Ask Key Questions for Change


question markLooking at your company from a different perspective is sometimes what is needed to make important changes that lead to moving forward. The problem with this is, it is hard to do. How can you put yourself in a perspective that will make decisions that will change everything? Rasmus Ankerson, who we are bringing to speak at the EO Argentina University in November, has an answer for that.

In a recent blog post, Rasmus discusses how one question can change everything. It is a question that helps to dig out and create some clarity in times of uncertainty and lack of direction. When Intel was evaluating the changes in the sales of memory chips, they were seeing a drop and in 1985 they had a big drop in memory chip sales. Founder Andy Groove was having a discussion with CEO Gordon Moore as they discussed this issue.

As Groove and Moore debated what to do, they discussed that if they messed up, the Board may replace them. So Groove asked Moore what a new CEO would do if they were replaced? Moore, without hesitation, said he would get out of chips and into microprocessors. So Groove said, let’s get up and walk out the door and then come back in and do it ourselves! That is exactly what they did, and we all know the story from there.

So when looking for a way to get real with your situation, ask what your successor might do if he was brought in and didn’t have the baggage of being stuck with all the decisions and dollars spent previously. Getting out of the quicksand of the past is tough, but maybe looking at it this way and asking this question is a way to do it.

As was discussed a few weeks back, the option of asking the question, “what is the job that our customer wants done,” is another way to look at prospects and to open up an untapped white space for opportunities.




Scaling bounceit!™ by Not Scaling


build mobile appMany of us look at the world we live in today and think about an idea we may have that, if launched in our connected world, it would spread and we would become super rich. With the internet and smart phones allowing us to be connected everywhere, this is not a pipe dream. The right idea, combined with enough money and a strong management team, can push an idea out in the marketplace and accomplish those dreams. It is easier now than it has ever been to launch an idea and make it grow. But of course, the world is not an easy place. It takes a lot of effort to get the flywheel spinning and spitting out cash.

At Efficience, we are in a position to scale an idea that Gary Hardin and Rick Metzelder brought to us, and we have partnered with them and built an application called bounceit!™. This mobile app is a cross between Instagram and Twitter, with the difference being you can vote on pictures or comments and see a graph that will reflect the up and down feeling of those responding, eliciting emotional feedback. Those sharing will provide information that will allow participants to make decisions based on a collective intelligence. The tag line is very reflective, with opinions shared, decisions made.

Given the type of app that we built and the fact that it will be in the App Store this coming week, we would assume that success would take place on a scalable level. But, Paul Graham from Y Combinator shared a very interesting article called “Do Things That Don’t Scale.” In it, he says that sitting back and waiting for your app or web idea to be pushed out and take off in the marketplace is what a lot of entrepreneurs believe they should do, but it is not true. He adds that startups take off because the founders make them take off, and the most common effort that is non-scalable that founders need to do, which is to recruit users manually.

What did you say Paul? We need to go out and make this happen on our own?

Yes! So Gary, Rick and Greg need to be the sales people, leaders and connectors they are and go out and make it happen.

So Paul, how do we recruit users manually?

Well Greg…you go out and solve your own problems, and then you find the peer group that wants the same problem solved and you invade this group with your offering, one by one. You can also do this by doing an untargeted launch and see which users are most excited about your offering. Pinterest’s Ben Silbermann observed that the earliest users were interested in design and went to a conference of design bloggers to get new users and had success there.

Paul also discusses the power of delighting their customers, but a lot of founders don’t put effort into that because they don’t see it as scalable. They think one by one won’t get them there. However, if you look at the major of compounding and start with 100 users and grow 10% a week (just 10 users the first week), then after a year you have 14,000 users, and after 2 years, 2 million. A lot of time, the founders are engineers and are more interested in building something robust and elegant, and not thinking about the attention to customers like salespeople usually are.

It was nice to hear Paul say this, because this grassroots, non-salable approach was something that I experienced growing my businesses. When I started the mutual fund, it was very grassroots and my goal of 2 million under management first year was hit on the last day, then 5 million next year and 12 million the year after turned into 650 million at end of year five. The power of compounding!

I have been writing my blog for more than four years now, and something that I am going to start doing is sharing with you my experience with bounceit!™ and give you a sense of what it is like to kick off an app and put it out there in the world and work to scale it using the non-scaling approach. This is my entrepreneurial journey, and I feel it would be interesting to allow others to see the ups and downs of pushing to making something successful. This will be kind of like the reality TV we experience with programs like American Idol. You would experience our progress along the way, as well as our ups and downs, failures and successes! I look forward to sharing this real-life growth story.




Follow the Big Trends or the Small Ones?


I have talked to a lot of people about the big trend of mobile, the growth in this area, Imagehow it is changing the way we do business, and how if we don’t want to be left behind, we need to adapt. Some of this has a longer time horizon and some of it needs to be thought about in the short-term. The point is that this is a Macro trend that is happening and one that may be less of a concern than building your small tribe of followers that make a difference to the revenue and profits of your company.

Seth Godin’s blog on Macro Trends Don’t’ Matter so Much, makes a point that I agree with for the more focused, short-term aspects that drive your business. He says that the Macro trends, like internet subscribers some year in the future, or the number of Spanish speakers as a percent of world population, are not the key drivers to your growth and the group you are after. We could add things like, Who will have more in Apple’s IOS or Android’s platforms by 2020? What percent of the world total output will China make up in the next 20 years?

These trends are nice to watch, and some of you may want to think about it more than others. However, the key is that most companies and organizations need dozens, hundreds, or thousands to make a difference in their world. They don’t need access to all Spanish speakers, to all internet subscribers, or all those on Apple’s platform. What they need is the ability to spread the word among a tribe of followers that are like-minded and passionate about your unique “purple cow” offering.

This is where you what to really drill down into who your client is and what it is he wants. Robert Bloom, in his amazing book “The Inside Advantage,” gives us a step-by-step process for drilling down to the true look and feel of who your client is and what is unique about what you are offering him. Knowing your customers in this way will allow the laser-like focus to zero in on your tribe.

Finishing up in Seth’s blog, he says that the big trends are a numbers game, and that by realizing that, you are “treating the market as an amorphous mass of interchangeable parts.” You realize the micro is more important than the macro and that it is about the people – that we are individual human beings and we have names, desires, wants and interest.

What is your micro group that you are focused on?




Adding Context to Your Decisions


brain cogs (988x1024)When we look at the world, a lot of times we miss the aspect of context on how we look at things. This has importance in making business decisions of all sizes and shapes. This can show up a lot with people’s decisions and with how they look at their competitors and strategies.

I was reminded of this on reading Rasmus Arkersen’s recent post of the power of contextual intelligence. I have written about Rasmus before and his work continues to intrigue me. I first met him when he spoke at an EO regional conference in Bangalore, India, a few years ago. I wrote a blog about his work on human potential.

This recent discussion was on how Rasmus asked people which would be better to hire – an Apple or Microsoft sales person. He experienced most people would say Apple, because of all the hype on the products and Steve Jobs. But what if it was all that hype that made it easy for the Apple guy to sell more when the level of sales was not as high as Microsoft, but was due to a much better sales ability? This is the contextual intelligence that Rasmus is talking about when he says to look deeper and below the surface to learn how the numbers are achieved.

Anthony Robbins also talks about this in his discussions around metaprograms. He states that by understanding how people sort things, you can communicate better with them in the right context. According to Robbins, some people sort primarily by feelings or logical thoughts. Most of us know that, but did you know that some people can even sort by food? When their thoughts are focused around food, you may ask them directions, only for them to tell you to go down to the McDonald’s and turn there. Robbins says, “If you ask them about the movies, they will talk about the concessions stand. If you ask them about the wedding, they will discuss the cake.”

I also experienced this in my Investment days in what is called “survivorship bias.” This occurs when you look at performance over, let’s say, a group of mutual funds during an imaginable 20 years, and it looks good at an 8% return. What it doesn’t factor in are the funds that performed badly and were closed down or merged out of existence. If you added this in over that time period, you may have a percent or two lower rate of all those funds.

These all are examples of looking at the full context of a situation and getting a complete understanding of why something is what it is. This is what Rasmus says is contextual intelligence, and when all is fully factored, may help you make better decisions.

What type of decisions do you have ahead that may need a little contextual intelligence?




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?




My Mistakes


Do you ever think about the mistakes you’ve made in running a business or in life?Blog Pic I would hate to think about the mistakes I have made with the various businesses that I have overseen. If you listed them on a hard drive, you would probably need a gigabit of space. These mistakes include timing, strategy, approach, negotiation, what to focus on, what not to focus on, not keeping it simple, too much process, not enough process, people, and on and on. It just seems endless, and it makes me wonder how I ever had successes, but it also makes me realize why things seem so hard at times. So what do you do?

Well, my simple answer is to not fret too much because mistakes are going to continue to happen. We are all human. The more introspective answer is to learn from the mistakes and avoid making them again. It seems that I get the angriest when I realize that I have made a mistake for the second or even the third time (geez where is a wall I can beat my head against)! I try to ask what caused the mistake and then put a process or approach in place to ensure it doesn’t happen again. If the mistake happens again, I realize that I didn’t take the time to follow up on what I wanted to have in place to start with (oh boy, another mistake)!

One of the mistakes I’ve realized over the past couple of years is not being as focused in a specific niche or vertical within the software space. I have made the excuse that the product side of our business, which is more of the swinging for the fences approach with a lot of strike outs, would be our grand plan. But it is not stable and consistent so we need to have a side that produces cash flow and consistency. That was supposed to be the development of custom software for various businesses. The custom software was ad hock with no real focus and also had a lot of inconsistency. This was not working and for good reason, so it had to change.

We have made changes in our firm to have a specific focus. We have hired and plan around that focus and create an environment of synergy around the health care space. I wrote a blog a while back on the clipper ship strategy, which discusses being flexible and going where the money is, and that is definitely in healthcare. We will tighten this strategy and create a much better outcome and pipeline for our company.

This is one mistake that has been painful, and I will energize us to move forward in a new way. Again, Happy New Year and here is to a making it the best year yet as you and I recover from our previous mistakes!




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?




How To Be Happy During Challenging Times


When I was in Istanbul, Turkey back in September, I heard Harvard lecturer and Good Think CEO Shawn Achor give his presentation focusing on research around happiness. This was fascinating, filled with humor, and centered on the power of happiness can spread and lead to more productive workers. Sharing this now seems very appropriate, given that half the voters out there are not very happy about the outcome of the election. I myself feel like capitalism has been pushed aside in favor of a bigger, more controlling government. I believe economic growth and jobs come from entrepreneurs, and big government only gets in their way, so this doesn’t motivate me to do a happy dance. So how can we all increase our happiness during challenging times?

Shawn has written a book called “The Happiness Advantage,” and it explains that our problems with happiness come from our thinking that we will be happy when we get to a certain outcome or level of success. Therefore, any victories or accomplishments get pushed down the road and delay happiness. The problem is that when we get there, the level of success is reset and increased. This leaves us with a feeling of not ever getting to that happy place, so what are we to do?


You can also click here to watch the video.

Our brains work better when we are positive and function less efficiently when we are neutral or negative. We also have increased intelligence and creativity when we are positive. As empathic beings, when we share a smile it is contagious the same way a frown or depression can be.

How do we become happier, and what can we do to increase happiness among those around us? Shawn shared 6 key areas on simple ways to change your happiness:

  • Gratitude – write five things that you are grateful for each morning. This refocuses your brain and opens up your awareness to look for the happy things in life.
  • Journaling – spend three minutes each day for thirty days writing about a positive experience. This has been shown to decrease doctor visits by 50%. You become more social, and your immune system improves.
  • Simplifying vs Multitasking – do one thing at a time. This is what we are built to do. Multitasking increases stress, which eats away at every organ in our body.
  • Utilizing Strengths – discover and focus on your strengths. This gives you high levels of energy and productivity with low levels of success.
  • Exercising – work out. This is as powerful an antidepressant as the pills, and it releases dopamine in the brain, which cause positive and uplifting feelings.
  • Meditation – relax and just watch your breath go in and out. It changes the way your brain structures itself and changes its electrical impulses. This allows a more balanced and positive feeling.

Shawn also discussed the activation energy that you use to get an activity to really kick in and become a habit. He wanted to play the guitar more but found that having to go into the closet and get it out deterred him. He reduced his activation energy (initial investment of energy necessary to accomplish a task) by placing the guitar in the middle of room. He then played for 28 out of 30 days.

What activity do you want to do to be happier? How are you going to reduce your activation energy and get it done?




Does Your Business have a Demand Problem?


Looking at what has been happening in the world with the slow economy, you would think it all has to do with a bad recession or political activity that is less than favorable to the business world. Look a little deeper, and you will see things are changing. We should be aware of all that is going on for the sake of positioning our businesses for the most potential possible.

I believe, as a leader of a company and the one responsible for putting us in the path of future waves of opportunity, my purpose is to read and learn as much as possible. To achieve this, I participate in the EO University Conferences, attend the Verne Harnish Fortune Conference, and read a large number of books every year. This exposes me to people, speakers, and ideas that help me contemplate what the future may look like.

Back in the early 2000s, I came across a book called “The New Law of Demand and Supply” by Rick Kash that was sent to me by the Williams Inference Center, and I have been reading a book more recently called “How Companies Win” also by Kash and David Calhoun. The first book put some interesting thoughts in my head, but I didn’t see really the power of this thinking until the great recession hit us. Why? Because it took the significant decline in business to magnify how the Demand and Supply forces have changed.

In the past, we had huge demand from those who wanted everything businesses could throw at them. For decades, we could grow revenue by adding more offerings and streamlining supply. We globalized the supply chain, reducing costs by making products in China or India or even just down the street if that was most efficient. We were able to buy so many things as our living standards increased and the costs decreasing. We accumulated so much!

Now, things have changed. The demand is simply not there. We have excessive supply from where we increased it so much in the previous decades to meet the high demand, but this terrible economy has taken away our buying power. We now see an economy that has vast oversupply but not enough customers to support the businesses that are out there trying to provide that product or service. This is the new world in which we are living, so decision makers need to know how to deal with this in order to generate growth in their business.

For those that zone out when you hear “supply and demand” due to the brain trauma you received in Econ 101, let me say it another way. In the past, we desired lots of things (lots of demand) and the business world struggled to make all we wanted and to provide at affordable prices (not enough supply). Now, we have this huge amount of goods (over supply) that companies are trying to sell and not enough people with the desire or resources to buy them (lacking in demand).

There is so much supply for what you are offering, so it is tough to grow business. Can you see this in your business environment?

Supply has vastly outpaced the demand in the economy right now, and the global economy has become unbalanced. We need to grasp this new reality that in order to get customers to want our offerings, we need to zero in on exactly what they are demanding. We will focus on this in next week’s blog.