Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Wisdom from Zuckerberg at Web 2.0 Summit 2010

I just spent over an hour watching Tim O'Reilly and John Battelle interview Mark Zuckerberg at the Web 2.0 Summit 2010. It was absolutely fascinating. Just watching Zuckerberg, it's so interesting to see how really smart the guy is. His eyes are so open, you can see the wheels turning in his head. But the interviewers are really smart, too, and asked great questions.

If you're an entrepreneur, it's worth the time to watch this interview, if only to hear Mark say over and over that the future will "come down to really excellent entrepreneurs with vision." Or "We'll get value proportional to what we put in." Hear Mark talk about the social graph and how that will be driving the future or how he believes in an open platform. He also pointed out that the technology industry is not a zero-sum game. Rather, there's plenty of uncharted territory where companies can build value, essentially expanding the map of possibilities.

He had another piece of really good advice -- focus on the couple of things that really matter. That's something all entrepreneurs need to keep in mind, if they want to be successful.

My favorite comments came from Battelle, however: "Facebook doesn't ask for permission. It asks for forgiveness." And "Fair is where you end up."

Here's the link. Take the time to listen.

Peace and Prosperity Through Capitalism and Entrepreneurship

No doubt you've heard of microfinance. It's the social entrepreneurial business of giving tiny loans to very poor people (usually women) to seed small enterprise. The women can use the money to make clothes, cloth, food, crafts or other items and sell them. This also seeds capitalism in non-capitalistic countries, enables the women to escape abusive husbands and to become literate. It empowers the women to send their children to school and to help other women start their own businesses. It pulls whole families and villages out of grinding poverty.

Nicholas Kristof, writing in the New York Times, said that seeding such businesses in places like Pakistan actually fights terrorism. I believe he is correct. He also said that microfinance has been more successful in Asia than Africa. Interesting. The founder of the microfinance agency Kristof wrote about was founded by Wharton undergraduate alumna Roshaneh Zafar. (I got my MBA from Wharton, so this is exciting to me.)

Read Kristof's whole column :

Monday, November 8, 2010

Is Long-Term Care Insurance Worth It?

Last week a friend of mine said her long-term care insurance premiums had suddenly gone up by 39%. When she called her insurance company to see if this was a mistake, their answer was "no." It seems that people were beginning to actually make some claims and use the benefits of the insurance. Well, that suddenly hurt profits, so MetLife (the company in question) asked the State of Connecticut if they could raise their rates. The state said "yes." This is happening all over the country.

Shortly after I had this conversation, I read an article in the New York Times on the sudden increase in long-term care insurance premiums. Obamacare was partly to blame (due to several new regulations buried in the law). But there were other factors, too. It seems baby boomers aren't buying the insurance. In fact, sales are flat to down. Why? Some answers were in the Times article and others in a report by Milliman (an insurance consulting company).

Most people realize that our government indemnifies most of us from the catastrophic costs of a nursing home, home-health care or assisted living through Medicaid. You don't even have to give up your house, car or personal possession to qualify for Medicaid (in most states). The vast majority of older Americans qualify because they don't have a lot of savings and investments outside their homes. And those that do, have figured out ways to protect their estates.

In addition, the chances of needing the care are not as great as one would think. For people over 65, there is only a 45% chance that you'll make a claim. Not only that, only 14% of people stay in a nursing home more than three years.

So, if you can afford to pay $83,500 or more a year on a nursing home for three years, buying the insurance might not make sense. Long-term care insurance can cost $2,500 per year for a 60-year-old. But if rates continue climbing at 40% per year, that could be a lot of money to give up for a 45% chance you'll need it when you're in your 80s. Even if you do, the insurance may not pay all the bills.

The NY Times article and the study by Milliman give many more facts, opinions and food for thought. They are both worth reading prior to making any decisions about buying long-term care insurance. When looking at long-term care coverage, see how much they will pay out and for how long. Weigh the costs and benefits for yourself. Would your premiums earn you more if invested in stocks or bonds?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

"The Reversal" is Michael Connelly's Best Book Ever

I'm diverting from writing about business because I just finished a fantastic crime novel -- "The Reversal" by Michael Connelly. I think all business people should take time to read for fun.

I am a huge Michael Connelly fan. Whenever I finish one of his books, I look forward to the next one. I used to live in LA and really miss the city. So I particularly love his dark descriptions of Los Angeles and its seamy underworld of sordid crimes, cops and criminal attorneys. I've grown very fond of his characters L.A.P.D. Detective Harry Bosch and defense attorney Mickey Haller, who Connelly developed in separate series of novels over the course of many years.

In "The Reversal", Connelly brings the two men together to nail a kidnapper and murderer. I'm not going to reveal the plot; it's best to read it for yourself. In most detective novels, the reader has to guess who committed the crime. That is not the point of this book. Rather, it's a story of how two prosecutors and a police detective work to find evidence to nail the bad guy. The unfolding of how Harry and Mickey work and think is really fascinating. Their characters' parallel lives with divorces, daughters and homes with sweeping views of Los Angeles (Mickey's looks West to the ocean. Harry's looks northeast (I think) over the Cahuenga pass and the Hollywood Freeway) pull you into the story and make you care.

Amazingly, the court room scenes of the murder trial are fast-paced and fascinating. And wondering what the bad guy will do next kept me reading past my normal bedtime.

Trust me. This is great escapist reading, grounded in a real city with characters you'll believe are real. That's what makes this book great.    

Friday, October 29, 2010

Ten Lessons From "The Social Network"

O.K. I'm a little late, but I finally saw "The Social Network", and my head has been spinning ever since. Plus, I can't get Trent Reznor's version of Grieg's "The Hall of the Mountain King" out of my head (the music over the rowing scene). The screenplay was so good, as was the editing, the art direction, direction, acting and the music. Overall, it was fine film making about people who intrigued me and repulsed me at the same time.

How much of the movie was true? Was Mark Zuckerberg motivated by a desire to be disruptive and accepted at the same time? I've been reading articles and Web sites like crazy, searching for clues. The movie seems to be pretty real. It's also real for me because I've been doing business plans for dot-coms and other businesses since 1999. My current client said he was chilled by how Zuckerberg pushed out and diluted his partner Saverin.

That's when I realized that "The Social Network" is chock-full of advice for anyone who wants to start a business. Here are Ten Lessons to be Learned from "The Social Network".

1. Be passionate. Allow the idea to consume you.
2. Open up your eyes and ears, and the ideas to help you fine tune your concept will jump out at you.
3. Be careful of whom you have as partners.
4. Get a good lawyer to advise you. Read all contracts carefully.
5. The best way to raise your seed capital is friends and family.
6. The only way to really get off the ground and grow is to make a working model of what you want in a small, exclusive market. Test it out. (That's called a proof of concept.)
7. If your proof of concept takes off, then it's easy to raise more money from angels &/or VCs.
8. Networking can get you in the right doors.
9. Be bold in your thinking. Disruptive technology really does change things.
10. Understand what needs people really have, and fill that need. (People want to be cool. People want to be exclusive.)

 If you haven't seen the movie yet, go see it. And take these 10 pieces of advice with you in your mind. You'll see them all illustrated over the course of the film. "The Social Network" is essentially a true story. Breaking up with a girl may not have been Zuckerberg's real reason for creating FaceMash at Harvard and then The Facebook. But all the main characters in the film are real. The lawsuits are real. The lessons are real.

If you don't believe me, go do your own research.

Monday, September 20, 2010

What Makes a Great Entrepreneur?

I love working with entrepreneurs because they are so intense. The great ones have great ideas and the ability to just run full steam ahead with them. So I really enjoyed reading the lead article in the Sunday New York Times Business Section on the personality traits of entrepreneurs.

The article focuses on one young entrepreneur who is developing a business that takes advantage of "the game layer." If you haven't heard of the game layer, it's this concept that all of life is a game or series of games, and with the right software on your mobile device or computer, you can participate in games and gaming all the time -- winning prizes from businesses and just making life more fun in general.

Interestingly, the article talks a lot about the mental states of entrepreneurs and how how they are borderline manic -- but just short of being crazy. It said venture capitalists will give personality tests to entrepreneurs before investing in their businesses to make sure they have the type of personality that will carry on with the extreme focus and energy needed. V.C.s want to invest in the Steve Jobs, Henry Ford and Mark Zuckerberg of the future -- all men with close to manic personalities. (It struck me that the article ignored women completely.) John Gartner, a psychologist and author of The Hypomanic Edge, was quoted as saying that the almost manic personality thinks he's God's gift to technology investing.

The article made me think of various entrepreneurs I'd worked with over the years and realized that the successful ones had some of these traits, with great enthusiasm being the one that struck me the most. But they also had enough sense to marshal the resources and people they needed to turn their ideas into real businesses. The one who did fail once said to me that he wished he'd worked harder. I don't know how he could have worked harder. But I do think he could have worked differently, and that could have made the difference for him.

If you're an entrepreneur, you really should read this article because it will give you a good idea of what V.C.s are looking for and how they operate. It will also give you an idea of how much intensity is needed to become highly successful.
Just Manic Enough: Seeking Perfect Entrepreneurs
Published: September 18, 2010
Though they may have many quirks, intense leaders are a common thread in the world of entrepreneurship.

John Gartner's Book

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Forbes on the "Cheap Revolution"

I'm a big fan of Rich Karlgaard, publisher of Forbes magazine. In the September 13 issue, Karlgaard's editorial is called "Ten Rules of the Cheap Revolution". It is a fascinating look at how economic revolutions have happened throughout history, yet have had only small impacts on the standard of living. He goes into how innovations have created huge changes for some people for brief periods. Fascinating stuff. He maintains that some discoveries are more influential and economically disruptive than others; for example, the discoveries of DNA and the integrated circuit last century really made huge changes in the world's standard of living.

He says whenever a new invention, discovery or innovation makes things suddenly cheaper, it is an accelerant of change, creating all sorts of economic upheaval for various classes of workers. He calls this the "Cheap Revolution". And he goes on to talk about how you can make the latest Cheap Revolution work for you, rather than against you. If you follow his rules, you can invest in companies that will be winners in the latest Cheap Revolution. He lists 10 rules. My favorite one is:
"Self-discipline rules. We are on our own. The most important software of all is our internal operating system."

Read more:

Friday, August 20, 2010

Sales Tax-Free Week - Now in CT

We're near the end of a week with no sales tax on clothing under $300 in Connecticut. Great for back-to-school or fall business attire purchases. More information is available from our state government:

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Fashion House Mistakes

I posted this on my other blog for seniors but realized that it is a good blog for business people, too.

I was in Macy's, and I wondered what had happened to my favorite clothing brands. Where were clothes that I could wear -- and look good in? When I was a YUPPIE the fashion world produced all these great clothes that were perfect for me - professional, stylish and reasonable. But now that I'm just an aging professional, I can't find anything to wear. I can look like a frump with boiled wool jackets and pants up around my waist or a middle-aged mom trying to look young with skinny pants with a waistband around my hips.

Why? Because it's all about the young. You gotta sell to the young who are bursting with a desire to spend fresh money. We mature women don't spend as much, but we still have a demand for clothing. The young are a tough market. They are fickle and feckless, and developing the latest "must-have" item and marketing it is expensive and risky. I think fashion brands like Liz Claiborne are being really short-sighted to switch their focus from boomers to babes. Haven't they heard of the cash cow? A cash cow is a brand that you can milk. It has an established base of consumers who are loyal, and you just rake in the bucks from them.

I knew that the cash cow concept hadn't even occurred to Liz Claiborne (one of my favorite brands) when I read in the Wall Street Journal on August 16, 2010 (After Targeting Younger Buyers, Liz Claiborne Hits a Snag) that the head of Liz Claiborne had made a deal with JC Penny to license its brand to them as a young, mass-market private label, while blowing off their older base who shops at Macy's. Furthermore, I discovered why a lot of the brands I used to rely on, like Ellen Tracey, were no longer available. The Liz Claiborne CEO William McComb had killed them off to focus on Juicy Couture, Kate Spade and Mexx.

Interestingly, the change in focus has not been good for Liz Claiborne. The stock has gone from $43 when McComb joined the company in 2006 to $4.82 on August 13, 2010. Meanwhile, I have a more cash in my bank account because I could find fewer appealing clothes to spend it on.

I wish someone would have the guts and the vision to pick up the old brands like Ellen Tracey and Liz Claiborne and re-establish them in the marketplace. Until they do, I will keep hunting for clothes that fit my needs. I think it's a great opportunity.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Google, Privacy and Profits

If you use Gmail, do you ever feel a little creepy when some word or phrase contained in an email you've received makes an ad with that word appear on your screen? The first time it happened to me, I truly did feel a little invaded. A friend had sent me an email about our sons who were both looking for apartments in Los Angeles. Ads for apartments and rental services appeared in the right-hand page margin.

I"m used to that sort of thing happening now. But an article in the Wall Street Journal (Google Agonizes on Privacy as Ad World Vaults Ahead - August 10, 2010 - front page) details how Google has tried to keep the creepiness factor down. The company has refrained repeatedly from using the vast amount of data it has on its users to sell highly profitable, highly targeted ads. But now, that all may change due to a vision statement that is being debated inside the company.

We have entered the world of a commercial Big Brother as all our movements around the Internet are tracked, and the pages we interact with lead companies to send us highly targeted ads. Google has let other companies (mostly small upstarts) lead the way on this, while it holds back thinking still that it must not be evil. But is it evil to deliver highly targeted ads? I must say that I would love to be spared ads about erectile dysfunction, losing weight, making money working from my desk or attending a for-profit college with a so-called "grant". Yet, I don't want any strange company to know everything about me. There's certain information I refuse to share and I don't want shared.

That's why I never join the various groups on Facebook. The fine print says once I do, I'm giving Facebook permission to share my list of friends and likes and personal information with the company sponsoring the group. Sorry. That is not for me. According to the WSJ article, Facebook uses and shares all the information it picks up every time you click a 'like" button. Creepy or OK?

Having worked in advertising and marketing for much of my career, I've spent countless hours working with media experts in analyzing how to best target ads. I once developed an algorithm to deliver print ads geographically to the areas with the highest potential to purchase my client's product. I worked with a computer geek to input the raw data and come out with usable intelligence for allocating our media dollars. With Google, DoubleClick and other targeting abilities, advertisers can now pinpoint individuals. They do this with tracking cookies and follow you around the internet and report back on your meanderings and interactions. Coolies are an amazingly valuable tool.

The question is how much does the practice of using personal information and cookies impinge on our personal privacy -- and should we care? If you write something on Facebook, Gmail or Twitter, do you want that information to help marketers sell you stuff? Do you want the government asking the companies for the information to see if you're a terrorist or a criminal?

I know cookies are tracking me. I searched on cable internet the other day via Yahoo!, and now get lots of cable internet display ads almost every time I visit Yahoo!

When I was a kid and read "Brave New World" and "1984" and watched Star Trek, I was fascinated and a little frightened by the concepts of interactive TV, computers, surveillance and silicon-based life. I think we now have silicon-based life, and it lives in Silicon Valley, Silicon Alley, Seattle and Redmond. Will its invasion into my life be for the better? I'm not sure.

At least Google is wrestling seriously with this issue. Read more at the Wall Street Journal:
Post your comments. Think about what you want for your business and your life.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

You Need More Than a Better Mousetrap

"I'm sitting on a gold mine," the inventor emailed me. He desperately needed money to turn his cool invention into a success. He was frustrated that lots of garbage inventions were for sale in the stores, but his wasn't. If he only had some money, he could make a TV commercial to get people to buy his invention. He also needed money to manufacture the invention. 

He didn't like it when I suggested that he get help from SCORE or from a Small Business Development Center. But this is exactly what he needs to do, if he wants free help to raise the capital he needs.

Does this sound like you? Does this sound familiar?

You may have a brilliant idea, but in the words of one of the original Mad Men, David Ogilvy, "It's not creative unless it sells." I've seen too many truly great ideas and great products fail. Only 10% of new products make it. So as hard-hearted as it sounds, I don't care how great your idea is, if it doesn't meet a real need, it will not sell.

Since the inventor wouldn't tell me what his invention was, and since I charge by the hour to consult, I have no idea if this particular gizmo does meet a need. But even if it does, the inventor will have to get it into stores or catalogs so that people can buy it. Or he will need to create a website and sell it directly online. There are many very inexpensive ways to do this. However, what you say to stores or to consumers about the true value of your product is what will get it into the hands of consumers. I'm not talking about the technological, gee-wiz stuff. I'm talking benefit.

But turning an idea into a success isn't just about benefits. You also need to know how much money it would take to manufacture your gizmo and how much money you can charge for it. Apple knows it can charge premium prices for its inventions. A certain segment of the marketplace will pay more for Apple's sleek, cool products. But not everyone will. Apple makes lots of money, but they don't have a huge market share. Truly, if you have a new invention, think "what will consumers pay for it?" What markup will stores put on it? How much money will I get from the wholesale price? Will this give me a decent profit margin? When will I break even? No investor or lender will give you money, unless you can answer such questions.

If you have questions about manufacturing and marketing your invention, contact me at:

If you have stories about your successful invention, post it on this blog.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Digital vs. Print Newspapers

I just read one of the most elucidating articles ever on the real difference between print and digital newspapers. I'm pasting a link below to the source, "Business Insider". This piece really laid out the essential distinction at the heart of the two business models. Henry Blodget, the author, clearly explained the economics of a print newspaper and a digital one and why it's so hard for a major, established newspaper like the New York Times to morph into a digital paper successfully.

I'm not going to repeat everything Blodget said, but I realized as I read his piece that one advantage digital media has is that advertisers can know if readers are engaging in their advertising. This idea really struck me because back in 1999, I was part of a team that wrote a business plan for a pre-Google pay-for-position/pay-per-click search engine called In that plan I quoted John Wannamaker who famously said he knew half his advertising was wasted. He just didn't know which half.

Previously, a store like Saks Fifth Avenue could run full page ads in the New York Times and never know how many readers actually saw and remembered the ad. The advertiser had to make a guess based upon the Times' circulation. But with a digital news site, advertisers can post contextual ads and actually know how many people clicked on the ad. It's all about the clicks and the marketing intelligence marketers can pick up from those clicks. That can be worth a lot of revenue. Just think of how rich pay-per-click has made Google.

Blodget goes into much more detail. If you want to really understand the future and the economics of newspapers and digital media, read "On Our Third Birthday, Some Thoughts on Digital Media and the Future of the Newspaper Business."

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Surprises From Congress and the IRS for Small Business

I'm still glad I read old fashioned papers like the Wall Street Journal. Last week an editorial alerted me to a new hidden burden in the ObamaCare legislation. Approximately "30 million sole proprietors and subchapter S corporations, two million farms and one million charities and other tax-exempt organizations" will have to report to the IRS the value of goods they purchase from a single vendor that total more than $600 in a year. This means ink, paper and other office supplies. Business entities already are supposed to tell the IRS about services they purchase that equal at least $600 from a single vendor, using the 1099 forms.

I'm familiar with the this, since my clients send me 1099s that report the value of my writing and planning services to them. But I'm wondering now about the headaches for all small organizations to not only keep track of all purchases they make from specific vendors, but also to send all that paper or electrons to the vendors, as well as the IRS. Bookkeepers can earn more money. And 1099 services can, too. Can you imagine Apple, Staples and Costco receiving all that reporting as small businesses file their forms for the goods they purchased over the course of the year? That should make all their goods increase in price.

And what about the increased expenses for the government to keep track of all this reporting? According to the Journal, even Democrats are complaining about the new burden.

If you're wondering what the IRS expects your business to report now, take a look at The information is all there. What isn't there yet is all the fine print hiding extra costs, regulations and reporting created by ObamaCare. 

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Launch of The Daily Darien

Last week I attended the launch party for several new online news communities, all owned by Mainstreet Connect.  The party reminded me of the media parties I used to attend when I worked in advertising. (No, I'm not as old as the Mad Men people.) It was beautifully catered, and we heard good, short speeches. The event hearkened back to the heyday of print media, even though it was for new media. As I nibbled my hors d'oeuvres and sipped my sangria, I kept wondering what these new community news sites were going to do for us and if they would be as successful as their founders believed.

But the next day, I was summoned for jury duty. Out of a roomful of 45 people, one other person and I were the only ones reading printed newspapers to pass the time. A handful were reading books. But most of the room was glued to a screen -- either the giant TV at the front of the room or the tiny screens held in the hands of about one third or the prospective jurors. Yes. We are in the age of the screen and the instant download of data and news.

That made me realize that Mainstreet Connect is probably on the right track. They're using economies of scale to create a network of online news communities. But will the initial traffic turn into loyal viewers that interact with advertisers and generate revenue? I'm particularly interested in The Daily Darien because I live in Darien, CT. But I'm also interested because as a business planner and consultant, I like observing how different startups behave. I like trying to figure out how their marketing works and how they've positioned themselves in the marketplace.

The founder, Carll Tucker, clearly has a vision and the media and advertising experience and management team to make a successful business. He can see what I saw in the jury waiting room. Younger people are not reading newspapers. The Daily Darien is exploiting that. But their print-based competitors are too. It's going to be interesting to see what happens. Which competitor will come out on top - The Daily Darien, the Darien Patch, The Darien Times or the Darien News-Review (the oldest of the lot)?  Can the Daily Darien discover the weaknesses the other papers have and exploit that in their online-only environment? Do they realize that many of the residents of Darien are actually the type of people who still enjoy print newspapers? (I've seen the statistics.) Upscale, educated, northeastern. We read the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal., but our kids don't.

What do you think? You can see The Daily Darien at:

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Another Facebook Mistake - the Marketplace

What is Facebook management thinking? Is Zuckerberg off his rocker? Today, I received an email update from Facebook alerting me to my "friends' marketplace for Darien, CT". Being a curious soul, I clicked on it and saw ugly paintings of naked women, real estate for sale in Florida and other things I really didn't care about or want to waste time looking at. These items were being sold by "friends of my friends." It made me wonder about my friends' friends.

Even worse, the whole thing really turned me off. It left a sour taste in my mouth. What is Facebook trying to do, besides make money? This is not as clean or elegant as Craigslist or Ebay. I don't want these things. I'm not looking for them. This feels like an invasion of privacy and cheesy waste of time. If I'm in the market for such items, sold by friends or not, I will search for them. Facebook keeps messing around with its model. This needs to stop.

Companies that are successful are successful because they are coming from a vision of what they believe in. They have to understand why they are doing what they are doing. Companies that just set out to make money for money's sake are doomed to fail. That's what caused the financial meltdown and also the dot-com bust. Investment banks are supposed to help the flow of capital from people who have it to growing companies that need it. But instead, they're focusing on making money by selling new securities that they've made up out of thin air or junk. We've all seen the unfortunate result.

Facebook started out as a great, simple idea, filling a real need for people to connect with one another. But its mission to make money has taken place without soul or vision. I watched a great video yesterday on TED about what makes people into real, successful leaders. It's worth watching. Mark Zuckerberg needs to watch it, too. Then, maybe he'll do the right things with Facebook.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Inventions, Entrepreneurs and Success

Last night I watched "How I Made My Millions" on CNBC. The show gave excellent capsulized stories of how people had really great, simple ideas which they turned into businesses. It's clear that it's not easy to execute ideas, but the people profiled in the show had the tenacity, passion and focus to do it. And they made millions.

I know that there are thousands of entrepreneur wannabes and inventive tinkerers out there with the big idea and the next great business. Some of you will fail because your ideas really aren't that great. Some will fail because you don't have a plan or funding. Some will fail because you just don't have the energy to take the idea to fruition. You'll let roadblocks get in the way.

But the entrepreneurs and inventors in this TV show didn't let any of that stop them. Their creations and ideas filled needs and resonated with the public. Take a look. You can watch it on HULU:

If you need a business plan or some mentoring along the way, contact me at: Visit my website:

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Old-Fashioned Soda in Connecticut

When I was at my local Shop Rite last week, I noticed Foxon Park soda. It looked old fashioned, all natural and authentic, not like your usual store brand or cheap rip-off brand. I wondered what Foxon was. It turns out it's a small Connecticut creator and bottler of soda that's been around for 80 years.

You can order the soda online or even visit the bottler. An article appeared this weekend in the New York Times that mentioned Foxon Park and several other old fashioned soda makers in Connecticut. In some, you can even go and make your own soda. You can have a kids' party at Avery's where kids make up their own from the ingredients available.

More and more people are buying soda from small businesses like this because consumers want to buy locally. I think this is great. A few years ago, when I was teaching business plan writing, I had a student who was going to open a fruit and tea drink company in Fiji in order to compete with Coke. These soft drink bottlers make me think of her. It takes a lot of work to run a company like this, especially fighting for shelf space and share of mind against the big guys like Coke and Pepsi.

Here's a list of the companies mentioned in the Times: Avery's Beverages, Castle Beverages, Foxon Park, Hosmer Mountain Bottling Company.

It's great to see small businesses doing well in this very tough economy.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Crazies - Worth Seeing

I normally don't write movie reviews. But I've decided to write reviews of DVDs, books and music from time to time because we all need a little entertainment in our lives. And all creative endeavors are like small businesses, requiring creativity, management, financing, a great team and marketing. So here goes:

The Crazies

My heart was thumping as I watched the action in The Crazies unfold. Although marketed as a horror movie, Breck Eisner’s remake of the 1973 George Romero film struck me as more of an intelligent thriller with some bloody scenes.

What makes this movie particularly good is how it takes the point of
view of the protagonists, a local sheriff David Dutton and his doctor wife, played by Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell, as they are confronted by more and more of their friends and neighbors strangely changing into vengeful, unstoppable killers.

They, along with the deputy and his girlfriend, slowly realize that they seem to be immune to the epidemic which is taking over the good people of Ogden Marsh, Iowa. At the same time, they find they are also cut off from communicating with the world beyond its borders. Soon, they’re not just running from the local population, which is becoming steadily more crazy and murderous, but also from government troops who have moved in to quarantine the town and annihilate all the infected residents. It turns out that a military plane crash unleashed a bio weapon into the town’s water supply, and the government has to stop its spread and the knowledge of the catastrophe. The premise of a U.S.-made bio weapon getting loose, its devastating effects on the humans living there and the government’s heavy-handed response all seem plausible, when you think of recent environmental disasters.

I thought Eisner directed his characters and action well and developed high tension with some really cringe-inducing scenes and surprises. The acting was much better than a typical horror film. I particularly liked how the film’s creators interspersed calm, personal sequences, like the sheriff waking up with his wife in their peaceful house, summer breezes blowing the curtains, with sudden scenes of violence. The scenes of
surprising or unrelenting attacks truly had me gasping and tensing up far more than I do in most movies. I had actually thought this kind of movie making was dead, but I’m glad to see it isn’t.

I also really liked how the production design (art direction) aided in creating the bucolic feel of the Iowa prairie, in contrast to the bloody mayhem and military response.  And I enjoyed the percussive score written by Mark Isham. Isham created music that sounded at times like the bells of a railroad crossing. I loved that because it evoked the image of fast-moving, unstoppable danger.  He also wrote lovely melodies for the calmer, more personal parts of the film, again, helping to create more suspense and a sense of dread.

If you missed The Crazies when it was out in theaters, get the DVD now and treat yourself to a good, scary evening.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Higher One Goes Public

Several years ago I heard the founders of Higher One speak at a Connecticut Venture Group meeting for entrepreneurs. I was really impressed. So imagine my excitement when I read that they had taken their company public! Very few companies are going public, which is one reason venture capital is so hard to come by right now.

Higher One is a service that works with the burser's office of a college to handle all the student-related monetary transactions -- financial aid, student meal plan cards, etc. It helps the college take in and disburse money more efficiently.

I was doing the college tours at the time I heard the presentation, so I understood its value to students immediately. It made perfect sense for a student to have just one card -- their college ID card -- that would double as a debit card, enabling them to pay tuition, purchase food and books, keep track of financial aide, etc. The founders were all students at Yale who saw the need and went about trying to fill it. The founders, Sean Glass, Mark Volchek and Miles Lasater were very smart in how they went about building their company and raising money. They were also lucky because they had good contacts in the investment banking and private equity world. (One reason it's so hard to get into a university like Yale.) The young men set out not just to raise revenue, but also to generate a profit. In the go-go dot-com years, what they were doing was highly unusual, as most companies and investors didn't care about profit. But they researched the market and tweaked their business plan until they arrived with a viable company.

It's been a long haul.

But now, their profit-orientation has paid off. I hope the stock does well.

See article in NY Times.

Company site:

Friday, June 18, 2010

The 5th Annual Father’s Day Darien Collectors Car Show - This Sunday, June 20th

Darien, CT -- The 5th Annual Father’s Day Darien Collectors Car Show is set for Sunday, June 20th in Tilley Pond Park beginning at 10am and ending at 2pm.   More than 135 interesting sports, muscle, vintage and modern high performance cars will be displayed on the park’s beautiful lawns beneath its mature shade trees. 

For the first time, we will combine our show with the Porsche Club/Connecticut Valley Region.  In years past, we have competed with their Norwalk event on Father’s Day.  This year, Darien will be the only car show in Lower Fairfield County.  In addition to the People’s Choice award, we will offer judging in (8) categories including a DHS trophy based on the selection of a number of DHS student volunteers.  We will also have a “Best in Show” award.

 We are delighted to have BMW/Darien back as our lead sponsor.  In addition, the Collectors Car Garage of Bedford Hills, NY a special place for special cars, Grand Prix New York, a state of the art indoor go kart facility in Mt. Kisco, NY and Automotive Restorations Inc of Stratford, CT, a well known and highly regarded vintage car restoration and racing facility will help make the show possible.

Free spectator parking is available directly across from the main entrance on West Ave in the Darien train station lot and the Koon’s lot next door.  The Darien Lions Club will serve up delicious burgers, dogs, chips and drinks.  For our younger spectators, we will have balloons, a caricaturist to sketch their wonderful faces, go karts to try on and (2) ice cream trucks.

Our beneficiary again this year will be “Aging in Place in Darien”, an initiative aimed at helping our Darien seniors stay in their homes with grace and dignity as long as possible.   To help Aging in Place become financially self sufficient, a modest admission ($5 per person/$10 per family) will be charged for the first time. 

 For more information, call 655-2510 or email: 

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Small business turns to the tea party -

This IS news. Small business owners who want lower taxes and less regulation are favoring the Tea Party. I'm all for small government. But we also have to keep some regulation and some government services.

Sometimes, we really need government. I think without government going after BP, all the small businesses affected by the BP oil spill would go out of business. They could go bankrupt. Plus, many small businesses sell to the government. Obama is making BP set up a fund to help all these business owners to save their livelihoods.

I was just in Sequoia Kings Canyon. Wow. Our national parks are a treasure we all can enjoy. Truly, they are America's best idea. Something tells me the Tea Party folks would have fought the establishment of the NPS and the creation of our parks.

Think about it. Then, read the article -- link below.

Small business turns to the tea party -

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A New Online Newspaper for Darien, CT

Last week I met the founders of a new local daily online newspaper called The Daily Darien. I love new businesses and learning about how industries are dealing with change. Everyone knows that print newspapers are in decline. That's why my town's two weekly print papers have online editions and use email and Twitter to keep their readers up to date. But it's fascinating to see online-only start-ups whose owners think can stand alone as local papers.

 Competition is good, but how many newspapers can my little town of 20,000 residents support? We now have six -- two print and four online: The Darien Times (in print and online), The Darien News (print and online), the Darien Patch (online) and The Daily Darien (online). Newspapers are getting like banks! How many can our little town support? Time will tell. (Full disclosure, I was a columnist for the Darien Times for 13 years.) Combine this with the fact that our surrounding cities have papers that are also competing for readers and advertising dollars. These include the  Stamford Advocate, the Norwalk Hour and New York City's Post, Times, Daily News and Wall Street Journal. They all appear in print and electronic versions.

I've often thought that local news, advertising and search are the last untapped areas of the internet. Truly, finding small local businesses online is really hard. Half the time, I resort to the print classifieds or the Yellow Pages out of frustration. But with online newspapers, maybe all this will change.

The thing I liked about The Daily Darien was the intelligence of the management team. They gave a great presentation, demonstrating how they would make it easy to keep up on local news through their website, not only in our own town, but also surrounding towns. It will be easier to get the local news and information about local businesses that we want to read. I believe this start-up has a chance to make good on its promises because The Daily Darien is not alone. The owners have started similar online newspapers in neighboring towns. The set up reminds me of Gannett. And they are recruiting locals to act as advisers to tell them what they need to do.

But I mostly believe that the paper has a chance because the CEO, Carll Tucker, is really good at putting words together. He is clearly very intelligent. I tried to remember some of the great things he said, like "newspapers have stopped listening." "You can't have community without communication." "A free press has to be a profitable press."

He has a great team, including bright, internet-savvy tech and sales people, seasoned reporters, and Jane Bryant Quinn, who has been a financial writer for Newsweek.

I'm going to keep looking at The Daily Darien and compare it to their online competition. It will be interesting to see what happens. The good news is that folks in Darien can't complain that they don't have up-to-the minute local news coverage online.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Start-Up Story - Zylie the Bear

Last week, I met the creator of a new toy and a new business -- Zylie the Bear. Wow. I've been working with entrepreneurs since 1994, and very few of them really impress me with their ideas or their abilities to transform their ideas into a business.

I met Mary Beth Minton at a Wharton Alumni networking breakfast, but it was clear that a few others in the group had already met her over a year ago. At that time, she was just talking about her idea for a toy and a book to go with it. When Mary Beth took her toys and books out of her bag, everyone's eyes popped open. The excitement around the table shot up.

Within one year, Mary Beth had actually produced the toy -- Zylie the bear -- and a book -- The Adventures of Zylie the Bear - New York -- and another toy - Shen (Zylie's friend in China, who is a really cute Panda) complete with book about adventures in China. The bears are top quality, as are their clothes and accessories. The stories are adorable and educational. Truly, what's not to love? These toys and books are of physical and conceptual quality equal to American Girl Dolls, but without the girlie trappings. Both boys and girls can love these darling plush toy bears. It made me wish I had little kids again.

Even better, Mary Beth has turned her company into a family enterprise, tapping her son's expertise in social media, interactive websites and marketing. Take a look at the website: and the Facebook page, which gives discounts to "friends":

What I really love is how Mary Beth took her idea, created her plan and then executed it. She figured out how to design, write, manufacture and sell. Now, she is marketing and creating and managing. I hope I'm right about this business and will watch it grow, live long and prosper.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Avoiding Death by PowerPoint

I just received the following email:

Hello Wyn-
I am trying to merge the marketing plan and financial statement, add narratives, and produce an efficient power point by this Saturday.  Any friendly advice for a desperate novice?
Here is my answer:

No more than 3 lines to a page. No more than 12 slides all together.
Be brief. You want people paying attention to you -- not the slides.

Read "Death by PowerPoint"

Write with these questions in mind:
  • Who is your audience? 
  • Who is listening to you? 
  • What do they really need to learn? 
  • Why are you doing this? 
  • What is the goal of your presentation? 
  • What actions are your listeners supposed to make after hearing it?

One more thing. If this is an investor who is listening -- remember that the numbers tell the story. But don't make the eyes glaze over.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Mubi - A Movie Site That Might Make It

I love it when really smart people put their passion into a start-up. And that is what the entrepreneur behind The Auteurs has done. He is a Turkish Silicon Valley technologist named Efe Cakarel. Efe's passion is film -- classic films & independent films. He wants the public to have more access to such films. I say "bravo!" Just this year the son of a friend got a job working for The Auteurs, which is why the company is even on my radar.

Now, The Auteurs has changed its name to Mubi. Cakarel says it will make the site more accessible to people because they didn't know what The Auteurs meant. I don't know, but then, I can read some French. I'm always a little dubious when start-ups change their names. I've worked with two that tanked after changing their names. But they also changed management (Findwhat becoming MIVA is one example.) We shall see.

Nevertheless, I'm excited by what Mubi aims to do, and I hope it is successful. For years I've thought that the independent movie world needed a way to enable more people to see independent films. In 2005, my daughter, Drew, was an art department intern for an indie film called "Brother's Shadow". I saw the movie with her at the Tribeca Film Festival and was surprised at how good it was, despite having a budget of only $1 million. Drew's name was in the credits, which was very exciting for me as a mom. But it was also exciting to hear her stories of how they saved money. (One way was paying her with lunch, screen credit and experience - but no real pay.)

Read more about Mubi - link below.

The Auteurs is Now Mubi - Thompson on Hollywood

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Believe in Yourself

When I read the story about the A's Dallas Braden pitching a perfect game, it made me think of entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs. If there is any business that is filled with people not believing in you, it's entrepreneurship. Fully 99% of business plans do not get funded by venture capitalists or angels. That means you probably have to bootstrap, rely on friends and family or put up your own money. In other words, you have to believe in you own abilities and your own ideas.

It is good to get advice and coaching. I doubt Braden could have pitched a perfect game without coaching or learning how to play well in a team. Entrepreneurs, inventors, business owners need to be able to take coaching. They also need to have a good team assembled.

But Braden has something extra. He can stand up for himself -- telling A-Rod not to cut across his mound. Maybe that strength came from overcoming adversity. His mom died when he was in high school. But he also had emotional support from his grandmother. That had to have helped.

Read the Dallas Braden story in SI. Believe in yourself.

With perfect game, A's Dallas Braden is making us believe in him - Joe Posnanski -

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Business Incubator in NYC

The concept of an incubator has been around for several decades. And I'll admit, I've always liked the idea. An incubator makes it easier for young companies to get started and grow. The businesses can share resources, ideas and expertise.

Yesterday, the New York Times ran an article about a technology incubator in New York City called Betaworks. It played a role in nurturing the growth of TweetDeck, one of the cool applications people can use with Twitter to help manage Tweets and other social networking. According to the article, Betaworks provides access to expertise, which is a much needed resource that is very hard to find. It also provides access to funding. I found the article to be quite fascinating because this model of incubator seemed different than the ones I'm familiar with in Connecticut. Worth reading...

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Story of a Start-up

Yesterday, I read the amazing story of a start-up called EndoStim. Amazing because the start-up was completely international. The home base and the investors are in St. Louis, MO. But the entrepreneurs/inventors are immigrants from Cuba and India. The CEO is in South Africa. And the medical device, which fixes acid reflux, is being tested in clinical trials in India and Chile.

The article was written by Thomas Friedman, one of my favorite opinion columnists for the New York Times. Friedman was showing by way of this article how much the internet and other instant forms of communication can help people come together to create innovative businesses. In the midst of the financial doom and gloom of the Great Recession, you still have intelligent, perceptive people recognizing a need and figuring out innovative ways to meet that need. In this case the need for relief from acid reflux is great and is worldwide. Venture investors are constantly on the lookout for breakthrough ideas. It's start-ups like this that will help bring us into a new, better and growing economy. That is how our nation has had so much growth.

But Friedman also wants readers to know that our world, as he puts it, is "flat". Country boundaries are falling to clever entrepreneurs and investors who don't see those boundaries. They just see opportunity.

Friday, April 16, 2010

War Story 2: Scavenger Hunts, Scamps, and Guerrilla Marketing | August Turak

I heard August Turak speak last month. He was incredible.

Now, I'm reading his articles on Guerrilla Marketing. Fabulous.

War Story 2: Scavenger Hunts, Scamps, and Guerrilla Marketing | August Turak

CVG Conference on How to Market Your Business to Investors

The Connecticut Venture Group (CVG) has a great conference lined up for next week - 

Raising Growth Capital: Marketing Your Business to Investors and Lenders
A full-day conference with over a dozen leading experts in venture financing.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010
9:00 am - 5:00 pm
The Hartford Club, Hartford, CT (Note: New Venue)

I know Doug Campbell who is giving a talk on elevator pitches. Doug really knows what he is talking about.
Here is a rundown of the presentations:

 - How successful investors identify winning concepts
 - Alternative (and little known) sources of capital
 - The capital markets today (which windows are open)
 - How much is your business or concept worth?
 - Playing poker with investors: negotiating terms
 - How to hook investors with a bullet-proof Executive Summary
 - Questions an investor or lender will ask
 - Successful presenting (the sizzle and the steak)
 - How to find the right investor for your industry and stage

Tuesday, April 20, 2010
9:00 am - 5:00 pm
The Hartford Club, Hartford, CT (Note: New Venue)

Cost to Attend: $125
To Register, visit

To compete in the marketplace for growth capital and licensing, it is no longer enough to just have a great idea.  That earth-shaking product needs to be professionally packaged and marketed to potential investors or buyers. The workshop will share insights on how investors analyze business opportunities, and how to make your business opportunity stand out from the crowd.

All seminar participants will receive a manual on how to prepare a bullet-proof business plan.

For Workshop Speaker Bios, please visit:

9:00 am
Screening Concepts (How Successful Investors Validate Business Concepts)
Dan Wagner, Connecticut Innovations

9:30 am
Alternative Sources of Capital
Frank Milone, Fiondella Milone & LaSaracina

10:00 am
Current State of the Capital Markets
David Jenkins, PricewaterhouseCoopersl

10:30 am

10:45 am
Valuing Your Company
Nathaniel Brinn, Vital Financial LLC

11:15 am
Term Sheet Clauses: The Investment Agreement
Gregg Lallier, Updike Kelly & Spellacy

12 pm

1:00 pm
Negotiating with Investors; NDA's
Paul Hughes, Wiggin and Dana

1:30 pm
Suggested Content for Executive Summary;
Questions to expect from investors or lenders
Donna Brooks, Shipman & Goodwin

2:15 pm
Successful Presentation Style and Use of Visuals;  The Elevator Pitch
Doug Campbell, The Success

2:35 pm

2:45 pm
Capital Connections: Finding the Right Investor
Venture Capital - Mike Roer, Connecticut Venture Group
Angels -  Joe DeMartino,  Angel Investor Forum
Lenders - Peter Hicks, Webster Bank

3:10 pm
Sample 3-minute pitch
Donna Brooks, Shipman & Goodwin

3:15 pm
Practice Pitching with Feedback

For Workshop Speaker Bios, please visit:

© 2010 Connecticut Venture Group · 203.256.5955

Connecticut Venture Group

1895 Post Road

Fairfield, CT 06824

Thursday, April 15, 2010

KFC - Breast Cancer Promotion Blunder

A coupon book arrived in the mail yesterday shouting - "Save at KFC - help fight breast cancer".

Eat fast food and fight breast cancer? My mind was boggled. Pink buckets of friend chicken? Were they color blind or just tone deaf?

But then I opened the booklet. Staring me in the face: "BREAST DEAL - $2.59."

I still cannot believe that this promotion is real. How could the Susan G. Komen for the Cure organization even begin to think it is doing the right thing with this promotion? How could KFC?

This has to be the biggest blunder of a promotion I have ever seen. I think the whiz-kids who thought this one up didn't think far or fast enough. Promoting eating breasts to raise money for breast cancer? It is just plain wrong on so many levels.

Obviously, the people involved with this promotion haven't read the research that fast food is making the nation obese. Obesity promotes cancer. Health and cancer experts tell people to eat less fried food, less processed food, less fast food. Even the Susan G. Komen Foundation itself says that weight gain can contribute to breast cancer:
Looking at this promotion to me is like hearing nails on a chalk board.

KFC Buckets Go Pink To Help Fight Breast Cancer: "PRESS RELEASE: --(BUSINESS WIRE)--KFC: WHAT: Starting today, KFC ..."

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Microsoft decision puts public libraries at risk

I think Microsoft's decision to not include SteadyState with Win7 is a huge mistake. I believe that it will prove to be a public relations blunder of a magnitude they cannot foresee. Sometimes, companies don't realize that when they think they are protecting their bottom line, they are actually hurting it in the long run because of the fallout of externalities, like a blow to their reputation (think of Exxon, Toyota, Massey Energy, etc.)

Read the full article about this via the link to Windows Secrets (below). Public libraries need safe access to the Internet. They provide a great public service. When 60% of my town was without power for four days following a major Northeast storm, the townspeople crowded into the Darien Public Library to use the Internet (and to stay warm). It's wrong for Microsoft to put library systems at risk. Just plain daft, especially since the idea and original funding for SteadyState came from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to promote educational and public access to the Internet.

Microsoft decision puts public libraries at risk

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Health Care Reform: Not Ready to Be Discharged Yet - Knowledge@Wharton

Entrepreneurs take note: The key point in this Wharton article not the huge problems from the new health care reform bill. It is that there will be all sorts of business opportunities which will come out of the new legislation. Yes, the bill as passed will cost us all a lot more in many ways. But it will open up tremendous opportunities for new businesses to those of us who are creative. People who can figure out how to hold down costs or deliver better health care to more people will be rewarded.

Health Care Reform: Not Ready to Be Discharged Yet - Knowledge@Wharton

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Succession Planning Is Important

Years ago I heard the head of Claire's talk about the importance of succession planning. The daughter had taken over the business from the father and had continued to build the chain's growth. Since my teenage daughter loved Claire's, the story was particularly meaningful to me. Now, when I read about family businesses, I think of Claire's.

Most family businesses do not survive more that two or three generations. Kids have different interests than their parents. Siblings fight. Siblings have different goals and values, even when they grow up in the same family.

But if you want to keep your family business alive, take time to read the New York Times article "Lack of Succession Plan Puts Family Venture at Risk"  --

The article makes it clear how lack of a plan can tear a family and its business apart. It also has tips on how to do things right in building a family business with lasting value.

In my area, UCONN has a family business center that provides useful information and courses to help promote and sustain family businesses.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Nonprofit Business Plan Template

Someone who is starting a new nonprofit to help people age in place asked me for a copy of our Aging in Place in Darien plan. Since the plan has not yet been approved by our board, but since I would like to provide some guidance, I've decided to post a template for a nonprofit business plan. This is how we structured ours. But other organizations can use other formats.

Please keep in mind that the most important part of writing a business plan is the planning itself -- asking the hard questions, thinking about them, discussing them and reaching consensus. Then, you need to find someone who can write clearly to capture the consensus. An outline or template is a good beginning, but it take a lot of work to fill in the blanks. The process can take up to 60 hours, including the writing, editing and financial projections.

If you need help developing your business plan, I would welcome the opportunity to consult with you. Feel free to contact me at:

Here is the outline/template.


Web site:


Beneficiaries, Value and Competitive Advantage

Opportunity to Make a Difference

Research Results

History and Accomplishments

Standing Committees

Business Model
• Member Benefits :
• Communication –
• Fundraising –

Organization and Operations

Board of Directors

Competitive Analysis


Advisory Board

Source of Funds and Fundraising
Financial Projections

Three Year Budget Projections
Assuming Current Configuration - Prudent Budget
Expenses Assumptions Year 1 Year 2 Year 3

Monday, March 1, 2010

Entrepreneurs in Residence and VCs

It seems that finding venture capital is getting even harder. With tons and tons of entrepreneurs and inventors out there looking for funding for their big ideas, some venture capital firms are looking away from them and into their own firms. The VCs are hiring entrepreneurs with a track record to become an entrepreneur in residence. The "EIRs" are given an office and a salary to sit and think up new great ideas for businesses. The VCs are looking for these EIRs to come up with something "disruptive."

This reminds me of Hollywood, where producers just keep going with the same directors and redoing the same types of movies - trying to be safe to ensure a profit. (How many Batmans can they make???) That is not how you get breakthrough brilliance. That's not how you get an original Star Wars or a Google or an Amazon or even a Xerox. I've worked with serial entrepreneurs -- not every idea is a winner - but they get funding because they had a winner once upon a time. I think VCs are making a mistake with the EIRs. They should be trolling for the hidden great ideas that are out there among the unknowns.

There's a long article about EIR in The New York Times, with a particular focus on Foundation Capital in Silicon Valley in California. Here's a link to the article  -

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Writing a Business Plan for Aging in Place

I presented the first draft of the business plan for Aging in Place in Darien to the Strategic Planning Committee, and they loved it. Going through the planning process and then reading an actual draft of the resulting plan helped us all sort through our thoughts and goals, ask ourselves more questions, then really focus on how to make everything extremely clear for us and for a potential board of directors and funders.

I'm now editing.

The process of business planning has so much value. I wish more people understood this. One person on our committee is a member of SCORE (a volunteer group that helps entrepreneurs with their plans for free). Interestingly, he said, "I hope you charge a lot when you do plans for business owners. This has real value. It's an outstanding plan."  (I'm donating my time to Aging in Place as my own form of personal outreach to the community. I also sit on the Advisory Board.) But I was struck by the comment. I told him that many entrepreneurs think I charge too much for my service. He said they don't understand what I can do.

Basically, I get people to think and to explain all facets of their their business. I take that and write it all down in a way that tells a clear story of the true value of the company. The resulting document becomes a road map for achieving goals and a marketing document to attract investors -- or in this case --  funders.


Monday, February 15, 2010

Starting a Business to Help People

When Paul Hogan saw how his mother's care for her mother (his grandmother) yielded better health and a better, longer life for his grandmother, it provided him with inspiration to start his own business providing such care for others. He formed Home Instead Senior Care. The story of how he did this and turned the company into an organization with franchises all over the world was in the New York Times on Sunday, February 14, 2010.

Here is a link. It is a story worth reading because it shows how personal experience of seeing a real need for real people can be translated into a solid business that fills that need. This is the essence of what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Value of Teamwork

Pundits, gurus, consultants and inspirational speakers all write and speak about the value of teamwork. "Are you a team player?" is one question I've gotten asked in countless job interviews. After awhile, it just seems like a trite idea that everyone loves to spout.

But in the past few weeks, the value of real teamwork has been driven home to me four times.

1. When I played paddle tennis over the weekend, my partner and I enjoyed the connection of real teamwork. We backed each other up, rather than poaching on each other. We used our different skills to cover the court to return our opponents balls no matter how they were hit to us. It enabled us to win our first set.

2. When our strategic planning group for Aging in Place in Darien met to hash out the core of our business plan, we had a full spectrum of perspectives as to the direction we ought to take. We did agree on mission, and with that as our guide, we each were able to list our goals, listen to each other and seriously consider what others had to say. I found the process really powerful because it forced us to think outside our own mindsets. In the end, we were able to form a consensus. And I daresay, our conclusions were much stronger than if just one of us had developed our goals in a vacuum.

3. When I prepared a dinner for a working women's group at our church, I did it with two good friends. By splitting up the food preparation, set up and clean up, we were able to serve a great meal and enjoy the fellowship of our gathering without a lot of stress and strain. Together we were more like Mary than Martha.

4. My husband and I faced the unpleasant and somewhat daunting task of cleaning up a mess left by a contractor. The contractor in question said he'd come back but hadn't yet shown up. So my husband and I researched cleanup methods on the internet, and then he started the job. When he got tired, he showed me what to do, and I took over. Before long, we had our problem licked. My husband said our tag-team approach had worked well. I agree.

If you're running or starting a business, playing a game, running a family or volunteering, think a bit about how you can help the others on your team -- and how they can help you. More than one brain and set of eyes and ears can add tremendous value to the end result.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Writing a Nonprofit Business Plan

I'm doing something I ordinarily would not do -- writing a business plan without being compensated for my time. I'm doing it for several reasons: a) It's for a start-up nonprofit I really believe in, b) I'm a founding member, and c) I'm on the advisory board.

This makes the experience somewhat akin to writing my own plan for my own start-up. And it makes me realize from a new perspective how incredibly valuable the business planning process is. I've had clients tell me that the process was more useful to them than the actual final plan. Now I know why.

Sitting down with your management team and/or your board to hash out the questions of what your organization really hopes to accomplish and how you will accomplish it is actually quite hard for people/entrepreneurs/business owners. You believe you have this great idea. But can you explain it succinctly? What words are you actually going to write down to get the ideas across? What is the heart of your business? Can the whole team come together and form a consensus about this?

Focusing on answering these and other key questions is amazing and empowering. And interestingly, the more you answer, the more new questions arise. What will it really take to get this nonprofit off the ground? Can you convince others to fund your start-up? What can you say that will compel angels to part with their money and support your mission? What makes your organization so unique that it truly deserves to exist so that it can serve the community? Does it add to the public good?

We're not done with the process yet. I'll keep you posted on our progress. All I can say is that if you have not gone through the process of developing a formal business plan, you are missing a great opportunity to really think through your business and what you want to achieve with it.

In case you're curious, the nonprofit in question is Aging in Place in Darien.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

United Needs to Enforce Rules on Carry-on Size

I'm beginning to think that the ideas of good customer service and listening to the customer are dead. When we flew on United Airlines last week, we were admonished by the flight attendants several times via loudspeaker to hold onto our coats so that all the carry-on luggage could be put into the overhead bins. As we held our winter coats, we watched passenger after passenger juggling their huge, wheeled carry-ons into the bins -- some forced to put the bags in sideways. We were able to put our carry-ons under the seats in front of us -- the old fashioned way. But we had expected to put winter coats into the bin over us.

As the plane started taxiing, we rang the call button, and a flight attendant hurried to see what was wrong. We handed her our coats. She looked around and finally stuffed them into a spot over a bag in a bin across the aisle and slammed the cover shut.

When we left the plane in NYC, we suggested to the head flight attendant that United enforce its size limits on carry-ons. She said they would like to. We urged her to pass on our comments onto management, and she said that management doesn't listen. She was clearly frustrated.

It used to be that your carry-on had to fit under the seat in front of you. Supposedly, your bag now has to fit in a bin with the wheels or handle pointing out. Why have these requirements disappeared? Why is it less important for people to be able to put coats in the bins than over-sized carry-ons?

Why can't flight attendants or other employees be empowered to pass passenger and consumer comments up to management?

Clearly, the fees for luggage are shaping consumer behavior. But how the airlines are handling the customer response is wrong.

I believe the Democrats lost in Massachusetts because voters are angry that no one is listening to them. Well, consumers are getting angry that businesses are not listening to them, too.

We need to return to a culture of listening. One of my favorite local grocery stores (Stew Leonard's) has a motto -- The customer is always right. We need more companies and politicians and airlines to adopt the same motto, start really listening and start using some common sense.