Why I’m Starting My Own Company

Every entrepreneur who starts their own venture better have a clear idea of why they’re doing it. With a clear “why”, it will be easier to navigate when the inevitable obstacles pile up.  If for no other reason than to get my own thoughts straight, here goes:

I’ve got Some Personal Motivation

I’m a small business guy by birth – I grew up the son of a second generation entrepreneur. My grandfather took a huge risk in 1916 and started a car business. He never made it to college, but i benefitted because he had the right combination of courage, vision, perseverance and a super supportive wife. He sent his two boys (my dad and uncle) to college, gave a ton back to his church and community, and sold the boys a successful business. They managed it well and grew it so that their combined 11 kids could go to college and grad school. I can’t count how many of their employees sent their own kids to college, or bought their first homes or a cottage on a lake or were able to retire because they were paid well by dad’s small business. It’s in the hundreds. So, i’m a believer in main street. I think the world needs more successful small businesses. We probably have enough Facebooks, Googles, and Twitters.

I want to build a great culture – I was having coffee with Amol Dixit, the brains behind Hot Indian Foods and he told me that his goal wasn’t to get into the restaurant business. His goal was to build a great company and a great brand, first. The restaurant business was just the fastest way in. When he wakes up in the morning, he’s thinking about how to keep the business growing so the people that work there can get where they’re trying to go, professionally. I hope that, in my small way, the little company i create can be a place where others can get their start on a new career or at least a new phase in their career.

Create More, Consume Less – I try, everyday, to focus on creating. Whether it’s words on a page, music, or even a dumb sketch, it’s critical to me to put something good out into the world to balance out all the consumption i’m doing. Business is the medium where i think i can be the most creative (should have practiced my guitar more) and this is a time where creativity in business will be rewarded. I hope when i’m done working someday, i’ll be able to look back and feel proud of what we all created together at my little company.

Put it into Practice – I’ve been blessed to have worked with some amazing leaders. Whether it was learning how to manage through rapid change at Ameriprise, or learning how to build excellent brands at General Mills, or how to build an amazing professional services business like Ciceron or GoKart, i’ve been around inspirational folks my whole career. I owe it to those leaders to try to do something special. I want to see if i can put it into practice.

It’s time – I started out as a small business guy, but then found my way – through luck and being in the right place at the right time with the right knowledge –  into corporate America. My whole rationale for going corporate was to learn enough to sell some digital marketing into big companies. My longterm plan was to go start my own business; i just needed a little corporate experience first. As i look ahead and make my plan for the next 10 years, this is the best way to get where i want to end up.

Why this Particular Business?

We’re starting a company that will make it easier for companies to find the talent they need to innovate and change. It’s a professional services business, but not an agency. We’re going to have a pool of talented consultants who can provide interim leadership and support for your most strategic digital initiatives. They’ll have experience at the senior levels inside big corporations and agencies and could step into your VP and Director level roles.  I’ll save the particulars for another post, but the general reasons for this business are going to be pretty familiar:

  • The market size is huge
  • There’s a gap in the marketplace
  • There is long term opportunity
  • I’ve got a unique way to help address some market needs

More on that later…

But, beyond the financial and business rationale, there’s a deeper reason. The transformational change that most companies are pursuing will come about through hard work and courageous leadership. That change will be driven by technology, but it will ultimately be a cultural change, where the company vision, mission, values, incentives, ways of work, tools, leadership behaviors, communications and customer experience will all be challenged.

It’s going to come down to great leadership.  It’s going to take vision, courage, resilience and persistence. And – we think –  partners that work like we do.

The Middle is Where the Change Gets Real –  This kind of change will have to be supported at the “top of the house”, the C-Level folks. And, the execution has to happen everywhere, from the entry level folks on up. But, the leaders in the middle – the Directors, the VP’s – are where the real change happens. Or, I should say, where the change gets real. Those people are in the tough spot of trying to influence up (to the C-Level), across (to their peers) and around, to their teams, their vendors, their functional partners. They’ve got to bend and dismantle the old ways of working to create the space for the new ways.

While we will probably be hired by “senior management”, we think we can make the most impact by helping to lead from the middle. So, we are building this organization to to help at the Director and VP level, the ones who have to make the change actually happen. The ones taking the risks to innovate where their peers are playing the game, the ones who are trying to create something new or pioneer new techniques instead of following the path laid out by their boss.

This might be one of the best times in American history to start a new business. It’s also the best time for existing business reinvent themselves. And, it’s an amazingly interesting time to be a business leader. If we work our plan and this business evolves the way we want it to, we’ll be doing our little part to help those great companies – and the leaders inside – reinvest in their futures and reinvent themselves.

 

CEO’s & CMO’s: 2017 Strategic Planning Questions for Your Digital Team

While the rest of us are enjoying the fall weather, football and the changing seasons, most CMO’s and CEO’s and their leadership teams are elbow deep in 2017 planning and budgeting. In addition to all the normal business challenges, most leadership teams are probably spending a significant amount of time talking – one away or another – about digital and/or their digital transformation. Maybe its a question of how to allocate the capital budget for digital capabilities, or it could be a culture question (“How do we get more digital talent?”). Or, more urgently, it could be an existential question (“how do we compete against X and the disruption they are causing”).

Eventually, those boardroom conversations and plans will make their way down to strategic planning discussions with the VP’s of Digital Marketing, the Chief Digital Officer, Head of Digital, or Directors of Digital. Here’s what we hope those lucky leaders are getting asked in those strategic conversations:

  • What’s our strategy to use data to develop a competitive advantage? We see a lot of C-level leaders who are missing the strategic opportunity to plan for, collect and analyze data in unique ways (not just the obvious stuff) to give themselves a competitive advantage. We know of one company that bought a couple large Instagram handles from their owners, just so they could get the day to day data on likes and use the comments section to gain unique consumer insights that their competitors wouldn’t have
  • How are we using digital to create a unified experience over the whole  customer journey? Smart companies are moving on from digitizing their functions (Sales, Service, PR, brand Management)  to looking for ways to integrate and unify the whole consumer experience. They are going from good/great execution at the functional level to managing the whole customer journey in a holistic, integrated way even though there’s not an immediate ROI and dramatic changes in short term results are rare. Not only is it better for consumers, it positions companies to collect unique, potentially proprietary data along the way. It’s an easy concept to grasp, but it’s incredibly hard to execute internally unless there is a multi-year commitment from the top to keep investing ahead of results.
  • What capital investments and resource allocations do we need to make to get better data across the customer journey? See above. A dramatically improved customer experience will generate incredibly valuable data
  • What must we do to invest enough in both incremental and transformation innovation? No good leader says “no” to opportunities to invest in innovation, but few leadership teams are disciplined enough to balance short-term, functional innovation (i.e. incremental) with the willingness to pursue transformational opportunities.or instance, we know of one company that is generating a surprising amount of revenue from advertising on their digital platform; enough revenue to pay for a larger, more advanced digital team. It’s almost guaranteed that the directors and managers and coordinators on the digital team have ideas for both, but they may not be getting the support to pursue both due to a heavy prioritization of short term results.
  • How do we need to evolve our brand position and actions to be even more relevant to our customers? All leaders should by now understand how digital is transforming consumer expectations of brands. But even after years of watching brands like Dove drive great results by moving the brand to a higher, more aspirational space (and creating amazing digital content that’s getting shared all over the place), too many leaders are still(!) focused on the result (“get me something that goes viral”) instead of the characteristics of a soap brand that millions and millions want to connect with. In other words, you have to do the work to elevate your brand and your company in order to be relatable, digitally.
  • What do we need to do culturally to create the conditions for more agility and innovation in our marketing? Most good business leaders have read up on Agile, Lean Startup, and “working like a startup”. It’s thrilling to see courageous leaders try to change their companies actions. But, smart C-level folks will listen to the digital teams about what needs to change culturally to create the conditions for more flexibility, agility and innovation in their marketing model (or their business, overall). The behaviors are one thing, but the attitudes and beliefs and values and incentives are another. Most importantly, CMO’s and CEO’s should be asking: Have I created the right incentives to unlock true innovation (or  will my team still get penalized for taking risks)?
  • Are we being aggressive in looking at business model or product innovation opportunities? This is something that any sufficiently paranoid organization should be asking itself every six months: “what would a potential disruptor do to come take our business away?” Or, put another way, “how do we not get Blockbustered?” And, as part of the same exercise, CEO’s should be asking their digital team “what opportunities are we missing to use digital for  new revenue, new products, or serving our customers more effectively”? It’s easy to get a false sense of security that “we’re on it!”.
  • What do we need to do to help our employees work at the pace and speed of our customers? As the proliferation of tools and technology accelerates, it’s imperative for customer-focused companies to enable their front line people – the sales folks, the community managers, customer service – to work with the same tools and platforms that their customers are using. So, whether it’s instagram or Snapchat messaging, chatbots or Kik, CMO/CEO’s will make the hard policy changes to stay connected with their consumers

If you’re the VP or Sr Director of Digital, the Head of Digital or the Digital Transformation leader and these questions aren’t coming up in the annual operating plan discussions, you should set up time with your CMO and CEO and push these issues forward. It’s your chance to lead “up” and push the thinking of your organization and, ultimately, position your team to drive even greater impact in the organization. And, to make life a little better for your customers in 2017.

BitTorrent wants to change the way the web is built | The Verge

In this vision, web publishers could publish, distribute, and update an entire website through the BitTorrent protocol, and others visiting the page would automatically help share the site’s content, just as anyone downloading a file over BitTorrent would also start sharing the file with other peers.

via BitTorrent wants to change the way the web is built | The Verge.

From “Labs” to “Core”: Transitioning from Digital Experiment to Core Business

It’s pretty clear by now that smart CMO’s are seeking ways to accelerate growth by looking at digital products and platforms to energize their product mix and boost their marketing. As they ask their team to explore faster, both CMO’s and CTO’s need to be ready for the bumps ahead as the innovations go from “experiments” to “core business”.

Often, the leaders who are being asked to lead innovation are explicitly tasked with finding new ways to work in addition to defining new product/service offerings. They might be leading Innovation, New Products, New Ventures or Business Development. So, they are expected to explore new tools, new technology, new partners or new methods for working with a goal of injecting innovation into the organization while defining new revenue streams.

But, while there is a growing set of best practices on how to invent and launch new products inside the enterprise, there aren’t as many best practices for the transition period when those products go from “innovation” into “run the core business”. Worse, few innovation leaders have a clear plan for enlisting the support of the functional leaders (IT, Product management, sales, etc.) who have to maintain and manage an innovative product once it’s launched and proven.

As a result, one of the biggest threats to capturing the benefit from innovation activities is the slow death that comes when the original strategic intent is second guessed, re-thought, and challenged by the core business.

For example, imagine a scenario where the VP of Innovation for Enormicon Inc saw a legitimate market opportunity for a new product with a different business model. Over the course of a year, his “Enormicom Labs” team moved quickly, working like an agile startup to create the first iteration of the product including customer growth, market traction, press awareness and lots of insights into how the product could succeed. But, to scale the product, Enormicon would have to move the product from the “Labs” team into the core business.

As the product moves from the “Labs” team to the mainline business, the strategic intent of the innovation project will probably clash with the functional strategies that support the business. The tech choices that were made to enable speed and quality in the “innovation” phase will probably run counter to tech strategies that guide the main business (i.e. repeatability, cost reduction, leverage core technologies, scale efficiencies). The marketing approach used to quickly gain new customers for the innovative product will probably not be supportable by the “core” marketing team’s strategies.

To successfully grow businesses via innovation, Enormicon will need support in launching innovative products, but also in re-integrating those products into the business once the new product is proven.

Innovation leaders will need strong support as they think through the start up process AND the phase of introducing their new products and services into the main business. Change leaders will need to develop stronger support for:

  • Tech Strategy – Choosing tech (the software, the programming language, the development methodology, the support model) that will work for both the start up phase (agile, fast, easy and cheap to build and support) and the re-entry phase (software that’s scaleable, supportable by the corporation, bullet-proof and fits into the rest of the company’s architecture)
  • Maintaining Strategic Support – Building the strategic rationale and the  business case for doing things differently, so functional leaders will invest the extra effort and time and money to support the experimental efforts (tech, marketing, etc.

(Updated) Um, Facebook, This isn’t Great

Engagement with brand content is evidently dropping  pretty dramatically. As a guy that went all in on Facebook when i was in a seat to influence a lot of media spend, this is concerning. For brands, it’s obviously bad. For consumers, it’s probably a win of sorts.

These numbers are even more striking when you consider engagement is significantly down even though brands are almost certainly spending more money to promote their posts to combat plummeting organic reach. Facebook’s ad revenue reached $2.27 billion in Q1 2014, up 82 percent from Q1 2013.For brands on Facebook, these are dark days. They can choose to spend more money to reach fans they had already accumulated in the past, but Facebook will likely decrease branded reach even further.

But, this also speaks to challenges in the FB ad model from the brand perspective. It seems like Facebook is  resorting to limiting organic impression supply (by tweaking the algorythm to lessen brand reach), making it more important for brands to pay to get the exposure.  The main reason i believed Facebook was a great platform was the  combination of organic and efficient paid reach. With the constant tweaks to the organic reach black box, that mix (of organic and paid) gets less attractive and FB becomes just another paid ad platform.

UPDATE 6/18/14: I think i buried the lede here. The point i was REALLY trying to make is that it looks like Facebook is losing one of the aspects that made it so attractive in the first place: It enable brands to build deeper relationships (that’s good) while also building a more modern media mix, one that delivered a beneficial combination of owned and earned media and paid. The less organic reach a brand can generate, the more they have to pay to get the reach, the less attractive the original value proposition is.

via New Report Reveals Just How Drastically Brand Engagement is Plummeting on Facebook | The Content Strategist, by Contently.

The BlockChain is the Beauty Inside Bitcoin

I need to come back and write up a clear article on this, but i’ve been digging deep into Bitcoin. Not the cryptocurrency part, but the actual protocol behind it. The think i’m curious about: What else could we apply the blockchain concept to. That is, what kind of decentralization can happen when there is a secure, transparent, open, scriptable, public ledger holding the system together.

Lots more to think about,  but here’s a couple important articles for my own future reference:

 

Lessons For Marketers in the NYT’s Leaked Innovation Report

The New York Times 2014 Innovation Report is an extraordinary document. Extraordinary in that it  exists at all, for one thing. But, also extraordinary for the honesty and candor in the analysis provided by the authors.

We’ve all watched the news business getting transformed over the years by blogs, the web, Google, etc. Now we can read the report from inside a pre-eminent news organization, written by a handpicked group of leaders given the mandate to tell the truth to power (well, their bosses).

But, at the same time, it’s an exceptionally useful document for marketing leaders who are struggling to thrive in a time of rapid, seismic changes. Digital, however you want to define it, is creating almost unlimited opportunities to create new growth, reach new audiences, and work in different ways. Call it creative destruction, transformational innovation, or just reinvention; we’re all going to have to deal with it. The news business is at the front of many of these changes, but eventually all business, from cars to cereal will have to deal with them. So, we can learn a lot about what to do (and what NOT to do) by reading this report carefully.

While it was unfortunate that this document was leaked, we nonetheless have it as a story of a great organization at the mid-point of a life-or-death struggle. Here are just a few lessons  brand builders can take away.

Be Honest With Yourself, First – One of the more remarkable things about this document is that it doesn’t seem to hold many punches. It calls out specific projects, departments, etc. Its a seemingly honest assessment of what’s working and not working. Not self-flagellating, but also not overly optimistic about what’s really going on. Marketing leaders should take on this kind of assessment every other year, at least. A hard look, done by trusted mid-level leaders, those with enough understanding of how things really work on the execution level but also have a broader strategic sense about what the organization can be and needs to get there.

Understanding how Disruption Works is the First Step to Disrupting Yourself – With everyone talking about innovation all the time, you’d assume everyone understands what “Innovation” really is. But, wisely, the writers spend a couple pages outlining Clay Christensen’s Disruptive Innovation process. And, they even provide a cheat sheet for their new competitors. As leaders, we should understand that disruptive innovation actually is kind of predictable and it will hit every industry at some point. Get your teams to understand this, and it’s the first step to creating the kind of innovations that disrupt the business on your terms vs. waiting for someone else to do it to you.

Reconsider What You’ve Always Taken For Granted – The report advocates a recommitment to audience development strategy, to re-examine how they are getting the news in front of people.  For generations, the Times could assume an audience existed, was reachable in a predictable way, and cared about the product. But, that audience is easily swayed, distractible, and, in the end, not so easy to reach. Now, the Times has to re-learn how to reach it’s audience, weaving a news set of skill into the newsroom. All leaders should be rethinking the parts of the model they’ve always taken for granted.

Digital First is Much More than a Buzzphrase – For the times, it’s a flip from “a newspaper that also produces a rich and impressive digital product” to “A digital publication that also produces a rich and impressive newspaper”. That’s over-simplified, but that mental model flip is one that most marketing organizations need to make if they haven’t already made. A mobile, digital way of building the brand that is amplified at scale by traditional media is  “digital first” for most marketers.

Culture Change is a Mofo – This is really a document describing wrenching culture change in slow motion. The capabilities, the technology, the tools will all be relatively easy to update. But, the talent, the leadership, the skills, the mindset needed to thrive in a digital-first world at the Times will be incredibly difficult to weave into the organization. The leaders will have to remake their culture from the inside without losing the best of what got them there.

Finally, the real story here is that the leaders of this organization recognized they were out of synch with their times and they turned to 8 trusted insiders to figure it out. That’s courage. We can all learn from them.

There are dozens and dozens of smaller nuggets in the document. It’s so rare for a business leader to get a peek into another organizations’ strategy development process that i imagine this will be a document i go back to and re-read multiple times.

Here are a couple other great writeups: