Leadership – Can It Be That Simple?

Forget about the curve ball Ricky.  Give him the heater.” – Lou Brown, Major League

Many of us remember the movie Major League.  The lovable (sometimes cantankerous) manager Bob Brown was successful at assembling a group of ragtag veterans and misfits and driving them to win their first pennant in years.  But, what was it about Bob that made you love him and admire his leadership?

Many people say that it is difficult to define leadership (there are perhaps thousands of books on the subject) but you know it when you see it.  Now, the normal author writing on this subject would probably sight Covey, Drucker or perhaps Jobs, but trust me, I know what I’m doing.  (Author’s note – this is a shameless attempt to work in a quote from Sledge Hammer – an obscure sitcom in the late 80’s that barely lasted 2 seasons.  If you watched it, like me, you need help.)   So, let’s look at five characteristics that made Lou a great leader:

  1. Compassion – Lou took a sincere interest in his people and knew if they played together and respected each other, they would be successful.  Whether it was realizing Ricky needed glasses, Dorn had to improve at 3rd or Cerrano had to learn to hit the curve, he took the time to make each player better.
  2. Focus – Using the life-size picture of the owner Rachel Phelps and stripping off a part for each win was simple but powerful.  Players had a lot on their minds… especially as they started having success and expectations rose; but this simple visual gave them focus.
  3. Decisiveness – He made tough decisions.  Starting a veteran over a hot up-and-comer was a calculated, but appropriately calibrated, risk.  He was able to not only make the tough call but effectively explain it to those that were impacted.
  4. Passion – Lou believed in and fought for his team.  He had no problem confronting the owner over inadequate equipment or training facilities.  Everyone knew he had a desire to see the team succeed and he fought for them knowing it placed him at risk.
  5. Energy – Lou was a tireless advocate for the team and his players.

Leadership takes different forms – from the more aggressive poised and verbal leader to the strong silent type.  Effective leaders come in many flavors.  There are volumes written, courses and “self help” techniques galore on leadership.  Some people spend their lives trying to become better leaders.  If that is your passion, then as Rocky said to Clubber Lang, “Go for it!”  But, perhaps a simpler technique is to try to build these five simple traits into your role as an entrepreneur.  You may be pleasantly surprised with the results.

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Startup Advisors – Do I Have the Right Team?

Quote – “We should have called you last year” – Attributed to many startup entrepreneurs

 

If I had a dollar for every time I heard this from a startup prospect, I could have retired by now.  The fear of the unknown (especially related to fees) often stands in the way of startup entrepreneurs engaging advisors at the right time.  So, they delay engagement and then jump in by selecting any advisor who appears to know more than they do in a particular area (like law or accounting.)  As Erasmus said, “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”  But, you should not have to settle… good startup advisors are worth their weight in gold – just ask any successful entrepreneur.

 

There is an abundance of good advisors in the market – so spend a little time on this selection process.  Pick someone who knows your space; not just a subject matter expert who seems to know more than you do.  If you mention Ruby on Rails and they think that is Jill St. John on a train (you have no idea how hard it was to work in that archaic reference) or you mention Python and you get a John Cleese or Hulk Hogan reference, you are talking to the wrong people.  Look, your advisors do not need to understand every aspect of your business but having some experience in your space will make them more effective.  Startups are not like mature businesses; they have this insatiable appetite for knowledge.  They require patience, understanding and a commitment to a long-term relationship.  A good advisor wants an entrepreneur to call, challenge them and pick their brain.  They want you to succeed as much as you want to succeed.  They should be passionate about what they do and have a genuine interest in what you do.

 

So some hints on picking the right advisors:

  1. Are they in your space?  Are they involved with accelerators or startup companies and do they actively seek and service startups?
  2. What do your colleagues think? Have they used them and do your colleagues think they “get it?”
  3. Do they cover both compliance and value?  Can they handle the basics but also “think outside the box” for solutions?
  4. Meet them.  Do you like them?  Do you trust them?  No relationship is more important; you will share your deepest ideas, thoughts and fears with them.  For a good advisor in this space, there are no “stupid questions.”

 

As to timing, don’t delay because of cost concerns.  Many advisors in this space understand the scarcity of resources in a startup and work with you to accommodate fees.  There are some basics that you can really mess up (like equity grants) and you don’t want to spend a great deal of time and money fixing what should have been handled correctly in the first place.  Sometimes the passage of time and an increase in the value of your startup can make the cost of addressing a problem almost prohibitive.  So, spend a little time early on checking advisors out and retaining them… you will find it well worthwhile.

Are You Selling Aspirin or Vitamins? The Essence of a Business Model

Quote: “The aim of the wise is not to secure pleasure, but to avoid pain.”  Aristotle

Sorry – I did not mean to get so deep, philosophically, but Aristotle may have been a Venture Capitalist.  Time and again we hear from financing sources that if you want to make an impression about what your product/app/service is, show how it alleviates the “pain.”  Too many models I see are nice to have (like a vitamin) but nothing bad really happens if you don’t use it.  Let’s look at just one example.Vitamin

I think the case I cite most often is Zappos.  I know Tony Hsieh from Zappos has done a remarkable job of professing how ultimate customer service built around a culture with guiding principles has driven Zappos to unbelievable success.  But, think about the model – he has brought the “shoe store” right into our homes.  With a painless return process and built upon the fact that for most of us, our shoe size hasn’t changed since high school, he has made shopping for shoes a painless experience.  A few years ago, my daughter (the fashion police) came to me proclaiming that the 70’s were calling me and my shoe attire was abysmal.  We got online and ordered 10 pairs of shoes from Zappos – from dress to casual. They delivered in two days.  When I reviewed the order, I realized I would probably have to go to 3 – 4 malls to get everything from Johnston & Murphy to Sperry’s.  But, here they were… all in one place and it took me less than 10 minutes to order.  I tried them on at home, walked around in them and bought 7 pairs.  I left the three I did not want at the front door and that was it.  Why would I ever shop for shoes anyplace else?

Look at success stories like those that make it into ERA, TechLaunch, DreamIt and other accelerators and you will find great teams focused on addressing pain points.  LinkedIn, tumblr and others that have success are focused on “pain relief.”  Too many of the pitches we see are nice ideas that might be beneficial but customers and investors like “pain killers” (aspirin) and not “nice to have” (vitamins.)  If you forget to take vitamins for a day or two big deal, but if you have pain and don’t take your aspirin or prescribed painkillers, the impact can be devastating.

The essence of your model should be to focus on the pain vs. better health, alone. So as a young entrepreneur, focus on your target market in the same way.  In the end, it is the business model, not just the business plan that is the road to success.

Do You Need a Business Plan? Absolutely.

Quote: “What are you preparing?  You’re always preparing.  Just go!”  Lord Dark Helmet – Spaceballs

Understandably, those who are starting a business (and even those who have been in business for a while) often hear that they should have a business plan.  For many, their inner feelings are probably similar to Dark Helmet.  They know what they want to do, have a vision in mind and believe that any time spent on preparing some big book that is going to lay out the details and probably sit on a shelf is a waste of time.  In my experience, that reluctance to lay out a plan in writing gets even more pronounced as the business matures.businessplan

One of the clients I really enjoyed working with had the famous poster in the back of his desk – you know the one with the two vultures perched on a branch with one saying to the other “patience hell; let’s go out and kill something!”  I do believe that many entrepreneurs fall into that “sensor type” from the Myers Briggs test typified by action oriented behavior.  Trust me, there’s nothing more important than leading others to get things done but there are dozens of reasons to have a business plan.  I would like to focus on just two.

The first is the very simple truth that, for most people, putting in writing helps to clarify an idea or a plan.  Even if done in outline form, addressing the 10 or so points that make up a plan helps to make sure that you address all of the principal components.  (Author’s note – “click through” the Entrepreneur Power Play Book tab on this blog to “The Rookies, then “Start Up Package” to see our suggested contents.)  Even if you limit your plan to a “pitch deck,” I think you will find that it will give you clarity and with clarity comes focus and we all know that successful entrepreneurs must remain focused.  The clearer your vision, the better your chance for success.

The second reason centers on communication.  While you may certainly have a vision of your business, what you have to get accomplished, how you will approach the market and your competitive advantage, others need to know as well.  How do you explain your vision to your key team members and share with them the knowledge and foresight you have regarding where you are and where you’re going?  How do you explain succession or how you will exit the business and make sure that those who need to know understand?  Perhaps more important, how do you get financing sources like investors or banks to understand your business and to show that you have considered and mitigated potential risks? Without something in writing that they can review and digest, your chance for success diminishes.

In business, there are a few problems that cannot be solved with the right amount of time, money and people.  While a business plan may not help you to address a time problem, it can certainly help you to harness the people and the finances you need to achieve your goals.