Start Up Blog

I could’ve been a contender

Posted in entrepreneurs, entrepreneurship, Launch, leadership, Life, startups by Steve Sammartino on December 28, 2008

In 10 years from now many of us will look back and thought about what could’ve been. What we could have achieved if we didn’t just take the advice of others, take ‘dives for money’. If we didn’t mortgage our careers (lives?) for corporations who didn’t give a hoot about us. If we had the guts to make tough decisions and believe in ourselves.

Our choices matter a great deal more than our level of talent does. We should make choices which will have a direct impact 10 years from now.

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The Sandwich Man

Maybe you’re a great web designer

Maybe you’re a great coder

Maybe you’re a financial wizard

Maybe you’ve got a flair for industrial design

Maybe you’re a craftsman with unique skills

Maybe you’re great at managing and building a supply chain.

Maybe selling isn’t something you enjoy, like or even care about. Maybe making presentations is the part of business that really isn’t your thing.

Problem is this: There’s plenty of great ideas, businesses and people who never reached their full potential because the selling bit was missing.

Step forward the ‘Sandwich man’

Startup blog definition: Sandwich Man – a gun presenter and public communicator who presents the ideas and sells the dream on behalf of the business.

A sandwich man is called such, because he holds together all the good things like the bread does on a yummy sandwich. Without him all the ingredients, nutrition, ‘reason for being’ could all fall away.

A good sandwich man would start and close any business presentation to people like venture capitalists, suppliers, key accounts, customers and the media.

sandwich

Quite often successful businesses are run by a team where one of the members is the tech genius and the other is the Sandwich Man. Who then communicates the ideas and vision to get people on board. Rarely people are lucky enough to have both skill sets. Regardless of which skill set we have, we always need a sandwich man. We can even bring one into the team on a needs basis.

But without one, we may end up with a great product or business which never gets the traction it deserves.

A few steps forward

I saw this auction sign board while walking in my local village. A real estate agent who has the night light powered by a solar panel. The first I’ve seen of it’s kind.  I was surprised.

solar-panel

It’s not a huge innovation, it may even cost them more than a standard electric powered light does, I’m note sure. What I am sure of is this, it moves them and ‘us’, all a few steps forward. To using better and smarter technology.

I felt good about it, good enough to be writing about it here. So the question is this:

What small things can your startup do to take it’s brand, and us all a few small steps forward?

Chief Mojo Officer

Chatting with Chris Mander from docolo.com and he came up with an awesome idea – which every business should have.

The Chief Mojo Officer, or the CMO.

Sure, I asked him what they did and here’s what he told me: (with some embellishment)

“Firstly you have to believe in mojo. If you don’t believe in mojo, then forget it. If you do, the CMO is in charge of general “Vibe Strategy”. The CMO has to make sure that the ‘vibe’ is right. There are no real quantitative measurements for mojo – you can just feel it. The CMO is the type of dude who can just feel it. They’ll know when it’s out of whack. The CMO is in charge of things which are nebulous, but actually matter. When the CMO has the general vibe grooving, the mojo is right, and revenue happens.”

Good news for startups with small staff is that we don’t have to wait for the employee head count to justify a new CMO. We can  and should be doing it anyway. It’s our job!

But when you make it, I reckon it would be the best investment any company could ever make. 

Tough Love

My problem is…. I’m a really nice guy. Really, I’m reasonably nice, just ask anyone who knows me….

Actually it’s more I’m not as smart as I’d like to think I am. You see, often I don’t do people any favours by trying at all costs to be, Mr Nice Guy. Even if it’s at the expense of helping them grow. The interesting thing is that I usually get what I give, and that is, people are generally very nice to me. Even if what I need on occassions, is some home truths to help me grow.

What I really need is tough love.

Turns out my team also need some tough love too.

tough-love

Tough Love – Startup blog definition:

Having a team let each other know ‘in no uncertain terms’ when members are goofing off, at the expense of agreed upon and shared objectives.

It doesn’t mean we turn into nightmare colleagues or the boss we always hated.

It means that we have a culture where we don’t want to let each other down, but we pull each other up in tough times and provide mutual motivation. We give each other guidance when we need it.

Photo by Chuck Rogers

Words by Steve – rentoid.com

Simple Innovation

When we think about innovation, our minds get lost in big ideas and large investment. The Space shuttle, Electric cars, desalination plants, the Airbus A380. We’ve been influenced by mainstream business media, and the military industrial complex. As entrepreneurs we’d be much better placed to think as micro as possible when considering how to innovate. Because unless we are ‘inventers’ or ‘engineers’, the only innovations we need to care about are those which get to market.

Take this simple innovation from the publishing industry.

magazine-subscription

Magazine subscriptions which have been repacked to be sold in a new / yet existing distribution channel.

Before this shift in mindset, magazine subscriptions were only sold as in magazine leaflets, through call centers and via door knocking. Enter new packaging format, and all of sudden a magazine subscription is being retailed in newsagents and bookstores (This photo was taken in Borders). It becomes a simple ‘gift’ which provides us something we can hand ‘hand over’ to the recipient to touch and hold – we can even gift wrap it. It opens new revenue possibilities.

It’s clear that there is little capital expenditure with this innovation,  which is simply a widening of distribution. In fact – new forms of distribution are often the most profitable innovations.

Start ups – When innovating, think micro.

Steve – founder rentoid.com

Nature or Nurture?

I noticed this morning that a particular area of my box hedge isn’t growing as well as other areas. See the two photos below.

hedge1 hedge2

In order to remedy the situation I thought about what the different things I could do:

  1. Ensure the poor performing area was getting enough water
  2. Make sure the soil wasn’t poisoned in that particular area of the garden
  3. Remove the weeds from the periphery
  4. Add some fertiliser to the struggling area
  5. Aerating the soil with a hoe
  6. Ensure the area is getting enough sun

In fact, I’ll try the methods above. What I wont do is ‘remove’ the box hedge. I really need it because it forms part of the garden perimeter. It provides the required symmetry. It’s an integral part of the garden. I will give it the extra attention it deserves, and talk to it. I won’t pretend it will fix itself, because I know that is just a fantasy.

So, why do we take the opposite view with our staff / employees or business partners? We rarely ask first what we can do, and most often just ‘cut them out’, get rid of them, or even chastise their performance, before we look at the reasons for it. Maybe they:

  1. Aren’t getting enough cash to do their part?
  2. Maybe their part of the organisation has structural issues?
  3. Maybe they have non functional ‘hangers on’ stealing time & resources?
  4. Maybe we need to invest in some training or programs to boost the area?
  5. Maybe we need to give them more space & freedom to perform?
  6. Maybe we are not providing enough reward & recognition?

You’ve probably noticed how many of our people problems have strong analogies to my box hedge. In fact, both nature and people, need nurturing.

Steve – founder rentoid.com

Your worst nightmare

From a competitive viewpoint, imagine for a moment that our worst business nightmare came true.

Maybe Google decides to enter our market space. Or the Coca Cola Company launched a beverage with the same consumer benefit we’ve been bootstrapping. Or large company X decided to compete against “us” head on.

nuclear-explosion

Well – you’d be surprised how that feels. How it makes us react, and how it very quickly changes our perspective on what is the most important element in ‘winning’. In competing effectively for our share of wallet.

All of a sudden many of the projects we are investing our time on seem far less important than they were yesterday. Maybe that front page redesign can wait, maybe the shiny new web 2.0 buttons are a little less important. Maybe our packaging will do for now and quite possibly every project we have on the agenda, excluding customer ‘centric projects’ can be put on hold.

Here’s an exercise worth doing with your team. Act as if. Act as if it has just happened. Have an ‘emergency session’ with your team on how you’d react if a more well resourced, financed and well known competitor came to play. Build your battle plan. Once your battle plan is drawn up – throw out your current business plan and work on that instead. Because they are coming, especially if your startup is in a fertile consumer territory.

After the intital fear, most entrepreneurs just get inspired, get angry and get on with it. A good scare never hurt anyone.

Steve – founder rentoid.com

Belief – from ‘Tribes’

I took this quote from Seth Godins latest micro book Tribes:

“Do you beleive in what you do? Every day? It turns out that belief happens to be a brilliant strategy”

This resonates with me because it will motivate us to find solutions that ‘non believers’ will be too inept, apathetic or bored to uncover.

Entrepreneurs ought launch something they beleive in conceptually, not just financially.

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Love & brands

In order to be in love we need to feel loved. Often we mistake love for other intense emotions such as lust, obsession and even fear.

So if we were to translate this to business parlance it might read like this:

If we want people to love our brand or company, we simply have to make our audience ‘feel loved’.

So then the next questions we should be asking are:

-          Will they love this product?

-          Will they love our value equation?

-          Will they love our guarantee?

-          Will they love our designs?

-          Will love our ‘contact us’ policy or phone staff?

In fact, let’s just start every audience related question with the words ‘Will they love….”

If we do this and focus on being more than good, more than liked and only accept moving towards stuff people will love. Then one day, they may just love our brand.

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