They aren’t all straight lines to productivity, like Bill Gates’ “go paperless,” Warren Buffet’s “say no,” or Winston Churchill’s “take a break away from your desk.” They also include some really good life tips like Richard Branson’s “don’t forget to work out,” Arianna Huffington’s “get enough sleep,” or –one of my favorites — Mark Cuban’s “avoid meetings.”
Hard to have a more successful or more high-profile entrepreneur/winner than Richard Branson, so I clicked quickly this morning from email to the Amex OPEN forum to look at his Top 5 Tips for Entrepreneurial Success .
Lots of people have opinions, lots of people have expertise, but he has Virgin Airlines, Virgin Records, and all of that. His five tips are pretty good reminders:
Find good people
Realize that the employees are the business
Always look for the best in your people. Lavish praise. Never criticize.
Don’t take yourself too seriously.
Screw it, just do it.
I say this is maybe only 4.5 tips because of the “never criticize” part of his third tip. In more than 20 years of building and running a company, one of the hardest things to do, but most important, is managing mistakes.
Richard Branson says:
When mistakes happen – which is inevitable – I always take the position that you have to learn from them and try not to dwell on what went wrong. It’s almost always better not to go over the obvious with the people involved. They know exactly what happened.
I agree with the first sentence there, but I’m afraid that you do have to “go over” what happened, because it’s not always obvious. And I don’t think they always “know exactly what happened.” You and they need to review it at least once, so everybody is on the same page. It’s business, not fun, and you’re supposedly running it. It’s only normal that without the right kind of follow up on poor results, some people will rationalize or gloss over or fail to learn from mistakes. If you, the boss, never acknowledge the mistakes, you don’t optimize the business.
Obviously I mean good constructive criticism. Not back-biting or second guessing when it doesn’t matter. But there’s that tendency to want to be friend rather than boss, and ultimately if you’re running a business, somebody has to have the backbone required to set expectations and track results, and, the hardest part, deal with results that are less than expected.
I learned that the hard way, by not giving negative feedback. People don’t always correct themselves.
To be honest, I thought it was a joke; irony, perhaps, or sarcasm. But no, to my surprise, I clicked on Love Your Business More Than Your Family, a column on entrepreneur.com, and he’s serious. Author George Cloutier says:
Your cell phone is for keeping in touch with clients and sales managers in the field, not for taking calls from your spouse throughout the day about what groceries to pick up on the way home. Cutting out early to take your kids to baseball practice three times a week, or picking up your Aunt Tilly or Uncle Ned from the airport, are unacceptable interruptions to success.
You can keep doing these things and waste dozens of hours each week. Or you can focus on the financial future of your business and work all day, every day. You are the only person responsible for fixing your business and making it better, and that isn’t going to happen while you take 14 personal phone calls a day and attend local Cub Scout meetings three-times a week.
That is extremely bad advice. I have absolutely nothing against George Cloutier. I’m even a fellow columnist on the same entrepreneur.com site, where I do a column on business planning. But sheesh, how can I read that, and not write about it? What would Bob Sutton (author of the book on business a**holes) say about this?
How wrong is George’s advice? Well, there’s no way to list all that’s wrong with it, but here at least is just a brief start on that list:
It’s bad for your life. And business is to serve life, not life to serve business. Make no mistake about it; if you choose to “work all day, every day” do it purposely and knowingly, recognizing that you’re sacrificing your life for a business. Stay single and alone. Don’t ever have kids.
It’s bad for your business too. You don’t manage a business, manage a team, make decisions, and get through the long hard days without balancing your life. People eventually blow up when they try.
OK there are exceptions, but what if you aren’t one of them? What if you sacrifice everything and you don’t end up like Richard Branson, water skiing in the Caribbean with a naked model? Some totally obsessed people end up wealthy and happy; but obsession doesn’t create the success, and most of them are just lonely and full of regrets.
Am I exaggerating here? I should add that I’m not just quoting him out of context. He means it. He starts with an obsolete tale of an obsolete business school professor from about 40 years ago telling married students to give up because they couldn’t be married and successful. Here’s what he says about that:
He told them that a family would get in the way of their success, so there wasn’t much point in them taking his course. In the end he let them stay, of course, but he wasn’t kidding. That was his way of making an important point: If you’re going to be successful, you’ve got to love your business more than anything else–even your family.
And he finishes with this conclusion:
Often you will feel tremendous pressure to take time away from your business to devote to family matters. But in the end, the best thing you can do for them is to create the legacy of a business that is thriving and financially sound. When you’re retired, wealthy, and able to spend Valentine’s Day and other special occasions with your kids and grandkids at your winter home in Hilton Head, you’ll be glad you devoted so much of your time to your first love: your business.
Don’t believe him. I do hope that George is in Hilton Head with kids and grandkids. But if you or I follow his advice, we wouldn’t have anything at all to do on Valentine’s Day. Neither our kids nor our grandkids will be spending time with us. They’ll be with our ex-spouse and probably the step-parent who actually raised them. Skip the occasions, the practices, the parenting, and plan on being alone. And, unless you’re very unusual, regretting it. To paraphrase a line from Hello Dolly: “and on those cold winter nights, Horace, you can snuggle up to your cash register. It’s a little lumpy, but it rings.”
Life is way too short to lose to business. Bring business and life together, mind your balance, and be successful at both. That’s what entrepreneurship is really for.
Brevity is good. Brevity for business pitches is good too. The idea of pitching a new business in a single 140-character tweet (pardon the expression) is intriguing to me. Do you think you could do that?
Celebrity entrepreneur Richard Branson is pitching a Twitter pitch contest as part of a startup training program he’s involved in.
That idea’s intriguing, but not completely new. I thought I’d heard of something like that before so I Googled it and discovered that none other than my friend and world-renowned blogger Anita Campbell of Small Business Trends (@smallbiztrends on Twitter) won a Twitter business plan contest last year, with this 140-character business plan:
Monetize answering research questions for readers on a section of my website – ad supported – listing fees featured research
And the runners-up were pretty good too, in my opinion:
zackgonzales @hoovers pink eraser scentd cologne in pink parallelogram bottle, distro thru urban outfitters, archie mcphee, and scholastic book fairs
AndyBeard @hoovers Business plan by tweet? Sim Startup (All formats – I am sure I could get Activision to publish)
I think every business owner, operator, and manager should be able to boil the core of a business down into 140 characters. Can you? Can you do that for your business?
Here are some of my favorite businesses, in 140 characters (and, to keep it honest and because I included that “hard sell” jab above, I’m skipping Palo Alto Software and/or our products). All of these are less than 140 characters. Most of them leave 20 or more characters for retweeting:
Trunk Club: good-looking men’s clothing with personal online service for men who need clothes but hate shopping.
Cafe Yumm: Really healthy really tasty fast food with slow food values in Oregon. Franchisor too.
Mini-Cooper-S: bite-sized transportation for one or two with a kicker: unbelievably fun to drive.
Klymit: simple knob insulation adjustment in high-tech sports clothing.
Zapproved: Add-on magic to untangle email threads making group decision making faster, easier and more accountable.
Java Juice: easily transportable high-quality great-tasting condensed coffee for coffee lovers who travel or backpack. Just add hot water.
In Context Solutions: amazing 3-D retail modeling revolutionizing consumer in-store on-shelf research in an online virtual model.
And that, doing it for these seven companies I happen to like, was fun and easy. What would your 140-character pitch look like? Could you tell your company from your competitors, with that limit on the text?