Strategy Evolves, Does your Business?


evolution-of-technologyHow did your business strategy come about? Was it planned out in advance in the boardroom, or was it done by some type of trial and error? Did you start out knowing exactly what you were going to become? We started with a plan, but it has evolved into one that has taken time and been filled with trial and error.

Efficience came about as a company because we had an opportunity to come together and complete a big ERP system for companies that sell copiers to businesses. My partner, April Cox Abboud, was consulting in this space, came upon this opportunity and we started the company around this project. Our intentions were to build it and sell it, over and over, to other dealers and have a winning formula for success.

For many reasons, this didn’t happen and we went on to work on Software as a Service (SaaS) products. We have been working on a handful of ideas to get out there, and we have had limited success with one, and not much at all with the others. As I continued to see and read what was happening in the world, we decided to turn into a mobile app development company and help individuals take their ideas to the market, along with helping companies do the same.

We didn’t have a certain vertical to go after in the mobile space when we started, but knew that we wanted to have one. As we have worked to build-out mobile apps for some clients, we have now come about an opportunity with one particular client in the industrial cleaning arena. That client wants to partner with us to build mobile apps for their network of other companies. This is a great opportunity to push a success story out to these other companies and fill a need that isn’t currently being filled.

I have shared with you all for a while that we have been looking for a vertical in the SaaS, and now in the mobile space, to go after. As trial and error would have it, we have stumbled upon this opportunity. Our friend Rasmus Ankersen, whom I talked about in last week’s blog, discussed this in his own blog post back in March, which focused around strategy. When Pfizer was testing a drug to treat high blood pressure in the 1980s, they found it not to be that effective, but the men in the trails didn’t want to let go of their samples. Why? Because they were having a better sexual experience and soon the drug Viagra was born.

Jim Collins, in his book Great by Choice, discusses how empirical creativity was used by the companies that excelled over their competitors by 10 times. This basically means that when we talk about strategy, what you start with gives you data that you can work with, and create from there using real world feedback. Through trial and error, it comes about and sometimes ends up being nothing close to what you started out to accomplish.

I work hard to be open, adjust strategy and apply some creativity to the real world feedback that comes in as we go. How about you?




Marketing through Online Contests


We have had some fun at my office recently, creating a video that will help to generate a feel and personality that represents our company. Mainly, it shows that we can let our hair down (or put some on) and just have some fun. We did this by putting together a rap video in the imitation of a rap song out there called “Thrift Shop.” The reasoning for this video is two-fold: Making it helped to create fun in our company, and it shows you how you can have fun by using contesting in your company’s marketing strategy.

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/64913817″>Rap For Your App</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user17964486″>Tori Rose</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

We produced this video in conjunction with a contest we created, because that is what we do for clients – we create contests. Contesting is a very good approach to marketing for a number of reasons. This Mashable article highlights the four main ones.

1) Contests are a great tool for building your fan base.

2) Contests enable you to engage your audience.

3) Contests are a rich source of data.

4) Contests empower your customers to do your marketing for you.

You can check out the full article, but to sum it up, contesting helps you to build your likes on Facebook very quickly. You can double your likes, even if you have a lot already, with a contest. If you only have a few, you can take this up multiple times. You can engage your audience with user-generated content, which is what we did with creating a video and asking for a video in return to win a prize. This competitive nature is part of the human drive, and when others share their personal material, it invests them in your brand.

Getting data is crucial to building relationships, and contests are a key way to do that. This data will help your company to learn a lot about your potential clients during this interaction, so you can better understand their needs and how to provide value to them. It is also nice to have your clients share your story and to help you market. That is what a good contest can do – allow your customers to share with others and help foster name recognition.

When coordinated with an overall social media marketing plan, a good contest can be a powerful tool. What are you doing to create a contest that people will talk about and share with others? Oh, and feel free to enter our contest and Rap for Your App. You just might be the winner of a free mobile app for your company – built by Efficience, of course!




Partnering for Growth


A few weeks back, I shared what we are dong to move forward on the path of concentration around a certain focus with mobile. We have built a mobile app platform that is customizable and appropriate for our focus of working with marketing companies. This has been an evolution for us, and one that recently has had a lot of the details come together.

As I shared before, mobile is growing and the smart phone is being adopted with exponential growth. It has provided opportunity for businesses to connect with their customers that has not been possible before. With the build-out of an app, you can have relationships with your customers or employees that is right in the palm of their hands. The convenient access to knowledge, specials, promotions, events, sales and customer data is significant.
imagesI am in Charlotte for a few days to meet with marketing companies and build relationships that will benefit each of us. We will discuss our approach and platform to make their lives easier, shorten the time to production, and create more profit opportunities. With each of us focusing on what we do best, there are lots of positive aspects to this type of partnership. We focus on building and incorporating the design, and the marketing companies focus on their strengths of design and creativity.

This gets us back to the area of focusing around a certain vertical and making the business process one that is scalable. This approach allows the process to be repetitive and efficient. When you produce different custom software projects, like we have in the past, they require a lot of effort to ramp up and go through a learning curve. But when you do, there is no long-term benefit for that extra effort. This focus will allow us to get a benefit from the learning curve of building the platform and using it again and again.
I am excited about this change in direction and having a certain type of client to focus on – a client with the need to fill a gap that is present when their own clients tell them they want to have a mobile app for their businesses. This will allow us to say “no,” when we are approached to do things that will take us down a path of lost investment and cost, instead of being profitable.
How are you staying focused, scaling and saying “no” to the things you shouldn’t be doing?




Keeping It Simple Is An Understatement


When we are looking at our business, it seems completely obvious we should just keep it simple. While this may seem obvious, it is much more difficult to accomplish in a complex world filled with complex processes, complex rules, complex people, and complex competitive forces. If we could be more disciplined and keep it simple in our businesses, would we have more success? Well, that is what Ken Segall says in his new book that explains how Apple’s success was based on not just simplicity, but the Insanely Simple.

In the book “Insanely Simple: The Obsession that Drives Apple’s Success,” Segall explains how simplicity was the connecting theme between all the great things they did with hardware, software, strategy, and other areas, thus making them the most valuable company on the planet. Segall’s observations are particularly intriguing because he worked at an ad agency as creative director for companies like IBM, Intel, and Dell as well as with Steve Jobs’ other company NeXT.

cI have been saying this for a while now about the things we do and the products we create, so my interest was piqued. It was very clear that we had not gone to the extremes discussed in this book. I would like to thank my friend Paul Sponcia, a fellow entrepreneur in technology, for sending me this book. He knew it would resonate with me.

Segall says, “Whether you’re a person, dog, fish, or ameba, you will respond more positivity to the simpler solution – even if it isn’t a conscious response.” Knowing, embracing, and leveraging this as a business person, especially one creating the new web and mobile apps, will achieve greater success than those that do not.

Segall gives several examples, including limiting the number of people in a meeting to the few that really need to be there. More people create more complexity. When Jobs came back to Apple, they had about 30 products, and he simplified it down to 4. The iPhone has only one button because Jobs wanted complete simplicity. He rejected many versions before he got to the one button design.

The power of simple not only made amazing products, it became a key value at Apple. I see the power of simple and understand better why the opposing force of complexity gets in the way. I will be more relentless going forward with making simplicity a mantra of what we do.

What are you doing to incorporate simplicity in your business as well as other areas of your life?




Energy Is Key


This past week, I set off to one of my favorite places on the planet for some recharging. I spent a week on a sailboat in the British Virgin Islands with friends and had a wonderful greg1btime! One of the islands, Jost Van Dyke, is known as a top ten destination for New Year’s Eve celebrations. What an extra special experience to sail to different islands and experience different beaches and breathtaking views!

Last week, we asked the question “What are you going to do to ensure you have more energy next year than you did this year?” Sailing around those islands is one of those things that helps create energy for working in the world of the entrepreneur. Vacation and escape is not about physical rest. It is about allowing our minds to rest from all the things spinning around in there that is related to the job we do and how we are doing it.

To me, vacation is also about expanding the mind in some way that opens it up to new ideas and thinking to allow me to make better decisions in running a company. Isn’t that the most important thing we do as entrepreneurs . . . make decisions? It is the decisions we make to start this, stop that, keep something going, put more resources into a project, improve a process, and having the right people. Therefore, if our brains are all gummed up with gunk from not letting it go and recharging, we don’t seem to do as well in the decision department.

greg2bThe sunsets, the sunrises, the water and its vastness, the landscape of the islands, the beautiful beaches, so many more stars to ponder over, and the different people to meet open our minds to the possibilities and pump up our energy. Degunking and staying disconnected from my business (phone mostly was roaming) and the news of the world (what fiscal cliff?) allowed me come back more mentally energized.

In “The Power of Full Engagement,” Tony Schwartz discusses how fully engaged energy, not time, is our most precious resource. He says “Every one of our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors has an energy consequence, for better or worse. The ultimate measure of our lives is not how much time we spend on the planet but rather how much energy we invest in the time we have.” His key premise affirms that the skillful management of energy determines performance, health, and happiness.

What are you doing to make sure you are fully energized to take on all that your business throws at you?




Offering Less to Be More


In business, we often strive to make all of our customers happy by being good at every feature or service we offer them. The problem is that being good at a lot of things makes it difficult to be great at any one thing. Why do we do this? We think we can excel in any one area when the reality is we are just good or average in all areas. Have you ever thought about trying to be bad at something you do so that you can grow your business and increase your market share?

less-is-more-logo-blackWhat if I was a bank and decided to offer the lowest rates on deposits in all my markets? What if I did this, so I could be the best at customer service? I could stay open 7 days a week and as late at 8:00pm on weekdays. I would hire people based solely on attitude because hiring on both attitude and aptitude is too expensive. I would do this knowing that not having aptitude, your people couldn’t offer 20 plus types of checking accounts and highly complex financial instruments. Would you think my bank could even grow or see the stock price go up if I made those changes?

Well that is exactly what happened to Commerce Bank, which became the fastest growing retail bank in America. They saw their stock price go up 2000% in the 1990s. Commerce Bank made a key strategic decision to deal with a huge sticking point in the industry. They talked to consumers and learned one major concern was that banking hours sucked. They decided to open at 7:30am and not close until 8:00pm, and they kept the teller window open until midnight on Fridays. They also maintained full service hours on the weekends. While they did this, they sampled the marketplace to ensure they had the lowest deposit rates out there, and if they did not, they would lower them until they did.

Commerce Bank realized that in order to have the resources necessary to be really great at something, they needed to be bad at something else. Why? Because being good at everything takes resources, and to be great at something you need to redirect those resources to focus on the things that will make you great. Commerce Bank understood that they money they saved on low deposits gave them the money to fund their longer hours of operations. They discovered that to have the best customer service people and afford them, they needed to sacrifice on aptitude and reduce the complexity of their products, offering only limited financial products.

You can read more details from this example, along with others, in Frances Frei’s book “Uncommon Service.” It shares many examples of companies that sacrificed in one area to be great in another. This book is an important read for making strategic decisions that impact your features and benefits given the resources you have. They discuss creating an Internal Attribute Map to figure this out.

We haven’t done this yet at Efficience, but I am adding it to the agenda for our annual meeting. We need to discuss what we can take away, so we can prop up a key area that makes us stand out in the marketplace.

What you going to drop, reduce, or eliminate to make your offering or service excellent?




Steve Jobs And The Power Focus!


I am writing this week’s blog on Friday, October 5, which has great significance for me. My partner of 20 years back in my investment days was born on this day, along with my lifelong best friend Ronald Poles. It is also one year from the day that Steve Jobs passed away. Verne Harnish reminded me of this in his blog, and he shared this video put out by Apple. It is a nice tribute and a great reminder of what he and Apple have done for our everyday lives.

Steve Jobs is an icon of our time. In this country, we all love the story of the underdog or a great comeback story! That is the story of Steve Jobs. The board of the company that he started himself removed him, but then they asked him to return when things went bad, and he turned Apple into the most valuable company on the planet.

I also find it interesting that a man who demanded so much from his people and was considered so difficult to work with managed to accomplish so much. Walter Isaacson discusses the details in his book about Steve Jobs. Jobs pushed his people further than they thought they could go. I remember this saying I came across many years ago: When you look back over your life, the people that you will remember the most outside of your immediate loved ones are the ones that got the most out of you.

If I think back, that is true for me. The teachers and the coaches that pushed me to do more than I thought I could do are the ones that stand out in my mind. Jobs was that type of person. Even though I am sure many people got frustrated with him, those same people remember going to the next level because they were around someone that pushed to get the most out of them.

Steve Jobs also focused on one key priority and spent three hours a day on that issue. He considered this to be vital to moving forward and creating successful products. He also had lunch most days with Jonathan Ive, his chief designer. During this time, they discussed the areas Steve thought mattered most and decided how to move forward with those ideas to create the great experiences we have today with Apple products. Adam Lashinsky outlined this in his book “Inside Apple.”

That type of time takes a lot of energy to get the “Flywheel” spinning, as discussed by Jim Collins. And what a Flywheel and legacy Steve has created! It still pushes out “gee-whiz” products that will have people standing in line for hours just so they can be one of the first to buy them.

I know I could definitely be more focused in my efforts. How much focus and effort are you putting on the most important areas of your company and your life?




6 Secrets on Productivity from Branson


One of my by business idols is Sir Richard Branson, whom I have had the pleasure of meeting. My close friend Joe Hollingsworth has spent a week with him on his private island in the Virgin Islands and heard many interesting stories. What makes him really stand out to me is that he has started over 400 businesses and has had great success with many of them. He also has dyslexia, which resonates with me because so do I. Some may see this as a handicap, but I see it as one of the reasons he has achieved much success. If you would like to understand more about why, read my blog on my experience with dyslexia.

In a recent article, “Richard Branson’s Six Secrets to Productivity,” I found some important truths that I would like to share:

1) Exercise. It is key to having the energy to be productive. It is difficult to fight the good fight in your business life if you are not keeping yourself fit and energized.

2) Keep lists. He says, “I have always lived my life making lists: lists of people to call, lists of ideas, lists of companies to set up, lists of people that can make things happen.” I love that last one! If you are around me at all, you will hear me say to my team, “Let’s make things happen!”

3) Love what you do. This cannot be emphasized enough if you are going to be productive. You need the passion that only loving what you do will bring into your activities. Branson says, “I don’t think of work as work and play as play. It is all living.”

4) Don’t get the lawyers or accountants involved too early. It slows down the action. Make things happen and don’t waste unnecessary time in this area until the vision and strategy are thought out, and things are moving forward. Figure out the details as you go.

5) Step back and delegate. Hands-off delegation is important to Branson because he wouldn’t be able to handle all 400 companies and the details that go with them. He says, “I have to be good at helping people run the individual businesses and I have to be willing to step back.”

6) Set up big audacious goals. This way, even if you fall a little short, you have accomplished significantly more than you would have otherwise. Also, pay attention and focus on the few things that make a real difference.

These all sound so simple, but they are really not that easy to implement. Think about just half of those points: Delegate, focus on a few things, and exercise. It’s not easy to let go of things when you, as a gung-ho entrepreneur, really want to take control and push to make them happen on your own. Most of us business types have an attention deficit brain and find it hard to focus on just a few key things. We are all busy and know we need to exercise, but do we build a routine around making sure we actually do it?

Great thoughts! Now, we all need to just go Make It Happen!




Riding the Wave or Being Knocked Over?


Have you thought about how fast things change and how really different things have become with how you work and live? Think about the companies that you use every day that didn’t even exist ten years ago. Think about how you use your smartphone today and access Facebook. How different, both good and bad, was your life back then?

Consider all this from a business perspective. What new companies have appeared or disappeared because of a new innovative idea? Things move so rapidly! A company can go from zero to hero in a flash, but one can also go from kingpin to trash bin in the blink of an eye. What happened to MySpace, and what is occupying that building near you that was once Blockbuster?

The point is that technology and connectivity are changing the world so fast that items and companies we consider staples, such as Google and Facebook, may not even be around in 5 or so years. I recently read a Forbes article that shared a perspective on this topic.

According to the article, companies in the early years of the web 1.0 like Yahoo, Amazon, or Google didn’t see the social aspects of web 2.0. Now in web 3.0, the social companies have not adapted to the current world of the Smartphone.

Will Google face a challenge as better ways to search on smartphones appear? Will Amazon and Facebook keep up as more people use their phones to shop and connect instead of the desktop? Which one of these companies will be hit by a new idea brewing up in the garage right now?

Is there an opportunity for you in this space? If mobile can disrupt Google and Facebook what can it do to your business?




Solving the World’s Problems with Abundance


Let’s continue our discussion from last week’s blog. How does Abundance solve the future problems that seem to loom before us like population growth, water needs, hunger, and power?

Abundance Thinking holds the understanding that we have the capability to solve our pains with the technologies we have already created. Those technologies are at such a level that the continued connectivity of each of them creates exponential opportunities for solving all the issues of the day and the problems out ahead of us.

Click Image below for TED Talk.

When I talk about technologies, I am referring to ubiquitous broadband networks, nanomaterials, digital manufacturing, synthetic biology, artificial intelligence, robotics, and infinite computing. These areas of exploration are a game changer for the world in which we live. For those skeptics out there, let’s look at a few examples.

Consider the issue of water needs, which is a major one. Dean Kamen was working to get sterilized water to dialysis patients, when he realized he could solve a problem of clean water for billions of people by creating the Slingshot. This device is the size of a dorm room refrigerator and has an intake hose and an outflow hose, so you could stick it into anything wet, and out would come pure pharmaceutical grade injectable water for dialysis. Great for drinking also! Anything wet includes salt water, arsenic-laden water, and even the latrine. Can you imagine that?

This ultimately translates into helping to solve the population explosion. How? Most people that have large families are rural farmers that need more people to work their farms. They have more children because they tend to have a higher mortality rate in rural areas without clean drinking water. Solve the water problem, and you take huge steps toward the over-population problem.

Next, let’s tackle food. Vertical farms will change the game here. This would consist of utilizing buildings that would be immune to weather changes, so crops could be grown year round. It would take ten to twenty soil-based acres to produce the same amount of crops as one acre of skyscraper or vertical farm. This also means no pesticides or herbicides to runoff and effect the environment.

Now, we will take a look at the power issue. An updated version of the stirling engine can burn almost anything, and it is being used to power things like cell phones and lights. This engine can also power the Slingshot. Guess what powered it during a six month trial in a Bangladesh village? Cow dung!

All these examples prove that we really can solve huge problems and realize how abundance will raise the living standards, save resources, and provide ecological benefit to all on the planet.

If you are wanting to explore this more or still not convinced check out the TED Talk by Peter Diamandis or read the book.