Tag Archives: Forbes.com

I Can Find Research to Prove Anything

One of these days I’m going to start a new consulting company based on the sad truth that in today’s world a good search turns up nice-looking data to prove anything. 

For example, you want eggs to be bad for you? We’ll find research to prove it. No? You want eggs to be good for you? We’ll find research to prove that. 

3 silly reasons to quite social media

Yesterday over at smplans.com I posted 3 Silly Reasons to Quit Social Media in 2013, quoting a post on Forbes.com offering the following:

… a UK study from the fall found that over 50% of social media users evaluated their participation in social networking as having an overall negative effect on their lives. Specifically, they singled out the blow to their self-esteem that comes from comparing themselves to peers on Facebook and Twitter as the biggest downfall. 

In defense of the author of that post, she’s obviously making fun. Another reason is blood pressure. She says there’s bad behavior in social media that will make your blood pressure rise. 

And negative, or contrarian headlines, like 3 reasons you should quite social media, get more readers. I understand. When it’s surprising, I’m more likely to click. 

But seriously: When something starts with “a study found that…” do you pay attention?

I used to, back in the old days, before the Internet, when information was hard to find. These days I don’t have the same respect for “a study found that” because there are studies to find anything you want to say. No matter how preposterous.  

Facts? Truth? 

5 Signs of Startup Success, 5 Signs of Startup Failure.

Excellent: Cheryl Conner starts her 5 Sure Signs A Startup Firm Will Succeed list on Forbes.com with this one: 

1. Has Validated Customers. This is one of the core rules … Do you know in advance that you have customers who are willing to pay the price you are asking for the product or service you have? … A successful startup scales its growth on the basis of proven, steady and paying customers (especially where residual/subscription income is involved). Steady acquisition is also a very good sign, as opposed to high and low fits and starts.

This reminds me of the “you had me at hello” scene in the Jerry MacGuire movie. That’s all I need to read on. This person is working from the real world. 

But the list holds up as it continues … Cheryl cites 2.) strategic perspective, 5.) good communications, 4.) transparency, and — another favorite of mine — 3.) what she calls “cash conservative:” 

There’s never been a better time to start a business in many respects, but there’s perhaps never been a more challenging time to obtain early stage credit or funding. Lean operations are the name of the game, and the ability to stretch and conserve early stage funds, even if greater funds are available, is a significant sign that points to future success. 

While I like this, and she’s quote right, I do wish she hadn’t framed it around the funding. Funded startups are the rare exception. For the vast majority of startups, reality is starker than this. It’s about not spending money you don’t have. Period. 

I also liked her tip of the hat to Martin Zwillig‘s other side of the coin, 5 sure signs that a startup is going bad. The two make great companion pieces. 

5 Excellent Leadership Tips for 2012

As the year draws down, a good time for reflection, I’d like to call your attention to Mike Myatt‘s 5 Leadership Tips for 2012 on Forbes.com, posted yesterday. I think he’s 5-for-5 on this. Here are my three favorites:screen shot

  1. Family. Mike says “If you’re struggling with the family balance thing my advice is simple: don’t attempt to balance your family – make them your priority. I’ve simply lived too long to buy into the myth that success in the workplace will create happiness at home.”
  2. White space. I love this. “Leading doesn’t always mean doing. In fact, most often times it means pulling back and creating white space so that others can do. This is true leadership that scales.”
  3. Unlearning. Also brilliant: “We’ve all acquired knowledge, beliefs or positions that but for the protection of our ego, would easily admit are outdated. I can think of no better definition for a closed mind than someone unwilling to change their opinions. Smart leaders recognize it’s much more valuable to step across mental lines in the sand than to draw them.”
  4. Listening.
  5. Engagement.

Mike gives much better explanation than the summary here, and there are some excellent comments too, so I recommend this post.

5 Good Posts for Friday July 1

I need your help: Can you suggest a way to give a theme and a title to a series of Friday posts listing good posts and recommended links I’ve seen from the last week? My title here is too dull. I’m not nearly good enough at titles.

I don’t want to do this every Friday, but this is the fifth time since April 1, so I’m thinking maybe I should make it a repeated theme, with a cool title. Except I don’t have the title.

  • My absolute favorite this week is Megan Berry’s post on Mashable called 7 Tips for Better Twitter Chats. It’s a very good short piece on the step-by-step details of doing a twitter chat. Megan’s marketing manager at Klout (and yes, one of my daughters).
  • Shashi Bellamkonda of Network Solutions, alias the swami of social media, posted 6 Ways to Improve Your Online Content on the Amex OPEN Forum. Shashi knows. He practices what he preaches.
  • The SBA (U.S. Small Business Administration) has an excellent short piece explaining why you need a business plan on SBA.gov. It’s not a blog post published this week, but SBA.gov tweeted it this week, which caught my attention.
  • Fred Cavazza, Why a Facebook Page is Not Enough forbes.com. I caught this one thanks to Becky McRay mentioning it on twitter.
  • The TED blog posted The 20 most-watched TED Talks (so far). How can you resist this best-of-the-best list from the amazing collection at TED.Com. Trivia question answer: TED stands for technology, education, and design.
  • (Aside: yes, I know, this is the sixth, but I can’t resist) Steve King had some fascinating demographics in his Comparing Small Business Owners and High-Growth Entrepreneurs on Small Biz Labs. 

Should Your Strategy Be Constantly Changing?

I read Holly Green’s Shifting from Strategic Planning to Strategic Agility, on Forbes.com the other day. Ok, agile sounds good for a business. And the world does change rapidly, too. But what about this, from something I wrote about 10 years ago:

Better a mediocre strategy, consistently applied over time, than a series of brilliant strategies, changing rapidly, contradicting each other.

Is that no longer true? Here, in contrast, is Holly’s argument for strategic agility:

At its core, strategic planning involves a process of analysis. You do some research into what is and what is possible. You define a goal, break that goal down into manageable steps, and determine how to implement them while identifying the expected consequences of each step. It’s a logical, straightforward process designed to sequentially move the organization from where you are now to where you want to go.

The huge flaw in this is the assumption that the world is reasonably stable and somewhat predictable. Maybe a few generations ago. But anyone who has been paying attention the last few years knows that today’s world is neither.

That sounds reasonable as I read it, but in fact, I disagree. I don’t think strategic planning assumes that the world is stable and predictable. It does, however, assume that one core foundation of any strategy is your identity. It’s your uniqueness, what sets you apart from the rest of the world. That’s true for companies as much as for individuals. And that doesn’t change easily. You can change strengths and weaknesses only over a long time, and with a great deal of effort. So that part of strategy is relatively stable. And that’s a very important part.

Of course markets change, technologies change, and goals change; which is why the “agility” component is attractive. But strategic agility doesn’t replace strategy. I say good business strategy mixes long-term attributes with changing markets and focus, and of course it’s always a process, never fully stable. One element affects the other elements. It is never sequential. But strategy is also a matter of focus, understanding core identity, building positioning over time, and it takes consistency too.

What do you think?

Smoggy Mourning in Mexico City

That’s not a misspelling in my title; it’s on purpose. The play on words: morning because Mexico City is usually smoggiest in the mornings; and mourning because it used to be such a great place to live, and isn’t at all anymore.  Sure, everything changes, but Mexico City has gone from being a delightful place to live, in the early 1970s —  safe, manageable, full of trees and music and good food and friendly people — to being very dirty and downright dangerous.

It’s a night-and-day change. Who would believe it, but  when I first moved there as a young man in 1971, Mexico City was safer than any major U.S. city. It was almost like Tokyo in that respect.

My wife and I used to go out for dinner and a movie on a Friday night and take the freeway (periferico) 15 miles in 15 minutes to get to a movie theater in the north of the city. We’d watch the movie, go to dinner in the downtown area, 10 or so miles and another 10 or so minutes away, and then get home (another five or so miles) in 10-15 minutes.

We were always safe taking a walk after dinner. There were some rumored neighborhoods where that might not have been true, but just about anywhere in the main areas of the city were safe. We never worried.

Often, at night as I drifted off to sleep, I would hear the distant wistful sound of a camote vendor who used a distinctive whistle to attract customers to his rolling baked sweet potato cart. And on weekends we might find a rolling corn on the cob (elote) vendor, with a different whistle, selling boiled corn on the cob served bathed in lemon, salt, and powdered chile. Those are great memories.

When I first arrived in Mexico City there was no word in the vernacular for smog. They had some on particularly bad days, but it was nothing like, say, Los Angeles.

Boy, has that all changed. Today, that Friday night itinerary would be about three hours’ driving time. People are very careful about where they choose to take an evening walk. Most of the trees are gone. Restaurants are still spectacularly good in Mexico City, but they’re a lot harder to get to. And the smog and traffic are terrible.

Not long ago, Forbes.com published a list of the 25 dirtiest cities in the world. Mexico City placed fifth in that category.

And this is not just idle criticism of somewhere far away. I earned the right to say this. I lived in Mexico City for 10 years. It’s my city-in-law, in a sense, because my wife was born and raised there. We have three children who were born there.

And for anybody out there who thinks this is the natural result of some sort of social inferiority, forget that please. It’s not just corruption, although that’s a factor. And it’s not just the drug cartels, although they too are a serious factor. No, it’s a combination of disadvantaged economic development for centuries, an unlevel playing field, plus corruption and drugs. And don’t forget what causes the drug problem: the people who create the market by buying and using the drugs. The providers wouldn’t be there if the market weren’t there.

Interesting Points, But Winning a Business Plan Competition is Still Better Than Losing One

This morning I can’t resist writing about Vivek Wadhwa’s Winner’s Curse post on TechCrunch last weekend. Odd combination: it’s interesting, thoughtful, well-written, about a subject near and dear to my heart, and, at least in the title, wrong.

In the full title of his fascinating post, he says losing a business school business plan competition is better than winning. imageThat title assertion is my only real objection. He makes several great points explaining how business plan contests can be good for people, and how the winner isn’t necessarily the best business, and how these contests should not be confused with reality. No argument from me on any of those points. However, even if it’s not much difference, even if it means very little, winning is still better than losing.

Maybe it’s just a blog post title thing: surprise gets better traffic. Contrarian gets better traffic.

I’ve frequently been a judge at business school business plan contests (Moot Corp, Rice University, University of Oregon, University of Notre Dame, and others) and some non-school contests too (Forbes, for example). I think they’re great fun, great experience, a real educational opportunity, and pretty much right in line with his summary on that post:

This is not to say that the contests are bad. Instead, they educate students in entrepreneurship and motivate them to come up with interesting ideas. But for all of you out there who think a biz plan victory is a ticket to the big time, think again. And for all the engineering students who think any outcome but victory is a waste of time, you also need to think again.

He goes on to say that losing is better because winning generates praise too early in the business life cycle:

I submit that losing in a business plan contest is actually more beneficial than winning. There is a growing body of research that children who are praised too early and too easily end up under-performing peers who are not praised but are told, in constructive terms, they can do better.

I don’t buy that argument. I’ve been judging these contests for 12 years now, and I see a steady progression towards more and more real businesses, out there in the real world, rather than imaginary or hypothetical business. And in that case, as soon as the awards ceremony is over, the winners are right back out there in the real world, fighting the real battles on the front lines, with no time to bask in any glow. It’s reality for all, winners as well as runners-up and also-rans and losers.

So agreed, winning doesn’t mean much; but it’s not bad.

I’ve seen some really good winners in these contests. Look for example at Klymit, or Qcue, just to name a couple. These are companies which won business plan contests and continued growing. Wadhwa says “not a single home-run has emerged from this now-omnipresent practice.” But hey, that’s placing the bar pretty high. We’re talking about a few dozen such contests per year. Is there nothing between home run and failure?

By the way, this is the second really good post by Vivek Wadhwa about entrepreneurship on TechCrunch in barely a week or so. I posted here on the first one. Good stuff. His work is a nice addition to TechCrunch.

(Image credit: Aleksandr Kurganov/Shutterstock)

Business Plan Contest: You Be the Judge

Five very interesting young businesses, five excellent presentations, six judges with questions, and all of it available as online video, where you can watch the whole thing and vote for the winners.

What I like best about the Forbes annual $100K Boost Your Business contest is that it is open to everybody. I love being a judge of that event. And I also love that you can be a judge too.

This is also a good opportunity to see good examples of the classic 10-minute slide pitch to investors.

I’ve already voted. Now it’s your turn. Here’s the link (or you can click on the image):

Boost Your Business Finalist Voting 2009


5 Reasons Why I Like Forbes’ $100K ‘Boost Your Business’ Business Plan Contest

I’m leaving for New York city today to participate as a judge tomorrow in the Forbes.com Boost Your Business business plan contest. This will be my second year. I love it.

I like judging business plan contests. I’ve judged the two big contests in Texas, both the University of Texas Moot Corp and the Rice University contest. I’ve judged the University of Oregon’s New Venture Competition 12 times. I’ve also judged at Notre Dame University, University of San Francisco, and some others.

As I leave to judge this one, I’m thinking about five reasons why I really like it:

  1. It’s open to any U.S. business, MBA-related or not. The MBA contests are reserved for teams with MBA members. Forbes is for everybody.
  2. The criterion for winning is simple and easy to understand. The winner is the business that can do the most good with $100,000. That doesn’t make the decision easy at all, but it makes the competition clear.
  3. The public gets to vote; not just the judges. The public vote helped choose the five finalists from the 20 semi-finalists you can see on the Forbes.com Website right now. The vote is closed now but soon you’ll be invited to view the five finalists.
  4. The competition is available online. Anybody can go to the Website to see the presentations, questions from the judges, the entrepreneurs’ answers, and vote on the winner.
  5. The prize is simple and easy to understand: $100,000 for your business. It’s not an investment, or a loan, or goods valued at whatever; it’s half in good old fashioned money, and half in advertising.

You can see for yourself on the website: click here for the Forbes.com contest site.