Sunday, December 30, 2007


We voted with our feet and chose the area of Madison, WI to raise our family and to grow our businesses. Next to getting married, it was the best decision we ever made.

What higher recommendation could I make? I'm still thrilled with that choice 30+ years later.

I've started a number of new enterprises from this region since then, and now I get to work from here, helping folks launch their new businesses.

The eight counties of South Central Wisconsin have been rolling out a unified front for economic development in this region and I'm really delighted to see the progress being made. This area is a fabulous platform for creating new enterprises and improving your life.

That's why I really like the name they recently gave their new organization, Thrive.

For anyone looking to launch or grow a tech based enterprise, this is an ideal place. The research support and connections here are world class.

For those of us working as independent entrepreneurs (IEs), this place is perfect.

In both of the last enterprises we ran from the Madison area, we had customers on 5 continents. There are just no limits to the transportation and communications resources available here for the independent entrepreneur.

And yes, while we worked globally, I was also able to readily build an excellent regional economic base because of our easy access to Milwaukee, Chicago and the Twin Cities. All the early, sustaining, pay-the-bills, orders arrived from this hub. And we were in the middle of it, in a really lovely, invigorating environment, doing great startup work.

The world is only so virtual. You also need to show up. Being in the middle of this very valuable, and economically diverse region puts you on the doorstep of millions of people, representing countless different markets and industries, with relatively quick drives. And you get to be virtual the rest of the time, in one of the most beautiful and dynamic places on earth.

I believe that knitting together all the stakeholders in a project like this is tantamount to herding cats. The folks that have brought the new Thrive organization to this point should be thanked heartily and congratulated.

With the launch of the new name, Thrive has also named a new Chair. He is John Biondi, who I had the great pleasure of meeting with last fall. John has a rich and interesting track record working with science based high tech firms. After talking with John I am also firmly convinced he is strongly committed to independent entrepreneurs doing sustainable work.

I knew I would like John, when I showed up at his office and he was the only one in jeans, surrounded by suits. John said it was casual Friday, but that seemed to have caught everyone else off guard. John seems fully capable of declaring casual days all on his own, which I greatly admire. Also seems like a great metaphor for the kind of work we do in our region.

While Thrive rolls out and begins to focus on its key sectors, they will also be making resources available for anyone interested in starting or growing their enterprises in our smart, beautiful region.

If you would like help from the perspective of an IE that lives and works in this region, get in contact. Better yet, visit one of the gems of our region, Monroe, WI on Jan 7th. I'll be sharing a talk that evening with their Entrepreneur and Inventor Club meeting. The focus of this talk is on innovation and invention for the independent entrepreneur. I'll link info below. Stop by and let's meet.

When I think of all the wonderful cities, towns, villages, open spaces, natural treasures, coffee stops, pie places, great bowls of soup, and all the inventive, amazing small businesses I know about in our region I can't imagine a better place to work from. I've started thinking about all of them as 'Thrive-Points'.

Thrive is a great new name for a wonderful region to live and work. Get in touch with Thrive (below) or meet me in 'Thrive-Point' Monroe!

Thrive the newly named regional economic development organization for the best place on earth to locate and grow yourself and your new enterprise.

Download the Green Co. Entrepreneur and Inventor Club press release here. From Idea to Manufacture: The Process of Invention.

C5-6 Technologies John Biondi is the President of C5-6

Friday, December 28, 2007

Kiva entrepreneurs

I really love these photos (click to enlarge), and their stories below.

The top photo is Ms. Chantal Dolou from Togo.

The bottom photo is Mr. Allahverdy Kuliyev from Azerbaijan.

I met them through a Christmas gift I received last year. It was a gift certificate allowing me to invest the value of the gift in loans to small, independent entrepreneurs working with the organization, Kiva.

Kiva lets you lend to specific entrepreneurs in the developing world - empowering them to lift themselves out of poverty. If you like, you get to follow the stories of these entrepreneurs and track their repayment rates. When the loans are repaid, Kiva gives you the opportunity of investing that money in other entrepreneurs.

Loan requests are small by the standards of the developed world. You can sort through Kiva's introductions to aspiring entrepreneurs on their web site. After choosing one or more, you apply the amounts you wish to loan. Your loans are aggregated with those from other Kiva sponsors. When the requested loan amount is achieved, the loan is distributed to the entrepreneur.

I've posted the stories about the entrepreneurs I chose below. I especially like the photo of Ms. Chantal Dolou. I would take Ms. Dolou to any business meeting on any continent and feel confident she would succeed. I know that look. Mr. Allahverdy has a wonderful story that engaged me immediately.

The best part of that Christmas present is the news 1 year later, that both loans are nearly 100% repaid. I will soon get to look for more great stories and wonderful ideas to support. A gift of entrepreneurship that keeps on giving!

I believe Kiva is providing the world with a great service. Like all true entrepreneurs, they have found a problem and are helping fix it. In Kiva's case, the execution of that fix is very well done.

There are many other great organizations worldwide working on micro entrepreneurship and micro finance. I'm in contact with some and receive newsletters from many. I will put up posts about these in the future.

Let's also remember that there are many micro entrepreneurs among us here. In fact, they/we are everywhere.

When you make your choices for all manner of decisions, choose to support the innovators. Choose to support hard work, diligence, vigilance, and courage.

The renaissance age of entrepreneurship is here, and it's just beginning - around the world and, hopefully, around your kitchen table.


Ms. Chantal Dolou. Ms. DOLOU, born in 1972 in Gbodjomé in the Prefecture des Lacs in southwest Togo, is single with two (02) children and one sister in her care. She comes from a very poor family and did not have the chance to pursue thorough studies. She became involved then, by her own means, in the trade of basic need food products. To strengthen her business, she benefitted from a loan of $350, which she managed well and repaid without incident. Today, this business continues to grow and necessitates increased loan capital which is unavailable.

Mr. Allahverdy Kuliyev. Allahverdy Kuliyev has been engaged in this business since 2003. Before he rented this tea-house. Having borrowed the loan amount of $400 he bought tea-pots, chairs, tables and this tea-house. He has a lot of clients. His tea-house is a small and he wants to expand the area of his place. All in Absheron region talk about the taste of his tea. Clients have rest over a traditional cup of refreshing Azerbaijani tea in his tea-house. His tea help to people to forget about their problems. He supports to his family with this business. He is 52, married, has 3 children,

Friday, December 21, 2007

Dancing with databases

"The primary asset of any business is its organization." -William Feather

I've enjoyed meeting many new small businesses this year. Watching the newest ones launch is just flat out exhilarating.

But I've learned something unexpected from existing small businesses. When you work in your own enterprise exclusively, you assume most of the rest of the world is facing the common types of issues you can read about in most business magazines.

Now that I can talk and work with any number of other small businesses, I'm finding many are coping with a very serious problem that doesn't get much press.

For many, their management lives, the bread-and-butter, back office management stuff, is in free fall.

At the very beginning of their enterprises, they could keep up with the flow of data. As that flow increased, they rigged a patch to keep up. They cobbled together different places to keep different kinds of data. Then another patch, then another, and so on.

As they became more successful, their ability to assimilate more details effectively decreased.

There is a true threshold here. Those that can find a way to organize themselves make it through. Those that can't, don't last long.

Coming from the silo that was our last startup, I assumed everyone was using databases to organize themselves. Now that I get to poke around in other silos, I find new and emerging businesses don't know enough about controlling their data with these powerful tools.

Small enterprise databases need an evangelist, and I'm volunteering.

Here's what I know about databases and how I've learned it.

Long ago, when we first started Banner Graphics, I thought we'd conquered the world of enterprise with our arrival. Customers loved us, orders were growing, yada, yada.

Then customers started loving us too much. Orders picked up in number, velocity and complexity. This was just Mary and I, with two very young kids.

We took a roll of our banner paper and cut a long length that we taped along the living room wall in our duplex.

On the far left side I drew a box for prospects who didn't know us and that we didn't know. On the far right, I drew a box for wildly enthusiastic repeat customers who recommended us to everyone (relevant to our banner biz) they knew.

I guess I've been filling in the empty space with new boxes ever since.

That exercise allowed us to identify the key individual steps required to process a sale, produce the products, deliver, and measure our results.

That sounds like a small, simple step. I'd agree, but I'd also suggest that those simple steps are most often the ones that get overlooked or poorly executed in the face of the increasing chaos that can be the daily life of a small, growing enterprise.

If you work for a large organization, the following will be relatively meaningless. If you have been in a small enterprise where you were required to fulfill most or all of every step of a process, the following example will have meaning.

By the time we hit our stride in the 80s and early 90s, Banner Graphics would be receiving 75 to 80 orders per day. These would come from many different customers. They would most always be shipped to multiple different locations. Every order would arrive in a different format. Many would require us to have specific purchase orders; others came in on the phone or fax; still others in the mail and eventually eMail. We would have to capture all that data.

Then we would have to organize the data so that we could quickly and efficiently print 75 or 80 different orders, all with specific colors, most with specific logos, every one with a custom message that had to be spelled exactly right.

Then we had to prepare 75 or 80 orders for shipment every day. If you haven't done this, it's harder than you think. It would mean producing our own custom shipping labels, or, very often, drop shipping under a customer's label. Tracking numbers had to be captured. Shipping confirmations, along with dates and tracking numbers had to be accurately sent to customers for every single order.

It was only then you could start the process of invoicing each order. 75 or 80 orders per day. Each invoice requiring perhaps 25 to 50 individual component pieces that had to be accurately inserted or the invoice would be rejected.

Then you watch - in aggregate - 75 or 80 orders per day fall into the paths of paid, overdue, long overdue and damn.

Do this with two people and a couple of small kids.

How did we do it and not drown in the details? A database.

I wrote our first database in a program called Hypercard. We were a mom-and-pop shop (literally), so I called that first program MacMom. Hypercard is no longer available, but I still have the screen shots and miss it dearly.

A database is simply a place to put all the boxes you draw on your banner paper.

My last startup, SmartSkim, faced similar data capture issues on a much larger and more complex scale.

What happened there? We were able to execute all those micro steps in such a way that we won multiple state and national new product awards, with giddy customers on 5 continents. When I mention this in the talks I give, I follow by injecting some fake 'Oooohs and Ahhhhhs'.

What's important is NOT that we won those awards. What's important is that we won those awards with 4 people. That's national and international sales to some of the largest and most complex business organizations on the planet, and all the indescribably obtuse paperwork that entailed. That meant designing and manufacturing custom, heavy equipment with zillions of parts. That meant inventory. That meant shipping using every method imaginable to every place you can think of, all with different requirements for documentation that had to be right every time. That meant custom installations in factories all over the world. That meant training and retraining, live and on the internet. That meant keeping a big, global population of stakeholders efficiently and transparently informed.

The information flow was like a fire hose on steroids.

What makes me the proudest? We did all that with 4 people. Mary, my wife, Dave, my biz partner, Dan, the best Inside Sales Manager I have ever had the privilege to know, and me. Four people, and a kick-ass database.

Some people would call the daily crush of variable data flow stressful and unpleasant. If you're not prepared, that doesn't begin to describe it. Dan called his experience enjoyable. He said it was like dancing with the database. I will never forget that line.

Which brings me back to the small businesses I've met this year through teaching or talks. In many cases, their back-office management stuff is in free fall because they are applying patches on patches to their initial methods for capturing and using their data.

I will here admit to the title of this post. I've been dancing with databases once again.

I know what a good structure for capturing data can do for these folks. I don't just know it. I know it in my marrow. I know it in my genes. I've learned it from the battles, won and lost, which have been my lifelong effort to efficiently identify and fill in all those boxes on the banner paper.

When I first started writing these posts, I wrote down the goal that was most important to me. I thought a big idea was appropriate so I said I'd like to help start a million new businesses. This year has been a lovely and encouraging beginning toward that goal.

But it has also showed some limits. A million is a big number, and I need to move faster. I've decided that creating a database for the rest of us is what's needed.

The small businesses I see that claim to be in free fall, are only falling down in information capture. Typically, the rest of their enterprise is flourishing. Customers love them. They are providing solutions to people who are happy to pay. They are creating jobs, better lives and more economic independence for our society. They just need to get a grip on the fire hose.

I'm writing the newest iteration of my enterprise control database. I think it can get me to my million number faster than anything else, based on what I'm learning.

To proof the solution, I've belly flopped my own new business into it and am sculpting the results accordingly. I didn't hold anything back from the test. All of it is there - marketing, sales, contact management, quoting, order generation, execution and shipping, purchasing and a killer dashboard. I really love this database. At this writing, I think I can share it with users over the web.

Clients and friends should get it by early next year. I'm giving my first public presentation about it in Madison in mid January.

I love naming things. It's so biblical. I'm riffing off the name of my day job and calling the new database Diligence. Version 1.0 is working like Banner Graphics in its heyday, and I'm just getting it tuned in.

When I say I'm dancing with databases, I really mean it. I see the solutions they can offer. I know the flat out joy that can come from the organization they can deliver. It's not that hard. You just have to capture the data and use it effectively.

I see a new class of databases that will become tools for a new class of independent entrepreneurs. These tools will turn their organizations from chaos to calm, allowing their good ideas and hard work to make the world a better place.

2008 is going to be a good year. I'm going to put these Diligence databases in service of my goal of 1 million new enterprises.

In my mind's eye, it's a lovely picture. Good people, good organizations, and, like Dan, changing the world while dancing with their databases.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Mistakes, thankfully

I taught a class this week and did a fun talk about how to do startups and how to keep them organized.

I asked for feedback and found the responses this week connect nicely to the feedback comments made following the online Micro Enterprise courses.

Many people seem to like hearing about the mistakes I've made.

Those are easy classes to fill with content.

The gist of the this part of the presentations is that it requires a lot of mistakes to find a unique path. I call this sailing into blue water.

To me that means sailing toward the unknown. Run to what scares you. Not competing with anyone, but just trying to solve more problems. Mistakes will seem like the least of your worries.

I was recently talking with my friend Roy, who is retired from Harley-Davidson, about the inventions my partner Dave and I built and installed at their plants in Milwaukee. I was talking about how simple it all was, basically learning from mistakes.

Roy's response was perfect. It sums up my approach to getting things done by well informed trial and error.

He said, "Sure, Rick, any idiot could have done that. But you're that idiot!"

Independent entrepreneurship REQUIRES mistakes to find new ground. To be safer to innovate. To be farther from competitors, and unproductive, daily dogfights.

The more mistakes you make - and learn from - the farther you are into blue water.

Get your new enterprise started. Take some steps along the learning curve - they're going to happen no matter what, so just start learning.

I suggest this is a good resting place for this discussion. Here is a great quote from the Wizard to take us out...

"I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work" - Thomas Edison, inventor and scientist

Harley-Davidson I owe an unmeasurable debt of gratitude to Harley-Davidson. Long before any of the green movement was glamorous, the wonderful folks at Harley-Davidson gave me the time and the space to get it right (a euphemism for making mistakes). As a result, Harley-Davidson prevents millions of gallons of wastewater every year and has eliminated a previous air pollution source. In fact, the photo above is from the presentation of the Governor's New Product Award. That's Dale Swenson, P.E., from The Harley-Davidson Motor Company, presenting our 2004 Small Business New Product of the Year Award. That year we were lucky enough to also be chosen First Place and Best of State. To my independent entrepreneur friends, please note that our little enterprise accomplished this with only 4 people. Thank you to all my friends back at Harley-Davidson!

Terrific Travel Ideas My friend Roy retired from Harley-Davidson. He and his wife started a really cool small business focused on useful ideas and products for travelers. Roy and I met through one of my courses. I love what they're doing. Buy something and say 'Hi' for me.

Wikipedia Thomas Alva Edison

Today is my Dad's 87th birthday! Happy Birthday Dad!!!!!!

I asked him today what he was up to and he told me he had a good new idea. Those of you who don't know my Dad may be dubious. Those of you who know Dad will recognize that he wasn't mentioning the other 10 new, good ideas.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Next speaking stop

My next speaking stop is at the Green County Inventors & Entrepreneurs Club in beautiful Monroe, WI. The date is Jan 7, 08. The times are 6:30 to 8:30.

The Club meets at the Monroe Clinic, 515 22nd Av. in Monroe. Please call or eMail if you would like further directions.

The title of this talk is "From Idea to Manufacture: The Process of Invention."

Talk promo from their brochure: "Rick Terrien, owner of Business Diligence, holds patents on several products he designed and built. Rick has successfully navigated the process of getting ideas from his brain to a working prototype to a working machine. Rick is the two time winner of the Wisconsin New Product of the Year and 2005 United States Small Business New Product of the year Award. Rick's passion is helping entrepreneurs and inventors take the next step to success."

To my knowledge, Monroe, WI is the only place in North America still making Limburger cheese, so the trip would be worth it just for that! Come early and look around beautiful Green County and Monroe. This would be a wonderful place to start or grow your enterprise.

The economic support and wonderful quality of life bonuses available in our region would make this area an ideal place for new and growing enterprises.

See you in Monroe!

Green County WI Economic Development office. Better yet, call their office and ask for their Director, Anna Schramke. 608 328 9452. If you want to grow your enterprise and grow your life, our region is the place to do it and Anna can show you the benefits of Green County better than anyone I know. You're going to love our region!

Go to Baumgartners Tavern and cheese store on the square. Wonderful! No link available at this writing.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Catch the Culture

A newly released paper from Harvard economist Edward Glaeser reinforces a theme regarding startups and emerging enterprises that I'm finding to be true everywhere I turn.

Professor Glaeser's paper, "Entrepreneurship and the City", was discussed in the online forum, The National Dialog on Entrepreneurship, a Kauffman Foundation site. The abstract is available from the Harvard Institute of Economic Research. I have purchased the full article, but it's not here yet. However, the abstract and NDE discussion is enough for me to make the point of this post.

While this research looked specifically at what made cities more successful, I have no doubt that the same findings can be said for any region and probably any country.

The paper concludes that it is the culture of entrepreneurship that is critical to the success of a city. Specifically, cities don't have entrepreneurial cultures by some magic stoke of good luck. They succeed because they support and educate the widest number of people who then become entrepreneurs.

Professor Glaesser finds that cities with a skilled and appropriate work force tend to have higher rates of self-employment and relatively higher proportions of small firms.

The paper also concludes that, "There is a strong connection between area-level education and entrepreneurship."

There is no mention of advanced business school training, only education leading to a "skilled and appropriate work force".

Yes. Absolutely. The culture of success is built person-by-person, startup-by-startup, new enterprises becoming small creative, valuable contributors to their cities and regions.
Does that mean all these small new entrepreneurial ventures are going to succeed? Of course it doesn't. Just the opposite. The vitally different - and better - way of asking that question is why is the idea of failure universally seen as nothing but negative by so many people?

Why can't failure be seen as the valuable learning step it can be? In successful entrepreneurial cultures, you aren't looked down upon for failing. You're looked at as someone that's working hard and could use an introduction or two, maybe a referral to a needed link in their next chain.

Now, if your failures involve lots of money and little planning, the value of that lesson is dimmer and can be hard to locate.

If you fail by losing important money in some high risk gamble, that's not failure, that's stupidity.

But if you roll out your startups following the ideas in the slow startup movement I've been writing about and you fail, congratulations! You've learned something valuable without paying much for it. You now know one small thing better than most of the population of the planet. String a few of those together, and you're gold. Nobody can catch you now. You'll know one specific set of things that virtually no one else on earth knows. If you launch your new startup by spending more time than money on it, the world of enterprise becomes an entirely different and more welcoming place.

But you need the culture of support for innovation that only comes from doing it not talking about it.

In many of the circles I travel in, I hear all kinds of supportive talk for entrepreneurship.

This week, I was fortunate enough to see this kind of culture-building support for innovation actually being done.

Was it valuable to for the entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs? There are a few metrics I could use to define success, but let's use one that should have obvious meaning. I saw a large group of people come out on a cold November night in Wisconsin, at the very same time the Green Bay Packers were playing the Dallas Cowboys (both with records of 10 and 1), to share and support their entrepreneurial ideas. Value? Hmm. I'd say.

This was an Inventor and Entrepreneur Club meeting in beautiful Juneau County, WI. Wow. The stories, the mutual support, the flat out usefulness of the entire process was really fun.

Terry Whipple coordinates the meetings. No, that's too orderly a word… Terry mobilizes the meetings. These are very peer-to-peer driven. I'm excited for their organizations. Terry and Sue Noble from the Vernon County Club, and I got to meet before, during, and after the meeting. Talk about getting it! Talking about building entrepreneurial cultures for all the right reasons.

I also came away from a recent Green County I&E club meeting with a similar sense. There are wonderful, low-cost, effective, and highly supportive ways to create a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, one person at a time.

This is new enough for a Harvard professor to be writing about it, and yet surely is as old as commerce itself.

The folks working at these grassroots levels in my state are not counting business plans and filtering them for their high tech/biotech/nanotech sex appeal. They are building cultures of entrepreneurship one person, one relationship at a time. They are building networks on networks, one network at a time.

Sue Noble told me a story about her I&E Club which almost had me in tears. I'm headed to one of their Vernon County meetings ASAP, and will post that story soon.

Professor Glaeser writes that "local entrepreneurship depends mainly on having the right kind of people". And I would suggest that to create the most efficient and widespread effects, the right kind of people would be those that are respected, supported, and trained to learn from failure and to grow in sustainable ways. That's a real culture of innovation.

Terry had posters all over the room reading 'Catch the Culture!'. I got it but didn't post it to my notebook. The next day I read about the Harvard study, stating that regions that create systems for supporting small scale entrepreneurship build successful cultures. Terry suddenly seemed smarter than he'd ever claim.

There is a tantalizing reference in Professor Glaeser's abstract for my boomer entrepreneur buddies. "Self-employment is particularly associated with abundant, older citizens and with the presence of input suppliers." Yikes. Boomer biz with lots of small operations. The research paper is ordered. Stay tuned.

I love studies that agree with me. They seem so prescient. Yet the truthfulness and the timeliness of these ground-up ideas makes perfect sense. The idea of building successful, entrepreneurial cultures from the bottom up has to be true.

Is this a knock on other kinds of enterprise creation? Of course not. Those high tech, biotech and nanotech models can be wonderful and produce spectacular results. What I do intend to say is that those models aren't the only valuable kids on the block. The entire entrepreneurship movement needs support and respect for the whole culture to grow and prosper.

This Harvard study focused on two measures of entrepreneurship: self-employment and the number of small firms. "Both of these measures correlated with urban success."

You do the numbers. Any region needs more entrepreneurs and more small enterprises to be successful. That is NOT the same as more headline grabbing this-tech or that-tech venture funded firms. It's sheer numbers. More entrepreneurs and more enterprises make the culture succeed. From this perspective, risk in the economy of our regions gets spread around and diversified, more people get to contribute, and more people become engaged solving problems. Tell me something bad about this approach.

Thanks, Harvard. More importantly, thanks Terry and Sue and all the other good folks working from the bottom up to create a culture of entrepreneurship for all of us.

To anyone considering their own startup or new enterprise, I'd say "Welcome aboard". We all need you.

Juneau County, WI Inventors and Entrepreneurs Club

Contact Vernon County, WI economic development folks to learn more.

Abstract "Entrepreneurship and the City" (October 2007). Glaeser, Edward L., Harvard Institute of Economic Research Discussion Paper No. 2140