Tien Wong’s 2012 Predictions as Published in WashingtonExec

Happy New Year!  I’d like to say a special Thank You to JD Kathuria and my friends at WashingtonExec for publishing my look into the crystal ball for 2012.  Here is the Post:

Tien Wong, Chairman and CEO of Opus8

2012 is here, and with it comes big changes for the Federal IT industry.  WashingtonExec gave local executives the opportunity to share their thoughts on where they see the government contracting industry headed.

Tien Wong, Chairman and CEO of Lore Systems and Opus8, gave WashingtonExec six factors that he believes will affect the 2012 Washington, D.C. entrepreneur and government contracting communities.

1.  IT SPENDING and THE ECONOMY – IT spending will increase both in commercial and government sectors, particularly in infrastructure, cloud, and mobility.  We have seen an uptick in business at Lore in the last quarter particularly from our commercial clients.  In conversations with many clients, I believe that overall confidence in the economy is improving a lot!

2.  PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION – Obama will be re-elected.  If the economy is improving, that favors Obama.

3.  STARTUPS – Startups in the DC region will continue to blossom.  The ecosystem is as active and sanguine as it has been in the past 10 years.  You are seeing groups like Startup America, Startup Maryland, Startup VirginiaFounderCorps, and established and new incubators take a keen interest in our region.  Angels are investing, and groups like Virginia’s CIT and Maryland’s DBED will be investing new allocations of seed money.

4.  CLOUD COMPUTING – Cloud adoption in the federal government will accelerate both internally via virtual private clouds, and via commercial providers with new FedRAMP guidelines and the award of commercial Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) contracts (GSA’s IaaS and the Army’s APC2, for example).  The economic and performance benefits are far too great for cloud not to be aggressively adopted well into the future.

5.  DATACENTER CONSOLIDATION – Regarding the federal government’s datacenter consolidation efforts, the government will successfully close many datacenters.  However, I doubt they will hit their goals in 2012  because many individual application owners and datacenter operators are not as cooperative in providing information and complying.  Further, there’s a cost to consolidating and there are limited funds to achieve this, so you’ll likely see a lot of funding come out of O&M budgets.

6.  SMALL BUSINESS – Because of drastically reduced budgets, the government will rely on small business and entrepreneurs for creative ideas to cut costs, drive productivity, and improve performance. The DoD customer has been very open to the commercial best practices Lore is bringing to the table re: datacenter consolidation and application migration.  In addition, small business is more nimble and unencumbered by the fixed costs of the “Bigs,” so we can offer creative pricing structures, and ways for the government to buy from us.  We will see more firm fixed price offers, and shared-risk pricing, which inevitably will save the taxpayers money.

Please let me know what you think about these predictions. Thanks for reading, and please subscribe to my Blog!  All the best for an awesome 2012!

Featured image courtesy of Mike Licht, notionscapital.com, licensed via creative commons.

If You Could Give Your Kids ONLY 3 Pieces of Advice…


IF YOU COULD GIVE YOUR KIDS ONLY 3 PIECES OF ADVICE, WHAT WOULD THEY BE?

This question was posed as an “Icebreaker” to our Forum meeting a few weeks ago.

Think about it.  Of all the DOZENS of great ideas you’d like to give your children, what would be the TOP THREE?

Here are mine:

1.  THINK for yourself – To live a fulfilling life, you have to think independently.  This is how you can create a world of limitless possibility.  Question everything!  It’s OK to listen to “conventional wisdom” and advice that people give you, but YOU have to ultimately form your own opinions.  This is what the best LEADERS do, whether they are leading a company, a family, or their own lives.

2.  Always maintain your INTEGRITY – In the end, you have only 2 things:  your memories and your name.  And your name and reputation live on.  By keeping your promises and doing the RIGHT THING, you will sleep soundly at night and have peace of mind.

3.  Find your PASSION and give 100% – Life is very short.  You don’t have much time, so make the most of it by doing what you LOVE and giving your ALL.  It’s not easy to find your passion. Maybe the search will be painful and long, but you will find it at some point.  And the feeling of satisfaction knowing you have given 100% brings tremendous contentment.

My Forum Brothers all had awesome Advice as well:

Find Yourself.  Be True to Yourself.

GIve and Get Love.

Be Present – Take in the Moment.

Work Hard

Enjoy Life

Be Respectful

Listen Carefully to Advice Along the Way

Modulate Your Emotional Highs and Lows

Embrace Difficulties and Hardship – They are a Catalyst for Growth

Love Your God and Love Your Neighbor as Yourself

Find a Life Partner Who Shares Your Values and Life Experience

In Your Profession: Be Good at It, Enjoy It, and Make Sure It Pays Well

What Top 3 pieces of advice would YOU give to YOUR kids?

Thanks for reading, and please subscribe!

Featured image courtesy of aldrin_muya licensed via creative commons.

Yanik Silver’s 34 WINNING Rules for Maverick Entrepreneurs

My friend Yanik Silver is a successful, young, internet marketing expert.  A self-made millionaire by the age of 30, Yanik exudes creativity, energy, and passion.  He’s a veritable idea factory, and I am impressed by his knowledge and wisdom at such a relatively young age.  His Twitter handle is @yaniksilver and his main Blog site is InternetLifestyle.com.

Yanik has, through reflection and analysis of his business experience and interactions with dozens of the world’s top entrepreneurs and business leaders, developed what he calls his “34 Rules “  They can also be found on one of his Blogs:  maverickbusinessinsider.com.

So here are YANIK SILVER’S 34 RULES FOR MAVERICK ENTREPRENEURS  (I added some commentary of my own in BOLD text below.)

  1. It’s got to be a BIG idea that you, your team and your customers can “get” in seconds.  Agree 100% that THINKING BIG is one of the most important things you can do in business.  See my Blog Post on “5 KEY LEARNINGS.”
  2. Strive to create 10x — 100x in value for any price you charge. Your rewards are always proportionate to the value you provide.
  3. You must charge a premium price so you have a large margin to provide an extraordinary value & experience.  This is right out of the Steve Jobs Playbook!
  4. Provide a ‘Reason Why’ customers should do business with you and pay you a premium.
  5. Get paid before you deliver your product or service. And when possible figure out how to create recurring revenue from transactions.  Collecting cash early allows you to finance your business, and ecurring revenue creates maximum shareholder value.
  6. You get to make the rules for your business. Don’t let industry norms dictate how you’ll work or who you’ll work with.  Another Steve Jobsism.
  7. Create your business around your life instead of settling for your life around your business.
  8. Consistently and constantly force yourself to focus on the ‘critically few’ proactive activities that produce exponential results. Don’t get caught up in minutia & bullshit.  Focus!
  9. Seek to minimize start-up risk but have maximum upside potential.
  10. Get your idea out there as fast as possible even if it’s not quite ready by setting must-hit deadlines. Let the market tell you if you have a winner or not. If not — move on and fail forward fast! If it’s got potential — then you can make it better.  The one great characteristic of internet-based businesses is that the feedback loop is shortened and rapid iteration can be done to perfect the model.
  11. Find partners and team members who are strong where you are weak and appreciate being paid on results.
  12. Your reputation always counts. Honor your obligations and agreements.  There’s nothing more important than INTEGRITY.
  13. Never, ever get paid based on hours worked.
  14. Leverage your marketing activities exponentially by using direct response methods and testing.
  15. Measure and track your marketing so you know what’s working and what’s not.
  16. Bootstrap. Having too much capital leads to incredible waste and doing things using conventional means.  I love this concept.  Bootstrapping builds a culture of resourceful and a “lean and mean” operating philosophy.
  17. Your partners and employees actions are their true core — not what they tell you.
  18. Keep asking the right questions to come up with innovative solutions. “How?”, “What?”, “Where?”, “Who Else?” & “Why?” open up possibilities.
  19. You’ll never have a perfect business and you’ll never be totally “done”. Deal with it.  Warren Buffett has said that it’s not necessary to do extraordinary things to get extraordinary results.  See my related Blog Post on Buffett.
  20. Focus most of your time on your core strengths and less time working in areas you suck at.
  21. Make it easier for customers to buy by taking away the risk of the transaction by guaranteeing what you do in a meaningful way.  If you are supremely confident in your product or service, you should have no problem guaranteeing it, and every customer loves a guarantee.
  22. Always have something else to sell (via upsell, cross-sell, follow-up offer, etc) whenever a transaction takes place. The hottest buyer in the world is one who just gave you money.
  23. Always go back to your existing customers with exceptional offers and reasons they should give you more money. It’s 5x less expensive to sell to happy customers than go find new ones.
  24. However the flip side is – fire your most annoying customers. They’ll be replaced with the right ones.  I have done this and it has worked miracles in getting my Team focused on the higher-value customers.  Figure out how to “score” or rank your customers and rationalize the lowest value ones.  You can then apply the scoring system to new business opportunities you evaluate, so that you accept the customers you want.
  25. The marketplace and competitors are always trying to beat you down to a commodity. Don’t let that happen.  I agree that getting into a commodity position is a losing proposition because someone will ALWAYS be lower in price.
  26. Develop and build your business’s personality that stands out. People want to buy from people.
  27. Create your own category so you can be first in the consumer’s mind.
  28. Go the opposite direction competitors are headed — you’ll stand out.  It’s amazing how so many of successful business leaders and investors are CONTRAIAN in their thinking.
  29. Mastermind and collaborate with other smart entrepreneurs if they have futures that are even bigger than their present.  You can’t win by yourself.  You need peers, advisors, mentors, and others who can help you.  Create a group, join a YPO or EO Forum, or a Vistage Group.  I am in a YPO Forum and the learnings and experience have been priceless.
  30. Celebrate your victories. It’s too easy to simply move on to your next goal without acknowledging and appreciating the ‘win’.  This is a good one.  Oftentimes, you see Founders relentlessly clamoring for “more, more, more!” without stopping to celebrate success.  This is super important for morale.
  31. Make your business AND doing business with you FUN!
  32. Do the unexpected before and after anything goes wrong so customers are compelled to ‘share your story’.
  33. Get a life! Business and making money are important but your life is the sum total of your experiences. Go out and create experiences & adventures so you can come back renewed and inspired for your next big thing.  Life is very short, so enjoy your moments at every opportunity.
  34. Give back! Commit to taking a % of your company’s sales and make a difference. If this becomes a habit like brushing your teeth pretty soon the big checks with lots of zeros won’t be scary to write. If you think you can’t donate a percentage of your sales simply raise your price.  The more you give, the more things come back to you. Giving is great for the community, for your company, and your teammates.  
This is a big list and, for me, I like #1, #6, and #8.  I believe in “Thinking Big.”  You’re going to be thinking anyway, so why not Think Big?  As for #6,  your business will definitely differentiate better if you follow your voice and make your own rules, as opposed to following someone else.  The great companies create their own products and solutions.  They set the trends.  Finally, I can’t say enough about FOCUS (#8), because that’s one of the TOP 5 necessities for success.  I blogged about this in my very first Blog Post, SUCCESS FORMULA.
Which one of these 34 RULES do you like best or find most relevant to your business?  
Please Comment below and Subscribe to my Blog.  Thanks!       
Featured image courtesy of Ralph Zuranski, licensed via creative commons.

5 KEY LEARNINGS – National Capital Region Entrepreneur’s Club

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Recently, I had the honor of speaking at the September, 2011 luncheon of the National Capital Region Entrepreneur’s Club.  It’s a group of terrific business leaders from the DMV region.

Our host, Ingar Grev, asked me to tell my story, talk about some successes, some failures, and key learnings.  Ingar is a US Naval Academy grad with MS and MBA degrees from Maryland.  As fit today as he was 25 years ago when he was a star D-lineman for NAVY, Ingar is an entrepreneur, technology expert, connector, and CEO/executive coach known as The Growth Coach.

He was also nice enough to write about my presentation in his Washington Business Journal blog post.  At the conclusion of my remarks, I listed 5 things I had learned in my experience as an entrepreneur, CEO and investor.  Here are the 5 Key Learnings I shared with the group:

1.  Do the right thing always.  It can be expensive to take the high road, and it takes courage, but at the end of the day, your reputation is all you really have.  High integrity is impossible to fake, and integrity is a real magnet for other Winners and for success in general.

2.  Build relationships.  You can’t win without great partners, clients, and teammates. Success is all about creating, building, and nurturing relationships.  I am not talking about quantity, but rather QUALITY of relationships.  People want to do business with people they know, like, and trust.  The old adage about “It’s not what you know, it’s WHO you know” is true.

3.  Never, ever, ever, ever, ever give up. The great football coach Vince Lombardi once said, “The Green Bay Packers never lost a football game.  They just ran out of time.” Luckily in business, there is no time clock!  Winning in business is about having staying power (capital, stamina, confidence, persistence)   In my case, my company CyberRep lost our largest client twice and faced extreme business challenges both times.   If we didn’t have confidence and persistence, we would have never replaced the lost business and grown our company.  We never gave up, and would up with a great outcome.

4. Think BIG.  Over the years, we set grand plans for ourselves and somehow managed to hit quite a few of them.  My philosophy is that if you’re going to think, you may as well think big.  Set your goals realistically but high.  Stretch yourself.  I know many people, including my partners and me, who have surprised themselves with what they were able to accomplish.  Your organizations will rally around and get excited by big plans and big goals, so go ahead and shoot for the moon.  If you fall short, you still will have made good progress.

5.  Greatness is defined by Consistency.  Great performers are able to produce day in and day out on a consistent basis.  Great companies deliver for their clients and customers consistently.  The challenge is figuring out how to get your organizations to do fantastic work over and over again.  If you can do it, then congratulations, your company is on its way to being “great.”

I hope you enjoyed this Post.  Thanks for reading, and please sign up for my Blog!

Featured image courtesy of woodleywonderworks licensed via creative commons.

Steve Jobs, Customer Experience Obsessor (CEO)

A few days before Steve Jobs announced that he was stepping down as CEO of Apple, my family and I paid a visit to Apple’s corporate headquarters at One Infinite Loop in Cupertino, CA.  My daughter Caroline, a huge fan of all products Apple, was the driving force behind our pilgrimage to this tech “mecca.”

We were able to walk around the lobby, which had a display case of the company’s 3 Emmy Awards.  Interestingly, these were the ONLY awards showcased in the lobby.  We talked to a few Apple employees and asked them questions about Steve Jobs.  His office is on the 4th floor (top floor) and he is known to walk around a lot and talk to employees.

Like most students of business, I have been mesmerized by Steve’s approach to business, as well as his personal and corporate success.  In many ways, he is the most accomplished business leader in the last century, having almost singlehandedly invented the PC industry and revolutionized 5 other industries:  cell phones, consumer electronics, film, music, and retail, while influencing virtually every other industry.  His roles at Apple: co-founder, marketer, entrepreneur, inventor, CEO, creative genius, designer, architect, etc.

The most important role Steve plays, however, is also the least discussed, and that is his role as Apple’s Customer Experience Obsessor, a different kind of “CEO.”  (OK, I know that the word “obsessor” does not exist according to Merriam-Webster, but you know what I mean!)   Steve’s obsessive focus on customer experience is the prime reason for Apple’s immense success.

Here are 6 Customer Experience Obsessions that are core to Apple (please pardon the pun).

1.  Customers must fall in love at first sight – For Steve, the customer experience begins with the physical beauty and elegance of Apple’s products. Striking, amazing, revolutionary, simple, and most importantly, COOL!  Apple stuff looks great, they sound great, and they FEEL great.  They touch all the senses, and this is how customers get hooked on them.

2.  A child must be able to use it! – With Apple products, more than any other, product and user become one.  User interfaces, when introduced, have all been VASTLY superior to the competition’s far clunkier interfaces. For example, the original Macintosh desktop computer was truly revolutionary.  It had a unique “windows” GUI interface, and users interacted with the computer via a brand new device called a “mouse.”  And how about the original iPod, with its click wheel, the iPhone with its dynamic touch screen, and the iPad – they were so easy that young children could use them.

3. NO user manuals –  Who doesn’t hate user manuals?  All Apple devices come out of the box ready to use and in working condition, with NO setup or configuration required. This has become a hallmark of the Apple brand.  Peripherals are all “plug and play.” There is no need for user manuals because Steve knows that customers don’t want to deal with complexity.  They want their new toys to work right away with no brain damage, so he made sure his industrial designers delivered on this brand promise.

4. Make the buying experience easy, and customers will buy more –  Whether it’s downloading videos and music from iTunes, or buying a laptop from an Apple Store, the experience is easy, friendly, and even fun!  We all know how super easy it is to preview and buy media on iTunes.  And what happens when you go to an Apple store?  They are clean, well organized, and have lots of demos you can try.  Their salespeople are friendly, incredibly knowledgeable, and PASSIONATE.  And when you’re ready to buy, you don’t go to a counter.  Your salesperson uses an iPod touch POS device with credit card scanner, and the process is about the easiest retail experience you’ll ever have.

5. The products MUST BE RELIABLE – People often criticize Apple for having closed or proprietary technologies, and for overly controlling application development partners (iPhone and iPad apps).  While Apple surely makes more money and keeps competitors at bay this way, Steve’s real reason for this is QUALITY CONTROL.  Apple products work BETTER and are less buggy and less susceptible to viruses because of the seamless integration of hardware and software, their tight control over partnerships, and their use of higher quality components and awesome design.  And with reliable products come customer satisfaction and evangelism, which brings us to Steve’s 6th customer experience concept:

6. The Best Customer Service is NO Customer Service – Steve clearly understands this customer service adage.  The theory is that if you do a great job acquiring and delivering for your customer, you won’t have the need for customer service.  Of course, every company has customer service issues, but those that have the fewest issues are the companies who do a great job making their customers happy, and therefore have the highest customer satisfaction.  And Apple’s customer service is very good, especially for a consumer products company.

At the end of the day, satisfied customers are repeat customers, and they evangelize on Apple’s behalf.  Steve knows this and that’s why he focused on the entire customer experience:  the fun and low-friction buying experience, each product’s “WOW” factor, the user interface, product reliability, and good customer service.

Thanks for reading and let me know what you think!  Please also sign up for my Blog on my Home Page!

Winning Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs – Part 2

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As an evangelist of entrepreneurship and entrepreneurship education, I speak often to groups of students and entrepreneurs.  The last slide in my presentation is always “Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs.”  In my Winning Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs – Part 1 Blog Post, I discussed the first 5 of 9 pieces of advice I give to audiences whom I address. They are:

Integrity

Do It Now

Great People

Focus on Your Customer

Be Flexible

Here are the final 4 bullets:

Build a Culture EarlyI believe that the Right Culture is one of the 5 keys to building a Hypergrowth company.  And it’s never too early to build the right culture.  The minute you hire employee #1, you have doubled your company headcount.  Your startup is a reflection of you, your values, and your vision.  In order to get your team focused on the mission and how to execute, you need to make sure they all subscribe to YOUR values and vision, i.e. your culture.  Write your mission, vision, and values down, and communicate these constantly, in company meetings, emails, memos, etc.  Give frequent recognition and praise to those who embody aspects of your culture.  If you can have your teammates all living the same culture, you will have a huge competitive advantage over other companies in your space.

Be Persistent – Even the “best” startups fail.  And I bet most fail because the Founder gave up too soon.  It may take you 5 years or more to get to breakeven, so go into your venture knowing that succes will not come easily.  It takes energy, time, effort, sweat, and a little luck.  But if you hang in there and persist, you will get some breaks along the way and you will start to grow.  My company, CyberRep, took 4 years to hit $500k in revenue.  It was a long slog to get to that number.  Countless all-nighters, 85-hour workweeks, and sacrifice.  But we persisted, and by being in business and hanging in there, we started to get some breaks and we leveraged those breaks into little wins.  Then the little wins became bigger and bigger wins.  If we had given up early, we’d have never grown our company to $80 million.

Overcapitalize – When raising money, it’s very important to raise a little more than you need. I have seen so many entrepreneurs spend all their time in capital raise mode, when they should be spending time with their customers and building their team.  Raising money is a big distraction, so you need to make sure you have enough cash to get you to your destination instead of filling up many times along the way.  It’s OK to give up more equity because your payback will be in terms of time saved (and invested with your customers and team) as well as the fact that you’ll reach your destination sooner. This is one of my points in a prior Blog Post about Raising Money.

Have FUN!This is the most important piece of advice.  Life is short, and it flies by quickly….so if you’re not doing something you love, you are basically wasting your time. You have the power to change your situation, and the sooner, the better!  If you’re going to do anything, including starting a business, make sure you enjoy it. Sure, there will be many bad days filled with stress and disappointments, but success is all about doing your best and enjoying the ride.

Thanks very much for reading.  What do you think?  I’d love your feedback and thoughts, so please Comment below…and please sign up for my Blog too!  (See the Signup box on the sidebar of my Home Page)

Featured image courtesy of Robert Scoble licensed via creative commons.

Winning Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs – Part 1

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I have had the good fortune of being invited frequently to speak to groups of students (Undergrads and MBAs), and at various trade and industry forums throughout the USA, and even throughout China and in Dubai.  I always end my talks with a slide entitled Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs.

It’s my small way of evangelizing entrepreneurship and giving a nudge to those who are trying to muster the courage to start their own businesses.  The slide contains 9 bullets of advice.  Here are the first 5:

Integrity – What do you have if you don’t have integrity?  Say what you do and do what you say.  Do the right thing.  Integrity is the basis of trust which is the basis of all relationships, business and otherwise.  It can’t be faked. And, at the end of the day, you want to be able to sleep soundly at night.  Everyone wants to work with high integrity people, so always operate with the highest degree of integrity.

Do It Now – So many aspiring entrepreneurs are waiting for the exact “right moment” to start their business.  Well, I’ve got news for you.  The “right moment” is NOW.  Why wait? When you think about it, the worst thing that can happen is you fail, and you go back and get a job.  But the learnings you will have amassed are priceless.  With the economy and markets flat these days, a resourceful entrepreneur with a great idea and execution capability can be very successful.  Competitors and established players are in disarray and “playing defense.”  They are cutting costs, and trying to figure out their next pivot while you can start with a blank slate and make a market.  Go for it!

Great People – You can’t win without having a great team around you.  That goes for business, as well as sports, war, etc.  Surround yourself with the very best talent you can recruit for your crusade.  Great people are worth multiples of what you pay them, so take your time and find excellent associates who know how to deliver and who share your passion and values.

Focus on Your Customer – Too many entrepreneurs get enamored with their product or invention, or processes and trivia which have little impact on their startup.  Not to pick on them, but I see this with a lot of engineers and techie entrepreneurs. You may have the best product, the coolest logo, and the most high powered investors and advisors, BUT without a customer, you do not have a business.  The most important thing entrepreneurs need to focus on is their customers, who they are, what they want or need, and how you can help them.  Thrill them and you will be successful.  This needs to be your #1 focus at the beginning, and throughout the life of your company.

Be Flexible – Business plans are awesome.  I have seen many dozens of good ones.  I am a big proponent of planning, because the very act of planning helps you and your team think through challenges and scenarios, etc. and you learn tons through the process. But one thing is certain:  nothing ever turns out as planned.  Because of this, an entrepreneur needs to be flexible.  This could mean changing your solution, modifying your product, selling into a different market segment, etc.  The alternative, being inflexible, could be deadly to a startup.

Thanks very much for reading.  What do you think?  I’d love your feedback and thoughts, so please Comment below…and please sign up for my Blog too!  (See the Signup box on the sidebar of my Home Page)

Featured image courtesy of dierken licensed via creative commons.

The Winning Habit of “Sharpening the Saw”

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Stephen Covey talks about “Sharpening the Saw” as the 7th Habit in his classic book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  For Covey, this applies to individuals.  However, this Habit can easily be adopted by companies and organizations.

One of the best habits my Team and I have acquired over the past 3 years has been a continual improvement, or “saw sharpening” habit honed via my involvement and participation in a Forum of CEO peers.

After each of our monthly Forum meetings, we go around the table and share feedback by answering the following 4 questions:

1.  Did we use our time wisely?

2.  What worked?

3.  What didn’t work?

4.  How could I have been a better participant?

The idea behind asking and answering these questions is that we improve the experience of each Member, as well as to improve the performance of our Forum group as a whole.

We have applied this at Lore Systems by making it a HABIT to ask and answer these 4 questions after EVERY meeting (standing meetings, staff meetings, sales calls, etc.), conference call and customer interaction.

The results have been phenomenal in terms of elevating the trust and collaboration of an already high-performing team.

Try it, and let me know how it works!

Featured image courtesy of mrsdkrebs licensed via creative commons.

Scaling a Hypergrowth Enterprise – Part 4 (Process)

This is the 4th in a series of Posts on the five elements of scaling a hypergrowth enterprise.

A “ONE IN A MILLION” HYPERGROWTH STORY

I was the co-founder and CEO of CyberRep, a CRM and call center company which grew revenues nearly 160x (16,000%) to over $80 million over a 9 year period.  In the 8 years since we sold CyberRep, the organization has grown an additional 20x (2000%) to over $1.6 billion in annual revenues.  Yes, that’s “billion” with a “B.” So, over a 17 year period, this enterprise grew 3200x, or 320,000%.  I’m not a business historian or a statistician, but I would bet that these numbers would put our little startup from 1992 in the “better than one in a million” category of organizations that have experienced this level of growth.

In Part 1 of this series, I talked about People as the first of 5 key elements for scaling a hypergrowth company.  In Part 2 of this series, we discussed Culture, and in Part 3, we examined Scalable Customers. The fourth key element in scaling a hypergrowth enterprise is Process.

THE BENEFITS OF PROCESS

A critical success factor in our ability to grow the business was our commitment to mapping and implementing all of our key business processes.  The 3 key benefits to this were:  1.  We were able to dissect HOW we were doing certain things, and thereby make improvements along the way (process engineering, in essence) 2.  We were now able to “cookie cut” or repeat business processes that were vitally important to our business and our customers (improved business operations), and 3.  We minimized errors and were more consistent in our service delivery (happy customers!).

We didn’t get bogged down in the “flavor” of process engineering or documentation, a la TQM, ISO, or Six Sigma.  We just did the best we could, got them down on paper, trained our people, and put in place measurements to monitor our adherence to the processes.

You may think you are too small to create processes for everything.  In fact, this may even seem to be a waste of time for a startup that has limited resources and “other” more important priorities.  But the simple fact is that every organization, whether a startup or Fortune 100 company, will benefit from developing and implementing SOME key processes.  As a company grows, it becomes imperative to document more and more proceses in order to establish a firm foundation for hypergrowth.

THE “PROCESS PROCESS” – THE WHAT AND THE HOW

At my company, we documented and implemented close to 200 different KEY business processes.  This was a very time consuming task, but once completed, maintaining and adding to our library was relatively easy.  We had processes for things such as business acceptance, hiring, internal communications, various types of training, employee suggestions, innovation, client reviews, different kinds of reporting, and maintaining & upgrading IT and telecom systems, for example.  We even had a process for developing and rolling out processes, the “process process.”

Who’s responsible for the process process?  We were lucky in that our COO was a TQM expert and a trained process engineer, so he owned the process process.  I would suggest that a C-level player in your organization take ownership for sure.  The process process is so critical to winning that it deserves C-level attention and sponsorship.

We assigned a process champion for each process, who was responsible for gathering the information and procedures, as well as getting buy in from the people who would be most affected by the process, e.g. the people who had to follow the process.  I do NOT recommend having one person create processes in a vacuum because the most difficult thing about doing processes is NOT the documentation.  It’s the actual implementation, where you put theory into practice. Where people are involved, the easiest way to gain adoption is to have a cross-section of people involved in all aspects of the planning and implementation of each process.

Do it, Implement It, and Live it.  In order to make the process process work, you need to be serious and consistent about your commitment to it.  Pay especially close attention to the implementation.  Keep monitoring and measuring for the first 60 days or so to insure compliance.  And live it!  When your team sees its top leaders embracing this, or any initiative for that matter, it becomes ingrained into the organization’s culture, and becomes a matter of individual, team, and corporate habit.  And a funny thing will happen:  the discipline that your team puts into the process process will lead to hypergrowth, as your existing scalable clients grow, and your business operations run more smoothly.

Thanks very much for reading.  Please tell me what you think.  How do you see your organization getting more disciplined about the process process?  Which specific processes you have had success or challenges with implementing?  What are your ideas on how a company can improve its “process process”?

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Warren Buffett’s Ten Rules for Winning

While enjoying a nice lunch with my Son at a Minneapolis Jimmy John’s sub shop this weekend, I saw this “WARREN BUFFETT’S TEN RULES” sign tacked to the wall.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to take a glare-free or hi-res photo, so let me list out these Rules below (with my comments in bold Italics):

No. 1:  REINVEST YOUR PROFITS – When you first make money, you may be tempted to spend it.  Don’t.  Instead, reinvest the profits.  Buffett learned this early on. In high school, he and a pal bought a pinball machine to put in a barbershop. With the money they earned, they bought more machines until they had eight in different shops. When the friends sold the venture, Buffett used the proceeds to buy stocks and to start another business. No surprise that this is Rule #1.  He is the greatest investor of our time and one of the reasons is because he followed his own advice here.

No. 2:  BE WILLING TO BE DIFFERENT – Don’t base your decisions upon what everyone is saying or doing. When Buffett began managing money in 1956 with $100,000 cobbled together from a handful of investors, he was dubbed an oddball. He worked in Omaha, not on Wall Street, and he refused to tell his partners where he was putting their money. People predicted that he’d fall, but when he closed his partnership 14 years later, it was worth more than $100 million.  In short:  Don’t be afraid to be contrarian.  Time and time again, we see tremendously successful investors, businessmen, entrepreneurs take a contrarian approach.  Wasn’t it John D. Rockefeller who said the best time to buy is when there’s “blood in the streets”?

No. 3:  NEVER SUCK YOUR THUMB – Gather in advance any information you need to make a decision, and ask a friend or relative to make sure that you stick to a deadline. Buffett prides himself on swiftly making up his mind and acting on it. He calls any unnecessary sitting and thinking “thumb-sucking.”  Buffett invested $5 Billion in Goldman Sachs during the worst moments of the 2008 financial crisis when Wall Street appeared to be melting down.  He committed this money in a 15 minute (no thumb sucking here) phone call with Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein.  Result?  A $10 Billion profit in 30 months.

No. 4:  SPELL OUT THE DEAL BEFORE YOU START – Your bargaining leverage is always greatest before you begin a job – that’s when you have something to offer that the other party wants. Buffett learned this lesson the hard way as a kid, when his grandfather Earnest hired him and a friend to dig out the family grocery store after a blizzard. The boys spent five hours shoveling until they could barely straighten their frozen hands. Afterward, his grandfather gave the pair less that 90 cents to split.  This advice holds not only for jobs, but also for any kind of negotiation, investments, partnerships, JVs, etc.

No. 5:  WATCH SMALL EXPENSES – Buffett invests in business run by managers who obsess over the tiniest costs. He once acquired a company whose owner counted the sheets in rolls of 500-sheet toilet paper to see if he was being cheated (he was). He also admired a friend who painted only the side of his office building that faced the road.  I think the lesson is also that the devil’s in the details, and that little things mean a lot. The best organizations have a handle on all of the nuances and details of their operations.

No. 6:  LIMIT WHAT YOU BORROW – Buffett has never borrowed a significant amount – not to invest, not for a mortgage. He has gotten many heartrending letters from people who thought their borrowing was manageable but became overwhelmed by debt. His advice: Negotiate with creditors to pay what you can. Then, when you’re debt-free, work on saving some money that you can invest.  If our country had followed this advice, we wouldn’t be in the financial pickle we’re in now, that’s for sure.  Seems like Buffett is not only saying to limit what you borrow, but also very simply to be disciplined, and that’s a key success driver

No. 7:  BE PERSISTENT – With tenacity and ingenuity, you can win against a more established competitor. Buffett acquired the Nebraska Furniture Mart in 1983 because he liked the way its founder, Rose Blumkin, did business. A Russian immigrant, she built the mart from a pawnshop into the largest furniture store in North America. Her strategy was to undersell the big shots, and she was a merciless negotiator.  This is my favorite of the Buffett Rules.

No. 8:  KNOW WHEN TO QUIT – Once, when Buffett was a teen, he went to the racetrack. He bet on a race and lost. To recoup his funds, he bet on another race. He lost again, leaving him with close to nothing. He felt sick – he had squandered nearly a week’s earnings. Buffett never repeated that mistake.  The only one making money at the racetrack is the owner.  I bet he’s happy he learned this lesson at a young age.

No. 9:  ASSESS THE RISKS – In 1995, the employer of Buffett’s son, Howie, was accused by the FBI of price-fixing. Buffett advised Howie to imagine the worst- and best-case scenarios if he stayed with the company. His son quickly realized the risks of staying far outweighed any potential gains, and he quit the next day.  Continually assess current and future risks and mitigate those you can to help shape and control your future.

No. 10:  KNOW WHAT SUCCESS REALLY MEANS – Despite his wealth, Buffett does not measure success by dollars. In 2006, he pledged to give away almost his entire fortune to charities, primarily the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He’s adamant about not funding monuments to himself – no Warren Buffett buildings or halls. “When you get to my age, you’ll measure your success in life by how many of the people you want to have love you actually do love you. That’s the ultimate test of how you lived your life.”  What a great definition of “success.”  After all the effort, the blood, sweat and tears, and the battle scars from the business and investment world, the Master defines his success so simply and elegantly.

I can’t help but think that the world would be a better place, and the economy would be in much better shape if we all followed Warren Buffett’s Rules.

Hopefully, President Obama will continue to seek Mr. Buffett’s sage counsel and (I know this is a stretch) convince him to become our next Treasury Secretary when Tim Geithner (my Mandarin language TA at Dartmouth) retires.

Thanks for reading, and please leave a Comment below.  Which Buffett Rule is your favorite one? What kinds of things do you think Mr. Buffett would do if he were Treasury Secretary?

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