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Author Archives: Robert Jordan

Acting with Integrity

As I interviewed the founders for How They Did It, one of the things that stood out for me about this group of people was that time and time again they chose to do the right thing. There were moments when they could have cut corners, but instead I found examples of acting with integrity. Phil Soran, co-founder of Compellent, talked about recalibrating his earliest investors’ equity interest when it became clear they would not get as good a deal as later investors. Phil didn’t have to give early investors anything else, but he knew it was the right thing to do.

In January, The New York Times ran a story on Major League Baseball pitcher Gil Meche and his recent decision to walk away from millions of dollars.

Meche’s contract with the Kansas City Royals guaranteed him a $12 million salary this year, regardless of whether he played or not. With a shoulder injury derailing his career, Meche made the decision to retire and forgo his entire $12 million pay day. “When I signed my contract, my main goal was to earn it…I was making a crazy amount of money for not even pitching. Honestly, I didn’t feel like I deserved it.”

In a world where sports figures are grossly overpaid and guaranteed contracts are the norm, Gil’s decision to do the right thing is inspiring, and well, just plain unreasonable. In a way it reminds me of the kind of mindset a successful entrepreneur needs to have to succeed – not in a small way – but to succeed big time.

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How Wendi Did It: The Story of Family Off Track

Wendi Ezgur, CEO of Leadhead, brought brainstorming and ideation to a whole new level when she dreamed up a way to take her family “off track”, and set off on an RV adventure across the country…complete with sponsors! Imagine having GEICO and other companies pay you to travel with your family? The trip was formed around an ephiphany Wendi had in the midst of a tough challenge, which she summed up this way:

“The moment it looks as though all is lost is the precise moment you have nothing to lose.”

In this video Wendi shares how she turned what could have been an unfortunate situation into an incredible opportunity.  There is a big message in Wendi’s story for all us entrepreneurs out there. From a chance event Wendi generated 15,000 followers on her journey. You have to see this to believe it. This reminds me of tough situations from the founders in How They Did It – like Rock Mackie having to lay off all of his employees at the point of company launch!

Enough background – please take a look and I’d love to hear your thoughts after you see this interview. Have a good story to share? How did you turn something around when all seemed lost?

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Run Around the Block. And Then Write Your Business Plan.

Jeff Coney, marathon runner

About five years ago I got serious about running and started working my way up from running around the block – to a 5k – to even further distances. The process took a couple years, and I never got very fast, but I loved it, and I still do.

As I met more and more runners, I got great advice. One of my informal coaches was Jeff Coney, a marathon runner who’s fast enough to qualify for the Boston Marathon – no small accomplishment. Occasionally I would email Jeff with questions or to chat. One day I emailed “I ran 8 miles this morning, coach.”

And I was surprised at Jeff’s reply. He emailed: “and you are the better man for it. You are going to make some extremely good decisions today as a result of your 8 mile run.” I read that and wondered what he meant about decisions. Well it turned out I did make some good decisions that day, and I noticed my game (business, family, everything) got better.

Now there’s more proof, just reported in the New York Times:

Aerobic exercise causes a steep spike in blood movement to the brain, an action that some researchers have speculated might be necessary for the creation of new brain cells, or neurogenesis. Running and other forms of aerobic exercise have been shown, in mice and men, to lead to neurogenesis in these portions of the brain associated with memory and thinking, providing another compelling reason to get out at lunchtime and run.

So my friends my advice to you is this: rise up from your PCs and Macs, your laptops and lattes at Starbucks, rise up and stretch! Walk around the block, yea, verily, run around the block! You will inspire yourself and become ever more creative.

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Leading with Courage. Or Duck and Cover!

A while back Evanston Township High School in Evanston, Illinois, which is about ten miles from our offices, “approved a dramatic plan…that eliminates an honors English course for the highest-achieving incoming freshman” as the Chicago Tribune described it, because those students are “usually white.”  The story went on to report that “the unanimous school board vote paves the way for freshmen of all racial, socioeconomic and achievement backgrounds to take the same freshman humanities course…”

This occurred despite opposition from hundreds of parents who were concerned that top-performing students could be bored or held back.

So the school board faced what they thought was a dilemma. Encourage excellence. Or safeguard against discrimination. It is incredibly unfortunate that there is a gap, and it shows up as a correlation between lower scores for incoming black students versus higher scores for incoming white students. This isn’t news and the socioeconomic causes are well known – and we need to attack that problem head on. But that’s way before high school. The fact remains – even if there was absolutely no racial correlation – people have different levels of interests, likes, dislikes – and abilities. We all have different competencies and different skills.

So to eliminate the honors course – what does that do? Other than disadvantage the kids who would love and benefit from a more intense higher level program – what have they done? To make sure no one feels any form of discrimination, the result is mediocrity. And for the school board – what would you call this other than duck and cover? Why not eliminate the football program – there are lots of kids who don’t play on the team and it can’t help their self esteem to not have the opportunity to play.

To change gears a bit – the National Geographic Magazine recently highlighted the plight of Afghan women. I’ve been reading NGM for many years, and I can still recall the stunningly beautiful face of a girl the magazine showcased 20 years ago. Consider that as NGM’s travelogue, the world’s all beautiful period.

But now NGM is tackling harsh realities. The current picture of the face of Afghan women is another young girl – a girl who was badly mutilated.  Her husband and others held her down while they cut off her nose, ears and hair – punishment for leaving home without permission – after her husband savagely beat her. Give NGM credit for courage – the picture is not going to sell magazines and it is not going to increase their subscriber base. It is also not going to make their job of covering Afghanistan and the region any easier, but the editors have taken a stand for something important.

One set of leaders completely dodged the issue – to what end? While the board of NGM took a stand.

So where do you take a stand? Are there any entrepreneurs who’ll care to defend the bland middle, or mediocrity, or the status quo, who’ll claim that they got where they did without courage; they didn’t have to stand up for something everyone else thought was nuts? Where and how do you make your stand?

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Entrepreneurs: Spare a Prayer for Steve Jobs

My list of the most successful entrepreneurs on the planet includes Steve Jobs. As co-founder and CEO of Apple, Jobs has led a revolution, and not just by one fluke product, but over the course of decades.

Regardless of whether you are Mac or PC, let’s acknowledge that iMac and OSX have helped revolutionize the world of personal computing. The iPod single-handedly turned the music industry on its head and introduced an entirely new way of doing things. The iPhone set the bar for the mobile device industry and most recently, the iPad is poised to revolutionize how we interact with media and print.

Jobs currently faces a bigger hurdle than deciding which industry to shake up next – and that is his health. As the face of Apple, the current furor over his health revolves around personal disclosure. Just how much is he expected to reveal about his well-being? There is fear that without Jobs, Apple loses direction, the stock plummets, and the empire comes crashing down.

I say give the man his privacy and trust that someone who has been able to build Apple and catapult the company to even greater heights, time and time again, was also smart and savvy enough to surround himself with people who can carry on the company in his absence. I wrote How They Did It because I disliked the idea that winning companies looked like black boxes to the outside world – that it was impossible to learn what actually caused their success, what challenges took place, and how the founders managed to do so well – but I draw the line at health and personal well being. Take a moment to put some good energy towards Steve Jobs.

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Sending Clear Signals – Are You on Message and Memorable?: Podcast

I got to meet marketing and brand strategy expert Bill Schley at the 800CEOREAD Pow Wow in December. Bill has clear and simple advice for entrepreneurs and company owners to stay on-message. The problem is that in so many organizations, there are a multiplicity of messages going on, leading to confusion. Listen in and learn as Bill explains how developing a tagline that tells a story in a memorable, repeatable way, can serve as a tool to keep corporations and startups alike on course for success.

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Top Tips for Company Owners for Search Engine Optimization from Noble Samurai Co-founder Eugene Ware: Podcast

Did you know that there is now the concept of a marketing balance sheet? We all know about financial balance sheets, but what about marketing? Marketing has historically been viewed as essentially a creative or budgetary black hole. That’s no longer true in an online world, where we can all measure, well, everything. In this podcast Noble Samurai co-founder Eugene Ware describes the marketing funnel process and how to view those metrics as what is essentially a new-age version of a balance sheet. Eugene, who is expert in SEO and marketing, began Noble Samurai to improve all elements of the market research process.

Anyone concerned with a meaningful online presence could benefit from hearing Eugene’s advice on content, keywords and links. I’m not sure there is any kind of business or industry that doesn’t have an online component these days –

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Everyday Heroes

Dean Klassman

It is easy to honor champion company founders when their success is obvious. I would like to start a series on this page to recognize heroes – and you know who they are. Those who go completely and totally out of their way to bring about something great in the world.

So let’s talk about Dean Klassman, a hero from Illinois. Dean created and runs a program called Buddy Baseball. It is not his day-job and Dean receives no pay. The Buddy Baseball program pairs one or more able-bodied kids with special needs kids to help them play baseball – and everyone, I mean everyone, scores a home run and gets cheered on. When you actually see a couple hundred people show up for each game, and the joy that it brings to everyone involved, it is easy to be inspired. And isn’t that what our heroes should help us feel?

Who do you know who is an everyday hero? E-mail info@howtheydiditbook.com so that we can feature your pick in an upcoming post.

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Guts and Glory

I wrote about a comment I saw on ExecuNet from a gentleman who didn’t have much good to say about the current generation of executives. He specifically commented on lack of guts and courage in the corporate world, and I thought he had a point.

I had to stop and think about guts in the modern world. There are examples that come to mind – Lee Iaccoca taking charge at Chrysler – his leadership was heroic.

But nearer to hand I thought about a company I had the privilege to take part in. PV Powered in Bend, Oregon, was an early stage company losing tons of cash throughout the recession. The company had great technology but was not yet far enough along to have landed enough customers to reach breakeven or even close to it. In desperation the company sought to sell itself.  At the time, Bear Stearns had gone under. Lehman went under and it looked like the US banking system was at risk. Definitely not a time when investors put money into high risk, illiquid assets.

Like so many tech companies, PVP needed cash, and looked to its large investor group.  But everyone said no – except for a father and son investing team that owned a construction company in Washington.

You might think, well, no big deal, someone wrote a check for millions despite the recession. But that wasn’t the full story. The company had already attempted to sell itself, but each time a buyer appeared, they eventually left. And the last potential buyer had not only backed away, but specifically labeled all the deficiencies at the company, all the reasons it just wasn’t worth buying at all.

With that less-than-glowing endorsement, the father and son, Dan and Mason Evans of JH Kelly, decided to keep writing checks throughout the recession and to retain the management team. Luckily, things improved dramatically over the ensuing four quarters and a new offer came in, culminating in a $90 million sale of the company earlier this year.

The decision by Dan and Mason Evans and their EVP Mark Fleischauer is the exact definition of guts, of moving forward despite uncertainty and fear in the marketplace.

Now let’s talk about you. How do you keep moving forward when everyone else is running in the opposite direction?

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The Latest in ADD: ADOS

David Zach

I just heard a great new acronym for the rampant attention deficit issue we all know and love. This was relayed to me from futurist and speaker David Zach:

ADOS: Attention Deficit…Ooh Shiny!

Later I heard author Sally Hogshead, creator of the Fascinate Test, say that the average person’s attention span has plummeted from 20 minutes to 9 seconds…or roughly to that of a goldfish. Which means …Ooh Shiny!

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