  This post describes how she became an "HTML coder" for the day.  She marshaled the resources, learned what she needed to, and knocked this stuff out without hesitation.  Now that's the kind of JUICE and MOJO that makes the whole start up gig so damn fun and so addictive.  I've had to do the same thing through the years and that's what has always made my work seem like play.  There's no other environment that I can envision providing such depth and exposure to the many elements of business, success, and failure. 

This blog is an outcropping of that experience too.  12 months ago, I asked a good friend, "What's a blog".  Now sometimes I'm giving him some tidbits on how to add "widgets", etc.  (I am so far from the a-list but indulge me). 

So if you're in sales and really feel creatively crimped, attitudinally challenged, and career cropped...dump it and go find a start up that will pay you less but allow you to spread your wings and find out what you're made of. 

Recognition Is A Good Thing

Great job guys.

Here's some true street cred for the guys at Central Desktop who just made the BusinessWeek online Best of the Web 2006 list for Collaboration.  Nice work guys.  You still don't charge enough though :) 

Someone Dug Up Kosmo

Amazing! Has everyone forgotten Kosmo?  My God man.  I was just forwarded this link to a Tech Crunch announcement about LicketyShip.com, a same-day (4 hour) delivery company.

This is the most ridiculous bubble business model I've heard of since we all tried to do this about 8 years ago.  This has to be fake.  I don't care if they charge $2 or $20, this will die and money will be squandered.  I'm now going to dive in and see who put up the cash to put lipstick on this pig.

When will the announcement about the national grocery delivery model come out (I hear GM has some great deals on delivery trucks)?...and when will Lickety launch in the Des Moines market...oh yeah..just this side of NEVER.  Click here to experience exactly what I'm feeling.  Schadenfreude.

Iowa Labor Shortage Forecast

Earlier this month, an article popped up in the Mason City Globe Gazette highlighting an anticipated labor shortage in Iowa through at least 2011.  The article discusses the usual excuses for a shrinking labor pool.  But as usual, there are major inconsistencies that lend themselves to the continual propagation of this problem of "brain drain".

  1. The article brings up the point that "Companies don't want to hire older people because young college graduates are cheaper." In the same breath, the article mentions that young people leave immediately upon graduation because they want to "get out of the Midwest", make more money, etc. Which is it?
  2. The article talks about ways to solve these problems like raising the minimum wage and creating government programs to help this cause.  Wrong.   Minimum wage has nothing to do with keeping young talent and other professional jobs in the state.  Government business funding programs typically make it easier for bad ideas to get funding.  That doesn't stimulate anything but higher taxes and political football passing at election time. 
  3. What this article and the leadership of Iowa isn't getting is that they need to court those who wish to come back and bring their skills, family, and higher wage expectations to Iowa.  It's the late 20 and early 30something crowd with 2 kids that begin to crave this lifestyle after they've "seen the world" out there in the big city and found that they don't really care for it as much as they thought they would (now with their mitigating circumstances like a 120 minute commute and a 2 kids under 5). 
  4. Almost nothing is going to make people flock to Iowa.  Period.  It's wonderful and beautiful and I love it...but for this area to boom, it will take vision.  As I've mentioned plenty on my Ethanol Industry blog Ethanol Alley, a place like this must take what it can get.  Right now the humble Midwest has the chance to become the scientific leader and key producer of all things bio-fuel related.  Will we seize this chance of a generation?  I still don't believe that our leadership understands that this is Iowa's silicon valley lite opportunity.  If our state government did its job, we'd be looking at initiatives that the people would vote YES on...that would give permission to the state to plow money into the breakthroughs leading to energy independence.  How about $1 billion to start...and watch the VC money flow like wine at a 1990's dot com launch party to follow. 

To gain true perspective on what it takes to become the next Silicon Valley or even just a hot bed for job and tech growth, I suggest reading one of my favorite tech/biz essayist Paul Graham.  His piece called "How to be Silicon Valley" is a wonderful primer on this topic.  The opening paragraphs state that, "You only need two kind of people to create a technology hub:  rich people and nerds."  Do we have many of either here in Iowa?

Who Knew Cobol Was So Hip?

In my business, I deal with some big manufacturers that make very BIG stuff.  These "Old School" companies are still heavily run on an AS/400 platform.  For certain software applications to "matter" to these guys, it MUST interface via some means with the back end Unix systems.  Thus, our key to success in many cases is our ability to understand.......Cobol.  So we have a client server application, written with a VB and Access front end, a SQL Server back end, and we have Cobol jobs that create flat files that get parse in a nightly batch or some other such technical jargon.  Could we be any more removed from Web 2.0?

Back in college, I was convinced that an International Business major with a Computer Information Systems minor was the way to go.  I skipped the CIS minor...because the first class was Cobol and in my infinite wisdom, I deemed it dead in 1990.  I guess I missed that one. 

So I raise a toast to the horizontal, no IT involvement SaaS crowd.  I'm the antithesis of your models (if you have one) but doing well in a niche so often ignored these days. 

My Prime Directive

My goal in life is to teach my kids to think entrepreneurially.  Here's a link from Gaebler.com that highlights this issue.  I'm already working on my 3.5 year old.

Dell 0 - Verizon Wireless 1

I received my Dell internal Verizon Wireless EVDO mini-card and installed it with no problems.  So, anyone with a Dell XPS M1210 laptop that DID buy the A/V package but did NOT buy the internal broadband (verizon or cingular) card and wants to ad it later please order the following from Dell:

http://accessories.us.dell.com/sna/productdetail.aspx?c=us&l=en&cs=19&sku=313-4190

I've gone through the Dell Hell for you.

Now, since I already have a Verizon Wireless EVDO card (from my old laptop...and it's the PC CARD form factor which is why this all happened in the first place), I've got an unlimited account already.  How then was I going to get my old account "hooked up" to this new card?  I sent an email to our business account rep who called me and said, "Give me the ESN and I'll have it transfered."  I did and within 1 hour, I was running on the new card.  It's amazing how Verizon Wireless executed on my desires within 60 minutes and with 1 short email, yet Dell took up days and caused me incredible frustration. 

Was this solved because I had an account rep that wasn't sitting in a call center in another country reading from a script? 

It's cheaper to solve my needs by spending money on the right kind of human being versus inventing infrastructure that appears cheaper on someone's P&L.  Thanks Verizon.

Guilty As Charged - Confessions of a Start-Up Founder

Here's a great post on wasting time at a start-up.  I found it on "A Venture-Backed Start-Up Founder" blog.

I went through the list...and pretty much checked off all of them. Guilty.

The key for me was #2 - Wrote a complete business plan.  As the author of this blog mentions, it was outdated in a few weeks. 

I'm at the point where I'm convinced that putting "financials" or projections in executive summaries is  ridiculous.  If the funders cannot see that "You have something tangible, exciting, and likely to succeed based on the things you've put forth in the summary," then what's the point? And by the way...the rabid funding of web 2.0 "features" is proof that VC's still live by the same rules, biases, etc. that produce e-bay auctions for companies.

I've been booted from funding round tables before for being "realistic" with numbers and outlook.  The funders are putting money and faith into YOU and your TEAM to figure out the best path to the big bucks.  In most EVERY case, your revenue model will change by the time you have a real business.  I'd rather see someone explain that they expect this and embrace this than to see the usual (and you all know what I'm talking about), "We're going to make $250k, $1mil, $3 mil, $7mil, then $20 mil"  in the coming 5 years."

I will be submitting an executive summary soon to a few small funding groups.  I'll share the feedback since I'm taking the,

"Look, here's the reality with what I'm trying to accomplish and in this early stage in the game, I'm asking you to bet on the come line here and believe that there's enough here to fund without me laying out a yellow brick road to 10x return in 36 months,"

approach.  In other words, I'm trying to sell me....and the value of this idea and future potential without professing to know EXACTLY how things will be in 3, 24, or 60 months from now...but that I'm capable of handling them.

Dell Support Rant Part Deux

Oh boy.  It's getting better.  I am posting the entire chat log from my session with an online "Dell Sales Specialist.  I realize this is a lot to read.  What I'd like you to notice is the escalation, the sheer dumbfoundedness with which I respond, the anger beginning to build, and then magically, the "reboot" to another person. Also, note the time that I was online chatting...most of which was spent sitting there doing nothing.  In the end, I went to bed.

I will gladly tell you that at the end of this, I did receive an email giving me the answer that although no part number exists anywhere in Dell'dom for what I need apparently, that it's the exact same thing as another part.  I've ordered it and expect to attempt the installation tomorrow. 

Please Dell, learn from this.  I just don't get how "most people" are satsified with this junk "support".  I was TRYING TO BUY SOMETHING and no one could even let me spend money with you.  I'd pick another computer manufacturer if I believed things would be different with them.  What is the world coming to.

Argh


09/04/2006 08:32:57PM    Session Started with Agent (Mohammed_0195418)
09/04/2006 08:33:07PM    Agent (Mohammed_0195418): "Thank you for contacting Dell XPS Premium Support. My name is Mohammed_Alam and my rep. id. is 95418. May I have your area code and telephone number ?"

09/04/2006 08:33:15PM    doug mitchell: "714357xxxx"

09/04/2006 08:33:18PM    Agent (Mohammed_0195418): "Hi Doug, how are you doing ?"

09/04/2006 08:33:44PM    doug mitchell: "i'm fine thanks. u"

09/04/2006 08:34:03PM    Agent (Mohammed_0195418): "You're welcome."

09/04/2006 08:35:05PM    Agent (Mohammed_0195418): "How may I help you today ?"

09/04/2006 08:35:38PM doug mitchell: "i have an xps m1210, with AV package and i want the broadband mini card for verizon wireless. i cannot find this part at all on any dell site to order. when i configure a new xps m1210 online, and select this option, i get part number 313-4223 or produc"
09/04/2006 08:36:07PM doug mitchell: "i cannot locate these part numbers or product codes anywhere on dell.com"
09/04/2006 08:36:38PM doug mitchell: "only when i configure a new machine. so whatever the part number i want the internal mini -card for verizon wireless that works in the m1210"
09/04/2006 08:36:59PM Agent (Mohammed_0195418): "You may call Dell Sales at 800 999 3355 and purchase it on phone."
09/04/2006 08:37:59PM doug mitchell: "i tried that, but they said that an "internal card is not available...but i can buy the express card (external). i think they're wrong so i don't exactly have faith in that solution."
09/04/2006 08:39:17PM Agent (Mohammed_0195418): "You want to buy internal wireless card, correct ?"
09/04/2006 08:39:33PM doug mitchell: "yes."
09/04/2006 08:40:27PM doug mitchell: "they're closed at that number right now anyway."
09/04/2006 08:40:35PM doug mitchell: "i'd like to buy this now, online."
09/04/2006 08:41:40PM Agent (Mohammed_0195418): "Please give me sometime, let me try my luck :)" 09/04/2006 08:42:18PM doug mitchell: "ok."
09/04/2006 08:42:57PM doug mitchell: "if u can end up sending me the link to the right part, i'll buy it now."
09/04/2006 08:44:52PM doug mitchell: "i'll be right back so please don't disconnect, just have to run upstairs."
09/04/2006 08:44:58PM Agent (Mohammed_0195418): "Sure,"
09/04/2006 08:47:18PM doug mitchell: "back"
09/04/2006 08:47:25PM Agent (Mohammed_0195418): "Dough I see that you already have an Internal Wireless card."
09/04/2006 08:48:22PM doug mitchell: "i have the 802.11g wireless card for wireless lan...but i don't ahve the broadband verizon wireless card"
09/04/2006 08:49:22PM Agent (Mohammed_0195418): "Are you talking about wireless Express card that goes into the side of the computer ?"
09/04/2006 08:50:49PM doug mitchell: "ok. here's my very first sentence again."
09/04/2006 08:50:51PM doug mitchell: "i have an xps m1210, with AV package and i want the broadband mini card for verizon wireless. i cannot find this part at all on any dell site to order. when i configure a new xps m1210 online, and select this option, i get part number 313-4223 or product"
09/04/2006 08:51:48PM doug mitchell: "mini card is the internal mobile broadband solution offered by dell with its partner, verizon. the express card is the external version of this.. i don't want that."
09/04/2006 08:52:35PM Agent (Mohammed_0195418): "That's what you have, I'll tell you the card name, please give me a minute."
09/04/2006 08:53:39PM doug mitchell: "my boss bought 2 m1210's on the same order i believe. his has the card, mine doesn't."
09/04/2006 08:54:13PM doug mitchell: "125hkb1 is my service tag"
09/04/2006 08:54:51PM Agent (Mohammed_0195418): "Please give me the Express Service Code from the bottom of your system."
09/04/2006 08:55:29PM doug mitchell: "2306932237"
09/04/2006 08:57:46PM Agent (Mohammed_0195418): "Please right click on My Computer icon, go to Propertise, Hardware tab, Device Manager, Network Adapters and tell me what you see under Network Adapters."
09/04/2006 08:59:19PM doug mitchell: "1394 adapter"
09/04/2006 08:59:34PM doug mitchell: "broadcom 440x 10/100 integrated controller"
09/04/2006 08:59:51PM doug mitchell: "intel pro /wireless 3945abg network connection"
09/04/2006 09:00:02PM doug mitchell: "that's it"
09/04/2006 09:00:26PM Agent (Mohammed_0195418): "OK"
09/04/2006 09:02:13PM Agent (Mohammed_0195418): "Are you talking about PCMCIA card ?"
09/04/2006 09:04:42PM Agent (Mohammed_0195418): "What will you do with the card that you want ?"
09/04/2006 09:04:48PM doug mitchell: "sir. how much more clear can i be. this machine takes EXTERNAL pc express cards (available directly from verizon wireless and thus, i wouldn't have to call u)"
09/04/2006 09:05:38PM doug mitchell: "this laptop doesn't take "pc cards" or "pcmcia cards" it takes the smaller pc express style cards. i want the INTERNAL 5700 MOBILE BROADBAND option that dell sells with this model of laptop."
09/04/2006 09:06:30PM doug mitchell: "i've given the part number 313-4223 that dell uses on it's own web site."
09/04/2006 09:06:53PM Agent (Mohammed_0195418): "Please give me somemore time."
09/04/2006 09:06:59PM doug mitchell: "is this part not available? is it a different part # for new configurations versus upgrades?"
09/04/2006 09:10:47PM Agent (Mohammed_0195418): "Please give me somemore time Doug, I am looking for the card in the website."
09/04/2006 09:11:40PM doug mitchell: "good luck. i cannot find it. there are 4 parts listed when u drill down. none of them have the right partner number, and none list the XPS as being "compatible""
09/04/2006 09:25:59PM doug mitchell: "anything?"
09/04/2006 09:28:42PM Agent (Mohammed_0195418): "I need some more time please however may I know if you have a camera on the system ?"
09/04/2006 09:29:39PM doug mitchell: "yes. again. i'll refer to sentence 1. i have an xps m1210, with AV package. The AV package has the camera."
09/04/2006 09:30:20PM Agent (Mohammed_0195418): "Oh yes, you told me that earlier, I am sorry."
09/04/2006 09:42:33PM Agent (Mohammed_0195418): "Doug I need some more time please, I am still searching for the part on the website."
09/04/2006 09:43:07PM doug mitchell: "That' s fine...but I really need to go to bed. it's been over 1:15 on this session. can u please just keep me connected and get me an answer. i'll check back in the morning. thanks but i just can't stay on here anymore."
09/04/2006 09:44:34PM Agent (Mohammed_0195418): "OK"
09/04/2006 10:30:25PM Session Started with Agent (Hemanth_0178831)
09/04/2006 10:30:53PM Agent (Hemanth_0178831): "Thank you for contacting Dell XPS Premium Technical Support. My name is Hemanth and Rep Id is 78831 ."
09/04/2006 10:30:53PM Agent (Hemanth_0178831): "May I have your telephone number, along with the area code?"
09/04/2006 10:34:03PM Agent (Hemanth_0178831): "Doug , Are we connected ?"
09/04/2006 10:35:30PM Agent (Hemanth_0178831): "As there is no response , I will be ending this chat session. If you need additional support, please contact us at http://www.support.dell.com. We will be more than happy to assist you."
09/04/2006 10:35:43PM Agent (Hemanth_0178831): "Thank you for contacting DELL XPS Premium Technical Support and allowing me the opportunity to assist you. If you still feel that there are additional DELL Hardware related concerns that need to be addressed, please contact us again at 1-800-624-9896 or C"
09/04/2006 10:35:44PM Session Ended

Potent Advice on Anti-Teamwork

A great piece showed up on Tom Evslin's blog Fractals of Change titled, "When NOT to be a team player".

Evslin shares how teamwork in the wrong context ultimately leads to appeasement, lack of progress, and potential disaster.  One of my favorite quotes appears too,

Winston Churchill wrote: “Why, you may take the most gallant sailor, the most intrepid airman or the most audacious soldier, put them at a table together – what do you get? The sum of all their fears.”


Dell Customer Support Rant..and Recovery

OK.  I bought a Dell Axim X50v sometime ago.  That's the pocket PC PDA with wi-fi, etc. I bought the blue tooth gps navigation kit with it.  During a company office move, my navigation CD set was misplaced.  I started online with tech support.  I was referred to spare parts after a day or so.  Spare parts informed me that these are not available anymore, but "good news, they're available online".  I had looked online for the software but I knew somehow that Dell wouldn't put $99 navigation map data up there for all to grab.  I forgot about my logical conclusion and listened to the rep, ended the call, and went back to dell's site.  I found the European map installer program only with no map data.  I'm not kidding here. 

I called back and after speaking with spare parts and explaining my situation, I was told I needed to speak with tech support.  (Mind you that's where I started).  I explained the situation after 26 minutes on hold to a nice person who informed me that my Axim was out of warranty...but asked what he could do. 

He came back online and said, "We don't normally do this with something that's so far out of warranty, (Feb 2006 expiration) but since these CD's aren't really available and (authors interpretation here) you'd be totally screwed and have to buy another GPS navigation accessory kit at $179 each anyway, I'm going to just send some to you, please give me your address, etc.

Great recovery Dell.  The only issue I take here is that it took me about 1.5 hours of jacking around with emails, on-holds, explanations, call backs, and re-routes to get to the bottom of my issue.  My issue was the same throughout.  I need CD's that came with the device that I don't have anymore.  My product is registered and I'm not trying to get anything for free that I didn't already own.  I started with tech support since I didn't need spare parts but I can appreciate how they made that connection.  The original email reply I received was full of praise and language that is intended to make me feel very wanted, needed, and loved by Dell.

Thank you for choosing Dell! I will be your point of contact until your issue is resolved in its entirety.  If you have any questions during the course of our correspondence, simply reply to this message and I will do everything I can to provide you with an answer to your question(s).

I have received your request, and though I am unable to assist you directly with your request, I ask that you please contact our spare parts department to resolve your issue.  Again, I'm sorry about any delays that this may be causing. Please respond to this email directly with any questions you may have, or if you need any further assistance.

Spare parts: 1-800-357-3355, extension: 7269938.

I value you as a Dell customer and your satisfaction is important to me.  Please take a moment of your time to let Dell know how I am doing as you may receive a survey requesting your feedback pertaining to the level of customer service I've provided you today.

Thank you for contacting the ABU Sales Support  specialty queue.

Please let me know if there is anything further I am able to do to assist you in the resolution of your issue. 

What they could have done further to resolve the issue...was to resolve the issue.  By the way, the first few people I spoke with...I perceive to be outsourced.  There was no language barrier..but there was an "able to get things done without following the script" problem.  The technical support person had a freedom and flexibility to get things done...and he did.



Sharepoint Wiped

The following is an email I received about 20 minutes ago.

We are going to convert Sharepoint1 into a workstation. Please backup/save any work or data needed from the server by Wednesday 8/30/06.

I've been using CentralDesktop for a year now without IT departments and servers to support it. 

Dinosaur heads just exploded.  SaaS       



What do toilet seats and Mark Cuban have in common?

About 5 years ago now, I started hearing joyous praises from a friend of mine concerning a product he'd procured from Ebay.  He'd purchased a bidet...not some elaborate "second sink" mind you, this was the Japanese style "Toilet Seat Replacement Style Bidet".  Around our group of friends, this was quite a humorous endeavor.  There was all kinds of awkward conversation, laughs, and people emerging from the bathroom with damp pants because they turned the knob "just to see what would happen".  But nearly everyone that..."used it"...came out with a pleased look and quietly asked me "How much is that thing?"

I on the other hand, went on line, bought one, and then contacted the distributor to begin the process of reselling these marvels on my own.  Within a few weeks, I was up and running at Bidets Direct.  My friends and family laughed at my garage full of bidets for resale.  I even emailed the popular Kevin and Bean show in Los Angeles about these devices and within 24 hours, I was being interviewed on the radio about them.  The interview was a decent into the most graphic bathroom humor you can get away with on the air, but that's the style of the show and I adapted (pretty easily).  My phone rang off the hook after that interview for about 30 minutes when I gave out the number 1-800-2-WASH-ME (true but please don't call since I have no idea who has this number now).

I realized quickly that in America, we don't really talk about "The Bathroom".  I found it odd that something that everyone does (using toilet paper) hadn't really been improved since we replaced soviet style sand paper with soft Charmin.    I was ahead of the curve and going to develop an elaborate e-commerce site, etc.  I marketed at swap meets and made a few sales to friends and family but without full time dedication and the sticktuitiveness to literally "Educate the US market" in this technology and process, I let the business fade.  Never ONCE did I consider seeking venture capital for this business. 

Down deep in the core of my business heart, I knew this was going to take off here in the U.S.  It must right?  Research had been released that showed over 60% of Americans "Use some form of wet wipe" in the bathroom.  Ads were appearing more frequently in magazines for bidets.  I thought that if I brought a moderately priced device that Americans would gobble it up.  I did not push through to see if my theories were true.

Now, yesterday, I get an email from Business Lit that brings my attention to an article in the Wall St. Journal called "High Technology, Enthroned".  The piece talks about how bidets have become the high tech device de jour in Silicon Valley.  (They've yet to reach that status in Ethanol Alley)  The article has some very good descriptions of how toilet seat replacement bidets work and a really cool 3-D picture that's quite educational.

Also mentioned in the piece is the Silicon Valley company called Brondell who believed they could "Make a better bidet".  To execute on this vision, they sought out funding and low and behold, Mark Cuban invested in the firm.  I wonder if Mark has had these installed in the Dallas Maverick's locker room? 

This article brought home a few points that have been consistent themes in my life so I had a little conversation with me that I'd like to share with...you.

1.  I really can visualize how markets will develop, spot trends, and predict future buying behavior.  This is about the Nth time I've seen "my idea" develop out into a viable and profitable business" before my eyes.  REALIZATION:  You had the vision but didn't have the guts, skill, or entrepreneurial craziness to execute on your idea.  Therefore, find the right people early in your ventures.  Align with more people who will execute on your strategic vision.

2. There are a million excuses I can offer up for why I haven't executed on one of these ideas:  kids, risk/reward, lack of steady income, etc.  But you don't need to justify why you didn't do it, rather appreciate what you DID do...and if the situation is right, you'll pull the trigger and wont look back.  That was then, this is now...and I'm cool with that.

3.  You really do know how to generate buzz and free PR...and you can make people listen when you write.  You thrive on blindly contacting people who realize that they must meet you because you have a passion and understanding of their businesses that they usually don't see...FROM ANYONE else but themselves.

4.  Nothing is unworthy of funding.  I never looked for money to turn my vision into reality, but maybe I should have.  Sure I wasn't looking to create a new bidet or manufacture a product...but I believe I could have created the number one on line shopping site for bidets and perhaps could have made sure that a bidet was in every new high end home ever built, or placed very well at Lowe's home remodel center.

5.  It's really all about sales.  Finding a key mad dog sales person that will call the world to spread the gospel is really what I needed in most of my ventures.

I'm really not sure how this post morphed from bathroom talk to life and business lessons...but isn't that what's it's all about?  My wife often tells me, "You think too much" but I think it's quite valuable to sit and attempt to connect strangely dissimilar dots along life's continuum.  Do you think this is fodder for a TV pilot? (A little Quantum Leap...a little Apprentice)  OK, I'll be back, I've got to make some calls!

Please! Market To Me!

I've gotten 3 letters in the mail from a local Personal Trainer who runs one of those "One on One" training  franchises that tout personal attention, etc.  Each letter, is very well constructed, and calls me to action.  However, like much of the marketing that I receive, it doesn't offer me my preferred channel...a web site or email address.  This could be by design.  I really don't care.  I just know that I'm going to take the approach that I always do when this happens and inform the sender that I'd be interested in their services if they'd market to me the way I want to be marketed too.  Of course I hopped on Google anyway and found them and there was even an email address to reach them.  Why wasn't this contained within the direct mail piece?  Their letter talks about the hectic nature of life, the time demands put on us during the summer months, etc.  Correct.  I'm actually quite busy so I'd like to see what your tone is like and what you say by pinging you via email first. 

Have you ever received an email or been offered an RSS feed with specials or "Client only invitations" for the golf course, spa, or haircut salon (barber) you frequent?  I haven't.  I'm pretty certain that I've signed up a few times for things...but I don't receive jack.  Most frequently, I never get asked how I'd like to be marketed to.  A big mistake for small businesses considering that I'm an uber-evangelist when I'm passionate about a product or service.  I'm positive I've never received an SMS message offering me a coupon for a discounted round if I play "Tomorrow between 4PM and 8PM".  I'd be willing to receive that...but no one has asked. 

I'm exactly the demographic that about 500 businesses in my area would like to see drop disposable income on their heads.  Right now, a minuscule percentage of them have figured out how to separate me from the green.  I still use the places that don't market to me...but they usually end up as clients.

End of An Era: Will In-N-Out Expand More Rapidly Now?

Esther Snyder (1920-2006) was the co-founder of In-N-Out burger, the enigmatic hamburger chain that drives even sensible people to pack cold Double-Double's on a plane to share with their Southwestern Expatriate friends and relatives.  (The farthest I've heard of in my experience is LA to Birmingham)

The company began humbly in 1948 in Baldwin Park, California.  The chain has kept its menu small and its growth limited, for all of these years.  Estimated revenues of this closely held private company for 2005 are $350 million.  In-N-Out only has 202 restaurants in CA, NV, and AZ.  More aggressive leadership could certainly have exposed this company nationally reaping billions in revenue. 

Will new leadership blow up this brand into the global powerhouse that it could be...or will the company continue to grow organically with zero debt, highly paid employees, and spotless restaurants?  I believe that with the right leadership in place, companies can build out rapidly with great success while maintaining values and brand (and company ownership, ie no franchising)

I'm thinking that human nature will ultimately get the board to vote to take the company public, sell it to another larger brand, and cash out the top brass who've "endured" nearly 60 years of being "held back" by the old guard.  This company has avoided growth for simplicity and debt avoidance.  Are we copying this mode today with organically grown web 2.0 companies?  Remember that Seth Godin has written a whole book called,  "Small Is The New Big".  I tend to agree.

I had a ConverStation with Mike Sansone

Today I attended a very informative workshop put on by Mike Sansone of ConverStations.com.
A fellow Des Moines'er (Des Moinesian, Des Moinesite), Mike guided our group through the basics of blogging for business in a very upbeat way.  The group ranged from "What's a blog" types to those fairly adept at the blogging world.

What struck me was that among this random sample of people, about 90% responded that "They have blogged before".  That's pretty good and I got the sense that much of this blogging effort was family oriented, picture posting, etc.  When asked what RSS feeds were, about 10% raised their hands.  This part blew me away.  After thinking about it though, that's how my "blog knowledge progression" worked.  Start blogging first...then start making it easier for people to find you, then start building a library of RSS feeds that "feed my quest" for knowledge and community. 

The power of RSS feeds (versus email, etc.) is early in its power curve but quite frankly if a site doesn't provide me the means to subscribe to a feed to get what I want, when I want it, I almost always pass on it.  I do let the tech heads/webmasters at these sites know that they're missing a chance to own my attention..but I rarely get a response.

I had a chance to share some of my blogging experience with the group and to see some attendees "totally blown away" by what they heard.  It's tough to realize (deal with, accept, comprehend) in about 120 minutes that you MUST understand a new paradigm or technology to compete in the today's business climate.  I'm pretty certain that most attendees will engage Mike to assist them in their endeavors to become dynamic, relevant, and find-able.

Top 10 Things Bono's Elevation Partners Investment in Forbes Means

What are the top 8 guesses (I couldn't come up with 10) as to what this investment means for Forbes/Elevation partners?  Following are mine:

1. Really good seats at concerts for Forbes folks.
2. Bono gets a column to further his business/government can end poverty if it wants to cause.
3  Group name becomes U2: by Forbes.
4. Bono uses Steve Forbes political clout to run for President as an independent in 2012.
5. New web property called FORBONO.org  (it's available good luck)
6. Bono and Karlgaard fly around together on U2's jet and promote Ireland as a great place to practice geographic arbitrage.
7. Bono does the restaurant reviews for Steve Forbes in the first section of the magazine but he only goes to Tir Na Nog and reviews Guinness and Shepherd's Pie.
8. Forbes edition iPOD's that come pre-loaded with pod-casts and videos of business news and "How to dismantle an atomic bomb"...with special bonus track, "How nuclear power will save the world."

Any pithy things to add?  Please comment.

I Didn't Know Bono Was a VC

Wow.  Found this on the B2DAY blog.  Apparently, Bono is a partner in Elevation Partners, a private equity firm.  Now, Elevation has bought a stake in Forbes (as in the magazine/web properties).  As a rabid U2 fan, I'm intrigued.

      

How I Affected a Car Company's Top Line

My friend and I were chatting a few weeks ago.  He told me that he'd been in a car accident and now needed to buy a new car.  He had his preferences and biases...built up through the years of driving friend's new cars while he patiently drove a paid off "sensible car".  He mentioned that he was looking at the Infinity G35 and the Avalon. 

I mentioned that I had done the research on the Hyundai Azera, the new flagship luxury sedan in their lineup.  I had looked at the Azera and would own one today if not for Hyundai's complete misunderstanding of leasing (my tax/business preference)...and the salesperson's numbness to reality. 

My friend drove the Azera and bought it.... while only 24 hours earlier, he'd planned to keep driving his paid off sensible machine indefinitely.  In the instant when is buyer is ready, evangelists play a key role in making a difference in the numbers.  Had I not mentioned the Azera, odds are, the dealer would have one more unit on the lot.   

Keep an active team of evangelists alive and operating for you so in that buying moment...that you are the chosen one.       

Another NASCAR Home Run

NASCAR is quite possibly the greatest marketing vehicle of all time. Read this piece in the Hollywood Reporter and you'll understand.  It highlights the marketing and product placement coming up in the Will Farrell flick, "Talladega Nights:  The Ballad of Ricky Bobby"

If you think NASCAR is for rednecks, think again.  It's a massive marketing juggernaut that's willing to liberate big dollars from the wallets of those wearing tank tops or top hats.  After seeing this movie, everyone is going to smell like Old Spice...and I'm going to have to switch back to High Karate.

What The Dot Com Implosion Taught Today's Startups

Start ups are a lot smarter today.  People are still cranking out features disguised as products, but by and large, they're not raising $150 million to create a profitless new wheel.  A key lesson we seemed to figure out was that staffing too much and too early is a disaster.  A great post appeared today on the Feld Thoughts Blog highlighting this issue. My experience with a moderately successful start up during the late 90's reminds me that people have figured a few more things out today that if nothing else, extends their company's longevity.

  1. Small is good.  Small is cool.  Now with "Web 2.0" technologies, etc., people can be Two Guys In A Garage, Inc. and get a lot of software written in a short time.  It's a badge of honor to say that, "It's just me and my buddy."   Back in 1997, I was mocked because I hadn't yet hired 20 people to eat snacks at my expense.
  2. Don't lavish stupid things on your employees.  Diet Cokes are fine but spending tons of cash on feeding underpaid staffers, giving them massages, etc. is ridiculous.  It's far more wise to spend that money on a company that will professionally value your business, audit your books, or pay that super expensive CEO that will push the founders beyond the boundaries of their "baby".
  3. Don't lose money.  I actually had a VC dude stroll through my booth at Comdex (ancient history now) and say, "So how much are you burning per month?"  My response was something like, "Well, we're getting closer to break even now and we have 7 people."  He chuckled and said, "You're NOT BURNING ENOUGH to be considered by us.  If you're not burning at least $100k per month, forget it."  It didn't make sense then or now...but frame it in the times of WebVan and Kozmo and it will make sense.
  4. Control your direction.  I have some very smart friends running a company now that have controlled their destiny this time around by shunning the side projects, features, and customization that would lead to a new business model that is labor intensive and support driven.  Their top line would probably have some bigger names and a few more zeros...but it's still a couple guys, some contract help, and a killer app.  Smart.  If you don't want to become a professional services firm...don't offer them.
  5. Your address and office image don't matter much.  I recall having prolonged discussions with developers who were begging to move so we could "Attract the right person," and that "No one is gonna take this job because our office looks like crap."  We had the cheapest space in the best zip code.  It was ugly but you know what, it probably saved our collectively payroll butt more than once since rent was minuscule.  Now I proudly share an office with the UPS Store.  I'm in the "Business District" and have my own suite..(and I go there once a day to pick up my mail) shhhhhhhhhhhhh.
  6. Blue blazers are still cool.  Sorry.  I went to so many functions that I literally wore out a few of those things.  They're cheap and simply hanging one on a rack in your office will allow you to fit in most anywhere if you maintain at least a business casual foundation. There's still nothing wrong with being the best dressed person in a room.  No matter what, that commands respect and says, "I took the time to look good." Of course you need the substance, but combine substance and nice suit and people listen.  (It doesn't hurt to have gray hair too)

I'm sure I'll find more of these lessons down the road that I've skipped so feel free to add. 

They don't even know they're behind

This is a great post forwarded to me by my good friend at BusinessLit

How to make a corporate butt pucker

The piece highlights big corporate insulated attitude and infrastructure that keeps it from realizing that it's irrelevant. I actually think that you start to experience a shift toward big corporate mentality far earlier in a company's lifespan upon reaching a certain level of employees.  It doesn't take being a billion dollar behemoth to think you're smarter, stronger, and faster than everyone else.  Remember, there's a guy who hasn't showered or consumed anything but pizza, diet coke, and skittles for the last 72 hours straight with your face on the wall....and he's shooting virtual arrows between your eyes.  Sleep well.

Finding Another Mentor, A Tactic I'm Considering

By utilizing mentors, I firmly believe that one can accelerate his or her success by an order of magnitude. All of the gurus tout this of course.  Mentoring, modeling, mimicking, etc.  I have a fantastically successful mentor who's provided me with insight and feedback that has either confirmed that I'm on the right track or opened my mind to out of the box opportunities.  Now, I'd like to accelerate my real estate investment knowledge.  I've taken classes, done programs, assembled a small "team of experts" to accelerate my learning, but I'd like to take a quantum leap here.  I'd like to go ballistic and shoot for the moon with commercial real estate as well.

I'm considering placing a full page ad in the newspaper (Des Moines has 1 big publication) and/or in the local Chamber of Commerce newspaper soliciting interviews to fulfill this role.  Is it worth the money? I think so.  My thinking is that $X,XXX is recoverable in one deal.  A total brain/habit/formula download from a fantastically successful person is priceless.  I could become more active in the Chamber, get to know more people, and spend months researching this.  Or I can roll the dice that the word will get out to the right person.

I'm anxious to hear opinions on this. 

Shut up and get out of your own way

No doubt plenty is written daily about how you should listen to your customers because they pay your bills, etc. In the last few weeks, I've gleaned more concentrated knowledge nuggets than I have in a long time, by listening to my customers.  I've been able to add a couple simple features (minutes of programming) that have a massive perceived value to my customer (ability to track errors with a check box or pick list).  My customers were telling me "if we could only do XYX then we could redeploy 3 people to more productive work".  I spent over 2 hours going through the what ifs and turning them into deliverables.  By the end of the meeting, I had a clear pathway to a ton more revenue and 6 figure savings for my client.  "You had me at what if," one of the team members said jokingly afterward. 

Listen, and someone may tell you how to make a fortune and become revered company wide (or industry wide).  Forget your features.  Forget what YOU think is cool.  Shut up and ask open ended questions because people WANT to have you solve things for them.  Putting yourself in the box of what exists today is failure.  Look at what businesses are faced with today .  Literally, there's almost no business that's safe from obsolescence within 18 months.  Bleed with your customers and shift their minds to what can exist and the likelihood that even their best ideas will likely be worthless in a short period of time.  How many solutions solve 100% of the problem?  None in case you're wondering, but demonstrate a path that shows how today's problems may become tomorrow's solutions if you can adapt.

My Forensic Real Estate Investigation

Recently, I located what appears to be a vacant house in a very nice neighborhood in which I'd like to procure rental properties.  The landscaping has been unkempt for sometime and there's no movement in and around the house whatsoever for weeks now.  So, I moved in for the kill.  The neighbor told me that, "The woman who owned it got married and moved to California (how ironic for me) and that when she did, this place went downhill."  It seems that it had been vacant for over 2 years.  Initial research proved that this property had been listed for sale 3 different times.  Each time, the listing price went up (weird but my assumption is that they kept pulling out equity as the value crept and raised the asking price to recpature).  The longer it sat, the more they raised the price it seems.  My realtor friend provided me the past listing details including number of days on market, listing agent, etc.

(LESSON 1:  Have an agent friend). 

These listings along with the county assessors site provided me with an owners name.  Additionally, the county site provided me a scanned image of a quit claim deed from San Bernardino County CA that a woman, listing her maiden and married names, quit claiming the Iowa house to her spouse. 

(LESSON 2:  Exploit publicly available records for free)

Next I took the names and used free Internet searches to locate the husband and wife.  I had assumed a divorce since she quit claimed to him and listed an AKA name...and my suspicion proved correct.  I reached the owner who is still living in CA via phone.  He provided a name and number of a family member that has a key to let us into the property. 

Here's the killer, the guy owes $138k on a property that is only worth about $100k (best guess).  He's letting it get foreclosed upon since there doesn't seem to be a way out.  It would sell for $150k if it were up to speed for the neighborhood. 

(LESSON 3:  Following the paper trail through the investigation makes one feel like a private investigator...and that feels good)

I could give up now...but I've contacted my real estate teacher/mentor about creative possibilities to see if there's SOMETHING that can be done here.  I think the worst case scenario here is that I can follow this property through to foreclosure and/or sheriff sale. 

All of this research and exploration took about 10 minutes.  The power of the internet for real estate investors is immeasurable.

Web 2.0 definitions are copious

I'll hop in and take my shot at defining Web 2.0 like Diane Ensey did on the Do Real Time Blog today.

Web 2.0 is a bunch of web based software features masquerading as companies trying to carve out a niche as the world abandons installed software and moves to completely on-demand world that reflects the real world business of today. 

Expanded version would include the following
: Web 2.0 is the outgrowth of the failed dot com era where hundreds of billions were spent on trying to create companies and business models while ignoring certain realities.  These realities have been confronted today so most Web 2.0 companies must prove themselves by bootstrapping and proving their worth before receiving large sums of institutional money.  Like most businesses, Web 2.0 companies want to make it big and get the brass ring but they don't know how since many shun the "Enterprise" and believe that if they build it...the enterprise will come.  Those that have bridged the gap into the enterprise have opted to customize and focus in a vertical to gain traction and get big revenue dollars..exactly the opposite of what Web 2.0 purism is all about.

Business Week on Web 2.0

The blogsphere is chiming in on this Business Week piece from June 5 called, Web 2.0 Has Corporate America Spinning.
The article does a good job of laying out the "big picture".  Honestly, I think it's the best mass consumer oriented article I've read on this subject.

I think we're finally seeing corporate eyes opening "for the first time".  Elimination off the layering between idea and reality seems to be catching on.   The shunning of multi-million dollar solutions (or even six figure solutions) will become more prevalent.

I know of a local Des Moines company who spent a lot of time, resource, and cash deploying an intranet solution that is marginal at best and not used.  With a little bit of assistance (and almost no behind the scenes tech knowledge), I could deploy an intranet with team collaboration, wiki, knowledge base, event tracking, project management,  and have nearly total adoption in about 3 days if given the chance.  All of this would be accomplished while the IT department was having an off-site about Sharepoint.

Eggers at the QuickBase blog says, "Home Depot is the Do-It-Yourselfers Warehouse. They staff with special folks with applicable experience and helpful attitudes. Our Application Specialists, who work with prospects during trial, and our Customer Advocates, who work with customers, were all chosen based on this kind of mix... applicable experience and helpful attitudes. And, we have a "teach to fish" approach to our work with prospects and clients."

This is the kind of attitude and approach that will bridge the gap between hyped up Web 2.0 noise and Enterprise 2.0 applications.  Unfortunately, I still believe that price points must be arbitrarily bumped by 500% to get the enterprise interested.  It will get easier to have discussions executives about how a $1000/mo solution can run a division but for now, they must pay more to give you respect. 

Another key idea comes at the end of the article. 

All that's going to require more than slick technology. Executives, long used to ruling from the top of the corporate hierarchy, will have to learn a new skill: humility. "Companies that are extremely hierarchical have trouble adapting," says Tim O'Reilly, CEO of tech book publisher O'Reilly Media, which runs the annual Web 2.0 Conference "They'll be outperformed by companies that don't work that way." Ultimately, taking full advantage of Web 2.0 may require -- get ready -- Management 2.0.

Exactly.  Guys and girls who are in their 30's (and prematurely gray in my case) are leading this software evolution.  We were kids in a playground during the 90's and we've emerged with an understanding and seriousness about value, ROI, ridiculous corporate culture, IT waste, simplicity, and the farce of multi-tasking.  We're fishing right now and bootstrapping ideas (most of which are simply features that will become part of the collective)...so we can determine how to manage the companies that we'll all be in charge of down the road.   

We're really figuring out how to manage change and the pace of business we see unfolding before our eyes and web 2.0 is merely an exercise.

Are The CEO's ready for Enterprise 2.0

Ross Mayfield of Socialtext thinks so.  There's a great piece called CEO's Guide to Enterprise 2.0 that I just perused on his blog.

The net net:
CEO's are ready to use the software, goodies, and communication mediums that SMB's have been gorging on for the last few years, i.e. collaboration, wiki, blog, blah blah...if someone could actually adapt them and explain them to the enterprise effectively...and charge a ton more for them. 

I only take issue with the last sentence of the article, "The point being, CEOs are ready for the shift, but need to work with vendors who have adapted social software for the enterprise within security requirements."

Security requirements?  I understand ...but these days, anything hosted will largely avoid a stolen laptop containing a database of personal, customer, and corporate data better than anything.  Aren't we having the "I don't mind giving my VISA card to Joe Schmo at Le Cirque but I will NOT use that 128 bit encryption stuff on the web" discussion?


Will The Enterprise Beam These Guys Up?

The current hoard of open source and web applications available "on-demand" for a few bucks a month represents the changing face of corporate America, i.e. "The Enterprise".  Understandably, the enterprise doesn't go adopting Two Guys In A Garage Software, LLC products only to have the solution crash the next because Ingo didn't restart the server in Norway last night after his most recent code drop.

Typically, the Enterprise will opt for very expensive solutions that crash nearly as often but take a highly staffed and trained IT staff to support.  At least there's a big manual right?  I will not dare suggest that today's Web 2.0 stuff is as feature packed as their corporate counterparts but...(yes I will...or at least I'll prove to you that 95% of users use 1% of the solution's available features.)

However, sometimes, rogue groups within the Enterprise start using applications to get things done.  These groups find a sponsor, often a corporate card carrying mid-level manager who can "get away with a $99/mo charge for a few months" without being questioned while his/her team, group, or division builds a "parallel intranet" or "business wiki" or "mini-knowledge base" without permission, instruction, or inhibition.  These groups are often lauded as "those guys who get things done".  They skirt around the corporate software initiatives and often must dodge inquisition at departmental meetings. 

IT DIRECTOR:  Hey I see you guys aren't using the knowledge base and issue tracking software that we just spent 12 months and $300k deploying.  That's not really supporting our corporate mission.  I mean, why are we deploying stuff if you're not going to use it?

MANAGER:  I'd simply ask you the same question.

IT DIRECTOR:  But your web based application isn't supported by us, we haven't verified the security, and we don't know if these guys will be out of business in a month!

MANAGER: True it's not supported by our IT department...because I support it.  Actually, there's no support since it's that simple.  As for their longevity, the small bootstrapping company is probably profitable considering it's 2 guys, working from their homes with no employees and no marketing expense.  I found them via word-of-mouth so their cost to convert me was effectively nil.  It's a good model.  As for security, it's probably better than what we have since there's one point of entry.  If it goes away someday, fine.  I'll have been very successful for some period of time rather than totally disappointed and lost with your solutions most of the time.

IT DIRECTOR:  I take offense to that!  We have 8 people in this department here, all of which are working like crazy to support this company's IT infrastructure.  We work very hard to figure out what will be best for this company and we control a $2.5 million budget.  Our people are all at their wits end trying to support and deploy whatever this weeks flavor of the month solution for this manager and that manager while simultaneously fielding calls from all of your idiot people who can't even figure out how to open OUTLOOK!!!!  And, this solution you use is ONLY $99 A MONTH...nothing that cheap can be worth a darn!

MANAGER: 
I appreciate your heartfelt comments Director.  If I pay your entire department $99/mo...will you provide me with solutions that work and treat my people like they're customers that have needs and demands that MUST be met?  Because if you can, I'll give you my AMEX number right now.

After the meeting:

CEO/OWNER/VP:  Hey manager, can you show me that software you're using.  It sounds like it's providing a ton of value for very little outlay.  Those IT guys...they sure are self-righteous aren't they? 

MANAGER:  Yeah, there's a ton of good that they do and much of our infrastructure does need their expert attention, but in today's business climate, even if we have the money, we don't have the time to launch worthless software initiatives that cost a ton of money.  It's job security for these guys and I wouldn't be willing to pay for that.  There will always be a place for Enterprise software solutions but increasingly, these solutions are being displaced by strong hosted apps.  These apps are 90% of the solution at 5% of the cost, with 5% of the support required to run them.  Is it really so important to have "1 mega solution that does everything for us?"  I'd rather have 5 effective pieces for the next 18 months and deal with that "disconnectivity" instead of paying 7 figures for a solution that we wont actually use when it goes live.

CEO/OWNER/VP:   You know manager, I'd like to have lunch with you on Friday to discuss your future here at ABC, Inc.  Can you swing it?

MANAGER:  Sure, I'm just finishing up a PowerPoint called "developersbyebye.ppt"
...but I should be available by noon.

More and more, we will see the enterprise spin put on Web 2.0 apps to make them expensive enough to make the cut.

We'll see 75% of the guys doing these Web 2.0 "features disguised as companies" fold, merge, or go on to their next gig because they suffer the same project ADD that much of our generation has. 

The SMB and VSB markets will continue to drive innovation and feature sets that WILL HAVE TO BE PAIRED DOWN FOR THE ENTERPRISE.  (Remember..less features, higher price = better acceptance because the big guys can't bite off too much at once).



Today Was A Warning Shot

I believe that the stock market drop today does portend a dubious future.  My guess is that we wont see the "morning after recovery", a mainstay of the last few stock market years.  More fed rate increases are coming.  Consumer confidence is being eroded. 

Now...buy properties all the way down the price curve.  Seek out your deals.  Work hard.  Use a system and stick to it.  Think like no one else does.  Love being a land lord.  Do it SMARTLY.  Set yourself up for success and you will live the American dream in spite of what the economy is doing.  There are no victims and no luck in the coming economy paradigm shift.  There is simply that which you DO or DO NOT DO.  (Reference Yoda quotes for inspiration).

Do You Feel It Too?

I know that the economy is very emotional.  Often reports conflict about how we should "feel".  Does is feel like inflation is creeping into your life?  Other than gas and household energy prices, do you feel like your buying power is slipping no matter what you got for a raise? 

Do you see a LOT more houses for sale for longer?  Are your friends throttling back a bit on plans, vacations, spending, etc.?   When you're at the coffee shop, do you still hear about friends "putting together a down payment on a $600k  home, only to flip it for a $150k profit by the time it's actually built?

Is the stock market easily rattled by 1 simple report about 1 aspect of the economy?  Are your funds, IRA's , 401k's, and other investments keeping your satisfied by providing a 10-12% return? Are you wishing you hadn't gotten that interest only loan or massive ARM that has adjusted in lock step with the rise in gas prices creating a "double whammy"? 

The economic numbers show that we're doing "fine" as a nation...but I think that when the emotional tide turns and the pendulum swings...hold on..AND START BUYING MORE REAL ESTATE.  As an investor, I'll survive the high interest rates to live another day with a no cost refi when (if) rates drop again.  However,   instability and concern will keep people renting and non committal when it comes to housing, i.e. they'll pay more rent and for longer.

I fell this disruption coming to fruition.  There are just too many things dragging the citizens of the U.S. down.  Thus, the economy will fulfill its emotional destiny.

My First IPO

Like most Vonage users, I got all the information for the customer directed share purchase program via email.  I did 100 shares just in case things went well.  They haven't...and although people aren't happy...I don't think many are surprised.

Here's the deal, I did all of the work to make this 100 share purchase happen, yet I've heard NOTHING via email.  I've not had a voice mail.  I don't know if I own the nearly valueless shares or not.

I guess there was a bigger priority on pre-IPO communication.  Now that the stock has been hammered...clam up and maybe they'll go away?

Shame.

I went to the site later and found that my offer for 100 shares had not been accepted, validated, whatever.  Thus, I own none of the dog.  Occasionally things like this work out.  My first IPO.

EXACTLY

I've sold all of my MSFT stock as I've abandoned hope.  A post entitled MicroSoft Office Ultimate Encouraging Corporate Open Source Switch? just showed up on Do Real Time.

The article discusses the high price tag and over abundance of features that come is this new uber package. 
$650 for a stand-alone.
$500 for an upgrade

I know too many mainstream people using open source now since after all, they're simply using word and excel to type a letter w/bold text and multiply 2 cells together to calculate commissions. 





Sharepoint Conference 2006 Update: LIVE

OK.  I wasn't there...and I must admit that I'm writing this entry today only with my personal experience with SharePoint and a posting from Larry Cannell on Collaboration Loop  as a reference, but here goes.

The conference revealed details, "Behind the next major release of SharePoint. In short, Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 and Windows SharePoint Services version 3 provide a comprehensive platform that now services a large portion of the digital workplace.

STOP THE TAPE!  So I need SharePoint Server and SharePoint Services? That's two things...and I think I'd need a developer to deploy them.  Not acceptable.  Do they offer a free trial?  Do I get a refund on the dev costs to try this out like we did at my company?  (23 people/software firm).  I guess I'll stick with collaboration tools that I can deploy to my company with an AMEX Platinum card.

"We're trying to have the commonsense set of templates that you can take for granted that everyone knows, and that you build on within a company to have the logic, the data connectors, the standards, all those things through the SharePoint environment, and so really taking what have been probably six different categories of software and really pulling that together into a single environment."

Huh?  People know email, IM, Web Browsing, Excel, and Word....of which we the unwashed majority use about 2% of their native functionality.  I understand that enterprise computing is far more complex with rules, security, permissions, etc...but I believe that even the enterprise is waking up to the desirability of a $5k/month application that supports a division of say 500 people with collaboration, wiki, project management, etc. 

"This set up the rest of the conference, where we learned that the SharePoint 2007 products will bundle the following capabilities:

  • Collaboration (blogs, wikis, project management, team collaboration, etc.)
  • Portal (portal templates, site directory, social networking, etc.)
  • Search
  • Content Management (document and records management, web CM, workflow, etc.)
  • Business Processes and Intelligence (forms, Excel services, data visualization, dashboards, etc.)
  • Built on foundational services such as workspace management, security, and storage"

Wow. They'll have the stuff I have already used for 9 months from my "non-enterprise" vendor. 

I'm sure I wont get angry "Enterprise Software Guru's" from the blogsphere besmirching my name because I "just don't get it" (and let's face it I don't get the traffic)...but listen up folks.  Even with this new release, etc...people in the Enterprise will still be moving around their IT departments to get things done very cheaply and effectively using hosted web 2.0 software put together by hack-jobs working 23 hours a day in Sweden. 

The Clock Is Ticking Montana

Anyone who reads this blog with any regularity (come on you four)..knows that I'm a huge fan of capitalism, Rich Karlgaard, and Geographic Arbitrage (cashing out of the coasts and moving to somewhere cheap but nice).  Well, my good friend and blog material supplier, forwarded me a piece today,

Software from Montana and social enterprise by ZDNet's Tom Foremski -- An interview with Greg Gianforte, head of Montana's largest tech company. (and uber-geo-arbitrageur)

The piece discusses Mr. Gianforte's distaste for Venture Capital and his somewhat confrontational attitude about the media and his competition.  Rich Karlgaard profiled Gianforte in his book Life 2.0. where I first saw real glimpses of "in-sourcing" and attracting local college talent that stays in town reducing the severe brain drain that often accompanies places that get cold or have humidity. As I write this from my home office in Des Monies (after leaving So-cal), I feel that I am in the "Middle American Country Club" and feel comfortable commenting about what I see in store for us down the road.

I'm waiting...waiting for throngs of Montanans to rise up (there's less than 1 million people in the state) and pull the same "You're ruining my state" business that residents of Colorado and Washington pulled over the last 30 years.  "It's not the same with all of you rude Californians with all of your cash, your BMW's, and your tans."  Just give it some time.  Gianforte and Governor Schweitzer (possibly the yang to the Schwarzenegger   yin) will be defending the growth of business while residents hold town hall meetings and creating collaborative WIKI's predicting the state's ruin.  There has already been NIMBY (not in my backyard) groups rise up in the Northeast to protest the placement of Ethanol plants in their cities.  As the Midwest gains velocity from the Ethanol boom, I would not be surprised to the more metropolitan cities suffer the same fate.  Here in Iowa, I think the deep rooted agrarian mentality will at least put off our NIMBY feelings for quite some time.  There's enough land and willing workers here to supply the world with Ethanol...at least that's how it feels driving across I-80 while studying the curvature of the earth on the horizon. 

Sure there's such a thing as smart growth...and that's where things typically breakdown.  Sales tax revenue drunk local politicians are usually willing to allow super-rapid(rabid) development and incredibly large tax incentives (redistribution of your tax dollars to attract business) because it makes them look good.  Too bad you can actually see their good sense fly out the window of their tax payer provided Chevy Suburban (Does that run on E85 Madam Councilwoman?). 

We'll likely be searching for the next Bozeman, Montana or Des Moines Iowa in a few years after they're "ruined".  But if being ruined means housing appreciation, economic prosperity, and a massive talent pool that competes for great jobs, I'll take some of that and pack up when the kids go to college.

Please under no circumstances read How To Be Silicon Valley...then we're all doomed. 

 


I know why they do it...but

An article appeared in the April 10 issue of Business Week entitled, "Making Bangalore Sound Like Boston."

I've written about overseas call center madness before...but his article discusses how companies are turning more towards on-line chat and email to reduce the frustration of not being able to effectively communicate with overseas call center employees. 

The net of this move is to further disconnect the customer from what they want...by forcing them to "chat" about it on-line...no matter how poorly they may type.  My experience with on-line help chat is the following:

  1. e-trade:  There was an English speaking US resident on the other end who could type fast and had a US frame of reference.  How do I know? Her name was Dora.  Anyone who has kids knows who Dora The Explorer is...and we joked about it.  (great experience).
  2. unnamed technical product company:  chat responses were so PAINFULLY slow (probably because said person was trying to look up the appropriate response) that I simply said, "I give up...goodbye".
  3. cable provider:  after many questions about what I was possibly doing wrong..."We don't support Microsoft Outlook" showed up on my screen.  I switched to DSL later than month.

Lemmings

A cool post today appeared on I Will Teach You To Be Rich called 8 stupid frat-boy business ideas

This post and these ideas are relevant now and absolutely true...but it wasn't...and they weren't until a decent number of talented individuals (or frat boys) got a lot of VC's to dump $xxx million into them over the last X years, to prove the point.  Some of those frat-boys are at home today, blogging and watching Entourage after their subsequent acquisition and exit strategies played out. 

Why Business People Run the Nation

I was recently forwarded a link to a story by my good friend at BusinessLit  on Silicon Beat entitled,

John Doerr has gone half-Green; gets word to President

confirming that I'm on the right track believing that Iowa and the Midwest in general are going to become Ethanol Alley , attracting funding, seeing technology businesses blossom, and watching masses of tanned folks flock inward from the coasts only to make my perfect little home town of Des Moines Iowa a congested mess.  OK, I'm stretching a bit here...but the likelihood of this transformation looms greater every day.  I was completely floored that the Sand Hill Road deity John Doerr has possibly shaped the future of the US:

"Turns out, Doerr and his team were responsible for getting the "end-oil-addiction" wording inserted into President Bush's state-of-the-union address. We had no idea how accurate we were with our headline at the time: "Bush echoes Silicon Valley's Doerr -- It could be the stalk" (stalk referring to the stalk of corn, for ethanol)."

Of course there's profit to be had for Doerr and Kleiner-Perkins but that's what we do here in this wonderful place that we've been blessed to be born in (or hopefully legally immigrated to).  We see problems (social, political, environmental, transactional, emotional). We dream up new technologies to address them (blogs, incentives, systems, databases, marketplaces), and we PROFIT from them!  Doerr and Company have been paving the way for innovation by providing capital and talent for a long time and I believe they're on the cusp of making a global impact that will be felt for generations.  If you think that's a bold statement, look over Kleiner's history of disruptive technology funding. 

With every passing day, I'm becoming more and more hopeful about our chances for reaching a new equilibrium here in the US where we thrive on the spirit of American innovation and self-reliance that would make our founders proud.  (Cue the music and forgive the MIDI).  Now grab some tissues and reflect on how lucky you are.  Amen.



Breeding Bosses

Rich Karlgaard does it again with a great little piece in the May 22 Forbes entitled, "About That First Job."  His Digital Rules Segment is my "must read first" every time I get the magazine...but this week's piece really spoke to me since I have 2 small kids.  Since Karlgaard is so "connected and in the know" within technology and VC circles, apparently he gets the question all of the time at conference, "What career should my kid pursue?"

I leave the bulk of the article to your reading pleasure, but the bottom line is that Karlgaard says get your kids obsessed with reading and if you uncover a passion of theirs...absolutely immerse them in it and let it flourish.  Also, think like an owner and use formal and informal mentors to accelerate your learning. 

I couldn't agree more.

In my life, there was never a question of whether or not I'd go to college.  Thanks to very dedicated and wonderful parents who valued education above all else, it was just a progression that happened and I participated happily.  I have a different spin on things these days though.  If my son or daughter were gifted with a passion for something that steered them away from post high school education, I'd support it fully.  Our economy and our nation are increasingly about specialization and 4 years spent fighting the indoctrination of academia and boring non-essential classes do not support this vision.

As a 30-something, I don't head to classes about botany and calculus because they'll round me out.  I attend focused seminars, learn from other successful people, and read books to achieve my goals. 

There's plenty of time to get "rounded out" when you've attained your own personal level of satisfaction with yourself, your career, and your place in life. 

I am doing my best as a dad to expose them to ownership, control of destiny, and leveraging others success to achieve the best in life.  Sometimes they don't go along with that model (you know...both being under 4), but at a very early age, I believe they'll "get it".  If they both end up as PhD'd University Professors who are obsessed with political science...I'm doomed.

More Consulting Bliss

I know a few people in life who've been smart enough or just patient enough, to earn more as a retiree than as an employee.  In fact, some of them are doing the same job, with less than 50% of the responsibility or time commitment, and getting paid roughly 3x what they used to.  Usually these "Consulting Gigs" are in addition to the person's pension, etc. that they receive.  One such example popped up in my own Polk County Iowa this week. 

The Public Works Director Larry Land retired earlier this while making a salary of $116,133/year.  Not bad scratch for Iowa but not super-rich by any stretch.  However, Land's post-retirement pay could reach more than $315,000 this year with "consulting fees and benefits" in addition to his $50,000 to $70,000 pension (which he absolutely earned and I only mention for dramatic effect). 

The article also points out that, "The promise of post-employment cash and benefits is so enticing that some public employees uninterested in retirement are compelled to quit in order to avoid losing money."  Since the county supervisors made no provisions for Land's replacement,  they offered him, "A chance to set his own hours and carry out fewer responsibilities as an independent contractor." 

Wow.  Nice gig.  The most gut wrenching moment came for me in the last sentence of the article that highlights the insulation from reality that our government agencies often enjoy (at our expense).  Here it comes...ready?

"To have somebody hired or promoted, that's how it works in a perfect world.  (speaking about the "replace-ability" of exiting county employees).  There just isn't the labor force to replace these guys."

Right. It's called building a bench guys.  We do it all of the time in the real world and since you often cost the tax payers 3x of a normal salary to keep these guys around, I'd suggest taking the active employee's salary, and simply double it.  Use the 2nd half to create a "shadow government" (bring on the conspiracy theorists) that will just hop right in when that person retires, saving the tax payers a good deal of money.  Could it be that governmental agencies don't seek out and recruit talent continually?  Could that be because they're protecting their jobs and trying to keep themselves in the know for as long as possible...at the expense of all others?  I have a friend who's a county employee and he has coached me in the ways of the bureaucracy for years.  Although he's constantly amazed at the incredulous nature of these governmental ways...I think he's resolved to carve out his little niche that will some day lead to a large severance package and a job as a part-time consultant making 3x his current wages. 


I've Heard All of these in the last 30 days

Guy Kawasaki does it again.  He's created the Top Ten Lies of Engineers. 

Here's my take on these: 

The reason why many companies go under, underperform, and generally just blow investor money is because entrepreneurs and leaders of these "engineers and software developers" don't hold these people accountable for these lies, call them out immediately upon hearing them, or FIRE them early enough in the development cycle before they're become "too valuable to fire right now". 

I'd like to add #11 to Guy's list:

#11 - There's nothing out there that will fully meet our needs so we need to develop this in house.

No solution will EVER reach 100% effectiveness for you, even if you develop it inside, so your job is to be a BUSINESS PERSON and reach the best possible solution for the lowest possible price that achieves say 80% of what you want and just move on.

Does Your Business Model Stand Up To This?

Amazing.  I found this link today on a great blog called BusinessPundit.

It's about a new product out there that solves a HUGE problem.  It's got a large potential market and the investment in this product can probably be recouped in 1 Jimmy Buffet concert at Wells Fargo arena. 

It's The Beerbelly

Further evidence that we still have the edge on technology, math, and science here in the US.

10-4 Good Buddy

An article appeared today in the USA Today entitled Wanted: A whole lot more good buddies
The article describes the incredible truck driver shortage that our country faces right now and the new spin on recruitment that copmanies are going to try. 

With phrases like "Assembly lines don't give you stories to tell," "Tired of restocking aisle 7?" and "No one ever wrote a song called minivannin'," the campaign is lighthearted. But it's meant to address a serious problem.

Consulting firm Global Insight estimated a year ago the trucking industry was short 20,000 drivers and forecast the gap could reach 111,000 in 2014 based on demographics and demand for transporting goods. Currently, there are about 1.4 million U.S. truck drivers, according to the Labor Department.

"It's a really serious problem," says Duff Swain, president of Trincon Group, a transportation consulting firm in Columbus, Ohio. "Most (trucking companies) have 5% of their fleet parked against the fence because they don't have drivers."

Swain estimates that for every truck parked, companies are losing $55,000 in unrealized profit each year.

The bottom line here is that our nation's economy is fueled by trucking.  Sure airfreight and rail are a part of the mix.  But how often do you see a rail car backed up to the Walmart in Des Moines, Little Rock, or Peoria.  The answer is never.  Trucks, diesel fuel, and hardworking engines allow you and I to have salad, beef, and beer for dinner.  The companies and individuals that address this issue head on, and revolutionize the transportation industry as we know it, will capture big profits.  This is an industry that is just starting to use technology to reinvent itself.  You need an internet hotspot...stop at the Flying J truck stop.  There's not as many of those as Starbucks (and the coffee is absolutely horrid)..but you'll get great access at no charge.  Redefine the trucking and transportation rule book and you'll win. 

Fan View, What Tobacco Didn't Do For NASCAR

When Nextel (now Sprint/Nextel and soon to be just Sprint) took over from Winston as the premier sponsor of NASCAR, I knew that this was going to be good.  I expected driver themed phones and the "Dale Jr. airtime plan".  But they've hit a homerun with Fan View, a personal viewing device, race scanner, in-car camera monitor.  This device rounds out the "Total NASCAR Experience" and makes those times when "They're just turning left in a circle" far more interesting.

Outsourcing, VOIP, and Level III Tech Support

I'm not alone when I say "For the love of God, please stop putting tech support call centers in India where everyone is named Jim and cannot related to ANYTHING I'm saying." I realize that 80% of the calls that come in are probably solved by these well-meaning people who work very hard.  For that business reason alone I support your decision to do so.  But, I'm one of those callers who knows just enough about what's going on with technology that these people ENRAGE me.  Just for kicks sometime, throw in a quick, "So did you catch the Steelers game yesterday?"...and listen to the quality of the VOIP call's silence.  Yes it's on. Yes I cycled the power on/off.  Yes I have the latest  fumvare (firmware). I actually had a guy tell me, after about 45 minutes of not understanding me, to "let my device rest" because we were doing to much to it in a short period of time.  What?  Rest?  I didn't realize that I was pushing my poor router and/or web cam "too hard".  I felt like I was in the twilight zone and being counseled by a New Delhi talk radio psychologist for computer hardware.   Ultimately, I was transferred to a real person in an Orange County California office building named Jason.  Within about 2 minutes, we'd communicated fully and I was up and running.  The entire time, it was an easy setting that the Level I and II techs in the call center didn't seem to ask about or understand.  Jason gave me his email and phone number and listened to me vent for a while.  "I'm not supposed to take calls...but go ahead if you run into trouble." I've called only once more out of respect to his giving me the secret password...allowing me to "cost more to his company" by spending 2 minutes with a 6-figure software coder/tester than about 3 hours total with 4 overseas call center reps.

Another incident just wrapped up yesterday involving my Vonage VOIP set up.  I've had the set up for about 6 months and have had great quality - on my end of inbound and outbound calls.  However, my victims on the other end have experienced a Spaceballs like echo forcing me to "call back using my cell phone for clarity. (Can you hear me now?)  I decided to either end my service or solve this problem last Friday.  I clearly told my first call center technician, "I've completed every step of your troubleshooting guide online, and nothing has solved the problem...what shall I do now?"  I went through 3 more technicians going through the checklist item by item, each tech "timing out" on my trouble ticket and escalating to the next level.  After 120 minutes, I reached Level III again.  This was the only person I could understand without cyphering the accent which I've become quite good at.  Within 15 minutes, I was fixed and now I'm extremely pleased w/Vonage. 

Maybe these companies can change their business models and call center prompts:

"If you know what you're talking about just slightly and wish to speak to someone whom you can understand, press 1"

"If you have no idea what you're doing and need to be led by the hand the entire way, press 2"

"If you are wish to bypass India entirely and go right to a United State in which call center wages are lower than the national average, press 3"

If I were doing a Masters or Doctoral Thesis, I'd absolutely do it on the true costs of supporting customers with domestic and overseas call centers, staff, etc.  Is it worth angering the 20% of the customers who end up going through 3 levels of tech support and valuable hours of their time...when those are the customers most likely to write blog entries about your problems?

To All Consultants With A "Great Gig"

They may not get any better than this.  Read this posting on "The Mystery Consultant" from Footnoted.org.  In case you don't read the comments...the last link to the Wedding Planner site was done sarcastically to demonstrate the ridiculousness of this person not having any web presence to speak of.

My company does business with CAT and I know we could have used that $400k.


The Heartland "Can Do"Attitude

Jim Owens, Caterpillar's CEO for the last 2 years, said the following in an article,

“Personally, I can think of no faster path to a worldwide recession than for the twin engines of the global economy -- the United States and China -- to turn against one another. Both countries need to make an extra effort to ensure that we treat each other with mutual respect. Rather than threatening protectionism, leaders must redirect their energies toward improving competitiveness and opening markets.” Full story.

This is fantastic stuff!  It's rare today to hear a CEO make any kind of statement that's meaningful..let alone one that puts the ball back into the courts of American firms to "figure it out".  This is no different than any other challenge we've faced before.  Wages in India have risen...and "in-sourcing" has started to occur.  China's wages are rising fast.  Quality issues are forcing companies to reevaluate the cost of lost customers due to "the overseas customer service guy not understanding me in the least". 

Although we could be on the cusp of a global upheaval that will render the United States a has been...something tells me we'll figure this out like have so many times before.  Our economy is in the process of shedding that which is artificially propped up (airlines, auto manufacturers, labor unions, employer paid health care).  We've sat back too long during this stretch of prosperity and we're reaping that which we've sown.  Wake up and smell the ethanol!

Oh my...can you see my underARMOUR

I've been hearing a lot of buzz about the company UnderArmour.  I've heard about its great potential as an investment, the huge market share of athletic clothing that they're capturing, etc.  Here was my Under Armour "a-ha" moment.

A few days ago, miffed by the high prices of Biking Clothes, namely shirts, I bought an Under Armour t-shrit.  Now here's the deal.  Biking clothes are largely made of the same "microfiber" or various other marketing names like "Coolmax" and "Dri-mesh", etc.  Sure bikes stuff comes with the longer back so it stays down when riding and leaning over and they often have pockets for stuff.  But, for a guy like me who rides with a small saddle bag that holds clothing, wallet, snacks, etc...I don't need the pockets.  So, I'm now wearning an Under Armour t-shirt instead for half the price with the same "wicking" technology that takes sweat away from your skin and wicks it to the outside world where it can be cooled off by the air.    All of these shirts and clothing items are made from polyester which just kills me.  You can't get me to wear a 50/50 poly/cotton blend dress shirt...but on the weekend, I'm wearing skin tight polyester from head to toe. 

I'm convinved that I should make a stock purchase now.  I'm actually buying, using, and telling others about these shirts.  I'm even considering making the switch for my normal t-shirt wearing to Under Armour shirts.  I'm extremely pleased with the comfort and durability.  Also, for us not so small dudes, here's a tip:  The biking world considers a 42 inch waist and 46 jacket size about a XXXL which is a bit awkward.  I realize stuff is supposed to be "tighter" fitting to lessen the drag, blah blah...but NO ONE wants to see my midsection firmly wrapped in a sweaty tight rumple shower.   I'm very content with a little wind drag and an XL that fits very nicely.

Total Adoption

Here's a Buzzshout review I wrote on Central Desktop.  This company's views on collaboration software, email, and the future are extremely valid.  Their product was adopted company wide at my 20 person  software firm within 5 days...without "feature whine".  We bypassed IT entirely since they wanted another 2 developers, $150k, and 18 months to deploy sharepoint fully.  Fuggetaboutit.

The company's co-founder wrote a salient piece that appears on the Central Desktop Blog.  This piece has been "mega-linked too" and is a very clear piece of thinking that seems to be a hallmark of many of today's Web 2.0 firms. A MUST READ.

Measurement

Seth Godin's comments today on measurement really hit home with me since I'm a recently minted 6 Sigma Black Belt.  My company runs into "measurement freaks" very often...with the end result being a myopic view of a very large set of issues. 

In his post, he issues a couple of warnings.  Here's the most important to me,

"But caveat #2 is even more important: the art of business and organization is in realizing that there are important things you can't measure. These ephemeral, soft things are the ones that often differentiate one organization from another, that lead to one company winning when all the metrics appear to be the same."

These "soft" items are often discounted in organizations that embrace 6 Sigma.  How often would employee turn over reduction or satisfaction be attributed to a software solution that improved efficiency (statistically proven improvements)?  Rarely.  I'm working on a project right now that will assist the main consumers of my work and research to accept that these "soft" benefits are real and that they will be the difference between being great and being superb.  Quality and price are approaching parity in industries where there was a measurable difference in the past.  Smart companies are looking for the next new differentiator that will drive their niche leadership.  These non-measurables are where they're looking.

 


 

Great Summarization

The most critical factor the Guy Kawasaki lists in his The Art of Driving Your Competition Crazy  piece is number 5:  Turn customers into evangelists.  I am an evangelist for one company in particular...however I'm a low profile guy that has very little audience so it only helps so much.  All companies need an army of evangelists to preach the gospel that is YOU.

The Most Misunderstood Item In Business

The decision of when, how, and why...to incorporate is something that I find a mystery in about 75% of the conversations I have with entrepreneurs and other very smart people.  Some believe that the INC or LLC is a safe haven when deductions just magically eat away at gross income and reduce your tax burden while making you impervious to attack from creditors and liability.  Wrong.

The bottom line is this.  You may or may not have some liability protection.  That's for the court (judge or jury I'm not sure)...if/when you get sued.  Odds are you wont get sued and you'll only be dealing with an audit from the IRS (which is better?).  Tax wise, you have the option to have your LLC taxed as a Corporation or as if you were a simple sole proprietor.  Nice.  An S-Corp presently provides you no such option and you will have any income or loss distributed via Schedule K to your personal taxes each year.

Also, even if you get "credit in the business name"...odds are you'll have to personally guarantee it until your business is well established and is profitable. 

A quick piece called The Benefits of Incorporation  appears in today's Start Up Journal by the WSJ. 

There are probably plenty of things that I don't know about and I'm not an attorney or tax advisor **disclaimer.  None of this is advice simply sharing experience**. 

However, I know enough to understand that Incorporation does a few things like make it easier for people to invest in your company, provide a basis to build a corporate history with banks and creditors, and it will give you a sense of personal satisfaction to be sure. 

I used Legal Zoom  to do my LLC and it was about $400 and took a few weeks.  You can expedite for more cash.  I also used Logo Works to create my corporate logo and spent about $400 there also for a package that allowed revisions, etc.

C-Level Stress

Susan Yara wrote an article in Today's Forbes online health section called Battling CEO Stress that makes a few very good points about stress and the high powered executive type.  CEO's and/or other execs are faced today with a tremendous burden of presentations, speech giving, board reporting, and travel.  But there are a few things one can do to survive.  This particular CEO:

  1. Eats well, quit smoking and works out when he has time.
  2. Makes sure to schedule vacations with his family throughout the year.
  3. When he is traveling for work, he makes an effort to get out and see the sights--even if he only has an hour or two.
  4. He recommends meditation, and using humor at meetings and getting a little bit of sleep

A key point to remember Yara says is , "Don't get us wrong--humans need stress in limited doses. Stress can motivate and inspire. And while lounging poolside sounds great for a week or two, it's tough to imagine spending every day sunbathing. Kicking back won't get your business off the ground, launch you into the top rungs of management, or help pay for that house in the Hamptons."

Very true.  That light stress and pressure is often what drives us to go beyond what we think possible.

I think that we work at homers are typically not as overcome with work stress.  I myself have a peaceful office with 2 windows looking at my front yard.  That's 2 more windows that I've had in office life.

 


6 Sigma Wrap Up

I was lost for a while and wasn't able to post much.  Now that I've re-centered my chi (what?) I've been posting and trying to write about a few things that really mattered over the last few months.  One such event is my completion of 6 Sigma training.  Besides being overjoyed that I no longer have to leave my family for 1 week per month, I feel like I've accomplished something great.  Most importantly, I forged relationships with some very good people. 

Since my world is very transactional, Lean is far more applicable in my world...but having this statistical foundation will certainly help me to help others I consult with...remove the emotion from their business decision making.  I find that in most cases, managers and executives certainly "know the right answers based on their gut feelings" after all, those feelings have gotten us this far right?  In over 80% of the cases where 6 Sigma principles were applied, the gut answer was the wrong one.

Additionally, something I felt in my gut (here we go)...was correct.  It's that the "soft side of 6 Sigma..the change management, buy in, stakeholder communication..etc. are the hardest parts.  I've been involved with at least 10 projects...and invariably, there are idea saboteurs lurking everywhere to make their "gut instinct" prove to be right in spite of your fancy stats."

Successful Launch

I feel compelled to mention my launch of The Mitchell Group LLC...a consultancy serving SMB's in the state of Iowa (and Omaha Nebraska Mr. Buffett).  I've thought of numerous nifty Latin slogans and things that would make me sound very smart.  But at the end of the day, I'm really about helping companies confront reality and execute (for real).  I've been through enough of this stuff to know what I'm good at and what I'm horrible at...and I've come up with an intense economic formula that I'm sure will win me a Nobel Prize for EconomicsMitchellgrouplogo_1  IF skills, vision, time, or ability are LACKING...then PAY for enhancements to said areas.  I have amassed a team including a financial planner, accountant, lawyer, industry experts, web designer, database guru, career mentor, real estate agent, mortgage banker, general contractor, business and personal banker, and a couple of needy mutts to fill in my knowledge gaps (sounds like quite a few...hummm).  The net net is that I'm free to focus on what I'm good at, which is what you should do as well.  You do this all day long with janitorial, landscaping, construction, etc....what makes us all think we know how to do everything in business?  Don't let your entrepreneurial zeal blind you to what you're actually capable of.  You can boil the ocean...but you're going to need some help. 

Getting Funded Y or N

Seth Godin's recent post entitled "Q: How can we get our company funded" echoed through my skull cap as if the host monkey all whacked out on Ebola was banging a gong next to my medula oblongata.  A couple of key points were raised.

  1. Most companies aren't appropriate for VC money.  Even though a lot of Web 2.0 companies are thinking that they're entreprenuerial and going to scale and make money in their sleep...they wont.  So the new cool way to look at those is to call them "bootstrapping companies"..very tough and cool. Since most of these companies are just "one project after the next"...they're more of the work to get paid type to me.
  2. This really hit home. "The alternative (which might work for you as well) is not to fund the business. It's to fund the project. That's how they fund movies. You don't get a piece of the studio. You get a piece of Rocky XIV."  WOW.  This is my world and accidentally what I'm doing now.  After 2 years of trying to get a mediocre business model with zero focus and a seat of the pants operational structure...we're now getting up front funding and have a revenue model to pay back our "investors".  It's key to understand that most larger organizations don't give a rats about getting equity in your little venture.  It's more a nuisance than anything.  Just imagine how much time and effort a medium to large sized business would have to put into an equity investment...with SARBOX????  Now, we simply sign an agreement that is a rev share.  Done. Nice. Clean. No distractiions.  Either do it or don't.  I think companies like Central Desktop, a fantastically clean and wonderful on demand collaboration software could make use of this model.  Find a serious pain point in a segment.  Have a marquee customer who really feels the pain fund the development of a vertical version of their great software.  Launch to the bigger piece of that vertical...then let Geoffrey Moore's  principles take over and start knockin' 'em down. 

Week 2 of 6 Sigma Class

Wow.  Imagine yourself as sick as you've ever been...now let's get deep into 2-Way ANOVA Testing!  I think I regained conciousness around Wednesday at noon.  For you stats propeller heads out there, you're my heroes.  For little old soft skill Doug, this was a nightmare.  I do have to say that I'm impressed by the brain's ability to learn via osmosis.  When it came time to review for the test, I kind of knew what we were talking about.  Yes I passed.  Although in an interesting twist of irony, I'm also the Deployment Champion at our company meaning that if one of my Black Belts (me) was having trouble of a unrecoverable nature (not) I'd have to council said Black Belt (me) and coach him/her (him/me).  So, here's to grading yourself, passing yourself, and all in all just plain loving yourself!

Week 2 is apparently notorious for killing off the faint of heart...but I prevailed.  Now, I head into week 3 next week...ready to take on the most inane statistical tools! (and the food at the Marriott).

6 Sigma - Week 1

I'm wrapping up week 1 of Six Sigma training in Chicago.  During the first salvo of statistics discussion...I felt as though I did the day I opted out of Advanced Calculus...and signed up for Speech class.  (ie Soft skill path versus hard).  My head was spinning and I wondered when it would end.  By the end of day 4, I had gotten a handle on the key topics since we did some exercises in the group that made me dig in and figure stuff out (ie learn by doing not just listening).

It's really amazing to see the quality folks that I'm surrounded by in my class.  These are the best and brightest folks from CAT dealers and suppliers around the nation.  It's fantastic to see that around the US, that CAT is hiring and more importantly keeping excellent human resources.  I'm certain that CAT doesn't pay as much as other organizations that deploy 6 Sigma Black Belts.  Monster.com is probably abuzz with folks hunting and job swapping.  But dealerships and CAT corporate offer a great pathway to promotion, a great work environment, the opportunity for self improvement, and a reasonable living.  That's quite a recipe for success. 

I look forward to week 2 now even though it will pull from home once again.  (When that happens however, home will be Clive, Iowa and I'll probably drive in).  Seeing my team again and sharing experiences with them is wonderful. 

Cheers from Chicago

The Personal MBA

Link: The Personal MBA - PMBA blogs.
Wow.  This site http://www.changethis.com/17.PersonalMBA highlights a concept that I have loosely been following for years.  The idea is that you can get an MBA education in a far more economically feasible way by reading some key pieces of literature.  I have to say that I've only hit a few of them but have read a lot more works that weren't on this list.  The author Josh Kaufman has put together a fantastic game plan for anyone who would rather read, put ideas into practice, and keep living their lives without the intrusiveness of a full-time MBA program.

The "That's your perception" exuse

I've had the pleasure, displeasure, and learning experience of managing up to 25 people at once.  It never fails that in my midst is someone who, upon being called out for their poor choice of words or actions says, "That's just your perception of what I said/wrote/did!...I didn't mean it that way."  Technically, this is correct.  However, please explore the following guidelnes (especially if you've ever said that to someone):
1.  Yes. It's my perception...the one that matters...since I'm your superior.
2.  Since I am your boss and I probably (not certainly...but probably) have a more global understanding of people, behavior, and how the "royal we" perceive comments or actions, my opinion is the one that matters to you.  Yours is far less relevant at the point of confrontation.
3.  If things that you are going to say or do "Could possibly be interpreted in a negative way"......shut your mouth and stop typing.
4.  Accept that odds are, others perceptions and interpretations of what you write/say are likely how you really intended them down deep.  Then call your counselor and hit Walgreens for your refill.
5.  If you get fired over the misperception issue, or especially if you get fired more than once, see number 4.

At the end of the day, how your boss perceives you is the only thing that matters when you're working for someone else.  I've mostly been on the good side of this situation where my boss largely perceived me as a hard worker who liked his job (while I toiled internally about how I diliked it).  Controlling perception is what we do in business anyway right?  We have a great piece of softwware (READ "A demo") that we'd like to offer you at a fair price (READ "We'll take whatever you offer if you hold out because we're desperate and the R&D is a sunk cost anyway so every dollar is probably better than our image...but don't TELL ANYONE") and our support is world class (READ "We're really good at placating our angry customers").

These are simply my perceptions so interpret them as you will.

6 Sigma

I'm in Chicago this week, attending a 6 Sigma Business Leadership conference.  I really buy into 6 Sigma as a culture changer versus some kind of "new fad".  At small companies, the full blown deployment and dedicated black belt are a tough call and often too expensive or challenging to accept.  Interestingly enough, today I heard a presentation from a 20 person logistics company that is about to add their SECOND black belt.  The owner was a "convert" that 1 year ago poopoo'd 6 Sigma in favor of his seat of the pants style.  The thing that pushed him over the edge was succession planning.  He accepted that he would never be able to exit the company or have someone else act on his behalf upon retirement, etc. unless he put something in place to help others make decisions.  Effectively, 6 Sigma is simply a hard fact data based decision making process for your business.  Now, he has a leader in place as the black belt...and this person is transforming into a clear thinking decision maker. 

I will start my black belt training in October.  Although I wont be a full-time black belt the training and quantitative methods will greatly enhance my skill set I believe.  It's been a LONG time since I had statistics in school (1991 to be exact)...and my critical thinking has largely been softened by "business development" career moves...so I look forward to this. 

You are ALWAYS selling...

This concept that "Everyone is a sales person" within an organization should really be pushed toward the top of the business education heap.  From CEO to phone answering temp...EVERYONE can be and should be geared toward selling, promoting, evangelizing, improving the company's image, increasing referral business, grooming existing business, etc.  A CEO who sales "I'm not a sales person is LYING and ultimately LESS VALUABLE than one that embraces this model.  I'm not making hard black and white distinctions here...putting people into one bucket or the other.  Rather I'm indicating that the CEO of a company must pick up the phone and ask for business, espouse the value his company brings to the table, and explain succinctly why the person on the other end of the line (or the packet data transfer) is listening to him speak. 

As I've gained more business experience and progressed in my career, I have ZERO inclination to give even a passing whiff of a thought to someones product, service, or resume unless they can tell me why the hell I should bother...quickly...clearly...and with proper grammar (and preferably using big girl words from the verbal advantage series...OK...at least from the first 2 cd's) 

Ask me how many emails I got back from VC's just waiting to give me money when I explained (in a previous career life) that "I wanted to create the world's most labor intensive and error prone business using outsourced employees in a place where bribes are the only way to get a 56k ISDN line." in a 3 page executive summary that just vomited words about nothingness.  (The answer to the question is none in case u were wondering.)

Now, in my business life, I attack every potential profit center or client for our company with the attitude that EVERY word, EVERY sentence, and EVERY second that I get to be in someones face, phone, or email that I'm on stage and I MUST make it worth their while to listen.  Learn their lingo, learn their pain, and learn that when you get the chance to be in front of the executive decision maker...that you damn well better speak their language which is typically short, effective, and well put together sentences that don't take 3 supporting modifiers to make sense.  They just don't have time to listen to your wind.  Get used to it.  Embrace it.  Live it....and most of all SELL IT.

(The writer reserves the right to suspend his own personal rules when writing for his blog)

Doug's Top 11

During the period between 1999-2002, I worked as Director of Business Development for a small technology start up that tried to change the world with $1 million in seed capital.  Of course, in retrospect, we squandered the money...not on parties and salaries...rather on a lot of heavy lifting in development and data entry (don't ask). 

In the end, the company was acquired by CNET Networks and that was a small victory.  I still communicate regularly with the 2 principles (I was a heavily optioned 3rd leg of our own little trilateral commission), and have seen the progress, growth, and maturity of them (and hopefully in myself) as we now contemplate our businesses, family, corporate America, software development, and venture capital via instant messaging, email, and blogging.  Here's a few insights that (if seen by anyone in the blog-sphere other than the author) may shed some light on the "Thirty-something what the hell am I doing working for these people since I'm smarter than them and I've had 8 jobs since college and I still don't make enough money to do what I want without incurring debt, and I REALLY still don't know what I want to do because I got a business degree and was in sales and I hate sales but the money was good" ....group.

1.  Owners want solutions.  Remember the saying, "Opinions are like a**holes...everyone's got one?"...Well it's true...and it's usually uninformed, self-absorbed, and small minded people that are the first to offer an opinion of why things are horribly messed up...in your firm, with your kids soccer team, or your church council.  If you're a business owner, seek out those who offer solutions and not those with Acute Myopic Viewpoint Verbal Diarrhea.  The cure for this condition takes a substantial mind shift away from assigning blame to taking responsibility for affecting positive change.  Key sub point here...you CAN'T train this...it's a self-awareness thing that comes from introspection.

2. Only hire people who can type fast. I still believe that the two fundamentally most important classes I've ever had were Typing and Speech...both taken in high school (no slight on my college Alma mater).  How can you expect someone who can't type fast to crank out a proposal, craft a key response to a customer complaint rapidly, or simply get things done at the Chinese pace.  If you cannot type fast...you may end up irrelevant and not even know it.  Invest the $xx.xx for the class, CD-ROM, or on line training session.  60WPM is my baseline for consideration (errors are OK).

3. Ask people you're interviewing what they read, how often they read, and who their favorite authors are.  If you don't...you're losing the most valuable keyhole into who they are, what they think about, and how much they step outside of themselves. The author doesn't claim to be smart but will claim a far deeper understanding and appreciation for the big picture (refer back to #1)..and an ability to craft creative solutions before spewing venom about what's messed up.  This comes from reading books about business, strategy, success, failure, group dynamics, start-ups, and politics, personal relationships, and successful people.  I'm not discounting the value of reading novels for pure pleasure...I just have never exercised that part of my brain that enjoys fantasy, science fiction, or other such dramas.  One key area that I fall terribly short in is the reading of Biographies.  I have a massive respect for those that can Encapsulate life's experiences into manageable and understandable nuggets because they've already seen similar situations through the eyes of other very interesting, smart, and/or thoroughly insane people.   No one...has ever...asked me what I read in a job interview...even when it was a large company with very well developed HR policies and wicked interview junkets.  Never.  By the way, I never got any of those jobs.

4. Nothing you are doing is new.  Aside from the new new technologies, etc...just understand that all of the meetings, sessions, and questions you're asking have happened too many times to count before you came along.  Flash back to number 3.  By reading books, you'll become humble enough to understand number 4 and hopefully be able to pull on your memories of how "Jack Welch or Dan Bricklin (obscure but important guy) handled this situation" I've pulled many a quote from a book on business out during a meeting and brought an otherwise ridiculous situation into focus. 

5.  Understand what you're  GOOD/NOT GOOD at.  This seems quite obvious but how many folks that you've encountered in life are truly aware of themselves? I believe that Pareto is right on here...80% don't even question themselves...and 20% obtain some form of personal awareness.  A very small percentage hone in with laser precision on what they're good at and do just that....steering clear of that which they do poorly or do not have passion for.  There will always be an element of "the crap you just have to do" to a certain extent, but get good at what you do and you'll be able to afford an outsourced person to complete these things.  I struggled for years on this believing that, "I was weak to not become the greatest sales person in the world because I've read the books and fill my mind with powerful success images and blah blah blah".  WRONG.  I'm not wired to love rejection and to bang out 30 calls a day to meet a quota.  Ask anyone and they'll say, "Doug's a great salesperson".  But I'm NOT.  Great salespeople relish the chase and the victory of grabbing NEW business!  I get that satisfaction sure...but not at the expense of calling people who haven't been introduced or "warmed" in some fashion to what I have to say.  Revenue generation achieved by the author is merely an effect of the value that I bring in my relationships.  I don't sell, I "Talk to people about their own businesses and they end up giving me money based on what I said."

6.  Learn to respect the people in the RED states, farmers, and tradesmen.  I work almost exclusively with companies that produce, rent out, and move big earth moving machines around North America.  As I'm there talking about technology and certain solutions for their businesses, at the end of the day, I walk out knowing that during the last 60 minutes, that they made 10x what my entire solution costs + my annual income for the next 3 years.  These people, these machines, and those Copenhagen dippin' guys who fix them are the infrastructure of this nation.  Get some coveralls on, buy some boots, and get dirty working 1 day on a factory floor in middle America.  Then go out to dinner with these folks, meet their families, and catch a ride back to your hotel in their Chevy trucks.  When you're at the next cocktail party with your technorati colleagues shoveling the shrimp and Sam Adams before the bar closes...think about the fact that Walmart is the largest and one of the most profitable companies in the world.   

7.  Exorbitantly successful people usually get divorced.  I'm very content knowing that I'll not be a Donald Trump or lead a Fortune 500 company.  These jobs don't sound very nice anyway.  There's too much sacrifice of family and spouse to attain ranking leadership.  The old adage about never saying "I wish I'd spent more time at the office" on your death bed is true.  Let your family growth and well being dictate your level of success.  Sure you'll vacillate between working hard and long hours...and taking more time off...but understand that your wife and kids love you for being a great husband and daddy...not a yes man that works 15 hours a day so you can activate your life insurance policy early.

8.  If you're 30 something, own a home w/at least $200k in equity on the coasts...bail out NOW.  Unless family ties and a job that is wildly fulfilling are keeping you put...sell out and get yourself some room to breathe.  It's widely known that in most of the states West of NY and EAST of CA...you can get a nice big house on .5 acre or more for about $250k.  Grab yourself a 100k mortgage and start working for yourself.  If you have kids like me, the weather is probably the least of your concerns considering it really only affects my 1 hour each way commute.   

9.  If you have kids, encourage them at all costs to study languages. I had a weird goal when I graduated high school...learn at least 5 languages.  If I would have pulled the trigger, right about 9/11/2001 I would have been hiking my rate from $250 to $450 per hour.  The sky is the limit in this area.  Have you ever heard, "We just have a glut of Arab and Chinese language specialists sir...you'll have to try again next year."  Give them the basics in their youth...Spanish, French, German, etc. then do what you can to encourage the love...and power of knowing communication in the native tongue of your fellow global citizens.  Some day, ask them, "How do you say 'Hey, this fire is burning the leather elbow patches on my wool sweater!'".......in the Basque language.

10.  Find and cultivate a few key GOTO guys/gals in life.  I have about 5 GOTO's in my world. If I launch a new project, changed careers, or need a technical project executed...I call the GOTO's.  These people are very smart and very business minded.  They can typically bridge the gap between technology and business better than most.  Some of my GOTO's are just "Good at adapting" so I call them when I need to make a key hire for a small company "Catch all" position.  GOTO's have typically been there and done that and have the perspective to roll with the punches.  My list has come from working in small companies and being forced to wear many hats.  It's a lot tougher to build this list while sitting in a cubicle doing your assigned tasks for the week.

11.  Find a Mentor or Mentors now.  I actively work with 2 mentors.  One is venture capitalist and business adviser, the other a Regional Director for the Quick Service industry.  Getting the outside perspective on career moves, planning, and strategy have paid wonderful dividends for me.  Refer back to #4...they've likely done what you're doing...only about 10-20 years ago and in a different context.  Leverage the power of their knowledge, contacts, and savvy to accelerate your own life and career.  I think Tony Robbins (and many other gurus I'm sure) teaches you to, "Act like and emulate the people you want to be like...and guess what...you start to become like them."  It's true and it works.   Ask your mentors what books they're reading...and read them.  Take a suggestion from them and really put in the time to research it and come back with thoughtful opinions of why you agree/disagree.  It will be a powerful experience.  Sub tip 11a...learn to golf and golf with your mentors.  Golf is one of man's last chances to spend 4-5 hours with like minded company..unencumbered with phones and email. 

Enjoy.