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HELP, Marketing, Security and Entrepreneurship

Marketing: A friend and I were talking marketing recently and the question came up… What is the minimum offer that a coupon has to offer to get your attention?  Has it changed recently due to the economy?  What will it take for you to try a new place versus a coupon from a regular vendor? Please reply through the comments and I will tally the answers for a summary post next week.  Thanks

Security: Bruce Schneier has written a thoughtful essay on the role of data in our lives.  Almost everything we do today, leaves a trail and these trails can be analyzed.  The toothpaste is already out of the tube.  We as a society need to determine how to manage our collective toothbrushes.

Entrepreneurship: Scott Adams, of Dilbert fame, asked an interesting question.  How does the rate of entrepreneurial activity change with the age of marriage?  One could expect that single people would be able to take more risks, a point I made in my young entrepreneurs column last week. Can you name three vibrant entrepreneurial countries where the average age at time of marriage is low?

Help: The Coleman Entrepreneurship Center at DePaul University is near and dear to my heart. The students at the Center are hard working, giving and smart. One of these former students is Jessica Cowin, a 25-year old recent DePaul alum who after battling health issues her whole life, is now being faced with a new challenge: a need for a new kidney.

Her sister is a match and will donate one of her kidneys, but there is a catch. Their health insurance will only cover up to $30K, and Northwestern Hospital will only perform the transplant if they are able to pay the full amount of over $100K. She will need to have the surgery within the next 3 months.

I’ve heard a lot of people this week talk about what they should give up for Lent. Catholic or not, here is an opportunity to be part of something that will have an immediate impact on this family, which could easily be any of our families, sisters, friends, etc.

So what can you do to help? Visit: www.giveforward.org/helpjess/. Make a donation. Forward this blog to your network, family and friends. Share the url on your Facebook status. Nearly $10,000 has already been raised in the past couple of days alone – clearly there’s power in numbers, and everything and anything will help.

Economy, Reputation, Entrepreneurship & Writing

Economy: Each of us is affected by the current economic situation. Bob is a sound engineer in LA.  He has been forced to declare bankruptcy and has started a blog to document his travel along the path.

Business: One of the key guiding principles that I use in my life (both business and personal) is that your reputation is crucial to your success.  You can’t afford to mess up on a project without figuring out how to fix it, possibly at a financial loss, for example.  I may be rethinking how often I publicly declare my feelings on reputation management. Freakonomics pointed me to an interesting interview with Bernie Madoff, several years ago.

Entrepreneurship: Sales has always been one of my weakest areas.  Today, Seth Godin talked about what are the prerequisites for sales at a first grade level, just perfect for me.

Writing: As part of this blog writing thing, I have had to find my voice as a writer. I know that some of you feel that I should probably find another one, but I believe that I need to use more of a strong active voice. Cindy has written a good post today on the ways that Eric Holder is using active voice and powerful verbs. I guess I could do worse than to try to emulate him.

Technology, Green and Entrepreneurship

Technology: Here is a picture of Moore’s Law in action.

Green: Ever wondered why you know that the recommended service interval for changing your oil in your car is 3000 miles and has been “forever”.  The skeptic is  looking into it.

Entrepreneurship: One of my favorite entrepreneurship writers is Joel Spolsky.  Joel started his career at Microsoft and currently he is president of a software development company in New York City. I love the fact that he has a clear voice as to how he wants to run his company.  I subscribe to his blog and try to read his articles in Inc. Magazine.  This month he talks about the reason (!-not plural) companies fail and relates a humorous Thanksgiving dream.

Social Action, Entrepreneurship, Marketing & a Big Idea

Social Action: Here is an intriguing idea.  If a complete stranger offered to donate money to charity if they could have dinner with you, would you accept?  I love the way that Franke James tells this story.  Why wouldn’t it work elsewhere?

Entrepreneurship: Paul Graham has another winner – Startups in 13 Sentences. Another look at ways to win with a new venture.

Fun: I have talked before about the TED conference. Check out what David Merrill from MIT can do with Siftables, a computerized tile, that he and his team have built.

Marketing: Over at the Startup Blog, there were some good ideas and resources about improving your results from using PR, by focusing your copy on terms that are search engine optimized.

Big Ideas: Yesterday I wrote about Matt Miller’s book, The Tyranny of Dead Ideas.  One of his other assertions in the book hit me pretty hard.  He talks about the Lower Upper class in America.  The Lower Uppers are those at the lower end of the Upper class.  Those professionals, doctors, architects, lawyers, senior corporate executives and the like have been told all their life that the world is a meritocracy – you will earn in accordance with your merit. The financial meltdown has dealt these folks a different reality.  When they see hedge fund managers making billions personally while losing their client’s funds, when they see corporate executives like Bob Nardelli take home hundreds of millions of dollars from Home Depot while not moving the stock price at all, when they see Stan O’Neal rewarded with a severance package worth over a hundred million while leaving Merrill Lynch in a position where it had to be sold — these Lower Uppers, to use a line from the movie Network, are” mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.”  Matt wrote a column in the Daily Beast where he talks about the positive things that might come out of this.

The Tyranny of Dead Ideas

I am currently reading The Tyranny of Dead Ideas: Letting Go of the Old Ways of Thinking to Unleash a New Prosperity. The author, Matt Miller is a former White House aide during the Clinton administration and a contributing editor at Fortune. The premise of the book is that there are a number of dead ideas that we as citizens and elected officials deal with every day. The six that he discusses in detail are:

  • Our kids will earn more than we do
  • Free trade is always good, no matter who gets hurt
  • Employers should be responsible for health coverage
  • Taxes hurt the economy
  • Schools are a local matter
  • Money follows merit

In a remarkably non-partisan way, Miller describes the historical basis of these ideas and how world events have overtaken them.  He then prescribes some ways to change our national discussion on each of these ideas.

Dealing with dead ideas is not only on the national agenda.  Imagine yourself in a room with colleagues and a moderator.  You are trying to solve a vexing business problem.  The moderator urges each attendee to “think outside the box”.  Even with all of the brainstorming techniques available, it is exceedingly difficult to break through our ingrained thought processes.

Essentially, humans use shortcuts in critical thinking.  These shortcuts are called experience.  If we have burned our fingers on a hot stove, we learn that we shouldn’t touch the stove.  But what happens when the environment changes?  If we use an induction cooker, since the range does not generate heat, you can safely touch the stove.

It’s the same in our businesses.  Think about how often we say “Oh, we can’t do a fixed bid” or “We have to offer this product in 30 different sizes”.  What old baggage is holding us up from even thinking about potential solutions?

What dead idea can you challenge today?

Entrepreneurship, Friday Fun and Video

Technology: One of the fun things that I get to do as an advisor is read through lots of business plans.  OK, not so much fun, but interesting.  While a business plan is a serious document, the best business plans have some life to them.  You want to be able to use color, text formatting and some graphical images to help make the best case and to keep your reader engaged.  Full pages of 10 point Times-Roman will put anyone to sleep.  A new feature in Office 2007, called SmartArt,  can help to give your business document a little life. Don’t overuse this or it will become like clip art, but a judicious use of these types of elements will go a long way to ensuring that your reader is still awake at the end of your document.

Entrepreneurship: New ideas for products and services are out there folks.  I pointed last week to Mark Cuban’s Open Source Funding idea. From the reader of this blog, I got a business summary for a new magazine that could be developed.  And lastly, with  a combination of technology and social action, Joshua Silver created a new product that literally allows people in poor areas of the world, to see.

Friday Fun: So, in these turbulent financial times, maybe you should go back to basics.  How about becoming a semi driver? It may not be as easy as it seems.

Weekend Video: Public television station WGBH in Boston produces Frontline.  If you are at all interested in finding out more about how the financial crisis developed, take an hour this weekend and watch this video.  And if you want Mark Cuban’s humorous look at the crisis, check this video out.

Finance and Google

Only two topics today, although there is a lot of meat on the first one…

Finance: There has been a lot of talk recently about the future of publishing, especially newspapers.  The financial subscription and advertising models that used to work are not working now; actually they haven’t been working for years, but it has finally caught up with the publishers. 

Walter Isaacson, former managing editor of Time Magazine, wrote a Time cover story that advocated the utilization of micropayments.  In this model, the reader would pay some small amount to access the articles they wish to view.  The income generated in this manner would fund the operations of a complete news organization, advocates believe.

I am not so sure. There are a lot of problems with this idea, including the transaction costs and the nuisance of nickle and diming customers. Michael Kinsley, writing an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, agreed with me.

Jack Shafer believes that we already have a model for paying for discrete units of information.  We just need to think outside of the box, the browser box, that is.

The debate continues. On the Freakonomics blog, they asked 4 experts their thoughts on micropayments. Ian Ayres believes the solution to be creation of national endowments for investigative journalism by all world democracies.

Another interesting discussion is going on at Harvard’s Law School Blog, where Doc Searles and others are debating the micropayments issue.  A compelling side point in the comments talks about users willingly paying papers for coverage of certain topics.  In other words, changing the entire newspaper business model on its head.

Google: Google has made a couple of announcements this week that add some neat features to some of their products:

Google Docs has added the ability to have validation for cells in Spreadsheets.  This will allow you to check for valid email addresses or dates and not allow bad data to be saved to your spreadsheet. (via Blogoscoped)

GMail has added the ability to define custom colors to its screens.  Now, I am not a designer, so I will continue to use the themes that they announced in November, but if you have the color sense, you can now craft GMail into your style.

The Young Entrepreneur

Over my career, I have managed many young adults, many of them in their first real jobs. In my current life, I have the privilege of working with a number of young entrepreneurs. It is a great experience for me as I get to help shape the ideas of and learn from some of these great young adults.

In general, the young entrepreneur is blessed with a number of advantages:

  • Energy
  • Lots of ideas
  • Unbridled optimism
  • No jaded perspective
  • Low cost of living
  • Self sufficiency

However, there are life lessons that they need to be aware of as well (with apologies to Robert Fulghum):

  • Grammar and punctuation count.
    People will sometimes judge you based upon how well you can present yourself in writing. Make sure to use your spell checker, but don’t leave it at that. Make sure you understand the difference between their and there, its and it’s and your and you’re. The caps key is there for a reason. Use it to start sentences. If you aren’t sure about the usage of something, find somebody who does know and ask them to review the piece before you send it out. If you have a table of numbers in your document, make sure the totals foot.
  • Communications is 90% of the game.
    Show up when you say you’re going to show up. Deliver when and what you promise. Document your understanding with your partner, client, vendor, investor. Get out from behind your computer or desk and meet people. Find opportunities to take people out to lunch or coffee. Yes, I know that sometimes we all have ADD, but your customers are counting on you to do what you say you are going to do. If you can stand out in this area, people will recommend you to others who can use your product or services.
  • Listen. Intently.
    When client describe what they require. When investors talk about what is important to them. When vendors explain how their product is different. I know that you are very keen on your idea. People will give you an opportunity to talk about what you are doing. If you have listened intently, you can make your presentation that much more relevant to your communications partner.
  • Always say thank you.
    I know that it sounds like I am talking to a three year old, but it is critical that you recognize when people help you. Saying thanks in a personal way (not a Hallmark card, but a handwritten note or personalized email) in a timely manner will make a huge difference in how people perceive you, the person and by association, your company.
  • Share.
    Find ways to connect people. Start to build a contact list of people that you admire or who have specific skillsets. When you meet with someone who has a need that you can help to connect to one of your contacts, do so in a professional way. Send an article that you think might be compelling. Point someone to a blog you like. Being perceived as a connector can only help to pay dividends for you in the future.
  • Dress well.
    It never hurts to dress one step higher than you think is necessary. Worst case, you can always take off that darned tie. Even if your company is in an edgy marketplace, see if there is a way to make it classy edgy rather than raw edgy. Again, people do sometimes make quick impressions that stick. I know people that console themselves with “If they only cared about what we wore and not what we do, we don’t want to work with them.”. However, often this comes up only as sour grapes, once the contract has been lost. It is always better to be ahead of the game.
  • Underpromise and overdeliver.
    While the true bean counters will not be happy that you were ahead of your forecast, everybody else will be delighted that you were able to do better than you promised.
  • Give something extra.
    The Cajuns have a word for this – Lagniappe, something extra. In many Cajun restaurants, you will get a little something extra – perhaps a small dessert or trial of another entree. It costs next to nothing and has people talking. Look at it as an almost free focus group.

More life lessons on young entrepreneurs to come in future postings.

Marketing, Technology & Talent

Marketing: Seth Godin today talks about a pet peeve of mine.  I too, was that rational marketer, back in the day who couldn’t figure out why someone wouldn’t buy from me.  We had the best service, we were competitively priced, we had the most competent staff… Seth urges us to figure out a way to meet the irrational client where she is, rather than continue to foist our advantages at her which isn’t going to work.

Technology: Finally, another pet peeve squashed.  Consensus within the cell phone marketplace.  The manufacturers and carriers have agreed on a single cell phone charger standard.

Talent: I posted about talent and the need for repetition to create “talent” last week.  Kevin Kelly has reviewed a book called Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking.  While there were a lot of interesting excerpts, the one that caught my eye talked about an art professor who graded some students on quantity and others on quality.  Guess which group created the highest quality pots?

Retail, Entrepreneurship, Financial and Politics

Retail: Microsoft has announced plans to open up retail stores and have hired their first VP of Retail.  Robert Scoble takes an opportunity to give Microsoft some pointers on what they should do to differentiate themselves from Apple and Best Buy.

Entrepreneurship: I just love it when I can uncover a new blog (to me) that takes a different look at things that I am interested in.  So, I found Micah who talks about entrepreneurship.  However, he looks at it at a little bit of an angle.  For example, here are three of his latest essays, “What is an Entrepreneur?“, “The Economics of Stripping” and “Cauldron of Friction“.

Financial: On Friday, I asked about what the big banks were doing with their taxpayer funds.  Apparantly, nothing, according to their testimony on Capitol Hill.

Politics: So, the Democrats handed President Obama the stimulus package that he asked for.  How are the Republicans taking this?  Frank Rich of the New York Times  talks about the win, while Andrew Sullivan of the The Daily Dish castigates the Republicans for getting us into this mess and then whining about fiscal responsibility.

Technology: Ever wonder about how the phone company figures out the charges for text messaging?  So, did Senator Kohl from Wisconsin.  He couldn’t get much further than you or I.

Fun: For a fortune cookie style blog, Amy Flanagan runs theshortestblogintheworld.  Today was a classic Amy: What if Snopes is a hoax?