Small Town Teams—Located Anywhere

Small Town Teams—Located Anywhere

Small Town Teams—Located AnywhereThe beauty of the new digital landscape is that small town and rural entrepreneurs have totally unrestricted access to talent. One of the issues, though is that remote locations do not have pools of talent close by.

So it’s vital to have easy and good forms of collaboration. The market for oftware and applications for team working is a very crowded space. Finding the tools that really work for you is tough.

In my College, we use Google and all its apps (like google docs) as a standard, but I have never found them to be intuitive and easy to use, even though I have been using them for the last three or four years.

So now, as I am in the process of establishing a new startup, I wanted to find something good, so that my co-founder, based in a small town in Ireland, and I could work together in a way more efficient than huge strings of emails with attachments and phone calls. What I found was Glip.

Glip is a team conversation platform to plan, share & organize work. They claim that teams can jump right in, with zero learning curve, and do better work together. No technical skills are required to use Glip, and it boosts productivity from the very first user. Glip removes communication barriers with built-in text and video chat and includes file sharing, tasks management, shared calendars and more, all seamlessly integrated.

My experience was a little different. It has been quite a steep learning curve, but what turns that into a small problem is that customers, even a mini-customer like me with a two-person team and paying nothing, are given great support. I am a newbie to Glip, but Dave Hersh, on of the co-founders responds to my request for help almost immediately and even on the weekend. The three co-founders have been around together in the real time communication field. They have done other startups and sold them. Principally it was Multiply, in social networking and commerce, which they sold to Naspers, Inc a major South African global platform operator.

Big Lesson

For me, the support I have been getting from Dave is an object lesson in how to integrate all aspects of creating and delivering a seamless experience to clients. It’s my painful experience that tech startups are all too often excited by their own wizardry that they forget why they are in business.

I have had a few disappointing ‘customerships’ recently. One involved supporting a new entrant to the hotspot area—Karma—that I backed on a crowdfunding site. Delivery was due last year, then early this year, then April… this year, next year, sometime, never! Very disappointing, especially since customer care and communications seems weak and disrespectful.

Not so with Glip. Long may it continue.

 

 

Restaurant Startups Best Advice

Restaurant Startups Best Advice

My former student, Cody Durant, on the Marlboro College MBA in Managing for Sustainability has written an Ebook that all restaurant entrepreneurs would be well advised to buy and read right away. The book is called Redefining the Restaurant Experience: Transitioning to Sustainability. It is set out like a restaurant menu, with three courses and a desert. It is very nicely done and easy to read and assimilate.

The book is well illustrated and has many short interviews of successful restaurant owners whom Cody knows in his neck of the woods–Western Massachusetts. He has a good lot of experience in the trade, so he is not just a consultant, though he is that, too, with a company called Insightful Strategies.

He was a good student, slow and steady until he got the message and then he was off like a dingbat, so if you read his book, charming though it is, you’ll know that he has thought long and hard about the advice he offers.

You can get a copy of the Ebook, direct from his website for $10.

 

Grassroots Entrepreneurship

Grassroots Entrepreneurship

I have been invited to run a couple of Workshops on Grassroots Entrepreneurship at theAnnual Conference of the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs. This came about because a while back I started writing about Community Supported Business on Startup Owl.

Community Supported Business is a growing phenomenon, especially in rural Vermont, and it will be interesting to see how that state’s experience will be picked up by others. Community Supported Business (CSB) is something that has grown up, especially in rural areas, in response to demand. What does community supported mean? It means that not only are small startups supported by customers in the local community by buying products and services, but they are also supported financially by the community and its members.

This support comes in many forma through loans and equity, both through local government agencies, nonprofits, foundations and other organizations, but also directly from individuals committed to making their community more resilient. In the latter case, the CSB has borrowed a model from Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), where consumers advance money to producers ahead of the growing season and are repaid with produce and other product when they are harvested or manufactured. Sometimes the ‘repayment’ is with interest and sometimes not.

I would encourage you to read the Rural Research Report on Grassroots Entrepreneurship that I wrote for the Conference to learn more and see what use you can make of CSBs in your own community

Have fun with caricatures

Have fun with caricatures 

Startup Owl Aron smallA logo’s job is to make an impression on your customers and be a visual reminder of who you are and what you do. Its frequent repetition is vital, no matter how clever the image. Think Coca Cola. 

The logo has to make an appeal on a personal level, at least until it is so well-known that its connection with the business goes without saying. But you can have fun with caricatures to enliven your graphic presence. A reminder of your business or your business name can take many forms. 

Google is one of those companies that plays around with its logo very frequently. Given that their company name has not become a verb, they perhaps do not need to do that, other than to amuse. Other less well known brands can get noticed by being playful with their logos of brand images.

With so many ads and corporate literature, websites, blogs, and product packaging, it’s often hard to differentiate them. You can use graphic humor as well as funny commercials like Geico with its gekko.

Here is one for Startup Owl. It’s more endearing, I think, than the corporate logo that appears on this website. My grandson Aron, a designer and animator did it for me. He could do one for you, too. at very modest cost. Give him a shot–at keyseraron@yahoo.co.uk. He is a man who has been constantly drawing for 17 years, and he’s only 22 now.

10 New Conditions of Business

10 New Conditions of Business

new world of bizI have just published a set of 1o New Conditions of Business, to help entrepreneurs recognize some really important trends that are most likely affecting their startup whether they know it or not.

They are all very important and complex. I don’t begin to think that my introductions are the best in the world, nor is the list necessarily complete.

I invite readers to review what I have written, comment, add, or suggest improvements to the set of ten topics, which are:

  1. New Economics: As If People Mattered;
  2. New Power: Values Trump Money and Position;
  3. New Ways of Working: Wherever: Whenever: However;
  4. New Financial Risk: Wealth and Income Inequality;
  5. New Corporate Forms: All Enterprises Are Social;
  6. New Measurement of Wellbeing: GDP Does Not Chart Progress;
  7. New Creative Freedom: Patronage Replaced by Independence:
  8. New Ecology of Business: Growth Comes in Many Forms;
  9. New Electronics: Applied Nano Science;
  10. New Geography of Megacities: the Challenge of Urbanization.

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Wrap This Around Your Head

Wrap This Around Your Head

beats logoI am very grateful to have been asked by the son of colleague at Marlboro College, where I teach on the MBA program, if I had any advice on his application to an amazing new academic institution that combines art, technology and the business of innovation. Not having heard of it before, I found out that this disruptive initiative is one of the most exciting things happening in entrepreneurship learning.

With a visionary $70 million gift from music-industry leaders Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young (aka Dr Dre), the University of Southern California has established a new academy to teach critical thinking and nurture unbridled creativity at the intersection of three essential areas: art and design; engineering and computer science; and business and venture management.

Conceived as a collaborative environment that brings multidisciplinary students, instructors and professional mentors together, the USC Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy for Arts, Technology and the Business of Innovation’s executive director says, “There are a lot of other programs around the country that marry business and technology, but they’re all missing that arts and cultural component. The difference with us is we start with the arts part.”

The two founders consolidated their business success when they founded the Beats headphone company in 2008, and sold it to Apple in May 2014 for $3 billion.

Startup Basics: a book for business owners

Startup Basics–a book for business owners

creating a business conceptThe Mobile Boardroom: Top Tips for Business Success by Nik Askaroff & Julian Clay is a compact, no-frills guide that covers the main commercial areas of business. You can read the book in one, or maybe two, sittings and get a full picture of the things you need to cover in setting up and running a business.

The book is one of the most down-to-earth and un-flashy guides I have come across. The simple model of how to create a business concept is a very good starting point for anyone without a masters degree in business–that’s most people who have a great business idea, but don’t know where to begin translating that idea into a real live business.

While the book is predicated on the basis of raising finance with the aim of an ultimate sale of the company, don’t let that put you off. The horse sense of what the authors say will repay your own investment in buying the book–many times over (under $25 for the paperback and under $10 for the ebook). Actually it will save many times that outlay, by ensuring that you don’t leave out one or more vital ingredients of success as you struggle with your priorities.

When I started my first business in 1982, I learned lots of these things by trial and error. That’s fine for testing products or services with customers, but it’s a costly learning process for things like financial management. The authors offer really sound advice on what numbers to collect and how to make sense of what they mean. They make the point that successful entrepreneurs are financially literate, but they do not need to be and probably will not be–accountants.

The Mobile Boardroom is written by two UK-based consultants, so for them the boardroom means something slightly different to what an American reader would understand. But do not let that deter you from this book. For instance, when they deal with the sales and marketing process, their advice is true throughout the world. The 15-page chapter gives you a solid set of steps to make sure that the system succeeds. Here, too, when we started out all bushy-tailed, we had to invent marketing and sales by blundering around to get to a point where our marketing hit the target and sales were optimized.

The other chapters on IT, HR and operations are equally effective. Your also get bonus information on mergers and acquisitions, management buy-outs and selling your business, if those are routes to which you aspire. In the end, the book is a great ‘to-do’ list for startups and will help you to determine priorities.

A New Book Entrepreneurs Should Buy

A New Book Entrepreneurs Should Buy

I already promote heavily the use of Business Model Generation by Alex Osterwalder et al, and now they have published Value Proposition Design and a new Value Proposition Canvas to go with it.

VP CanvasWhat’s important about the new canvas is that it overlays the two key boxes on the Business Model Canvas: the Value Proposition box and the Customer Segments box. Why is this? Because the square in the VP canvas is about what you offer and the circle is about what the customer wants or needs. The way it works is that iteratively you check the extent to which your value proposition meets those needs. Hence it’s important to focus on the gap between your off rand their desire.

By paying attention to how you can lower the customer’s pain and enhance the gain he’ll get from your offer, you can really sharpen what your business is all about. Of course it sounds easy, but it needs many stabs at getting it right. To understand customers you need to get out there among them and record plenty of data. It is about technology push and market pull, and getting them into alignment.

Don’t just take my word for it get the book. The investment will pay off many times over. 

      

Hmm? or Wow! Strategy

Hmm? or Wow! Strategy

Hmm_or_Wow_StrategyStrategy is tough stuff. Richard Rumelt (author of Good Strategy, Bad Strategy) makes it sound easy: undertake good diagnosis, develop guiding policy, and implement coherent action. This is excellent advice, but getting it right has us looking skywards for diagnosis, policy and action, as we bumble through ‘ah-ha’… and ‘mmm’.

 Big words and grand visions pepper failed strategies. Motherhood and apple pie don’t crack the code. They’re what Rumelt calls bad strategy or fluff. The trouble is that we are all good at bad strategy and fluff. Not least because strategy is a craft not a science.

 Even if we do achieve an approximate diagnosis, we then have to craft a policy that can be communicated, since no amount of wishful thinking will get us there without commitment from the people out there doing stuff. Many so-called strategies, even well articulated ones cause the recipient to react with a “Hmm…”, when what we want is a reaction more like a “Wow!” because the policy is inspirational or sexy. A ‘Wow’ policy can often come over as a “yep” one, which feels luke-warm. A ‘Yep’ policy may still get implemented, but probably not with the same verve as a ‘Wow!’ one. The ‘Yep’ policy may be less risky than a ‘Wow!’ one, and while it may be ready to go, at least it will not be scary.

 If the guiding policy comes over as ‘Nah’ – that’ll never fly, beware. The ‘Nah’ may also be risky. Risky and scary. I suggest that as you review strategy you use the compass I have designed. It will help you with all those inner feelings that strategies evoke – and you will be better able to discern if you are on the right track. It’s a visual way of what Peter Drucker used to ask of organizations. He would inquire a) what the organization is now, b) what it will be, and c) what it should be.

 Of course the ‘Wow!’ strategy I hope you will achieve, is more demanding of everyone who has a role in its implementation, because inertia and resistance will bedevil the daring play. The timid strategy will tend to feel more comfortable. The trouble is that nothing will ever go quite as planned because we are not in control of outcomes. Things will emerge that look like derailing what we have set as our strategy. But as Henry Mintzberg points out, strategy will emerge, whatever we do. So maybe it’s better to aim high than to aim safe, hence the body of people, and especially entrepreneurs who are prone to action anyway, who will say ‘Ready, Fire, Aim’, rather than ‘Ready, Aim, Fire’. That’s what Lean Startup is all about: fail fast and fail often. Losing can help you win, but aiming to lose certainly won’t.

         

Marlboro’s MBA Scores High

Marlboro’s MBA Scores High on Sustainability & Social Impact

Marlboro LogoMarlboro College’s MBA in Managing for Sustainability rates very high on Sustainability (11th and 4.33 out of 5) and Social Impact (8th and 4.52 out of 5) on Net Impact’s 2014 Business as UNusual Top 50 Schools. Marlboro Graduate & Professional Studies is based in Brattleboro, Vermont and is a part of an unusual small liberal arts college. It managed to come out ahead of big name schools like Duke, UCLA Berkeley, Stanford and Columbia. 

 On each list Marlboro was only bested by two Ivy League Schools: by Yale on Social Impact and by Cornell on Sustainability. Only two B-Schools on the Forbes Top 10 that did better than Marlboro were Michigan’s Ross School (on both lists) and Duke’s Fuqua School (on Social Impact). Not bad for a school with less than 500 students on both undergraduate and graduate campuses.

 I am privileged to teach two courses on the MBA: New Venture Creation (4* rating out of 5) and Sustainable Strategies (4.5* rating out of 5), which Net Impact says is a program for the student who sees business as a tool for good, a vehicle with which they can change the world. Since I have known the MBA program from the inside as an instructor over the last 6 years, I can say that our graduates are doing just that.

 Advantages of the Marlboro Method

The Marlboro MBA has some distinct advantages over many other schools’ offerings, including those of the Ivy League. Undoubtedly one is cost, at less than half the cost of major schools, this advantage is further enhanced in that the MBA course is a blended program, allowing students to continue with their job while studying. What does ‘blended’ mean? The program, normally taken over two years, but with an extension possible, is run on campus in Vermont with Residencies for classes once a month during each Trimester. This is matched with online work, using both a Web-based learning platform and other media for regular contact between students and with their teachers.

 Most of the MBA instructors are practitioners and bring real-life experience into the classroom. With small class sizes, students develop close relationships with their professors. The practice of completing the MBA with a Capstone, supervised by a teacher as adviser, ensures the means of translating learning into practical applications with meaning for the students. Many relationships developed during the Capstone process endure way past graduation.

 While not specifically a curriculum subject, the concept of community building underpins the student/faculty/staff experience on the Marlboro MBA. Formal ‘Community Circles’ take place each day of the on-campus Residencies. There is student and alumni representation on the curriculum development committee. As well as there being an active Net Impact group there are several other forums of student involvement in the program.