Saturday, December 30, 2006

The compelling logic
of platform companies

The most recent issue of Barron’s (12/25/06) ran an interesting cover story called 'Sizzle Inc.'.

The Barron's writer, Johnathan R. Laing, interviewed the principals of the international research firm GaveKal. I’ve ordered the book. More in future posts.

The subtitle of the article is “For the US, developing the sizzle is now just as important as selling the steak. Shedding risk and stabilizing the economy by making products abroad.”

While this outsourcing article is directed at large businesses, their ideas about creating value are useful for start ups and emerging enterprises.

The GaveKal research shows that the spreading of the economic risks, as represented by outsourcing, is slowing the total amount of volatility we all feel. The suggestion is that macro and micro economic systems become better balanced, less volatile and more valuable as they become increasingly integrated

Those of us in economically better developed countries need to plan our enterprises carefully so as to be able to make the most appropriate contributions.

The Barron's/GaveKal piece talks about platform companies. These are organizations that are highly focused on their core competencies. Core competencies are not static placeholders used to fight off change. Unique core competencies are platforms for growing new solutions for your markets.

Here's what the article says about platform companies, "Platform companies require far less capital because they concentrate on product development and sales, leaving to parties abroad the heavy financial lifting entailed by manufacturing."

As a side note, I agree that manufacturing is the heaviest lifting at big global scales, but for small and emerging firms, the ability to uniquely and innovatively manufacture products is entirely viable. I’m watching many examples of this in my day job. The art and efficiency creative enterprises are able build into manufacturing can be a great core competency in the emerging world of smaller, more specialized production runs.

I think of great short run manufacturing capability as the ‘D’ in R&D, research and development. Great short run manufacturing is always adapting, always getting smarter, often out in front.

That said, the platform model in the article focuses on the three legs of a sustainable economic structure: R&D, design and sales/distribution. Then, they recommend, outsource the rest.

Outsourcing is a controversial term, but remember, for start ups and emerging enterprises, outsourcing doesn't need to be across oceans. Outsourcing for start ups can also be the folks just out your back door, or your next UPS/FedX visit.

The solutions you provide to real problems are your platform. You plug in the rest of the world as needed.

I put up a post about how well this worked for us (Fri., May 13, 2005 'Remote Partnering'). We outsourced out our back door, literally, and it worked very well for many years. We outsourced an expensive manufacturing step we didn’t feel we needed to invest in. We bought into excess vendor capacity. The vendor added to their base load, and everyone benefited, especially our customers.

I watched this platform model work successfully for more than 25 years in our first enterprise, Banner Graphics.

I define a platform company as an enterprise with a unique core competency for solving problems in their carefully identified target markets. A platform company executes repeatable solutions to real problems. A platform company has their business processes in place, not on paper.

A platform enterprise is designed to get smarter and more valuable over time, not necessarily bigger as measured by many of the typical metrics.

For entrepreneurs of any kind, I believe value emerges at the intersection of problem solving, sales, and execution.

You need to deploy these most productive assets skillfully. You have to know enough about your market to be able to approach it with authority and at the least possible cost initially. The platform concept offers this path.

Do what you do best and plug in the rest. If your solutions are valuable, other organizations will knit their platforms into yours.

The Barron's article was heavily macro economics oriented, focusing on China and mega supply chains. However, I've lived the start up side of this and the GaveKal ideas about platform enterprises are just as valuable for emerging enterprises, probably more so.

As you work on your new enterprise, don’t let yourself get caught in the common trap of trying to control all the variables.

It’s more helpful to think of your enterprise as a platform; a platform for solving problems, a platform for helping your markets, and most of all, a platform for continuously creating sustainable growth for your enterprise.

If you plan and execute well, your organization will be able to continuously create sustainable, valuable launches.

That friends, is why we call them platforms.

The Barron's article posted at Silicon Investor

The GaveKal site

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Jimi Hendrix's guitar,, and you

I like Kevin Maney's tech columns in USA Today. He's a good writer and he keeps up a nice blog about tech news.

Kevin had a piece in the paper on Nov 22, 2006 that caught my eye. He was writing about’s new vision for entrepreneurs. Amazon is beginning to unbundle their operations so that outside organizations can now pick from many Amazon in-house capabilities and apply them to their own enterprises.

This has been done with digital products in the past, but Amazon is gearing up to let us do this with 3D stuff, using their computers and providing physical distribution as well.

The businesses I’ve started have always sold things to other organizations. It didn’t matter what kind of organizations, just that there was a structure of some kind in place. For seed stage start ups, selling to other organizations has been a far more efficient way to start enterprises than selling things to civilians. The basis for this idea is that selling directly to the public has been far more expensive, and, most importantly, much more time consuming. Most start ups do not have the time available to waste dealing with anyone who can walk through the front door.

Obviously, that ground has been shifting daily as the internet emerges. The ability to sell directly at the retail level has been growing for the big guys as well as start ups.

The ability to keep enterprises small, fast and efficient has never been easier or cheaper. Now, the ability to sell to civilians seems to be emerging with the potential to take us far beyond eBay.

What I like about this Amazon development is that (hopefully) start ups and emerging enterprises can sell to civilians in ways they never could before, by opening different kinds of front doors.

Amazon won’t be the only portal you can do this with, but they are lighting the way. This trend will enrich the entrepreneurial community worldwide.

With the Amazon model, Kevin Maney says "You can rent space on Amazon’s computers to run a business, or to rent out its transaction capabilities to sell things and collect money, or rent pieces of its warehouses and distribution system to store and ship items - or all of the above."

Maney continues, "So with almost no start up costs, anyone anywhere could become a retailer. It's not just contracting with Amazon to sell your stuff, the way Target does. It's leasing pieces of Amazon to create something totally unrelated to Amazon."

Now, my seed stage friends, initially this is probably not set up for you. As Mr. Maney quotes Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO, "We can take all the things that used to be fixed cost, and let people pay by the drink." That's code for ‘this service is going to be expensive’. At first, this is probably not for seed stagers, but it’s coming.

However, it looks to me like emerging organizations with the funding could jump right in. Storage space at Amazon distribution hubs seems to be about $0.45 per cubic foot per month. I have not used the electronic interface yet, but it's reported strength is it simplicity. The new access to Amazon's computing power is priced at a rate that looks cheap to me. This will be worth exploring. If you have a tech person on your team it would seem especially alluring.

Interesting side note. As this idea catches on, it will allow Amazon and others to offer increasingly lower costs for these services. According to Jeff Bezos, interviewed at this month's Web 2.0 conference, only 17% of the capacity of Amazon's servers are used. Mr. Bezos says it's like having a Boeing 747 and leaving it parked on the runway 83% of the time.

This move by Amazon is a clear, clarion shot across the bow of the emerging entrepreneurial culture announcing that the big guns get it. They are turning their ships to serve the needs of ever smaller enterprises with an increasing array of valuable resources. Good on 'em. Thank you Mr Bezos. I hope this idea evolves well.

Business Week did a very good cover story on the Amazon rollout in it’s Nov. 13, 2006 issue. I liked a quote there from an early adopter of the Amazon offering, Chris MacAskill, a former fierce competitor of Amazon. Chris is now president of an on line photo sharing firm, who says this about the Amazon approach, "Everything we can get Amazon to do, we will get Amazon to do. You're going to see all kinds of startups get a much better and faster start" by using Amazon services.

Is it for everybody? Of course not. Is it good news for all entrepreneurs? You bet.

As for Kevin Maney, I can't leave his column without applauding some great writing celebrating this evolving story.

"What's new about Amazon is the leap to physical products. This might be one of those evolutionary milestones, like when the first fish crawled up on land, or Jimi Hendrix discovered feedback on his guitar."

My start up friends, big new evolutionary benefits are raining down on our community at an increasing rate. Many will help you and your enterprise become more sustainable. Follow those like Jimi followed his feedback loops.

Developments like those at Amazon are leading to a lot more opportunities for a lot more people.

That includes you.

Kevin Maney’s full article at USA Today

Amazon portal to learn more

Jeff Bezos interview at Web 2.0

ComputerWorld Magazine review of the Amazon project

Business Week story on Amazon

Kevin Maney's blog

Kevin Maney’s home page

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Hurry up and start slow.
What start ups need to do first and fast.

I recognize the idea of a slow start up movement is not for everyone. But it can be a very appealing path for many entrepreneurs.

The world will still be moved and shaken by fast start ups that get faster and better. I love that approach also, but a slow start up movement for those not involved in official start up channels has great merit.

Before I leave this slow start up movement idea, I'd like to post a real world example that I've just advised a friend to follow.

She thinks she wants to start a new enterprise and have it up and running so that it could support some or all of her income in a year or two.

Good. We've got a start. We've got a goal. Now let's get it underway.

The first thing to do with a slow start up is hurry. There are two things you need to do ASAP.

Let's assume you've identified a field you can make a contribution to.

The very first thing you need is a domain name. The web is where you'll tell your story. Your domain name helps define your story.

Ideally your domain name should also be the name of your enterprise.

To get to a great name, focus on what your contribution will be to your market, what solutions you will deliver. Those words and ideas can be woven into a short, memorable name for your enterprise which in turn becomes your domain name.

Naming enterprises can be like magic. You're bringing something exciting to life unexpectedly. Take some time with this. Then hurry up and get that name.

You’ll need to register the name of your enterprise with your state and your domain name on the internet as fast as possible.

To do this you need to research both simultaneously.

Start by researching available domain names. You can be hugely creative in the combination of words and numbers to get a really great name. There are about a million new domain names registered daily according to domain name tracker DomainTools, so you should move quickly.

There are many sites that let you research domain names. I find it's usually best to register the domain name with the group you'll use to host your site. These sites have simple search engines that can quickly tell you if the name you're searching is available. I have used for the most recent sites I've set up. Their support team is first rate and prices are great.

Let’s say you’ve found a name you love and one that will tell your story well. Next you need to make sure that name is available in the state where you live.

Most states let you search on line to see if the name is available. (More on this soon, but I believe that forming your enterprise as an member controlled LLC is wisest for seed stage start ups and sole proprietor type enterprises). In this case, you’d search your state's availability using your proposed name ‘Widgets, LLC’.

To locate the site for your state, search using your state name and the search terms "register LLC". You can also call any local office associated with economic development and they can help you find this information. My state of Wisconsin has a very simple on line form to create an LLC. It takes about 10 minutes to complete. Cost to register a Wisconsin LLC is $130.00 (12/16/06). Try to go direct to your state and do it yourself on line if you can. You don't need 3rd parties to do this for you.

If the name you’ve chosen is available on the internet and in your state, go get ‘em. Take a deep breath, enjoy the moment, and reserve the name in both spheres.

You don't need to launch your organization or put up a web site now. You're just preserving the domain name and the legal name where you live.

If you’re ready to take your first enterprise steps, lock down your name as fast as the muse allows. Done right, it can light your path and help you jump out of bed every day.

Then you can settle back and enjoy your slow start.

LunarPages domain search

Site for State of WI on line LLC registration

Current stats for active domains at

The slow startup movement

You’ve heard of the slow foods movement? Perhaps the slow cities movement?

I’ve got an addition. The slow startup movement.

The common language of start ups these days is FAST. If you are not currently involved with the debate as an entrepreneur but would like to know more, listening in hurts.

The talk is all speed. Speed of the markets, speed of innovations, speed up new products. Kill or be killed. If you’re not in hyperdrive on this highway you’re road kill.

Here’s an idea. Don’t get on that highway if you can avoid it. Take the back roads. They’re more scenic. You’ll have time to think and to stop and talk to people. If you plan your journey right, you’ll understand many are smarter than you about things you need to learn.

Not all start ups fit this profile, but many could. I’m a 50 something boomer and it fits my demographic like a glove. Start now. Get the process in place on your schedule. Enjoy the learning curve. When you’re ready, jump in with both feet. I also think this can apply to young people, people in their middle years, single people, folks with families and seniors. I can’t think of anyone that wouldn’t benefit by creating a slow start up for themselves.

Think of the benefits of slowly starting your new enterprise, if you have the time and resources available…

If you can start slow you can start small. This means no big outlays of money while you organize it. Take small bites and little risks and see where it takes you.

If you can start slow you can start smart. This means taking the time to weave a wide mix of vendors, end users, accounting professionals, sales channels and many others, into business processes that work for you and your enterprise. You can take the time to make your enterprise sustainable on your terms.

If you can start slow you can manage your risks. This start up process is fraught with risk. Starting slow teaches you how to understand which risks are valuable and which are dangerous.

I've been through a number of different kinds of startups. Some are entirely appropriate to launch through public funding channels. When speed is necessary, it can be readily provided by traditional channels. Angels, venture firms, loans, convertible debt, development organizations, banks, governments, and all of the other usual suspects are great resources and should all be used where appropriate.

But not every new venture needs those resources. Not every new enterprise is an appropriate match for those tools. You don’t have to follow that path just because that’s all anyone is talking about. If you have the time available to start slow, do it. You don’t have throw yourself or your enterprise onto the fires of the official start up channels. It’s rough out there. Speed and deadlines rule in those markets, as they should. If you’re not ready for prime time, and most seed stage ventures are not, create sustainability ahead of speed.

The slow startup is one clear path to sustainable work.

Slow startups don’t mean less work. They mean more. You’ll need to capture and measure every result. You’ll need to sift all your data from many directions to find the patterns that will take your enterprise forward. You will need to quickly learn from every mistake. You will need to get smarter every day.

As you infuse your business processes with this information, your slow start up can provide you and your enterprise increasing successes, personal and professional nourishment, and the discipline required to keep flapping your wings.

Then, when you’re ready to take flight, you can do it successfully. At the time of your choosing. Into an environment of your choosing with the tools and resources you’ve developed

When the right time comes, you won’t be talking about a start up. You’ll be talking about a take off.

Enjoy your journey, slowly.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Commission Venture Investing:
A feedback loop for seed stage funding

I was turning wrenches with my partner Dave recently as we worked to get a recycler out the door. Normally I’m on the road peddling these devices, and it was nice to have the face time with my friend and fellow warrior.

In reminiscing about our start, Dave reminded me that 8 years ago we’d each invested a grand total of $3,000 to start our business. We now have customers on 6 continents, meaningful international awards, and a rocking business model.

The current big push for starting up enterprises typically begins with business models that require you to search for outside capital through formal business funding channels right out of the gate.

This isn't necessarily the only path to follow. Many great enterprises were created around business models that didn’t start with formal investment funding. They were started with savings or with small investments from family or friends.

My recommendation to friends starting enterprises is that it's smart to start small if you can. Start part time if you need to. There’s no shame in this at all (I put up a post about starting part time dated 5/10/05). Try to do it with your own money first. If you can’t cover all of it and if the sums are modest, you can consider small investments from people who know you. This is not the time for you and your enterprise to be courting strangers. Your seed investor(s) should only come from people who know and like you. Many start ups need more formal funding avenues. But many more do not.

If you follow this route, I’m going to suggest a method for creating sustainable investment transactions for early stagers. I call it commission venture investing. The start up model offered by commission venturing begins the repayments to your investors immediately in the form of commissions from every transaction. This creates wonderful built in feedback loops for all involved.

Diving headlong into the outside funding game is very time consuming, full of dead ends, and you can easily end up with people in your shorts you may not want there.

You’re not a bad entrepreneur if you think you can start without jumping right into the formal funding rounds. Don't accept the premise that you have to go after outside angel investors, venture capital, or state and federal grants to start an enterprise. Go try out your ideas. Test your solutions in the real world first. Learn your story. Learn to tell your story.

Get out there and make the many mistakes awaiting you. Celebrate the small victories. These will help craft the destiny of your new enterprise. Time and small scale failures are immeasurably wonderful gifts to give yourself and your start up. The creative serendipity arising from mistakes can be the most productive moments of your enterprise life. More valuable information can be learned from the gleanings of what went wrong than can ever come from happy-dancing around what went right.

However, it’s MUCH harder to work through these valuable mistakes and small victories after you’ve entered the formal business funding rounds.

If you don't have enough funds available to start, family and friends can be considered as seed funders, but only if you approach this process very carefully. The end result should be first and foremost, that after the transaction has run its course, you're still family and friends. Full transparency and full disclosure with your seed stage funders. If you can’t operate this way, stay away from your family and friends, because you don't deserve them.

Creating new enterprises with family or friends involved is an opportunity that requires strict discipline to work. Commission venture investing, with its built in immediate feedback loops, offers a scalable model that can benefit all involved.

Rather than promising repayment of the funding from profits to be earned at some future point (if your model pans out), start the payback from the first sale. By this I mean paying out an agreed upon percent of monthly revenue, not profit. Repay your funder(s) with a percent every month’s sales until everyone is made whole.

Your funder(s) see immediate results, even if small. It’s also good for your start up. Commission venture investing requires that you have a firm understanding of all your costs. If the investment payback requires that you charge more, good. At the start of your enterprise, you should be charging more anyway, I promise. Might as well include their repayment portion and get it over with. Even if your enterprise achieves toasthood, your funder(s) will have been repaid in some measure. If you make it through this investment round and everyone is paid back, you’ll be operating at a higher profitability level.

Your accounting responsibilities will require that you operate in full transparency with your funder(s). Your books will be managed by a Certified Public Accountant who is also your in house ethics committee and the core of your financial marketing program. Any intelligent investor will want the authentifications provided by a CPA.

There is also an important side benefit for the larger economy as well. Many people want to invest in entrepreneurship and innovation, but don’t feel they can for various reasons. Commission venturing allows all of us to participate down to the micro level. Funder side, enterprise side. All of it at the appropriate scale for everyone involved.

Nobel Laureate Mohammad Yunas of the Grameen Bank has shown that the micro loans his organization makes creates many wonderful sustainable enterprises. Most important, those loans are paid back at rates far better than typical bank loans.

One of the main reasons is the feedback loops Mr. Yunas and The Grameen Bank build into their loan process. Often the recipients have no experience with economics at any level, so peer involvement becomes important for all involved.

In commission venturing, I see a similar feedback loop, except appropriate for the scale of the economics involved. The funder(s) have full access to your transparent books. They get regular feedback (payments) on the progress of their investment. They want you to succeed, and you’ll be working hard and smart to do so. You will also come out of your seed stage rounds with a far less complicated ownership structure that traditional venture investment models would have created.

This is not a Luddite screed against the more formal venture capital routes. On the contrary. As your enterprise grows into the 21st century, you’ll most likely need the outside resources of angels, venture folks, development orgs, etc. When you get to that level you’ll need to have documented that you have the discipline and the track record needed to execute at the next tier. By demonstrating that you’ve ventured through the seed stage with documented, successful results, you’re earning your eBay stars, and are capable of taking the next steps.

The start up game is changing fundamentally, with over the top positive news for entrepreneurs and the economies we operate in. Many terrific new support programs are now available with more appearing daily it seems.

However, don’t consider that you are shut out of the game if you can’t muster the personal or professional resources needed to start your enterprise with institutional investors. That path is important but over-hyped for many of us.

Commission venture investing can offer a more valuable scale and a more manageable model for seed stage start ups. It creates trust, and it creates returns for your funder(s) from the first transactions. It’s exciting and helpful for all involved. It invigorates the process with a sense of ownership and pride in the enterprise that makes for a great feedback loop. It also requires good discipline from you and all your business processes, especially accounting. I think commission venture investing can evolve into a new form of early stage seed funding that will benefit everyone, from the smallest ventures and the smallest investors right up through global economies.

Don’t be intimidated by the jargon of professionals talking about entrepreneurship. Their approach can quickly intimidate anyone new to the game.

Fire up your dream. Find a problem to fix and build your enterprise around your solutions.

With good planning, you can start your enterprise your way. Kitchen tables, notebooks, pencils (with LOTS of erasers) and all the low tech, small money solutions you can muster are perfectly valid tools for launching your enterprise.

Commission venture investing can work for start ups and small investors alike, especially at the early seed stages.

Go get ‘em, friend.

Mohammed Yunas, 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner and the wonderful Grameen Bank. You can check threir loan and payback info right from their home page. My kind of transparency. My kind of heroes.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Effective partnering

I'm a big fan of the writer Marcus Buckingham. He has a really great eye for important simplicities the rest of us overlook. His specialty is business writing and he gets to the big picture stuff very effectively.

His earlier book, First Break All The Rules, is excellent. So is his most recent book, The One Thing You Need To Know.

Seriously audacious title, and Mr. Buckingham delivers.

I would not think of summarizing this book because he does it best: Find out what you don’t like doing and stop doing it.

Don’t just take away that summary, however. The development of the arguments leading to the conclusions are as important as the conclusions. Read/listen to this book.

In the course of supporting his thoughts, I think Mr. Buckingham caught one really important idea poetically.

"Effective partnering is the quiet secret of the successful"

My wife and partner, Mary, and I ran a really fulfilling enterprise as partners for 25 years. Solved problems for customers, raised the kids, paid the bills. Mary has been the go-to knowledge worker of our current enterprise since its inception. However, she and my daughters have made it abundantly clear that if a third request is ever made, no jury would convict.

My current biz partner Dave hobbles on water. I think that Dave is the most creative industrial designer in the world, working in our field of expertise. Dave would likely not go to print ( I hope ) with what it’s really like working with me as a partner, but it’s indicative when he says that he’s like DC current to my AC.

Effective partnering. I really like that phrase.

Partners don’t necessarily have to share the business with you. As you consider paths for new or emerging enterprises, consider building your business model around a particularly great vendor (have backups B and C in place please). Perhaps you can partner with an especially great set of customers. Your enterprise can partner with anyone you think may move your model forward. In this part of your enterprise life there are no rules.

In one section of The One Thing You Need To Know, Mr. Buckingham discusses (without using the exact term here) the partnering that should emanate from great managers. Their highest task is to find what’s unique and great about each person reporting to them and build a partnering strategy to put those strengths into play for the common cause. I've always tried to do this.

Partners certainly don’t have to be in the same space with you in this day and age. I looked up an older post from May 13, 2005 that’s about remote partnering, and grabbed a piece from that:

"My current day job is based on the best remote partnering relationship I've ever been blessed to participate in. My friend and business partner Dave lives and supervises manufacturing of our equipment in the next state over, Illinois. We headquartered the biz in Wisconsin where I live and work. By planning our enterprise around this circumstance from the beginning, it feels as though we're just a cubicle away most of the time."

Can partners go bad? More likely than not. Doing enterprise with a partner is not dating. It’s raising kids together. Think through your choices very carefully.

Also be aware that creating great partnering relationships is best made up from slow motion, planned steps, including measurable metrics. This is the kind of stuff, done right, that can turn into the enterprise equivalent of love.

How do you find great partners? I met Mary at Shorty’s Bar in Winona, MN. Hell, I don’t know. Look for help. Trust your gut. Hedge your bets initially then let go as much as you can to the partnership. Great partnering is like making angels in the snow. The impression you make on each other can be art. There is just nothing better in the enterprise world as when great partnering works.

I'm deeply thankful to all the great partners that I've worked with over the decades. I also thank Marcus Buckingham for an elegant, important contribution to this subject that you should carry with you, friends:

“Effective partnering is the quiet secret of the successful.”

Visit Marcus Buckingham’s site

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Idea generated jobs

There is a great deal to like about Thomas Friedman's new book, The World Is Flat.

It's written as an historical perspective on the great forces moving societies and markets. It should also be looked at as a how-to primer on getting yourself ready to participate in the coming global economy. I highly recommend this book from the perspective of new and emerging enterprises.

Among the many quotes I've tagged for highlighting, one keeps popping to the front: "There may be a limit to the number of good factory jobs in the world, but there is no limit to the number of idea generated jobs in the world."

Friedman quotes Netscape cofounder Marc Andreesen on the subject: "If you believe human wants and needs are infinite, then there are infinite industries to be created, infinite businesses to be started, and infinite jobs to be done, and the only limiting factor is human imagination."

Andreesen continues later, "You should be afraid of free markets only if you believe that you will never need new medicines, new work flow software, new industries, new coffeehouses. Yes, it takes a leap of faith, based on economics, to say that there will be new things to do."

Thomas Friedman summarizes, "But there always have been new jobs to do, and there is no fundamental reason to believe the future will be different. Some 150 years ago, 90 percent of Americans worked in agriculture and related fields. Today it's only 3 or 4 percent. What if the government had decided to protect and subsidize all those agricultural jobs and not embrace industrialization and then computerization? Would America as a whole really be better off today? Hardly."

This post is NOT about unfettered trade with countries that are human rights thugs and environmental criminals. Our governments need to get better hold of that process, creating 21st century standards for social, environmental and production standards that meet the needs of all world citizens. Under this scenario, I firmly believe that millions of great new enterprises will arise worldwide, in both developed and developing countries.

This post is about you creating new enterprises. This post is about the valuable resource that is your imagination. You can do it. You’ll probably need to do it someday, if not for the economics of it, then for your own mental health.

There is no limit to the number of idea generated jobs that can be created. Don’t look at what’s been done. Look at what’s possible. Look at what needs fixing. Honor your own ideas and look to your future. Plan well and be ready to launch when your time comes.

I wish you good ideas.

Thomas Friedman’s web site. In 2005, The World Is Flat was given the first Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award, and Friedman was named one of America's Best Leaders by U.S. News & World Report.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Variations on sustainable

The November 2006 INC. magazine features its first ever Green 50 awards. Editor Jane Berentson describes these companies as "part of a growing breed we call ecocapitalists - men and women who've chosen to train their creativity, passion and acumen on finding solutions to the thorny problem of preserving our planet."

You can read about their choices from the link below. A very admirable group.

I want you to remember also, my friends, that sustainable not only means helping the planet keep running, it also means keeping your own enterprises running.

Sustainable work is not just blue sky stuff. It's executing after the phone rings.

You don't need an MBA to successfully run your own enterprise. You do however need control over the information flow of your enterprise, including contacts, sales, order management and financial data.

As you look through the wonderful companies listed in the Green 50 below, keep in mind that the folks behind these enterprises are also executing the data and financial fundamentals that make their inspiring stories possible.

I wish you the best as your enterprises launch and emerge to change the world.

Just remember to take good notes. Green 50 Stories, slideshows and podcasts about doing green business.

One of my favorite winners, Greenfuel Technologies. I believe algae is in your future.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Help you don't need

Doing anything for the first time is hard and usually scary.

You don't know what's supposed to come next. Every step is a step into the unknown. You don't know the lingo. You're ready to accept any help that's offered. You make mistakes.

None of that is bad, except for one word. Any. As in "You're ready to accept any help."

Any help is no help. Specific help you target as a need to grow your own skills is good. Wading into something new and looking around to see who will help is bad, especially in the world of new enterprises.

You're thinking about going out on your own. Good. You've summoned the courage. Embrace it. You're heart is racing. I'm with you. Now stop. Exhale. Look in the mirror and check out the directions you're taking. Let life get quiet and listen to your own common sense. Of course your first steps into the world of enterprise need help. But not ANY help. You need help that builds your own possibilities, not the possibilities of people out to steal your dreams.

Far too often first timers take any help. They turn to the noisiest niche in the new biz world, multi level marketing. "You can get rich without selling", or "make money without risk". Followed by, "Hey Uncle Bert, have you been looking for a new, exciting opportunity".

Don't do it. Multilevel marketing is the essence of "any help". It's no help. It's worse than no help, because you can do so much better on your own, on a path blessed by your own good thoughts and fixing problems in the world that actually need fixing.

I'd intended to explore multilevel marketing in one of these posts, when a good friend linked me to a blog by Ramit Sethi. Mr. Sethi is a very good young writer and recent Stanford grad. His blog, subtly named, "I Will Teach You To Be Rich" focuses on "personal finance and personal entrepreneurship for college students, recent grads, and everyone else."

Personal entrepreneurship for college students and recent grads... Yikes, somebody please buy Mr. Sethi a cup of coffee (not the cheap stuff - make it McDonalds) and give him my best. College students and recent grads REALLY need to learn the stuff of new and emerging enterprises. The world REALLY needs college students and recent grads to get their enterprise asses in gear and fix this place for their own benefit and the generations that succeed us.

Mr. Sethi is a person of Indian ancestry. I hope that it’s then OK for him to title his Nov. 14, 2006 post “Why I Hate Indian Network Marketers So Much.”

He’s not picking on Indian people, but using his personal knowledge of the ways scammers exploit people by maliciously utilizing cultural seams.

With Mr. Sethi’s post, you get a nice overview of the different types of multilevel scams out there. You get a short case study, some precise and funny analysis, and finally, a great set of rules to live by when considering this pathway of multilevel marketing: Ramit’s 5 Maxims of Network Marketing.

Two of the biggest tragedies multilevel marketing inflicts on the wonderful folks who have summoned their resolve and subscribed to the leap are highlighted by Mr. Sethi. First, is the distraction from your real goals. Second, and most important, is the cultural and spiritual misuse of enterprise creation that can deflate your ambitions and waste your abilities.

Here’s s good piece from his post:

”These programs are a scam on your time and your relationships. Yes, there are exceptions and a few people make lots of money. But dig into the data and you'll discover that most people--and I mean that statistically--most people make less than $100/month. Most people don't last very long, either. "But Ramit," you might say, naively, "how can it hurt? If I can make $50/month, what's wrong with that? PS I think I can actually make $50,000/month!!!"

There are four things wrong with that: First, you won't make that much. Second, you're not creating any lasting value or building a skill set for you. Third, have you seen how friends treat you if you try to turn your friendship into a sales relationship? And fourth, engaging in these stupid "opportunities" distracts you from real entrepreneurship and your goals.”

It was a cool recent grad that brought this blog to my attention. She reads Mr. Sethi all the time. I would pass along his link to anyone, but I would especially recommend his writing to young folks.

We need you in the game young people. Don’t take “any help”. Look for contributions that you can make, then build sustainable commercial pathways to get there.

The antithesis of sustainable work is multilevel marketing. Don’t do it. My thanks to Mr. Sethi for defining it so well.

You’re smart enough. There are plenty of problems to fix. Common sense and hard work rule. Go get ‘em my young friends!

Ramit Sethi’s blog

Wikipedia info on multilevel marketing Lots of good links shining lights on multilevel marketing scams. A private site run by Stephen Barrett, MD

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Calling home

My Dad is an inventor. A Chemical Engineer by training, his passion is for problems and blank pieces of paper.

My Mom is wonderful. She has strengths and insights I can’t begin to count here, but she is not an inventor. At 50 something, I’m still growing up with this lovely family wrapped around me.

When I call my folks, Mom usually answers. Dad is usually working. When the ebb and flow of their family life seems to be on divergent courses, I can hear it coming quickly. I can count on Mom to summarize all her thoughts about my Dad’s imperfections, flaws and unfamiliar behaviors with just one word. I see the word coming, inexorably as the little pleasantries get covered. It’s a word not usually associated with venom. It’s a pretty neutral word. An unemotional, technical word,

Except in my family, and in lots of naysayer corners of the world.

To get Mom’s version right, you have to say this word as though it gave you a disease, or say it as though you were spitting out something unpleasant. Are you feeling surly? Good. The word? Prototypes. As in “Your Father is making (there are spiders in my mouth) prototypes.”

It’s good to be on the phone for these conversations because Mom can’t see me smiling. Of course he’s making prototypes. He has to. That’s where change comes from.

The Nov/Dec ’06 MIT Technology Review has a great article by James Surowiecki summarizing the work of an endeavor called One Laptop per Child (OLPC), and its evangelist Nicholas Negroponte. The core of the idea is to create a partnership of seemingly disparate parties, fuse in some technologies that barely exist and work out distribution channels in ways that seem counterproductive.

Prototypes. Squared and cubed. God I wish I was there.

Mr. Negroponte and OLPC are working out details omnidirectionally to get $100 computers into the hands of millions of the world’s poorest children.

They’re probing the world’s realities to find a seam that will work. The technology designs make me shiver. Self powered, drop ‘em on rocks computers that can link every kid in a dirt floor classroom together, as well as to the global internet. It’s a really cool story. Good on ya guys. Make no small plans.

The discussions swirling around this project are interesting, and well illuminated in the OLPC article.

There’s lots of criticism of the plan. It hasn’t been done before. Global norms of common understanding aren’t in place. Bureaucracies are confused. Lefties don’t like it. Righties don’t like it. Spit with me kids, prototypes.

Much of the criticism seems to focus on the fact that resources for the poor should first be directed at the areas of greatest need.

I like the historical perspective from the OCPL article. Andrew Carnegie amassed a fortune in the 1800s that he turned toward building free libraries. He did this at a time when few libraries even existed, and the ones that did charged fees, and had few books to circulate. No one even considered that poor people should have access to these libraries. They had bigger problems.

So Mr. Carnegie went around what people considered normal. He created resources where none had previously existed. He found his own money could leverage public monies. He worked out commercial paths that were counterintuitive, yet repeatable.

Of course the criticism grew.

“… in fact, in many of the towns where he built libraries, citizens grumbled that their tax dollars should be going to something that really mattered.. Yet in the long run, one would be hard pressed to say that either Carnegie or the taxpayers wasted that money, because the social benefits of disseminating knowledge are so immense.”

Much of what One Laptop per Child proposes is tricky. Some of it may not stick. Good. Better than good. It’s great. Their striving will open new and unexpected paths for all of us. We will learn from their hard work what works and more importantly, what doesn’t work and why. We’ll be indebted to every failure and celebrating every success.

It’s the unconventional enterprise models that OLPC is creating that I find inspiring. They are not directing resources. They’re creating new resources to let people make their own lives better. They’re working to find non traditional paths to distribute those resources so those in need can make their own decisions.

You can do this in your own way, on your own path, with your own plan. Throw yourself heartily at one problem. Work to create resources where they don’t exist. The best part about making something new is that there are very few rules. Don’t expect all of it to stick. Just keep making prototypes.

Then repeat the ones that stick.

Thanks Dad.

One Laptop per Child

MIT Technology Review. Hard copy edition of the Nov/Dec cover is a close up of an OLPC computer overlaid with this title: Will This Save the World? The $100 Laptop. Mr. Surowiecki's article is titled: Philanthropy's New Prototype.

wiki info about James_Surowiecki author of the The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations. A very interesting book I highly recommend.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Making a difference for women entrepreneurs

There is a lot of hype in the enterprise biz.

Everybody wants to promote new business creation and talk about the importance of emerging enterprises.

The talk is typically just that. Talk.

The intention to support new biz and emerging enterprises is honorable. Creating false hopes when there is no plan for helping is bitter.

When the sun sets and you're fighting cash flow in the dark by yourself, honorable intentions are hard to deposit in the bank.

Women entrepreneurs face start up hurdles that can be especially formidable.

I came across a nice site aimed at helping women entrepreneurs that I've linked below. The organization is called Count Me In. I don't know anyone who has used this group, but their approach looks quite good.

Count Me In specializes in making the first loans to women entrepreneurs. From $500 up to $10,000 for the second loan. The loan scoring procedure is geared toward women, which is not at all typical.

I'd recommend that my women friends who are poking at the enterprise path check out Count Me In. There is a nice set of free resources on line as well as access to information about their support and financial services.

Interestingly, their program has tapped into a free market solution for building national resources in this field by teaming with American Express and others to create a program called Make Mine A $Million (M3) which is designed to create a network of one million women-owned businesses earning $1 million in revenue by the year 2010.

This looks like the kind of help women owned start ups and emerging enterprises can turn to for real resources, not just good intentions.

I wish you and Count Me In all the best.

Count Me In

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Believing better stories

This piece is written in service of the idea that your story is important and you can guide your next chapters, at least on this enterprise stuff, the way you want.

I like Ode Magazine a lot. Jurrian Kemp is the Editor. Mr. Kemp set up their April 2006 issue around story telling. Seth Godin's recent book, All Marketers Are Liars: The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low-Trust World, was featured prominently on the cover. The take away line from Seth's exerpt is "The only predictable marketing strategy today is a simple one: Be authentic. Do what you say you're going to do."

I could not agree with that more. Nothing else will work. Everything else will ultimately fail. Period. You have to approach your enterprise with that attitude or you're toast. Short term, of course, you can fool a few people, but it's not sustainable. Don't go there.

The need to be authentic with yourself is equally critical. You need to follow your own common sense and honor your insight when you've found the contribution you can make. You do not need to fit into anyone elses view of how your enterprise should look. Stick to your own knitting. Excluding the IRS, do not automatically accept any rules for participating in start ups and emerging enterprises.

A great New Yorker cartoon from BEK a while back showed two non-descript ladies, one of whom is at home, trying on a goofy new dress. The caption read, "It looked cute when I saw it on someone pretty." In the October 2006 issue of the New Yorker, a great article on the gem trade in Madagascar quotes a dealer as saying, "In the gem business we have very little sausage. It's all sizzle."

When you're pitched any kind of plan for how you should succeed, or what you need to do, parse it out carefully. Don't think you can take some shiny idea from the world of commerce and adopt it wholesale. You're being sold. Find the shiny idea in you and work out the commercial pathways in a manner that's sustainable for you and your enterprise.

There are problems to fix all over. Pick one you feel you can make a contribution to, then have at it.

Jurriaan Kamp, the Ode Editor had his own excellent piece in that April '06 issue. I think it informs this discussion well. He states: "Every day 40,000 people around the planet die of hunger because we believe in the wrong stories. The undisputed fact is that enough food and wealth is generated each year for everyone in the world, even for our large, ever-expanding population. Yet we believe in the story that poverty and hunger are inevitable, that it will take decades to solve those problems. But that story is not the truth. It's clear there are solutions readily available, and I believe it is our duty to tell those stories. I think we can do much better."

"The better stories are not an illusion: they are a choice, a calling. The truth is that every day, everywhere in the world at every moment, people are solving problems and finding answers to the challenges of making the world fairer, cleaner and more beautiful. Stories about those people and their iniatives are the better stories."

If you consider starting your own enterprise, the stories you believe will strongly influence your outcome. Make your own story because nobody - nobody - can tell it better than you can. Ignore the pitches and the fast answers. Sure there are lessons to be learned from many directions, but your way forward is your story to write. Get yourself a blank piece of paper. Write it down. Then believe it. Then do it.

Jurrian Kemp's full article in Ode

Ode Magazine

Seth Godin's article in Ode. "Either you’re going to tell stories that move people, or you will become irrelevant."

Seth Godin's blog for All Marketers are Liars

Photo above is of the Shafer Trail in Canyonlands National Park. Don't do this trail without careful consideration.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Tough love biz style

Roger Martin is the Dean of the biz school up at the University of Toronto. I like his writing a lot.

Mr. Martin has a great piece in the October 2006 issue of Fast Company called 'Tough Love'. He takes on a lot of current conflicts related to managing enterprises, specifically the differences between the old school "doing-business-as-usual" crowd and the hip new "business-by-design" bunch. I love his analysis, but then I just have this wierd attraction to common sense.

On the surface, the article speaks to larger organizations, but you need to hear this and get it circulating before, during, and after the birth of your emerging enterprise. Casting yourself and your enterprise as hard ass numbers thugs just won't cut it today. Believing your killer design and motivational ethics will win the day is just wrong.

I've done it both ways. I've been involved with enterprises that insisted the right way was one or the other. It's not.

This isn't just Proctor & Gamble stuff. Start ups and early stagers need to know this more than organizations farther along. As emerging enterprises you have little or no margin for error. Screw this one up and you'll be looking for the next one fast, or worse, leaving the enterprise game for good.

Don't be doctrinaire about your strengths. In the market today, problem solving is key. So are measurable, reproducible results from honed processes and procedures. You can do both. You have to do both. It's common sense that drives success.

Here's how Roger Martin closes his piece (put yourself and your emerging enterprise into this picture):

"Managing the yin and yang of business-as-usual and business-by design means striking a balance between any number of countervailing impulses: Give people the freedom to follow their nose, but hold them accountable for their performance. Set a high bar, but recognize that failure is an unavoidable consequence of pushing into new territory. Do everything possible not just to thrill your customers but also to wring costs and efficiencies out of vendors and suppliers. The biggest challenge for all of us, designers and businesspeople alike, is to become equally adept at quantifying the now and intuiting what's next. There's simply no other way to win."

Roger Martin’s links at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Business

Tough Love article in Oct. 2006 Fast Company

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Boats to build

I've been playing a Guy Clark CD on my road trips lately. The title song, Boats To Build, resonates like a theme song for enterprise creation.

It's time for a change
I'm tired of that same ol same
the same ol words same ol lines
the same of tricks and the same ol rhymes

Days precious days
roll in and out like waves
I got boards to bend I got planks to nail
I got charts to make I got seas to sail

I'm gonna build me a boat
with these two hands
it'll be a fair curve
from a noble plan
let the chips fall where they will
cause I've got a boat to build

Sails are just like wings
the wind can make em sing
songs of life and songs of hope
songs to keep your dreams afloat


Shores distant shores
There's where I'm headed for
got the stars to guide my way
sail into the light of day

I'm gonna build me a boat
with these two hands
it'll be a fair curve
from a noble plan
let the chips fall where they will
cause I've got a boat to build

Keep these thoughts close to you as you travel into the life of self enterprise. Days do pass like waves. Unless you design your leap out of the same old same, you're going to drown in what-ifs. Set your dreams afloat. Build your noble plan. Find a problem to fix and set sail.

Mr. Clark is an American treasure. A gentleman who understands the beauty of good work. Visit Guy Clark's web site

Friday, October 06, 2006

Your purpose is not to be happy

Leo Rosten was a Polish born, American writer (1908-1997).

Mr. Rosten probably didn't mean to direct his words to the world of self enterprise, nonetheless, very nice reminders.

I believe sustainable work is not about making you happy. It's about work that makes the world a better place, executed in a way that pays the bills. It's about being useful.

You'll find your happiness in the contributions you make. That's the path that's sustainable.

Or, as Leo Rosten put it:

"I cannot believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. I think the purpose of life is to be useful, to be responsible, to be compassionate. It is, above all to matter, to count, to stand for something, to have made some difference that you lived at all."

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Making creativity pay

After a long summer of business challenges, I'm getting back to my 'Friday night writes'.

I return to the writings of Tom Peters often. I spotted a quote from Tom back in May of this year and saved it. I saved it specifically because these things are rarely said about business and enterprise creation.

"Business: The Ultimate Creative Endeavor.

Business: The Ultimate Personal Development-Growth Experience.

Business: The Ultimate Transcendent Service Opportunity"

Creating new enterprises is an outlet many of us find powerfully awakening. It's striving without a net.

You have the choice as to how you design your enterprise. You can build it around cutting corners and screwing people, or you can build it around service, creativity and doing enterprise that makes a positive difference.

However, I don't want you to think we're just doing warm friendly self enterprise hugs here.

I want you start and build your own enterprises, and I want you to sustain those enterprises. I want you to make the world a better place. Over and over. Sustainable. I want you to keep your enterprise going.

You can't express your creativity and hope it pays.

You need to express your creativity and make it pay.

First, good solutions to problems, good plans, good numbers, and good processes and procedures.

Then you get to creativity, personal growth and best of all, a good night's sleep.

Tom Peters site

Monday, May 22, 2006

Sales tales
May '06

Sooner or later I'm going to get around to posting about selling something you love as a fast way to sustainable work.

In my opinion, developing sales for new and helpful products and services is the lowest hanging fruit you'll ever find on your way to your own enterprise and sustainable work.

You've got to do it right and you've got to have some pretty thick skin. I offer this as a reminder that it's still called work. Happened this month.

I was on a call where I was to meet up with a distributor of our stuff at a potential customer's plant. I'd never been there before. Just stopping by to see if I could help our distributor.

The receptionist let me through, and as I opened the door the plant manager looked at me, then looked at my distributor and said, "At least you're not the most hated guy in the plant anymore."

In the peddler biz, we call this a rough start.

I turned down most of the work that this potential customer wanted us to do.

Did we need the work? Hell yes. You'd better never answer no to that question, friend. You'll always need more of the work your sustainable worklife thrives on.

Did we need that specific work? No.

Clearly the circumstances on the ground were troubled and the need for our stuff couldn't be adequately demonstrated to me by anyone involved. All they could say was that they were in some kind of crisis and needed help.

Don't we all?

You've got to get paid for solving problems, not screwed for participating in someone else's emergencies.

Avoid the idiot jobs and run from the kind of customers that create them.

As a peddler doing something you love, you can change the world, while making a better life for yourself, your family and the rest of the planet.

My friend, please understand the value of saying no to the wrong jobs.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Plan B

I've been holding fast to a quote that I first saw on Tom Peter’s web site and wanted to highlight it in support of those starting and growing enterprises. It originated with James Yorke and we'll get to its text in a bit.

James Yorke is a mathemetician and scholar, who coined the term and propelled the field of "chaos theory".

The host of one of my favorite radio shows (Dick Gordon, The Connection, WBUR, Boston) summarized chaos theory this way: "Come on, you know it. The story about the butterflies. How the flapping of their tiny, delicate wings somewhere on, say, the South American continent, will influence a storm in upstate New York or Southern California. The story is used to illuminate a central tenant of what has come to be known as chaos theory, the idea that an act so small, so distant, so seemingly random and irrelevant can have monstrous, life and universe-changing consequences.

The theory applies to more than just the weather, it can be used to explain the course of history, HIV/AIDS, interplanetary gravitational pulls, and yes, even our own messy lives. James Yorke coined the phrase "Chaos Theory." He's this year's winner of the prestigious Japan Prize for his contribution to science....."

The Japan Prize, which Dr. Yorke won in 2003, is globally significant. Past winners include Robert Gallo for the co-discovery of the HIV virus, Timothy Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, MIT's Marvin Minsky for his seminal artificial intelligence work, and Johns Hopkins' Donald Henderson (with others) for the eradication of smallpox.

I also like the way that The Exploratorium out in San Francisco described the implications of chaos theory: "Today deterministic chaotic behavior has been discovered in numerous natural phenomena and analyzed in detail in dozens of experiments. From compound pendula to dripping faucets, from predator-prey ecologies to measle epidemics, from oscillating chemical reactions to irregular beats of a chicken heart, the underlying mechanisms have been detected. Despite the scientific successes, though, it is important to emphasize that deterministic chaos, and the various mechanisms that underlie it, are not the only explanations of random, noisy, unpredictable behavior in nature. Many well-known processes, and undoubtedly many waiting to be discovered, can produce behavior that is unpredictable. Thus, this abiding question is, How do we discover which of many possible mechanisms has produced the apparent disorder?

I don't pretend to know anything about the math behind chaos theory. But the fact that there is highly regarded science telling me that random stuff happens from predictable causes is comforting. It means we'll never run out of random stuff and that's a fact we should all plan for.

It's not my point here that you're generating chaos in your enterprise life. That's a given. You're hopefully doing something new, fixing problems and generating new economic geographies. Keep at it.

What I'd like to emphasize is the randomness of the universe coming at you and your enterprise.

This is particularly true in enterprise planning. Former President and Supreme Commander during WWII Dwight Eisenhower is often quoted as saying, "Plans are nothing; planning is everything."

While you're in the midst of everything that you will face, nothing can be taken as certain. Absolute certainties sometimes fail. Sure things, often aren't.

Don't get me wrong. Getting as close as you can to "certain and sure" is the gold standard metric. Push, try, refine, get closer continuously.

But most of the time, life happens. Obscure causes can send waves through your enterprise life that defy logic but do, in fact, occur in spite of your best efforts.

Dr. Yorke, among the most acknowledged and rewarded minds of our time, summed up this position deftly in a quote from New Scientist Magazine and posted by Tom Peters.

I'd like to suggest it as a core value of your enterprise life. It's as close to true as anything I know about sustainable work.

"The most successful people are those who are good at Plan B."

Dr. James Yorke's bio at UMD

Listen to a conversation between James York and Dick Gordon on The Connection from WBUR

The Exploratorium chaos doc

Link to New Scientist article ($4.95 RQ'd but you get print and full on line access for a year)

Tom Peters

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Philip Glass on the beach
with his glockenspiel

I'm a music lover who knows nothing more than to follow what's interesting and challenging.

I'm also a lover of the freedoms of enterprise creation. Here also my best recommendation is that you follow what's interesting and challenging to you.

The work of composer Philip Glass is a source of great fun and wonder for me. I came to love Mr. Glass on hearing portions of his opera Einstein On the Beach.

I certainly don't understand it, but I certainly love it. I want to be drawn into the challenge of that music.

Philip Glass didn't start out this good. Mr. Glass started out the old fashioned way. Practice. Getting it wrong. Getting it right, again and again and, hopefully, again.

The March 20, 2006 New Yorker has a short piece describing Philip Glass working with students in NYC. He told them, in advocating for better music education in the schools, that he started out playing bass trumpet and glockenspiel in his high-school marching band during football games.

When you're contemplating your own enterprise, or when you're deep into its early life, remember this wonderful composer, among the hippest alive, marching, practicing, starting over and over, back there in high-school.

Your enterprise life should always follow what's interesting and challenging. The execution may be dull and boring (that's good!) but the drive behind it all should continually light you up.

No harm in liking what you don't understand. Go explore it. The harm comes from not following what interests and challenges you.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Driving two lane blacktops

Commerce and cooperation are typically touted as opposites.

You've heard it. Business as war stuff. Grind your opponent down. Rip their ears off as you speed by. Take no prisoners.

I don't think so. I see enterprise as the great new global commons. Sure, it's been co-opted from the top down in its early stages, as most good ideas usually are. But successful participation in enterprises of many types is increasingly available to more and more of us. The commons of global enterprise needs to be defended from the bottom up. That's you and me, doing it right.

It is a hard enterprise lesson to learn but cooperation, when justified, is far more efficient than conflict.

When you begin your enterprise you'll be tempted turn your own personal fears into enterprise fears, reacting to the world with your fists up. That's not all bad. There's a lot of jerks out there. But it's not all good either.

Life is continuously imperfect, but it's also a world of countless everyday miracles. In your enterprise life, watching trust work and, importantly, trust being rewarded, is one of those everyday miracles. Not just on the personal level, but more so in the ways it builds and grows the public commons for all of us.

If you want to succeed on any enterprise path, look for ways to cooperate with your enterprise partners rather than battling with them. The goal is to create ever increasing value for the solutions you provide. That's means involving customers, vendors, peers, investors, board members and everyone in between in this trust thing.

Sure, you always need to remember the good fences/good neighbors rule. That helps spot the bad ones sooner. Let them fall away. The good ones will reward you with the small miracles, the pathways and the tools of your sustainabe enterprise.

This I Believe, is a radio production based on the original series done by Edward R. Murrow in the 1950s that's been revived by NPR. An essay submitted by former Secretary of State Warren Christopher spoke beautifully to this idea of trust and the public commons, I thought.

"One night recently, I was driving down a two-lane highway at about 60 miles an hour. A car approached from the opposite direction at about the same speed. As we passed "each other, I caught the other driver's eye for only a second"

I wondered whether he might be thinking, as I was, how dependent we were on each other at that moment. I was relying on him not to fall asleep, not to be distracted by a cell phone conversation, not to cross over into my lane and bring my life suddenly to an end. And though we had never spoken a word to one another, he relied upon me in just the same way."

"Multiplied a million times over, I believe that is the way the world works. At some level, we all depend upon one another. Sometimes that dependence requires us simply to refrain from doing something like crossing over the double yellow line. And sometimes it requires us to act cooperatively, with allies or even with strangers."

Your enterprise life may be geared toward non profit work or social entrepreneurship or your own business. In every circumstance, you'll need friends more than you'll need enemies.

Here's Warren Christopher, closing the piece: "In my own life, I've put great stock in personal responsibility. But, as the years have passed, I've also come to believe that there are moments when one must rely upon the good faith and judgment of others. So, while each of us faces -- at one time or another -- the prospect of driving alone down a dark road, what we must learn with experience is that the approaching light may not be a threat, but a shared moment of trust."

Don't worry about roadblocks or competitors. Work on creating ever increasing value with your own work. Provide an ever better mousetrap, day in, day out. Out work and out shine lesser competitors and less valuable solutions.

Then, keep your powder dry and trust those who earn your respect. It's the only path I know to sustainable work.

Warren Christopher essay at NPR's This I Believe project

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Get out there and screw up

Get out there and screw up

Nothing should ever be considered "done" in you enterprise life.

If it is, so are you.

One thing is always certain. Your first attempts at enterprise certainly won't be your best.

I don't care if you're starting a convent in Calcutta, building out a non-profit venture or launching into your own biz.

Start ups can be scary from a zillion directions, but one of the biggest is admitting that you might screw it up.

Guess what? Good! You tried something hard and you found a break point. Now you know something the average bear doesn't.

Economic value and sustainability come from information, experience and judgement.

Fail in small ways again, and again and again. Look carefully for what it teaches you. Search out the wisdom of setbacks as much as victories.

You can only get sustainable by knowing what doesn't work.

Get out there and screw up. Charge!

Monday, January 23, 2006

The War of Art

Here's a very nice, short, readily accessible book about moving yourself forward. It's openly talking to aspiring artists, but those who would like to explore entrepreneurship and emerging enterprises would do well to read this.

First published in 2002, it's called The War of Art. Subtitled: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles.

Esquire called it "A vital gem...a kick in the ass"

The author, Steven Pressfield is a very good writer. Quick, direct and tough with his subject.

Mr. Pressfield writes from an artist's perspective, but he's also a former marine with a love for the harder path. He drove cabs and tended bar in New York, taught school in New Orleans, drove tractor-trailers in North Carolina and California, worked on oil rigs in Louisiana, picked fruit in Washington State.

A number of essays discuss the subject of what it means to be a professional in your attitude toward your enterprise.

A nice quote from that section, I thought: "The professional keeps his eye on the doughnut and not on the hole. He reminds himself that it's better to be in the arena, getting stomped by the bull, than to be up in the stands or out in the parking lot."

And another, which speaks to my suggestions that you need to build good bones into any enterprise; "A professional recognizes her limitations. She gets an agent, she gets a lawyer, she gets an accountant. She knows she can only be a professional at one thing. She brings in other pros and treats them with respect."

Sustainable enterprise as art? You bet.

Steven Pressfiled's web site

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Grassfire flames
of emerging enterprises

A nice survey just spotted you.

While you may not be living in Wisconsin, I'm convinced these numbers apply most everywhere. There is a huge movement toward personal involvement in new and emerging enterprises.

If you're not thinking about participating, you should be.

A study released last week by the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs Network said the following:

"MADISON, Wis.— Roughly half the people in Wisconsin are thinking about starting a business or have started a business, according to a new study of the state’s entrepreneurial climate. The study, “A Medium for Growth: The State of Entrepreneurship in Wisconsin,” reported the strikingly high figures after surveying 1,144 randomly selected households across the state last year."

“In our study, the level of interest in entrepreneurship at the grass roots level in Wisconsin was encouraging,” said Erica Kauten, managing director of the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Network and state director of the Small Business Development Center (SBDC)."

"The University of Wisconsin-Extension in conjunction with the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Network (WEN) and the Wisconsin Department of Commerce launched the research, led by project manager Susan Yolton, to measure the entrepreneurial mood in the state."

I'm sure you'd find similar numbers of people thinking about their own business wherever you looked. Why wouldn't people explore the idea of creating or joining an emerging enterprise?

Of course, the risk is money. Money is critical, and ultimately its what makes these enterprises sustainable.

But for most of us there is also a great risk in assuming that someone else is going to make a job for you.

Participating in this wonderfully chaotic and wildly accessible free enterprise system is something you ignore at your peril.

Among the most interesting findings from the new entrepreneurship study were:

• "Roughly half of the people in Wisconsin are or have been involved in the Entrepreneurial Process -- they are thinking about starting a business or have started a business."

• "Among people involved in the Entrepreneurial Process, there is a low level of awareness and usage of assistance programs across a wide variety of topics."

The definition of entrepreneurship included starting an enterprise while holding full-time employment.

The second finding, about the lack of awareness of assistance programs is important. There are many support agencies with great people and tools available to you. Search them out. Ask around. Research them on the web. Knock on their doors and use them.

However, you need to pick your support programs in the right order.

While many programs are set up to do financing, don't start there. I believe you need to first flush out your markets and get cash flow moving on its own. It doesn't have to be huge, but you have to prove your market first. Without that, all the start up funding you could ever locate won't matter.

I suggest you look first to assistance programs that offer advice and mentoring. There are wonderful public and private organizations everywhere promoting and supporting the world of emerging enterprises. This level of support is typically free or readily available.

Do your homework. Get your feet wet. First look to the support organizations that can help your planning skills. They're there. Don't go for money. Go for the smarts. Plan small. Prove out your market. Make lots of small mistakes. Get cash flow moving. With that in place the next financing steps will be available. Without those in place, it won't be.

From there, I wish you nothing but a fair wind at your back.

The rest of us are with you, friend, fanning the grassfire flames of your emerging enterprise.

Check out the entrepreneurship study at the Wisconsin Entrepreneur's Network site

Wisconsin's excellent Small Business Development Center

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Best said in cartoons

Sometimes things in life are best summarized by a great cartoon.

The Jan 16 New Yorker has a good one done by Barbara Smaller.

A human resource/finacial planner guy is at his desk. Behind him, on the wall, is a poster labeled 'Your Future' with an image of an hourglass, rapidly draining out. Across from him sits an older guy sitting nervously.

The planner is asking, "Have you given much thought to what kind of job you want after you retire?"

Hmmmm. Not too far from the mark, my boomer pals.

For a number of good reasons we should all be looking to put some financial and personal control in place as we get older. You can always be a greeter at Wal-Mart, but running your own enterprise makes getting out of bed every morning a LOT more interesting.

Barbara Smaller cartoons at The New Yorker

Saturday, January 07, 2006

You're a trend.
Harvard Business School
talking about you

OK. Let's start with the fact that I think the word minipreneur is goofy.

It will be used in this post because that's what and Harvard Biz School call it, but give me a break. When you're involved in your own enterprise there is nothing mini about it, no matter the size. It's a big deal to you on a million fronts. Minipreneur sounds dismissive to me.

However, is a very nice site. It focuses on consumer trends and markets. They picked the word, and I'm sticking to it.

The Harvard quote I'll follow with, asks how to make money from this trend.

First, some pieces from the Sept. '05 article at by Neil Shoebridge.

"The minipreneur tag was developed by the research firm to describe what it calls 'a vast army of consumers turning entrepreneur, including small and micro businesses, freelancers, side businesses, weekend entrepreneurs, web-driven entrepreneurs, part-timers, free agents, cottage businesses, seniorpreneurs, co-creators, mumpreneurs, solopreneurs, eBay traders, advertising-sponsored bloggers and so on'."

"According to, the rise of the minipreneur is being fuelled by five factors:

• Multinationals of one: Thanks to the internet, resources that were once available only to multinationals are now available to many people, including individuals. The internet has removed barriers to entry in many markets and industries and given minipreneurs a way to access "top talent" quickly and virtually. [Added by Rick - and access to 'top markets' worldwide]

• Being in control of one's destiny: Rising wealth (largely from higher property prices), an increased willingness to take risks and the popular belief that people should have three or four careers during their working lives is encouraging some people to set up their own businesses.

• Enterprising is chic: After falling into disgrace during the 1990s, the term entrepreneur has been dusted off and given new respectability. "There's an explosion of hip, admired ventures - online and offline - around the world," the researchers at say. "It is being accelerated by the tech revolution and the truly exceptional entrepreneurs with vision and skills that started it. [They are] a far cry from the old boys' networks of the past."

• Experience rules and so does less risk: Business is more accessible and better understood than it was, say, 30 years ago. Producers and consumers alike are interested in business. Consumers know, to varying degrees, how business works so they are more willing to enter the business world themselves. For refugees from the world of big business, the risks they will take as minipreneurs are "no way comparable to the gut-wrenching stress that comes with managing listed corporations."

• A need for the unusual: Bored with mass-market products and services, consumers are increasingly looking for things that are unusual, quirky, customised, personalised, on the fringe and so on. Large companies often struggle with making such products and services profitably, but minipreneurs are well placed to cash in on that trend."

Cool. I agree. You can do it. There's no magic. Opportunities are lying around all over the place. Sweeping them up into a good enterprise model is your job.

I read a Harvard piece discussing the article, and they asked how someone could make money on all this. Here's what they say:

"The opportunities for entrepreneurs are not just in creating an e-business, but rather in providing products and services to those who do — in other words, selling shovels to gold miners."

According to Trendwatching, “Ask yourself how you can help them to make money by facilitating their admin, their production, their advertising, their insurance, their travel, their networking, their selling, their tech needs, their learning, their payments, their suggestions, their hosting, and their new business ideas. Don't ask them to consume; help them to create, to produce.”

Yep. This is where you come in, friend.

You can make a contribution. You can participate in this wonderful world of emerging enterprises.

I recommend setting your sights on helping these other enterprises. There are many opportunities and directions for building nice, sustainable biz models in this arena. There are a zillion niches opening that specialize in solutions for enterprises. From the smallest to largest, all enterprises are continuously looking for help. Usually, the bigger they get, the more aggressively they're looking for smart solutions.

Set yourself up to serve a highly focused market you really love. Get great at your specialty. Great, as in the smartest shovels for the smartest gold miners.

Harvard and are right. You can start your organization as a multinational from day one. You can build a life for yourself with more control over your day job and your destiny. People and organizations the world over are looking for newer, better, unusually smart solutions. Good biz models have never been more available. Perhaps most importantly, trend watchers understand that smart, sustainable enterprising is not only respectable, even chic, but the core of what's coming.

No other generation in human history has had this much opportunity.

We are living in a great age of convergence. Never before has there been this remarkable combination of tools, opportunity and need, waiting for your solutions.

Get on with it, friend. article home page. Cool free newsletter

Harvard Business School article

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Eleanor Roosevelt
and your enterprise life

We're the kind of family with stuff taped up all over most available surfaces.

Since our daughters were very young there's been two Eleanor Roosevelt quotes posted on their door, along with zillions of other projects over the years: notes, warnings to parent to stay out, etc.

To see Tom Peters pick one of the quotes out for special notice going into 2006 reminds me of the importance of those words we've walked past for a couple of decades or so.

From Tom Peters blog 12/28/05 Raw Meat for "Resolutions": "But when I sat down, quietly, to think about my stance toward 2006, a quote of Eleanor Roosevelt's drifted before my mind's eye: 'Do one thing every day that scares you'."

Tom will make excellent use of this idea, of course. I'd like to point to it also as a wonderful rallying cry for the world of start ups and emerging enterprises.

As an example, many of the coolest peddlers I know work on straight commission. It can be hard, scary work, and it's also a pretty good metaphor for all of enterprise life at the level we're talking about here. As one of the best just summarized it for me, "I wake up every Monday morning unemployed, and then get to work."

That's what you're telling yourself and the world when you birth your start up or grow your emerging enterprise. That you're intentionally making every Monday a potentially scary challenge and that every day is a call to action.

Does this sound like it may be a bit much? Like you're not feeling up to it?.

A good time for the other Eleanor Roosevelt quote posted upstairs by long yellowed tape; "Most of the good work in the world is done by people who weren't feeling all that well the day they did it."

To enter the world of enterprise or to take scary steps to grow your emerging enterprise, there are no perfect times. There are no greener pastures. There are no certainties.

And yet, no matter how well you feel or how scary each step seems, there are opportunities to improve the world, to fix problems, everywhere you look.

Take the steps this year to launch your startup or grow your emerging enterprise in smart, personally scary new ways.

In the end you, and all the rest of us, will be better off.

Go get 'em.

Time magazine profile of Eleanor Roosevelt as one of their 100 most influential people of the last century

Tom Peters site. Most of us don't work for big Corps or organizations that bring Tom in to speak. However, he puts much of his best stuff on line directly, and comments regularily for free on line. Just go there. This new theme of scaring yourself will be very much worth reading.

Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, also taped up on a stairway wall at home. Great links to source docs here.