Tim Ferriss: “9 Habits to Stop Now”

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In his book, The 4-Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss spends a good amount of space talking about time management and life management skills.  A few weeks, ago I wrote a Blog Post about Tim and his book.  I had a lot of reader interest, so I thought I’d follow up with another post on Tim’s philosophy.

The section entitled “The Best of the Blog” features one of Tim’s blog entries entitled “The Not-to-Do List:  9 Habits to Stop Now.”   Here is his list with my comments in Italics:

1.  Do not answer calls from unrecognized phone numbers.  I admit I do this, especially since I get a lot of phone solicitations from people I don’t know.  If it’s important, the caller will leave you a voice mail, or try and reach you via email or other means.  The key here is that you won’t be distracted by any calls from unknown callers. 

2.  Do not email first thing in the morning or last thing at night.  Ferriss thinks the former “scrambles your priorities” for the day, and the latter causes insomnia.  While I like to batch ,my email responses as much as possible, I actually prefer to check my email first thing in the morning, as well as late at night.  I don’t seem to have any problem focusing on key priorities.

3.  Do not agree to meetings or calls with no clear agenda and time.  He also believes that no calls should take longer than 30 minutes.  This is great if you can do it.  Otherwise, I suggest setting expectations for topics and time at the very beginning of the call or meeting, and then stay on track as best as posible.

4.  Do not let people ramble.  Obvious.

5.  Do not check e-mail constantly.  “Batch” and check at set times only.  Sometimes, you are expecting emails and responses from important team members or clients so it’s necessary to stay on email continually throughout the day.  I agree that email can be a huge distraction, and a time suck, so try and do whatever you can to minimize wasted time and increase efficiency, including following this advice if it works for you.

6.  Do not over-communicate with low-profit, high-maintenance customers.  Great advice and I will go even further and suggest that you should either terminate or restructure contracts with any low-profit and/or high-maintenance customers.  A huge key to success is in having discipline in the kinds of customers you accept.  Bad customers can put you out of business!

7.  Do not work more to fix overwhelmingness – prioritize.  Tim says that “the answer to overwhelmingness is not spinning more plates – or doing more- it’s defining the few things that can really fundamentally change your business and life.”  I agre 100%.

8.  Do not carry a cell phone or Crackberry 24/7.  Tim thinks you should take one day per week off from cell phones and emails.  Nice idea in concept, but the stark reality is that most businesspeople and business owners can’t afford to be out of touch.

9.  Do not expect work to fill a void that non-work relationships and activities should.  Tim says, “Schedule life and defend iit the way you would an important business meeting.”  This is not easy for a lot of workaholics I know, but it’s important to keep this in mind if you seek true work-life equilibrium.

I don’t think there’s anything earth shattering here, plus I am sure you have heard of some or most of these ideas in one form or another over the years.  But it’s always good to think about tips like these to help you be more productive and focused.

Thanks for reading and please subscribe to my Blog via the link on my Home Page.

Featured image courtesy of timferriss 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.

Winning with Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek

When Tim Ferriss‘ book The 4-Four Hour Workweek originally hit the airport bookstores in 2007, I must admit I scoffed at the ridiculous title and thought the author and content would also be ridiculous. I was not alone in my opinion, as his methods and advice have been controversial.

After hearing so much about the book, I did finally buy and read it, and I was pleasantly surprised!  I just read it again on a recent trip to Rio (they do practice the 4 hour workweek in Brazil!) and thought I’d write a couple of Blog posts on the subject.  While there are a lot of contrarian and unusual ideas in the book, Ferriss DOES render some excellent advice on a variety of matters including how to create or design a lifestyle.  He does it in a very motivating “I did it so you can do it too” manner.

His basic themes are:

1.  You CAN enjoy the lifestyle you want, and you can do it now

2.  Simpify to create space and create attention (attention is more important than time because time without attention is useless) to apply to other things

3.  Focus on what’s important in your life and that which makes you happy and fulfilled.

4.  His 4-step “DEAL” formula: Defininition, Eliminate, Automate, and Liberate

Tim Ferris’ DEAL:

Definition – Define the life you want and how much it will cost for you to achieve it (in short, define your Goals)

Elimination – Eliminate stuff that’s not critical to your achieving your goals.  Practice the 80/20 rule and focus on what will get you closer to your ideal lifestyle.

Automation – Outsource noncritical and basic functions.  Find and build a business which generates maximum revenue with minimal time/attention.  The key is to minimize your own personal involvement to free yourself up to do the things YOU WANT.

Liberation – Free yourself from a particular geographic location.  The idea is to be able to travel, or work from anywhere.  Mobility is a hallmark of what Ferris refers to as the “NR,” or “New Rich.”

Tim’s “Muse,” an income machine:  Ferriss urges the reader to find his or her “muse” (a calling or business), and then go for it. Ferriss lays out a blueprint for starting your own business which can essentially run on autopilot.  Apparently, he had done this himself and built a business that generated cash flow to pay the living expenses, while requiring a fraction of the time and effort.  While I believe him, he makes it all sound too easy.

The Top 13 New Rich Mistakes

1.  Losing sight of dreams and falling into work for work’s sake (W4W)

2.  Micromanaging and e-mailing to fill time

3.  Handling problems your outsourcers or-co-workers can handle

4.  Helping outsourcers or co-workers with the same problem more than once, or with noncrisis problems

5.  Chasing customers, particularly unqualified or international prospects, when you have sufficient cash flow to finance your nonfinancial pursuits

6.  Answering e-mail that will not result in a sale or that can be answered by a FAQ or auto-responder

7.  Working where you live, sleep, or should relax

8.  Not performing a thorough 80/20 analysis every two to four weeks for your business and personal life

9.  Striving for endless perfection rather than great or simply good enough, whether in your personal or professional life

10.  Blowing minutiae and small problems out of proportion as an excuse to work

11.  Making non-time-sensitive issues urgent in order to justify work

12.  Viewing one product, job, or prospect as the end-all and be-all of your existence

13.  Ignoring the social rewards of life

In summary, I believe this is a book worth reading, as it contains a lot of useful and highly applicable tips and advice, while proffering some proven scenarios whereby you can unchain yourself from a job or mundane lifestyle, in order to design and pursue immediately a life of your dreams.

Featured image courtesy of benjyfeen 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.

The Wisdom and Memory of Chris Walker, “from the grave”

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My friend and fellow CEO Clubs Lifetime Member, Chris Walker, passed away at the end of August.  Chris was brilliant, super successful in business, humble, generous, and perhaps one of the most intellectually curious people I have ever met.  There are not enough words to describe Chris, but in short, he was a unique and amazing person.

Here is a nice tribute to Chris from the International Dark Sky Association.

Chris was young at heart, and young in age.  He was only 66, but he had the strength and energy of someone 26.  He left the earth too soon, with so much more to do and experience, and so much more influence to have on it.  He wrote a touching farewell letter to his friends, filled with advice and wisdom.”  I took the liberty of highlighting some passages.

“This will be read at my funeral. I’m not sure when it will take place, or where. But you are invited. 

Goodbye

When I’ve gone to funerals, I thought too much time was spent trying to characterize the deceased or to recycle liturgy from the past. Now that it’s my turn, I’m asking your indulgence to explain myself straight from the horse’s mouth. After all, its my party and I’ll cry if I want to. As the song says, you would cry too, if it happened to you.

In saying goodbye to you today, I wanted to dispel some myths.

The first is that you can’t speak from the grave. That may be strictly true, but I always like to have the last word. That’s why I have tried my hand at writing. And here I have it both ways.

Another myth is that I would be late to my funeral. As an advocate for an overscheduled life, I heard this phrase often. However, I would call to your attention that I beat you all to it. For one of the first times in my life, I am early to a gathering. So there. Never be too smug about forecasting the future. 

I hope that this occasion is one for good fellowship. Only a few fleeting tears are allowed. This is a time for joy, to celebrate a life that I feel, looking back, was well spent. I suppose it would have been possible to make a few smarter decisions from time to time, but overall, I am well satisfied at how things turned out. All you can ask out of anyone is to play the cards they have been dealt. We live life forward, and the past is only a guide to what is to come. Like Harry Truman, I don’t regret very much and didn’t spend much time reviewing what-if scenarios. Every experience, whether momentarily pleasant or unpleasant, teaches us, and is valuable for that alone. I’ve learned not to let success or failure bother me too much. And remember, what goes around, comes around.  And in our lifetime typically. No reincarnation apparatus is necessary. Be nice to yourself by being nice to others. 

In truth, my life turned out to be more pleasant, and stimulating, than I ever imagined as a child. The reason for that was that the marvelous progress of our civilization has given capabilities to each of us that we could scarcely conceive when younger.

It was also my good fortune always to have the resources to do what I wanted, at every stage. I was born rich, I lived a rich life, and I died rich. Being rich means being able to spend your time as you please. What more can anyone ask for? Each of you is richer than you think, by the way. 

Now it is true that I didn’t live as many years as I would have liked, but to confess, any amount of time would have been too short. In the context of a 13-billion-year-old universe, any lifetime is immaterial. I learned that the best attitude was to want the right things, but not to want them too much. To stay alive is a desire, but doesn’t last forever. We do not choose to come into this world, and have quite limited control over when we leave. Life is a mixed game of skill and chance, and the chance element can never be eliminated. Death is the price of life, so don’t waste your time. 

For you the living, figure out what you want to accomplish and don’t put it off too long. Even if everything you can think of dying from is miraculously curable, you still don’t have that many more years. Time is passing more quickly as we age, don’t you agree?

I believe in double entry accounting for time. We lead life forward, but we must do a balance sheet measuring time and looking backward. Figure out your goals and how much time you have to accomplish them, and make sure you get started early enough to produce what satisfies your standards. 

As life progressed, I developed some guidelines.

The first is to have fantasies. I believe in them strongly. I also believe in fantasy fulfillment. Then moving on to the next set. I believe in desire, and satisfying desire. I differ from the Buddhists in this regard. The really important ones are internal and self generated. Establishing your own standards, learning more through the years, and raising the bar for the next round, is a good process for everyone. It’s really irrelevant what others are up to. I tried never to let the madding world distract me too much from what I believed in. Following where my mind led me, unfettered by conventional wisdom, was a good strategy. 

My mother said that when she hit 70, she was going to speak her mind regardless of what others thought. I adopted her wisdom earlier, and never regretted that attitude. 

My father’s best advice, which I also adopted, was to deal with people as individuals. Not by titles, nor the age, nor the appearance, nor the group identity. Find out what makes a person tick and deal with that reality. 

The world is composed of distinctive personalities. It takes work to dig out an individuals essence, but it is worth it.. Just what is going on with this person? When I am talking; what is being heard?

I enjoyed this world with a lot of variety built in. It’s endlessly entertaining if you live with the right spirit.  

We all have our strengths and weaknesses. Indeed, I wondered all through my adult life whether it is true that our greatest strength is also our greatest weakness. There is much wisdom in that aphorism. Regardless, I felt the best approach in management and dealing with people generally, is to bring out the strengths, and overlook the weaknesses. What good does it do to complain about behavior or attitudes in others when they have so much to offer on the positive side?

We spend too much time in school studying the acquisition of power. We read books about one war after another. Power for what? The only real power we have, or should aspire to, is the power to lead a proper life by our own standards, and the power to help others achieve what is in their own best interest, according to their own standards. This is all. Anything else is hubris. 

Finally, I commend some time on the road. In the course of a lifetime I saw most of the beauty spots on our lovely planet. This took about three years worth of steady travel. Break it into bite sized intervals. But do it, even if it takes time or money you might hesitate to spend. 

It is a long way to the next planet, and so much to see here. I’ve always believed in staying somewhere until I felt at home, and only then moving on. How well do you know your home planet and its many beauty spots?

Mobility is godlike. Imagine the power to go wherever you wish either on your own power, or by taking advantage of the wonderful travel tools at your disposal. Everything you need can be brought along or acquired on the way! Be divine and move around. 

I was treated, as a total stranger, with marvelous care by everyone I met in the course of my journeys. They provided me with lots of precious moments and treasured memories. 

Another useful lifestyle habit was to split my time between the tried and true and the unknown. I use the 80/20 rule. 80% of my time was spent plowing the same fields, bringing in the harvest in predictable ways. The other 20% was devoted to journeys to unknown places with unpredictable outcomes. This constant openness to novelty made every day one I looked forward to.

In terms of material possessions, I decided to live rich and die poor. There are those who say that we arrive with nothing and leave with nothing, but that is not strictly true. In our Second Age civilization, and for those of higher order, every newborn is entitled to a fair start, either by private means or public. Food, basic education, and competent adult supervision are essential for a child. As an adult, though, I believe we must earn our living from the voluntary exchange of goods and services with our fellow man. The state exists only to facilitate this activity, not to replace it. I arrived with a lot, in the form of good parents, and left with nothing. Most of us will make a net contribution to society and that is why I am optimistic that our civilization will progress and that individuals in the future will be able lead more fulfilling lives. I want to publicly thank all those whose past inventions and achievements made the wealth of my life possible.

What is left over should be given away during your lifetime. Money means nothing unless it is properly placed. Giving away money is easier than acquiring it in the first place, but it still requires skill. Use the same skills you used to accumulate wealth when you dispose of it.  

Finally, as we close our time together, take note of your surroundings. Look for something you never noticed before. It is there, just waiting for you to touch it. That is the attitude I tried to bring to every day. 

I learned, not too late, that when doors shut, we see that others are open. In fact they were open all the time! Only I never noticed them! You have more options than you realize. 

Laugh a lot. Laughter is good for your health. The ability to inspire to laugh in others is among your most valuable talents. And laughing at the absurdity of some of life’s inevitabilities is our only practical way to protest. 

Having had a near-death experience in my midlife, I learned to be overjoyed at opening my eyes every morning and finding my senses still working. 

As the saying goes – 

Yesterday was history

Tomorrow is a dream. 

Today is a gift, and that is why we call it “the present.”

Thank you for coming to help me celebrate the end of my adventure. It is with great admiration and affection that I salute you, my friends, for the last time.”

R.I.P Chris.  Thanks for the memories.  You will be missed, my Friend.


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!

More Business Advice from Warren Buffett

Two weeks ago, I had the good fortune of having my Blog post on Warren Buffett featured on WordPress.com’s home page.  Out of over 400,000 blog posts per day, WordPress features only 10 in its Freshly Pressed section.  I have no idea how my post was selected, but I bet it had to do with Mr Buffett’s popularity, especially in light of the recent turbulence in the stock market.

Needless to say, my Blog site was visited by thousands of Warren Buffett fans, so I thought I’d do another post on the Oracle of Omaha’s advice.  I found a nice article on about.com by Joshua Kennon, a private investor who authored The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Personal Investing, 3rd Edition.  The piece summarized some of Mr. Buffett’s best investment advice.  I chose seven of these nuggets, which I thought could also be very applicable to running and growing a business.

1.  Risk can be greatly reduced by concentrating on only a few holdings.  Business application: FOCUS!  Every company has limited human and capital resources, so concentrate your efforts on a few key areas rather than trying to “boil the ocean.”

2.  Stop trying to predict the direction of the stock market, the economy, interest rates, or elections.  Business application:  STAY THE COURSE.  Once you have made a business decision to go in a particular direction, stay focused on that direction and tune out the inappropriate noise.  If you are sure in your decision and it has been made rationally with good information, then eventually it will pay off.

3.  Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy only when others are fearful. Business application:  BE CONTRARIAN.  More money can be made in business by NOT following the “conventional wisdom.”  Trends move from one end of the pendulum to the other, so when the crowds are strongly of one opinion, then it could be time to make money by taking the opposing view.  For example, just 5 years ago, the “experts” thought the datacenter industry was stagnant.  There was a glut in capacity, and pessimism all around.  The smart contrarian entrepreneur who could see the tidal wave of virtualization and cloud computing was coming, made money by investing heavily in datacenters.

4.  The ability to say “no” is a tremendous advantage for an investor. Business application:  Concentrate, focus, and don’t get distracted.  The ability to say “no” is also a tremendous advantage for a business person.  Steve Jobs, for one, has always prided himself on saying “no” to things that did not fit his vision for Apple.  It is natural for opportunistic business people and entrepreneurs to want to look at EVERY opportunity, but by saying yes to too many projects, you dilute your resources and your company’s energy.

5.  An investor should act as though he had a lifetime decision card with just twenty punches on it.  Business application: BE SUPER SELECTIVE!  Imagine running your business knowing that you will only have 20 truly awesome ideas to bet on in your career!  That’s only one every two years.  Applying this advice means you must do your homework, be very diligent, and choose your projects very judiciously.

6.  Always invest for the long term.  Business application:  Your goal is to create long term shareholder value, so plan and operate your business in a way to achieve this goal. Note that Mr. Buffett uses the word “always,” which is a very strong word.  For me this is real wisdom.  I see far too many business leaders make short term and medium term decisions which appear to make sense, but really do not.  I agree with Mr. Buffett because, ultimately, all that really matters is the value created in the long term.

7.  It is not necessary to do extraordinary things to get extraordinary results. Business application:  You don’t always have to be the best.  You can win big even if you are a little better than your competition.  This is an excellent concept.  Too many companies spend too much time and money trying to be perfect, when all they really need is to stand above their competitors.  CyberRep operated in an industry with “C” players, and I always told our team that we would be successful if we were merely “B+” players.  It worked.

Thanks for reading.  Please comment below and let me know which concept resonates with you…and please sign up for my Blog too.  You can find the signup box in the right column of my Blog’s Home Page.

Featured image courtesy of trackrecord licensed via creative commons.

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.