Archive for the ‘Startups’ Category

Startup Links

August 14, 2012

Every day I comb through my Google Reader reading sites like Hacker News and others, and star articles that are especially interesting about startups, entrepreneurship and miscellany. These are some of my favorites:


Startup Links

July 20, 2012

A couple of interesting articles from the past few weeks:

Why I Agreed To The Nine Day Challenge

June 2, 2011

I find myself in a unique position this morning and one that I haven’t been in for a few years – I am the underdog.

I don’t mind being in this position except that I’m down 183 to 59 and it seems to be a pretty big hill to climb – not insurmountable but definitely daunting.  I do wake up in the morning in a cold sweat wondering what I can do today to get more people involved in The Nine Day Challenge.  I do worry with every passing minute if we can raise the funds that we promised we would for the local Big Brothers Big Sisters (South Simcoe chapter).  Monday night, Krystal and I gave a pitch to their board of directors, and aside from some concerns about the humiliation part, they were in support of it. Now we have to deliver on our promise.

So the big question is – why did I agree to do a social media challenge with a 19 year old girl?

Yes, I realized when I agreed to do it that her generation lives and breaths social media with the same fervor that my generation adopted the PC.  Take into account that she had setup her page within five minutes and had ten ‘likes’ five minutes after that – I’m up against someone who is dedicated to win and knows what she is doing.

I agreed to do this challenge for two reasons: to help a local charity and to help a budding entrepreneur.  Six weeks ago, Andie at the Nottawasaga Community Futures Development Corporation asked if I would sit down with Krystal to talk about starting her business (Krystal Kares) and applying for the Summer Company program.  From our first meeting, I would see the potential that Krystal possesses.  The enthusiasm and passion that she has for wanting to make a positive impact in her community is contagious and I found myself asking “How can I do more?”

Ten weeks ago I was experiencing one of the worst earthquakes in recorded history while living in Sendai, Japan (as well as experiencing the emotional roller coaster of being on an island while two nuclear power plants melt down and dealing with dozens of aftershocks).  On April 1st, I was part of a team that put together Stories From Sendai to raise funds for Habitat For Humanity to help with rebuilding parts of the North-East coast of Japan.  I realized from that and past experiences, that many local charities have issues raising enough funds to keep their programs running (let alone maintain an office and staff) and have the much larger issue of getting people involved – to either sit on their Board as a director or as a volunteers to run / participate in the programs.  It was also from running that fundraiser that I was able to see how a marketing campaign and fundraising event could rapidly be crafted, fleshed out and then deployed within a very short time frame.

I know that for me, this Nine Day Challenge is exactly that – a challenge.  So I ask for your support in three ways:

1.  Go to my Facebook page for Gobi Capital and click “Like”.

2.  Go to The Nine Day Challenge web site and see how you can get involved.

3.  Take time today to think about what you can do today to make an improvement in your community.  Then act on it.  Pick up the phone, send an email, talk to someone.  I dare you to find your voice and ask a charity or not-for-profit “What can I do to help?”

Whether I win or lose this challenge, I know that I’ve done my part to make this community a better place.  Now I ask you to do yours.  Get involved today.

MaRS DD Top 10 Blogs For 2010

January 4, 2011

MaRS Discovery District Blog

5465 seconds of remarkable TED talks
Open source seed documents
Professors without patents: The unexpected entrepreneurs?
Sir Ronald Cohen on social finance: “The next big thing”
Do you have what it takes to be Canada’s next great entrepreneur?
The 50-year overnight success story of Mr. Porter
Seven reasons you might fail to become the best
Michael McCain on entrepreneurial professionalism: From small family business to large public enterprise
Green Energy Act Finance Forum: Taking cleantech to Bay Street
Social Entrepreneurship: Can “Lawyers Without Borders” help with funding?

Click through to their blog to access the links to this list!

Attract and Keep The Brightest

January 4, 2011

When I’m talking about the brightest, I’m referring to employees.  Too many companies do not provide the right incentives to attract and keep the best fit person for the job that they have open in their organization.  My first recommendation to anyone – go out and hire the best HR firm that you can find to help put a plan together for your organization.  Failing to do that, here are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. Money does motivate, but it’s not interesting.  Having the highest paid salary in your industry is the equivalent of selling based on price – at some point in time a competitor will offer a lower price (or in this case a higher salary).
  2. Figure out your culture.  Google “workplace culture” and figure out where your organization fits.
  3. Perks and benefits.  Find something that falls within your budget.  If your budget is zero, make sure you find a reason to say “thank you” every single day.

Here are a few ideas that have popped up in several studies over the years that employees have said that they value over money:

  • A sense of purpose that employees can believe in and relate to,
  • Extremely good two-way communication systems,
  • An emphasis on making people feel appreciated,
  • Rewards and recognition for superior performance and meeting goals,
  • Regular and meaningful training,
  • Flexible scheduling and vacation time; and,
  • An opportunity to advance.

Hit Google again and look up “creative workplace rewards”.  You may be surprised what you find.

To The Moon Or Bust!

January 2, 2011

Well 2010 was an interesting year.  As a group, we managed to discover ways to innovate in an agile manner, quit units that were not performing and reposition ourselves for future growth in a few select markets.  We are still on track for our long term goal of helping ten million entrepreneurs by 2013, however it will now be at the end of 2013 as opposed to the start of the year.  For 2010 this was a year that was filled with restraint and of caution.  The experiences of the past few years had precipitated the need for caution and for

For 2011, it will be a year of going full out – not holding anything back.  There will be a few major disruptions coming at developed markets and there will be a subtle shift in the political landscape that will pave the way for more entrepreneurs to bring their ventures to fruition.  For us this will be a year to step out of the shadows and into the spotlight, for better or for worse.

I’m looking forward to the challenges that 2011 will bring as well as the successes and lessons to be learned this year.

Top Ten Tips of Customer Acquisition and Retention (2 of 5)

December 6, 2010

3.  Total view.  How many times have you heard “that’s not my job” or “that’s not my department.”  You had better hope that you don’t have someone like that in your organization.   There are plenty of reasons this attitude surfaces.  Maybe your employees don’t personally have the technical knowledge to answer the question.  Maybe there are too many territorial disputes in your organization.  Maybe that particular person is lazy.  You need to fix these problems either through better training, better people or better technology – probably using all three.

To grow your business, you need a total view.  You need to make sure anyone who interacts with customers in any way has a total view or at least knows where to go get the answers from someone who has that viewpoint.  Through training and technology, you can make it happen.

4.  Technology. Technology is making it increasingly easier to gather, store and interpret information about your customers.  It has become popular in recent years to put in customer relationship management (CRM) systems.  There are many prominent CRM systems and free CRM systems in the marketplace and it will take some time to evaluate what can work best for you.  The best suited CRM system that I found was with an independent consultant on Bay Street who uses Google Groups to post new prospect information and updates on contact information and conversation notes.  Everytime he talks to a prospect, he sends an email to the Group.  Any time he needs information on a prospect or client, he searches the Google Group and all of the relevant information is there in one place.

There are many ways that your organization can transition to an online presence through a web portal or using email newsletter services to send out customized newsletters to each of your potential customers and current customers.  You can also post video testimonials on your web site or on social media to show the world how satisfied your customers truly are.

Develop Customer-Driven Processes

November 25, 2010

Entrepreneurs generally talk about how they are “in touch” with their customers, know what their customers want, or have their business built to serve their customers. More often than not, when we dig into their organizations processes (if they have any), they are built around what makes things easiest for the entrepreneur and their staff.

To be truly customer driven, any process that “touches” a customer needs to fully integrate the best thinking of your organization. Consider all aspects of your business – such as marketing, quality control, customer service – and ask yourself and your team questions like “how would a marketing person look at this invoice with a customer in mind?” or “how would a quality control expert reinvent this invoice with the customer in mind?”.

A quick note on processes – yes they are meant to provide a means to standardize your business. However, make sure that any process you employ is flexible enough to allow any associate dealing with a customer to be able to think on their own to satisfy any customer request. It’s the customer experience that you should focus your efforts because 9 times out of 10 that is what will keep your cusotmers back for more.

Build An Effective Growth Planning System

November 22, 2010

Let’s revisit the debate on having a written plan versus not having a written plan. In the simplest terms, I believe four things:

1. It is irrefutable that planning is a good idea for any business interested in growth.
2. Formalized strategic planning is not the ideal methodology for most businesses with under $10 million in revenue. After $10 million, it probably is.
3. Having an effective growth planning system is the best indicator that you company will grow.
4. Planning for growth is an ongoing process, not an event. It’s a never ending journey, not a destination.

Now, I think that we can agree on the point that by writing things down it allows you to clarify your thoughts and refine ideas and processes. I don’t believe that entrepreneurs should follow a pre-determined style of plan (unless you are trying to meet someone else’s standards such as applying for a loan or seeking investors) but I do believe that there are a few things that you can follow.

1. Representative – it should be a representation of your organization – aka getting buy-in.
2. Research – knowledge is power and make sure you collect as much relevant data as possible on your marketplace and synthesize the data in a way for deep analysis.
3. Remote – go offsite for your planning sessions. If you can afford it, go out for a night on the town, just far enough away where you have to spend the night. Avoid the office or area where you do your day to day activities.
4. Realistic – any plan that seeks to be a road map for growth must include a realistic assessment of who we are now, where we want to be, how we plan to get there, and the resources we’ll need to be successful. If you can, include an outside advisor as a reality monitor.
5. Results Oriented – SMART goals – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timeline. Stick to it.
6. Responsibilities – Ensure you answer these two questions – ‘Who is going to do what?’ and ‘When are they going to do it?’. For small orgs you can use people’s names but as you grow you can break it down into departments or teams.
7. Written – When something is written down, it takes on the sort of permanence that you need. It can be shared with others, drafts / redos / improvements can be made over time and it should not stop. Hold meetings and take notes from the meetings as you continue to improve on your growth planning process. A 15 page maximum is a good idea too.
8. Repeated – get a copy of the plan into everyone’s hand and from that point forward every ad hoc meeting should review the plan. Every internal newsletter or memo can highlight aspects of the plan. The longer you wait to communicate the plan to your org, the more it becomes their plan versus our plan. Get the word out fast and frequently.
9. Real-Time Monitoring – at the very least you should have one piece of paper that gets spit out in an automated way every day and is posted for all to see. It should show the appropriate metrics for your company showing how we did yesterday versus the plan, and how do we stack up for the month, the quarter, and the year.
10. Regularly Updated – Planning is most appropriate during times of flux, times of great stress, or big change. Pay close attention to your specific circumstances, adopting a schedule uniquely appropriate to your organization. There is a right answer on this; however, it differs for everyone. Find a timeline that works for you.

That’s it for now. Any questions, post a comment below or shoot an email.

Thoroughly Understand The Marketplace

November 17, 2010

A basic understanding of your marketplace no longer cuts it. Companies big and small need to start asking questions of themselves to first understand where they are and second to see where the opportunities are for them. Here are a few questions to get your creative juices going:

1. How is your company really fairing in the marketplace?
2. How do you stack up against current and potential competitors?
3. What innovations are the other guys making that you haven’t put into place?
4. What could you be doing that would give you an edge over them?
5. What other markets, product lines, or services could you develop to grow your business?
6. What is happening in the macroworld, beyond your own vertical industry?
7. What actions can you observe, among your current and future customers, that speak louder than their words?

Another great tool to open the mind is play the “what if…” game. What if a new big player entered our industry? What if we lost that big account? What if we were the target of a hostile takeover?

A final question to ponder – How well do you know your customer?

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