A 20-minute walk is better than imagining a 3-mile run

One of the most insightful bloggers in the entrepreneurship space is Mark Suster.  On his blog, Both Sides of the Table he has a massive amount of content on launching and running a startup. Several years back he wrote a post titled Stop Trying to Catch Lightning in a Bottle that has really stuck with me through the years.

His advice touches on how startups should best launch new products. Most people have heard the quote that you shouldn’t let perfect be the enemy of good. However, some people confuse this with being the opposite of the concept of going from ‘good to great’. They are not opposites.

The key is to remember that launching a good product on day 1 is not going to stop the product from being great on day 365. However, if you wait until day 365 to launch, it’s likely that your product is still not great and it taking you until day 730 or longer to get to great.

Why is this? In short, it takes real customers using your product in the real world to go from good to great.  No amount of simulation or testing can replicate this. So the longer you wait to launch, it becomes more and more likely that you get stuck in analysis paralysis and never get to great.

Suster equates this concept with a quote from habits and happiness guru Gretchen Rubin that you surely can relate with:

“The 20-minute walk I take is better than the 3-mile run I never start.

For more, be sure to read Suster’s full blog post on this topic here.

The ‘Big Hairy Audacious Goal’ + The ‘Unique Selling Proposition’ = Winning

These days, its cute to announce that you are launching a startup. It’s almost like a 12 year old girl and her little brother starting a lemonade stand to guilt trip their neighbors into giving them 50 cents on a hot summer day.

Ohhh, how cute… Another startup launching a photo sharing app, a food delivery app, a group chatting app, a “uber” for pets app…

No matter what your startup is, there is somebody out there doing the same thing right now.

More people are starting businesses today than in any other moment in modern history.

What you need to differentiate yourself is a Big Hairy Audacious Goal that no one else could imagine, and none of your competitors could ever achieve.

If you haven’t studied the idea of setting a Big Hairy Audacious Goal, then you should read this quick summary on Wikipedia.

In short, I propose that startups going after an idea in a crowded market use the idea of a Big Hairy Audacious Goal to discover their Unique Selling Proposition.

In order to do this, your Big Hairy Audacious Goal cannot be something generic like getting to 100 million users. Who cares….

It must be something that is not only big, but something that uniquely defines why the existence of your startup will change the world as we know it.

Once you combine your Unique Selling Proposition with your Big Hairy Audacious Goal, then come up with a step by step process to go after it.

No joke.

Set a goal to change the world, create a plan to do it, then do it.

Are Younger Entrepreneurs Better? I THINK NOT!

Thomas Edison didn't become a successful entrepreneur until his 40s
Thomas Edison didn’t become a successful entrepreneur until his mid 40s

There is a common perception that once an entrepreneur turns 30, he or she is over the hill.  Even worse, the prevailing thought is if you haven’t hit an entrepreneurial home run by age 30, your chances of ever hitting a home run are next to nill.

It turns out that these beliefs are just plain false.  

Adeo Ressi, the founder of The Founder Institute, has done personality and aptitude tests on over 3,000 potential entrepreneurs worldwide to draw conclusions on the question: Are younger entrepreneurs better?

Ressi states the following regarding the age myth:

The research shows that an older age is actually a better predictor of entrepreneurial success.

Ressi then goes on to conclude the following:

Age is only one factor among many to predict the success of entrepreneurs, and anybody at any age can break any molds put forward by “experts.” However, it’s clear that the stories of a few “college-dropout turned millionaire” (or billionaire) startup founders have clouded both the mass media and the tech industry from reality. We have romanticized the idea of a young founder because, well, it’s a great story, but these stories are not the norm. In the end, classic biases of gender, race, and age need to be discarded for a real science of success.

To get the background on Ressi’s methodology for these conclusions you should read this blog post he wrote on TechCrunch.

Blocking and Tackling: The only Football Metaphor that Matters for Startups

You may or may not be familiar with American football.  For me, it is as much as part of my life as entrepreneurship, so let’s start with the basics.

Blocking and Tackling 

Any championship football team excels at these two things.   Blocking is what you need to win on offense, and tackling is what you need to win on defense.  When it comes to winning championships, blocking and tackling are the fundamentals that separate good from great.

Entrepreneurship Ideas vs. Execution

In American Football, everybody copies each other offensive and defensive scheme if it is the hot thing working around the league.

Whether it’s the Wildcat, Spread, No Huddle, Zone Read, and the West Coast on offense, or the 4-6, Wide 9, Tampa 2 or Zone Blitz on defense.

If it works, your competition will copy it.

The same goes with startup ideas.  Your competition will copy your idea if you prove it works.

Execution is about blocking and tackling. Execution can’t be copied.

Execution is the fundamentals. Ideas come and go. You don’t win with ideas, you win with execution. What is the equivalent of blocking and tackling for a startup? Sales and customer service!

So there is the answer to the age old startup question.  How do I execute on my business idea?  Execution is about your ability to sell your product and deliver world class customer service.

Be good at those two things, and you have a better than average chance of winning. Be great at those two things, and you will win.

On the other hand, get those two things wrong and you have no chance at all.

Why a Youth Wrestling Dad Should Become a USA Wrestling Bronze Level Coach

Today I was excited to tweet that I got my USA Wrestling bronze coaching card in the mail today.

I went through a whole season of coaching my 7 year old son before I decided I needed to take the coaching class and become officially certified.

If I could do it again, I would have done this day one.

Even though I wrestled throughout middle and high school, I found out there was a ton I didn’t understand about how to properly engage a child when coaching them through a sport as demanding as wrestling. I also learned that there were some basic skills I forgot to teach my little guy that put him at a disadvantage.

The material USA Wrestling teaches through the Bronze certification class was worth every bit of time and money spent during the process.  I spent a full day (nearly 8 hours) on a weekend taking an in person class that covered everything from sportsmanship, to training techniques, to real wrestling moves on the mat. I also spent several more hours studying and taking the test.

I left that class armed with more than a few new tools in the belt to help my son continue his progress learning how to become a better wrestler, a better athlete, and a better person.  What’s more, while studying to take the certification test I was able to explore and gain an understanding of some complex topics I would have never touched otherwise.

It’s tough being both a dad and a coach in an intense sport like wrestling. Now that I’m educated however, I’m more than ready to take on the challenge to help my son enjoy the sport of wrestling while not getting burned out by its physical and mental demands.

This is an Early Sign of Breakthrough Success in Life

This week I had a epiphany about “success” while coaching my son at wrestling practice.

My son is a beginner wrestler, only in his second season participating in the sport. In practice, however, he is often grouped with advanced wrestlers who would be considered among the best in the state at their age and weight. As a result of this, my son doesn’t have much success during “go live” with his partners. That is, until a few weeks ago.

A few weeks ago, something started to click. He had a couple great practices back to back. My immediate thought was that he turned the corner, he figured out the sport. He was ready for prime-time!

Not so fast…

The next practice was the total opposite. The success I saw just a few days ago was gone. It seemed that maybe it was only a flash. Then low and behold a few days later it was back again, then gone again the next practice, then back again. And so on and so forth.

It started off as more bad days than good days. Now I’m starting to see more good days than bad days.

That’s when it hit me. An early sign of breakthrough success is inconsistent success.

When you start at something, it’s typical to experience consistent failure. If you stick with it, the next thing you will experience is a back and forth between good days and bad days. You will get a taste of success only to be followed by a mouthful of failure.

Most people look at inconsistency like this as a bad thing. This may be true in the case of an experienced veteran. But if you’re new at something, inconsistency like this is the light at the end of the tunnel. It means you’re on the brink of breaking through to greatness. All you have to do now is stick with and perfect the process that has taken you this far.

Reflections of a Public Failure

File:Candle or Sorrow.jpgI’ve failed. It’s not the first time, but it’s the first time I’ve failed publicly. On October 31st 2013 I publicly declared that I was starting a new daily blogging habit. I also publicly stated that I had two goals for this daily blog:

1) Surpass my personal best of writing 45 inspirational and insightful daily blog post in a row, then

2) Continue to write 365 daily blog post in a row of the same quality.

I accomplished my first goal, but I failed hard going for the second. I got to 73 blog post in a row then quietly ended my streak on January 12th. It just so happens the post I wrote before I failed was titled What if a habit is not an addiction?

As I was writing it, I was privately having a “Come to Jesus” moment as I realized that after writing 73 blog post in a row that something magical didn’t happen. I didn’t form any type of spectacularly wonderful habit that would propel me to day 365 and possibly to publish my first book.

Two days latter, I followed up with another post titled Calling for death to the daily blog. Although, I vowed in that post to continue my blogging ways, I silently knew that it could be then end for me. Getting to day 365 was a stretch goal I may never reach.

Since that point, my routine of publishing inspirational and insightful blog post has slowly deteriorated. As a matter of fact, this is the first time I’ve published anything in over 10 days. I’m now not even sure if I should stop or keep trying.

It’s sort of like deciding if you should try to hike up an intimidating mountain after failing. It comes down to one simple question. Is quitting more painful than failure?

Everything is Going Great! – Wink, Wink

File:Sad Clown October 31, 2007 (1878611309).jpgThe most common question entrepreneurs get about their business is “how are things going?”

When I get this question I always pause for second while my life flashes before my eyes. Then for 9 out of 10 people I say “everything is going great!” and try to move on to talk about something else.

It doesn’t matter if things are going great or going awful, or somewhere in the middle, I’ll give that same response to most people. I give this response simply because in the case when things are not going so well, I’ve noticed that most people feel as if they need to give you unsolicited advice.

I understand why the urge to offer advice is the instinctive response. It’s an easy way to show empathy to a struggling entrepreneur. The truth is, however, getting back-seat driver advice as a side-bar to an unrelated conversation is useless and potentially offensive.

So unless you are a business coach, mentor, parent, or spouse, it’s best to avoid this line of questioning altogether unless your entrepreneur friend brings up their business to you first.

Business Model Patterns with a Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

File:Sphynx - ChickenCat - edit.jpgIt’s important that both first-time entrepreneurs and struggling entrepreneurs study the patterns of business models, then choose one to implement. I share the reason why in this post here. What’s just as important is picking a pattern for your unique selling proposition (USP).

USP is a fancy marketing term for “why” your customers would pick you over your competition. This “why” is not a combination of this and that. This “why” is a very specific thing that is clear, simple, and can be communicated to a 2nd grader in one or two sentences max.

If you apply your USP to a business model pattern, you’ll move from implementing a me-too business model into the realm of business model innovation. In the book Business Model Generation (which I highly recommend), there is a section closely related to this concept called Epicenters of Business Model Innovation. The authors share these four main epicenters of innovation:

Resource Driven When you leverage some unique strength (partnerships, labor, real estate, hardware, intellectual property, or financial) to offer an unusually valuable product or service

Offer-Driven  When you are able to substantially reduce cost/risk or substantially increase performance, convenience, usability, or customization based on the way you do business.

Customer-Driven – When you’re able to provide a product or service to a customer segment or industry that previously couldn’t afford or couldn’t use it.

Finance-Driven – When you create an unusual revenue stream within your industry.  This could be through lending, renting, leasing, or licensing fees.  In addition, you could apply brokerage fees, sell advertising, or provide volume pricing in an innovative way.

With these four main epicenters in mind, my recommendation is to use them as a template for creating your USP. For example, if you are a web designer you could use the offer-driven epicenter to develop a USP for specializing in 24 hour turnaround websites since the competition usually takes weeks or months to complete a project.

If you are a personal trainer who also enjoys cooking healthy foods (or have a partner that does), you could use the resource-driven epicenter to develop a USP for specializing in both being a personal chef to help you clients eat healthily and their trainer to help them exercise properly.

Without a doubt, starting with one of these patterns when thinking about your USP makes things easier. If you need help brainstorming using this method, please don’t hesitate to contact me as I would be happy to help.

Picking a pattern for your business model

Business Model GenerationI’ve been studying business models for a couple years now. The one thing I discovered about business models that’s most useful for entrepreneurs are the patterns.

My introduction to business model patterns started with the book Business Model Generation.

This book covers a variety of business model patterns applicable to both large enterprises and entrepreneurs. The basic patterns from this book that apply to entrepreneurs include:

The long tail business model Selling niche products and services to a large number of customers not being served by the mainstream. This is sometimes referred to as Selling Less of More.

Multi-Sided Platform Selling to two customer segments by offering a (free) product or service to attract a large number customers in the first segment, then selling access to that segment to the second segment.  Selling advertising on an information website is a good examples of this.

FREE as a Business Model Marketing free products or services to attract a large number of prospects, then convincing a small number of those prospects to convert to paying customers. This is sometime referred to as a Freemium business model.

In addition to these business model patterns, there are a variety of traditional patters not covered in the Business Model Generation that apply to entrepreneurs.  For example, there is the foot traffic business model used by brick and mortar shops and restaurants and the seasonal business model used by tax accountants and holiday retailers, among others.

If you look at each pattern carefully, you’ll see that business model patters have nothing to do with a business’ value proposition (i.e. the product or service).  Instead, the pattern has everything to do with the technique used to acquire paying customers.

Discovering this was the Aha! Moment for me.  It helped me notice how first time entrepreneurs (who usually fail) spend 80% of their startup effort on their product and 20% on their customer acquisition strategy. While seasoned (and usually successful) entrepreneurs flip it.  They spend 80% of their startup effort of their customer acquisition strategy and 20% on their product.

With this insight in mind, I now believe that the most important thing first time entrepreneurs (or any entrepreneur who’s struggling) should do is study the business model patterns, then pick one to implement.