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Rookie Entrepreneurs: Learn How to Change Gears Fast, Get Publicity Super Fast

Rookie Entrepreneurs: Learn How to Change Gears Fast, Get Publicity Super Fast

One of the things I found most fascinating from the champion entrepreneurs I interviewed for How They Did It: Billion Dollar Insights from the Heart of America was their ability to seize on Plan B, that is, to realize when their initial idea wasn’t a home run, and to focus on a better idea. Scott Jones, inventor of voice mail as we know it – now used by billions of people all over the world — was faced with this choice when he decided to kill a good business that didn’t have the potential for a home run. He went for the huge home run and he won.

In this podcast I interviewed new entrepreneur Limor Elkayam and we talked about her first company, Spotery.com, a news aggregator. When Spotery.com didn’t get traction she thought up the idea to create a daily deal aggregator to help make money, called Dealery.com. Limor quickly realized that the second idea was the winner. Dealery is kind of like Groupon or Living Social, but doesn’t employ sales folks to sell to local merchants. Instead it picks up deals from a bunch of different deal sites and rebroadcasts them, earning a commission on each sale.

Not only did Dealery feel like a stronger concept to Limor, but validation wasn’t long in coming. She launched and started getting publicity within 30 minutes of flipping the switch “on” for her site. How did that happen? By cultivating the same journalists who’d ignored her the first time around! Limor said Spotery publicity “was like pulling teeth” but the same bloggers and journalists who ignored the first company readily picked up and reported on Dealery, including the New York Times and USA Today. Rookie Limor learned two great things:

First: get ready to turn on a dime. Defend your first idea, but not to the death. If things aren’t working, get ready to shift, move, change gears when you see the better idea.

Second: be upfront with your new idea. Just because you got rejected the first time doesn’t mean you won’t be embraced – quickly! – the second time around.

 

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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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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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How to get Ready Now to Win in 2011: Podcast with Coach Jim Rohrbach

Jim Rohrbach

Take a listen to this podcast with Jim Rohrbach, coach to successful company owners (www.SuccessSkills.com), as he talks about the key thing you need to do right now to be ready with your plan in place for 2011. This all has to do with the biggest lesson coming out of Napoleon Hill’s classic Think & Grow Rich, putting your chief aim and mission in place right now.

Jim also talks about the importance of finding a mastermind partner or developing a mastermind group to help keep you on track, and to share your wisdom and energy with others.

Jim also posted a great article here Why You Need to Read Think and Grow Rich and there’s a free tool for writing your mission statement on the website.

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Founders Share Advice at Entrepreneur Bash

Seven founders featured in How They Did It gave great advice at the Great Lakes Entrepreneur Bash on November 16th in Chicago. Take a look at these videos from the panel that included:

Bill DeVille, Health Personnel Options, Ohio
Jim Dolan, The Dolan Company, Minnesota
Tim Krauskopf, Spyglass, Illinois
Vince Pettinelli, PeopleServe, Ohio
Chris Moffitt, Rubicon Technology, Illinois
Michael Polsky, SkyGen, Illinois
Mark Tebbe, Lante Corporation, Illinois

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Win 2 Signed Copies of How They Did It

Here’s your chance to win 2 holiday gifts: signed copies of How They Did It – one for you and one for an entrepreneur friend.

On December 17 we will be announcing 10 winners who will each receive 2 copies of How They Did It. To enter, all you have to do is tell us:

–          Why should we send you a copy?

–          How will your friend be inspired?

We look forward to reading your thoughts and comments* and sharing inspiration with you this holiday season!

* Submissions must be received by 6pm cst on December 15. Post here or email erin@howtheydiditbook.com. Winners will be announced at 12pm cst on December 17.

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Entrepreneur, Know Thyself!: Podcast

An interview with Georges van Hoegaerden of The Venture Company

Listen to this podcast from outstanding venture capital and entrepreneurship thinker, Georges van Hoegaerden, who discusses the 35 venture funds who make money – out of 790 funds in the US. Georges says that even though they make money, they are not necessarily good venture funds!

Entrepreneurs are not spared from Georges’ eagle eye. His biggest piece of advice for entrepreneurs is to know exactly who you are and what you want out of an investor so that you can go to the right kind of investor in the first place. So many company founders have a one-dimensional outlook: I need money, and they have money. End of story. But that’s not a thorough enough understanding of your own mindset and the actual needs of the investor, to know whether there’s a chance of a good marriage, or a relationship that will hit the rocks fast. Many founders are so desperate for money that the attitude is, “any port in a storm,” without realizing that the wrong money could lead to the wrong relationship which could lead to the entrepreneur being fired or going bust far faster than if a slower and more thoughtful approach had been taken, resulting in eventually finding the perfect partner. Listen up!

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Affirmations Count! And Now There’s Proof

I am a big believer that you first declare your intention and then you live into it. I am of course not the first person to say this, and for some folks it’s a given and for others its an eye-rolling experience (include my children in that category).

I can picture – even though I wasn’t alive at the time – seeing Babe Ruth step up to the plate, loosen up and point his bat at the stands, at the exact spot where he would hit the ball out of the park for a home run. That’s an affirmation too.

And now there’s proof about affirmations. Sasha Issenberg, writing in the The New York Times Magazine, reported on voter appeal direct mail results that show the old message “More Americans should exercise their right to vote” didn’t work. The results of that rousing statement? Lower voter turnout.

The new message? “Turnout is going to be high today.” This statement resulted in higher voter turnout. And there’s proof from direct mail before and after campaigns to back it up.

This may sound abstract, but it’s not. Our own internal dialogue, or the dialogue we have with customers, employees, friends and family – when put in the form of the desired outcome –  helps to produce exactly that desired outcome.  Pretty cool.

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The Deadly Phrase for an Entrepreneur – “In Order To”

We were in a meeting yesterday for one of our companies, interimCEOinterimCFO, discussing various steps in a new initiative, when I had the feeling of falling into a trap. Every so often I fall into the same trap when we are working on plans and budgets and assigning projects.  The trap is that I start thinking – and waiting – for the next great thing. What we have is good, but it will be so much better when we do just one more site redesign. And the search function on the site is good, but it will be great when we get it notched up just a bit more, so we should wait on a full rollout ‘til its even better. And we better not tell anyone yet because its not, well, perfect.

See what I mean? This is an extension of what Wayne Dyer has been writing about for years. “When I get out of high school everything will be great.” “When I get out of college life really starts.” “When I get married things will be better.” And so on.

We are goal setting and goal achieving machines by nature. All well and good. But when we put goals before goals before goals, well it can get endless and counterproductive.  The evolution of software is actually a successful example of iterations of imperfect but better efforts finally leading to good and then great products.

As entrepreneurs it’s easy to want to do a hundred and one things before we think we are ready to put our product or service out into the world. It’s easy to enter the danger zone of saying “in order to”.

-IN ORDER TO acquire a hundred more customers, we need a flashier website
-IN ORDER TO start making sales calls we need to add more product offerings
-IN ORDER TO _______ (fill in the blank)

Howard A. Tullman, founder of  Certified Collateral Corporation and about a dozen other companies said it right in How They Did It: “A lot of people wait for a perfect solution to come along and never get their businesses going. The idea of just getting going and assuming that the right tools, the right systems, and the right people will come along is crucial to the entrepreneurial process.”

Dan Sullivan, founder of The Strategic Coach program, has what he calls “The 80% Approach,” which means to work to solve 80% of a problem on the first go-round. Then take another 80% out of the problem the next time (this means working on the remaining unsolved 20%) so that the second generation solution will be at 96%. And so on.

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