Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Protect Your Business from a Rogue Employee

Days before Christmas, a New York glass installer who admitted he uploaded an unfinished copy of X-Men Origins: Wolverine to the Internet, received a one-year sentence in federal prison from a U.S. District Court judge who termed his actions "extremely serious."

It's a sad story for Gilbert Sanchez, the glass installer, but what, you ask, does this have to do with my company or start-up? Let's suppose for a moment that instead of installing glass, Sanchez worked for you and, rather than uploading the movie from his home, he did so using his work computer and your company's Internet connection. This circumstance may carry implications for businesses.

Recently, a raft of lawsuits have appeared accusing thousands of individuals of illegally uploading and downloading materials in violation of U.S. copyright laws. Attorneys for film companies -- including one Los Angeles plaintiff that sued more than 5,800 individuals for downloading one particular adult film -- file many of these suits.

OK, so you probably won't see many of these films at the Academy Awards celebration in February, but the plaintiffs in these lawsuits are hell-bent on collecting settlements from a large number of individual defendants. They're in the process of issuing subpoenas to Internet service providers to obtain the name and address of individual subscribers -- including businesses -- to pursue mass settlements.

The question is, what do you do if your company is subpoenaed as a result of a mass filing? TheElectronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit founded in 1990 to defend digital rights, says that because these cases are unique you should immediately contact an attorney in either the state where the lawsuit was filed or in the state where your business is incorporated.

Stewart Kellar of the San Francisco-based E-ttorney at Law agrees, but says business owners slapped with a mass file-sharing lawsuit also need to have an Internet Usage/Copyright Infringement policy in place to avoid such legal actions in the first place. He says that policy "should state in no uncertain terms that the Internet is to be used for business and (maybe) personal email use only and for no other purpose."

Kellar suggests that if your business does receive a subpoena from its ISP, it should first be determined if the infringement occurred on a work computer by an employee. If so, the company can offer up the employee to the plaintiff, pay the settlement fee and seek reimbursement from the employee. Or a company can just ignore the demand letter and see if the plaintiff will proceed and make good on its threats.

"A business that provides an Internet connection to its employees or the public is itself an ISP," says Keller. "Unless it knew about the infringing activity and then induced or facilitated that infringement, contributory liability is very unlikely."

Monday, December 12, 2011

What Your Business Can Learn From Apple's Battle with Samsung?

If you haven't been paying attention to the ongoing court battle between Apple and Samsung, you're missing an epic conflict over patents and trademarks, both of which are often overlooked by entrepreneurs when attempting to launch a new product or service.

The dispute centers on Apple's claims that Samsung's products infringe upon its design patents. Per the latest in the conflict, a U.S. District judge ruled last Friday that Apple failed to meet its burden of showing a likelihood of irreparable harm in the injunction it sought against Samsung. As a result, Samsung, the world's largest consumer electronics company, now has the go ahead to continue selling its Galaxy S 4G, Infuse 4G, and Droid Charge phones and Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet in the U.S.

It's an early Christmas gift for Samsung, but winning a battle does not the war win, according toChristopher V. Carani, a partner in the intellectual property law firm of McAndrews, Held & Malloy and chair of the American Bar Association's Design Rights Committee. Here's what Carani has to say about this seven-month-old court fight and why business owners should pay attention to future skirmishes:

Preliminary injunctions are hard to win but do have impact. Apple had an uphill battle in persuading a judge to pull Samsung's targeted products off the shelves prior to the fact-finding discovery process and full trial based on the merits of Apple's claims. In this case, even though Samsung prevailed on the preliminary injunction, the motion created delay and uncertainty in Samsung's U.S. launch.

Apple's design patents strategy proved effective. Apple's strategy of applying for multiple design patents for the iPhone enabled it to protect itself and was effective in ensnaring Samsung's tablet and smartphone products.

Prior art searches to invalidate patents are critical. When someone claims your product violates their patent, you conduct a search for "prior art" -- that is, anything proving that a product or service existed prior to a given date. Samsung's saving grace in this latest round was that its litigation team located prior art references that undermined the validity of one of Apple's iPad design patents. What Samsung discovered was a 1994 Knight-Ridder video depicting a tablet newspaper of the future, which looks very similar to the iPad and Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet.

While Samsung doesn't have to take its products off store shelves, the judge found in Apple's favor with respect to one of Apple's iPhone design patents. As a result, Apple has an excellent chance of obtaining a large damages award for that patent infringement as well as for lost profits from Samsung's sales of the Galaxy S 4G and Infuse 4.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

How to Start New Hires on the Right Track

Assessing employees starts on Day One. Your hiring process shouldn't be complete until you have a fully-oriented employee with their own development plan -- a clear plan of action that will engage and hold your new hire accountable.

Because the sooner you set expectations for your employees, the more likely you are to have a productive team that supports and grows your business. And that isn't the only benefit. There are three primary reasons to create individual development plans for managing performance. A development plan will:

1. Set expectations for performance. It gives employees clear expectations for their results. Statements in writing mean there is a greater likelihood of meeting or exceeding expectations. Having clear goals makes them more achievable.

2. Create a coaching document and put a process in place with a road map for advancement and a schedule to review progress, which holds managers accountable for providing feedback.

3. Create a benchmark that shows growth and improvement or the lack of progress against goals. This benchmark will assist you in developing your team members at all levels. Creating a record of improvement will make it easier to adjust the job fit for the employees and to make decisions in a more timely way about where you want to invest in developing employees.

Development plans show what employees can do to grow and develop, to advance, to become more valued, and to be more satisfied in their work. They also point out what kind of support and assistance they will need to get where they are going faster.

Components of the Plan
One mistake many managers make, often because they use poorly designed development plan templates, is to take on too many challenges at once. Keep the plan as simple as possible. Identify a combined total of two or three measurable objectives within the following three job-related categories:

  • Focus on the employee's career growth. Examples include attending classes, seminars or workshops, or participating in on-the-job training or self-study programs (e.g., books, DVDs or web-based training).
  • Help the employee improve personal aspects of his or her performance, behavior or conduct. Examples of task-oriented performance goals are improving computer proficiency, time management or presentation skills. Or the employee can focus on correcting behavioral problems that negatively impact group morale, job performance or job satisfaction. Examples of such goals are developing conflict resolution or stress reduction techniques and building collaborative coworker relationships. As with professional development goals, effective performance objectives are well defined, are measurable, and are clearly linked to specific job-related outcomes.
  • Provide specific assignments to participate in or manage ongoing or future projects. When setting project-oriented goals, outline the scope of the role the employee is to play, list resources and completion time frame, and define the desired result.

Components of an Effective Objective
Objectives must be ones the employee has agreed to accomplish within a specified time. The goals should be specific and challenging but attainable. Identify everything that both the employee and manager need to provide to accomplish the goals as an objective. Each objective should have four parts:

  1. State the desired achievement for task mastery or improved behavior.
  2. Define the applicability of each goal to the function.
  3. Specify the method of learning.
  4. State the time frame for achievement.

When to Assess
Many companies tie development to performance appraisal. While it's true you need to set expectations before you can identify areas for growth, employee development is an ongoing process. Reviews should be scheduled as often as needed according to the support, advancement, and abilities of each employee.

Each job and organization will evaluate and measure its employees using a variety of tools. Some of the most common include:

  • Biannual or annual performance standards/reviews/appraisals: These usually include quantitative and qualitative sections where both the employee and manager have opportunities to make remarks. They state expectations and goals. The employee's performance is measured against these goals at the end of the time period. Traditionally, these appraisals are directly tied to annual bonuses or pay increases.
  • Budget and quota measurements: These include measuring a person's performance against budget expectations and quotas. Employees are evaluated based on how well they perform, and rewards are directly tied to performance.

Regardless of how you choose to evaluate employees, using a development plan customized for each individual will make the performance evaluation process easier and fairer and offer ongoing opportunities to provide coaching and feedback throughout the year, not just at performance review time. It also reduces the risk of surprise in the results for the employees.

The manager and employee will work on the development plan together, but the more involved the employee is in determining the areas to work on, the more committed that individual will be to accomplishing the goals. The objective is to create an environment that encourages continuous feedback from managers, which will help employees advance more quickly, achieve more, and avoid unnecessary problems and setbacks.

How Steve Jobs Saved Apple

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, the tech company he co-founded more than two decades earlier was on the brink of failure. During the final quarter of 1996, Apple's sales plummeted by 30 percent. Microsoft was the dominant computer company in the market.

As Isaacson recalls in his biography on Jobs, a Fortune magazine story from that time said this of the company: "Apple Computer, Silicon Valley's paragon of dysfunctional management and fumbled techno-dreams, is back in crisis mode, scrambling lugubriously in slow motion to deal with imploding sales, a floundering technology strategy, and a hemorrhaging brand name."

Fresh off a partnership deal with Microsoft that injected Apple with $150 million, one of Jobs' first goals as CEO was to review the company's sprawling product line. What he found out was that Apple had been producing multiple versions of the same product to satisfy requests from retailers. For instance, the company was selling a dozen varied versions of the Macintosh computer.

Unable to explain why so many products were necessary, Jobs asked his team of top managers, "Which ones do I tell my friends to buy?" When he didn't get a simple answer, Jobs got to work reducing the number of Apple products by 70 percent. Among the casualties was the Newton digital personal assistant. Unfortunately, the cut-backs also resulted, in part, in a workforce reduction of about 3,000 employees.

"Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do," Jobs says in the book. "It's true for companies, and it's true for products."

Moving forward, Jobs' strategy was to produce only four products: one desktop and one portable device aimed at both consumers and professionals. For professionals, Apple created the Power Macintosh G3 desktop and the PowerBook G3 portable computer. For consumers, there was the iMac desktop and iBook portable computer. (According to Jobs, the "i" emphasized that the devices were directly integrated with the internet.)

The move to a smaller product line and a greater focus on quality and innovation paid off. During Jobs' first fiscal year after his return, ending in September 1997, Apple lost $1.04 billion and was "90 days from being insolvent," Jobs says in the book. One year later, the company turned a $309 million profit.

Jobs' plan also laid the groundwork for Apple's continued innovation. The company introduced revolutionary products including the iPod portable digital audio player in 2001, an online marketplace called the Apple iTunes Store in 2003, the iPhone handset in 2007 and the iPad tablet computer in 2010.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

RIP Steve Jobs

Entrepreneur Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Computer Inc., died Wednesday. He was 56.

Jobs' vision for a "computer for the rest of us" yielded a host of products and services that have revolutionized the tech industry, among numerous others. During his reign at the top of Apple, the company introduced the iPod portable digital audio player in 2001, an online marketplace called the Apple iTunes Store in 2003, the iPhone handset in 2007 and the iPad tablet computer in 2010.

While Jobs struggled with health issues including a pancreatic tumor and a liver transplant, Apple's products continued to resonate with consumers, driving mind-boggling profits for the company. Apple says it has sold more than 300 million iPods, over 100 million iPhones and more than 15 million iPad devices. The company has sold billions of songs from its iTunes Store.

Here's a collection of reactions of Jobs' death from fellow entrepreneurs, tech personalities and other notable figures:

Bill Gates, founder of Apple rival Microsoft:

"I'm truly saddened to learn of Steve Jobs' death. Melinda and I extend our sincere condolences to his family and friends, and to everyone Steve has touched through his work.

"Steve and I first met nearly 30 years ago, and have been colleagues, competitors and friends over the course of more than half our lives.

"The world rarely sees someone who has had the profound impact Steve has had, the effects of which will be felt for many generations to come.

"For those of us lucky enough to get to work with him, it's been an insanely great honor. I will miss Steve immensely."

Guy Kawasaki, entrepreneur, venture capitalist and former Apple chief evangelist

"May Steve rest in peace. My deepest sympathy to his loved ones. No CEO has done more for his customers, employees, and shareholders than Steve.

"He changed the world -- my world, your world, the entire world. His words to live by: 'There must be a better way.'

"You changed our lives, Steve, and you showed us that there is a better way. . .we will miss you."

Mark Cuban, Internet entrepreneur and billionaire:

"He was a once-in-a-generation mind. His ability to understand and translate pop culture was second to none. He will be missed."

Google co-founder Sergey Brin:

"From the earliest days of Google, whenever Larry and I sought inspiration for vision and leadership, we needed to look no farther than Cupertino. Steve, your passion for excellence is felt by anyone who has ever touched an Apple product (including the Macbook I am writing this on right now). And I have witnessed it in person the few times we have met."

AOL co-founder Steve Case:
"I feel honored to have known Steve Jobs. He was the most innovative entrepreneur of our generation. His legacy will live on for the ages."

Apple Board of Directors:

"Steve's brilliance, passion and energy were the source of countless innovations that enrich and improve all of our lives. The world is immeasurably better because of Steve."

U.S. President Barack Obama:

"By building one of the planet's most successful companies from his garage, he exemplified the spirit of American ingenuity. By making computers personal and putting the Internet in our pockets, he made the information revolution not only accessible, but intuitive and fun. And by turning his talents to storytelling, he has brought joy to millions of children and grownups alike. Steve was fond of saying that he lived every day like it was his last. Because he did, he transformed our lives, redefined entire industries, and achieved one of the rarest feats in human history: He changed the way each of us sees the world.

"The world has lost a visionary. And there may be no greater tribute to Steve's success than the fact that much of the world learned of his passing on a device he invented."

The overwhelming outcry of sadness, wrapped in accolades, for Jobs also flooded the Twittersphere.

Michael Dell, founder of Dell Inc.
@MichaelDell Today the world lost a visionary leader, the technology industry lost an iconic legend and I lost a friend and fellow founder. The legacy of Steve Jobs will be remembered for generations to come. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family and to the Apple team.

Richard Branson, Virgin Founder
@richardbranson RIP Steve Jobs. A truly great businessman. Inspiration to so many. A real Family man. He will be sorely missed.

Kevin Rose, founder of
@kevinrose damn.. damn.. damn.. RIP Steve Jobs

Ben Kaufman, founder of Quirky
@benkaufman "Those who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.". Thanks Steve. Your products started me on this path.

Gurbaksh Chahal, serial entrepreneur
@gchahal Thank You, Steve Jobs.

Robert Scoble, tech evangelist and blogger
@Scobleizer Rainbow over Silicon Valley. Steve Jobs RIP. @ Sunnyvale

Scott Heiferman, founder of
@heif Sad sad sad sad sad sad sad

Ashton Kutcher, actor, investor and entrepreneur
@aplusk We have all surfed on the wake of Steve Jobs ship. Now we must learn to sail, but we will never forget our skipper.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

How to Get Funding From Friends and Family

Most entrepreneurs have learned that it's almost always quicker and easier to get cash from someone you know, rather than angel investors or professional investors (VCs). In fact, most investors "require" that you already have some investment from friends and family before they will even step up to the plate.

You see, investors invest in people, before they invest in ideas or products. Since they don't know you (yet), their first integrity check on you as a person is whether your friends and family believe in you strongly enough to give you seed money for your new idea. If they won't do it, they why would I as stranger invest in you?

Friends and family will likely not expect the same level of sophistication on the business model and financials as a professional investor, but they do expect to see certain things. Here is a summary of some key items to think about as an entrepreneur before approaching friends, family, or even fools:

1. Don't be afraid to ask, carefully
If you set around quietly waiting for someone you know to offer you money to fund a startup, you will probably have a long wait.

On the other hand, if you open every conversation with "I need money," you won't have any friends or any money. Practice your "elevator pitch," and end it by asking for the order.

2. Be upbeat and respectful
Nothing kills everyone's optimism and desire to help quicker than a negative or arrogant attitude.

If they are going to put cash into your company, chances are that they will expect to spend a fair amount of time together, either helping you or certainly discussing progress. Nobody likes a downer.

3. Be passionate about the idea
Friends and family will quickly detect your level of sincerity and thought behind the idea.

You need to convince them that you have been working on this vision for a long time, and have done the "due diligence" on all the potential knockoffs. Daydreams and "the idea of the moment" won't get much respect.

4. Demonstrate progress and your own "skin in the game"
Saying that you need money to start is not nearly as convincing as saying that you have built a prototype on your own dime, but need more to roll it out.

We all know people who can talk a good game, but never get around to building anything.

5. Ask for the minimum rather than the maximum
We would all love to have a million dollars of funding to "do it right" and build the company of our dreams. But your chances are minimal of finding someone who will give you that much to start.

Set some milestones for three or four months out, and show what you can do, then ask for more.

6. Communicate the risks, and write down the agreement
Be honest with naïve family members and friends about the inherent risks of a startup – at least 70 percent fail in the first five years.

Don't take money from family or friends who can't afford to lose it. Think hard about the consequences of a possible startup failure and the loss of their funding.

7. Show some incremental value along the way
Look for ways to get some traction with a minimal product, while you are still developing the main event.

In high technology, this is called "release early and iterate," which allows you to make corrections as you go, as well as adjust for the market changes. It also shows progress to early backers.

8. Network to build investor relationships before you ask for money
Having a real project, rather than just an idea, is a strong positive when networking for angels or VCs. Now you really have something to discuss, and real credibility as an entrepreneur.

Build the relationship first, ask for advice on a real project, then maybe money later.

9. Don't think of friends and family funding only as a last resort
Overall, don't think of friends and family funding only as a last resort. There are massive advantages, like sharing profits with friends and family, as well as the strategic credibility than can be gained from funding from someone you know, rather than from a professional investor.

I hope all of these points seem like common sense to you, and you wouldn't think of handling it any other way. Yet, I'm continually amazed at how often I am approached as a professional investor by strangers asking for a million dollars to fund an idea, without hitting even one of the above points.

We can all recount horror stories of families and friendships torn apart by money lost on someone else's speculative dream. In these cases both the entrepreneur and the funding partner are the fools. Don't be one.

Startup Mentor is a place for all the Startups to find their virtual mentors. The forum is dedicated to giving ideas to the aspiring entrepreneurs and the first generation entrepreneurs. If you fee that you can contribute to the community of entrepreneurs by providing your articles, opinions, analysis and case studies, please send an email to

Sunday, August 14, 2011

How to Hire Positive Employees for Your Business

How to Hire Positive Employees for Your BusinessNo entrepreneur is an island. You were created to work with others in a positive environment.

Your business success depends on you attracting customers and employees with whom you work well together. Such cooperation challenges the familiar notions of achieving success by becoming a self-made person and pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps. Despite its familiarity, such a notion is simply a myth. You’ve been the beneficiary of working with others since before you can remember.

Do you remember your mother and father getting up at two o’clock in the morning to feed you? Of course not. Even though it happened night after night for months, depriving your parents of much-needed sleep, these gracious acts of compassionate kindness your parents offered just because they loved you slip through your memory.

There are other gracious acts of cooperation others have done for you that similarly slip through. All of these cooperative acts combine to make you who you are today -- a unique human being capable of a positive workstyle.

Cooperating completely with others presupposes that you are incomplete alone, but complete with others. Sometimes, our ego gets in the way of understanding this concept. Part of the challenge for entrepreneurs is that we are really good at so many and varied tasks that we buy the lie that we can truly do it all. The truth is if we really want to make our dreams come true, we must redefine our egotistical reality of "I can do it all" to "There is something I missed."

One of the most essential ingredients of working positively and cooperatively with others is that how much you think you accurately perceive in life, there is something you miss -- or some subject that someone else knows more about than you do.

No matter which direction your business is going -- up or down -- you can use some help. The good news is you have it. The universe is designed to partner with you, to provide resources beyond your control for your business’s well-being, including relationships with others who can help you.

The key to leveraging these relationships is to become the kind of person that you want to attract into your business life. You should be someone you would want to do business with.

Consider these questions in shaping yourself to attract positive business partners and clients:

  1. What are my core values, i.e., those character traits that I want to exhibit in my business relationships? What would my family members say are my core values?
  2. What are my life priorities--those matters in life that I consider most important not just in word, but in work behavior as well? How do my calendar and bank statement reflect these priorities?
  3. What is my unique contribution to make in the world through my business and how do I live into it daily?

Just as "birds of a feather flock together," you literally attract people with whom you share core values and life priorities. For example, if you conceive your business more positively, you will attract similar people with whom you can grow your business--and whom you can also help in their lives and businesses. Those who resonate on this frequency are drawn to you because of your common business life pitch.

Conversely, if your business life is more negatively grounded, you find people coming into your business--whether as customers/clients, employees/suppliers--who are more of a negative persuasion.

Do you ever find yourself complaining about your customers? They don’t pay their bills on time, or maybe they’re constantly trying to get something for nothing. Who attracted them to your business?

What about your employees? Ever hear yourself saying, "You just can’t find good help these days" or "Nobody wants to want work anymore"? Who hired these employees?

Now stop, and ask yourself: "How am I attracting these people? What is there about me that attracts them, that pitches them in my direction?"

One of the greatest challenges in creating a positive workstyle is understanding that like attracts like. These people onto whom you shift responsibility for your challenges are in your work life because you chose them. You attracted them by way of your business’s core values, your business priorities, and your business’s unique contribution.

Once you perceive your work life in a positive light, then, because you are created to cooperate completely, you begin to attract others to your team who share your positive direction. Those who choose to work positive will find their way to you.

The people around you--customers/clients, employees/employers, family/friends, and vendors/suppliers -- are there for you to lean on when the weight of doing business is too much for you to stand alone . . . and when isn’t it? These people are your team.

The article is taken from

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Top 10 Business Plan Mistakes

It’s been nearly seven years since I posted Top 10 Business Plan Mistakes on this site. Looking back and reading the post again today, I think the list holds up very well. Still, I can’t resist making a few changes. So here is my revised version for 2012, incorporating what I wrote back then that still holds true.

1. Misunderstanding the purpose: It’s the planning that matters, not just the document. You engage in planning your business because planning becomes management. Planning is a process of setting goals and establishing specific measures of progress, then tracking your progress and following up with course corrections. The plan itself is just the first step; it is reviewed and revised often. Don’t even print it unless you absolutely have to. Leave it on a digital network instead.

2. Doing it in one big push; do it in pieces and steps. The plan is a set of connected modules, like blocks. Start anywhere and get going. Do the part that interests you most, or the part that provides the most immediate benefit. That might be strategy, concepts, target markets, business offerings, projections, mantra, vision, whatever. . . just get going.

3. Finishing your plan. If your plan is done, then your business is done. That most recent version is just a snapshot of what the plan was then. It should always be alive and changing to reflect changing assumptions.

4. Hiding your plan from your team. It’s a management tool. Use common sense about what you share with everybody on your team, keeping some information, such as individual salaries, confidential. But do share the goals and measurements, using the planning to build team spirit and peer collaboration. That doesn’t mean sharing the plan with outsiders, except when you have to, such as when you’re seeking capital.

5. Confusing cash with profits. There's a huge difference between the two. Waiting for customers to pay can cripple your financial situation without affecting your profits. Loading your inventory absorbs money without changing profits. Profits are an accounting concept; cash is money in the bank. You don't pay your bills with profits.

6. Diluting your priorities. A plan that stresses three or four priorities is a plan with focus and power. People can understand three or four main points. A plan that lists 20 priorities doesn't really have any.

7. Overvaluing the business idea. What gives an idea value isn’t the idea itself but the business that's built on it. It takes employees showing up every morning, phone calls being answered, products being built, ordered and shipped, services being rendered, and customers paying their bills to make an idea a business. Either write a business plan that shows you building a business around that great idea, or forget it. An idea alone does not a great business make.

8. Fudging the details in the first 12 months. By details, I mean your financials, milestones, responsibilities and deadlines. Cash flow is most important, but you also need lots of details when it comes to assigning tasks to people, setting dates, and specifying what's supposed to happen and who's supposed to make it happen. These details really matter. A business plan is wasted without them.

9. Sweating the details for the later years. This is about planning, not accounting. As important as monthly details are in the beginning, they become a waste of time later on. How can you project monthly cash flow three years from now when your sales forecast is so uncertain? Sure, you can plan in five, 10 or even 20-year horizons in the major conceptual text, but you can't plan in monthly detail past the first year. Nobody expects it, and nobody believes it.

10. Making absurd forecasts. Nobody believes absurdly high “hockey stick” sales projections. And forecasting unusually high profitability usually means you don’t have a realistic understanding of expenses.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

10 Habits of Effective Startup Mentors

1. Always start by defining the fundamental idea behind a product or service:
What is the problem they are solving?
Who is the customer?
How they are solving the problem or meeting the need?
Make it as clear as possible, 1 sentence max.

2. Prioritize the startup’s biggest risks
You want teams to priorize their biggest 2 or 3 risks and the assumptions for each. The key is making sure the team is looking across all aspects of the business:

What is the business model? (Who pays for the product, how, and do they have money?)
What is the market size? Are their expectations of market size realistic?
Who is their competition and why are they better?
What are their guesses for customer acquisition?
Are their any technical risks to creating the solution?

3. Get practical on the tactics to empirically mitigate risks
For the identified “biggest risks”, drill into the specific tactics they will use to empirically validate a way to mitigate these risks. Ask yourself:

Will those tactics deliver useful data to validate or invalidate assumptions?
Can the tactics be streamlined in any way?
Can you come up with any other test-tactics that would benefit their process?

4. Use your network to find them potential customers
Think about how you can facilitate their tactics — this is especially important when the team needs to get to an unusual type of customer. Can you make an introduction and get them on the phone with someone? Are you friends with someone who could? External people often are happy to help.

5. Challenge, play devil’s advocate, and poke holes in arguments
Don’t shy away from tough questions. Force the team to stress-test their assumptions and stretch their thinking.

6. Let the team come to its own conclusions
Never put things forth as an answer or fait accompli. Do not hesitate to point out risks, competitors or precedents you have seen before, but make the team come to a conclusion themselves after reviewing their learning.

7. Less mentorship may be better
Rove around but be careful how you interrupt teams. You can often quickly tell if a team is struggling or busily productive with just a couple questions. If the former, let them execute. If they seem to be struggling, or haven’t gotten out of the building enough, then be more forceful.

8. Don’t spoon feed, keep feedback crisp
The teams have a lot to do in a short period of time, so manage your interaction so that it remains high-impact and efficient. Don’t be afraid to politely but firmly cut someone off who wants to spend a lot of time explaining their great solution and all the features.

You want to keep the team moving. Sometimes it makes sense to speak to team members individually or in smaller groups so that they can divide and conquer. Prioritize and break up your own mentoring as needed — you do not need to be comprehensive in one sitting.

9. Collaborate with other mentors
If you are feeling stuck, or want help coming up with more efficient tactics, don’t hesitate to pull in another mentor. No one has all the answers, and sometimes it can be really tricky to decide what advice to give. However, if you pull in another mentor, brief them first yourself and don’t make the team do the entire download process again.

Common instances when you might want a second opinion:
When a team struggles with a pivot/leap
When a team is internally conflicted on priorities
When your gut tells you that their tactics will be low-return, but you don’t have better ones coming to mind

10. Be a mentor, not a CEO
Remember that you are a mentor, not a team lead. Participants go through Lean Startup Machine as much for the process as anything. Reading about “lean startup” is fine and good, but this stuff only sinks in when you actually start to put the ideas into real practice. They might need to be pushed to get out of their comfort zone, but teach them to fish — don’t give them the fish.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Three financial resolutions that can benefit your business

Ringing in the new year with a few resolutions? As you make plans to eat more healthfully and finally run that 5K, it might also be a good time to set some business goals. While the best resolutions will vary from business to business, here are three key promises most companies should keep.

1. Tune into 2011.
Don't just close your books and kiss 2011 goodbye. If you hit speed bumps or found new opportunities over the last 12 months, that may be an indication of where your company should turn its attention now, says Michael Carney, founder of MWC Accounting in Chicago. Did you struggle with cash flow management? Find a new area for growth? Study the actions that led to such occurrences and see if you can avoid or duplicate them to make your business stronger.

2. Look for savings.
Sticking with the status quo can cost you: January is the best time to trim budgetary fat, says Richard Stone, a principal in the Valhalla, N.Y., office of national accounting firm MBAF-ERE CPAs. Find better rates on insurance, telephone service, supplies and other business expenses. Cancel unused service contracts or subscriptions. It's a tough market out there for refinancing, but interest rates are low, Carney adds. Investigate refinancing real estate or other loans.

3. Find your replacement.
Succession planning is an area that is "widely overlooked by small-business owners," Stone says. The new year provides a great opportunity to address the next generation of your business, regardless of when you plan to retire officially. Once you identify a successor, Stone says, you can craft a plan to transfer business ownership incrementally. That way, you afford yourself the greatest flexibility and tax advantages.

Startup Mentor is a place for all the Startups to find their virtual mentors. The forum is dedicated to giving ideas to the aspiring entrepreneurs and the first generation entrepreneurs. If you fee that you can contribute to the community of entrepreneurs by providing your articles, opinions, analysis and case studies, please send an email to

Monday, July 11, 2011

Is an Office Vampire Draining Your Productivity?

You don't need to go trick-or-treating to see vampires. Odds are good that they're in your office, and they're ruining your business life.

As a consultant on workplace morale issues, I often find that bad morale stems from one or two workers in the office who have a poor attitude about the place. Office vampires drain valuable time and energy you could be using to run your business, or simply enjoy your life.

If you have a worker who is so frustrating to deal with that you find yourself thinking of the situation while you're spending time with your family, or hanging out with a friend, you may have a vampire in your office.

Luckily, there are tools you can use to deal with these vampires. Think of it as a vampire-slayer utility belt. Here's what you can bring to bear on them:

Pull out the garlic. Redirect the office vampire when he or she expresses something negative by changing the flavor of the subject right away. "So how about those Atlanta Braves?" OK, maybe don't talk about the Braves right now, but you get my point. Change the subject abruptly.

Hold up a mirror. In the same way that vampires can't see themselves in mirrors, most of the problems expressed by the office vampires don't turn out to be there when a mirror is held up to them. Whatever they thought was negative doesn't actually exist. The mirror actually involves recasting or reframing the conversation, acknowledging what was said, but then challenging the opinion with a more positive point of view. They might complain the weather is getting cold, but you can respond that you're looking forward to hunting season, or the holidays.

Pull out a UV flashlight. I know it can be tough, but sometimes you need to get rid of the vampire. I actually find this is hard for many business owners because they try to empathize with the vampire in their midst. But you're running a business, not a self-help group. Don't let the vampire waste your time, energy, or attention. Instead let him or her go in the quickest and most humane way possible.

Move quickly to ward off your vampires. I often find their negativity easily spreads. If you keep them around, your company could turn into a vampire clan. Then you'll really be in trouble.

know this is cliché, but you actually could be doing the vampire a favor by letting him or her go. I often find that vampires act the way they do because they simply aren't in a job where they can make a unique contribution that satisfies them.

I once worked with a broadcasting group where the office manager micromanaged everything and everyone. She even busted people's chops for taking too many pens and paper clips. The company managers finally made the call and decided to help her find something else.

She went back to school and is now a minister. She's actually an excellent preacher and loves her new life. She went from making everybody miserable, to inspiring them.

What success stories will you tell from slaying the vampires around your office?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Tips on Performance Review

Which is worse: receiving a performance review, or giving one? At least with the latter you have some control. When you’re the one conducting the review, try doing these three things to make it a productive experience.
  • Set expectations early. Make employee-evaluation practices clear at the beginning of the year with individual performance planning sessions.
  • Set the right tone. Everyone hates the “feedback sandwich”: compliments, criticism, then more niceties. Deliver a positive message to your good performers by mainly concentrating on their strengths and achievements. Confront poor performers and demand improvement.
  • Avoid money talk. If possible, don’t mention compensation during the review; but if you must, divulge the salary information at the start of the conversation.
Startup Mentor is a place for all the Startups to find their virtual mentors. The forum is dedicated to giving ideas to the aspiring entrepreneurs and the first generation entrepreneurs. If you fee that you can contribute to the community of entrepreneurs by providing your articles, opinions, analysis and case studies, please send an email to

Monday, June 13, 2011

Are You a Born Entrepreneur?

One reason is that our genes influence the decision to start a business. I don't mean that figuratively; I mean it scientifically. With colleagues at Kings College in London and the University of Cyprus, I have been investigating how genes affect entrepreneurship for more than five years. Through studies of twins, and more recently, through molecular genetics laboratory research, we have found that genes influence whether people start businesses, are self-employed, or have owned their own companies. Our research shows that the same genetic factors influence the tendency both to see business opportunities and to start companies, as well as how much money self-employed people earn.

At this point you may be wondering how researchers could determine that there's a genetic component to entrepreneurship. It's actually pretty straightforward.

With twins, it's a matter of comparing the choices of the two siblings. Identical twins share the same genetic composition, while fraternal twins have half in common. If pairs of identical twins make more similar choices, such as starting a business, than pairs of fraternal twins, then genetics must affect the choices, as long as a few scientific assumptions hold. In the molecular genetics research, we examine the different versions of genes people have and see if entrepreneurs are statistically more likely to have one version over another.

There are probably many ways genes influence whether or not we become entrepreneurs, but in the twins research, we have found initial evidence that one route clearly is through our personalities. The same genes that affect whether we are extroverted, open to experience, disagreeable and sensation seeking also influence our decision to start our own business. Furthermore, the same genes that influence the tendency to be open to experience also affect the tendency to identify new business opportunities.

Before you start worrying that this research will usher in the world portrayed in the science- fiction thriller Gattaca, we are a long, long way from any practical application of these findings. That will come only after many years of replicating the findings.

Moreover, there's no single gene or even set of genes for entrepreneurship. Our genes influence broader categories of behavior, such as whether we do things that involve a great deal or small amount of novelty. While entrepreneurship might involve pursuing novelty, so do many other human activities.

Further complicating the issue, hundreds of genes probably influence whether or not we become entrepreneurs. Thus far in the molecular genetics research, we've found initial evidence for just one of them--a version of a gene for a receptor for the brain chemical dopamine.

Geneticists have speculated that sensation-seeking people have versions of dopamine receptor genes that require more stimulating experiences in order to produce a given amount of dopamine in the brain. To get the higher level of stimulation, those people are more likely to engage in sensation seeking activities, including starting businesses.

While your genes influence whether or not you become an entrepreneur, experience matters, too. Genes don't determine anything you do; they merely influence what you do in the same way your life experiences do. Just as receiving a financial windfall increases your odds of starting a business, so too does having a particular genetic makeup. But just as some people without a penny to their name start companies, so too can people without the genetic make-up associated with entrepreneurship.

While the research so far is limited, it does mean that when you describe someone as a born entrepreneur, you really are onto something.

Friday, May 13, 2011

When to Let Employees Work from Home

Q: When should a company allow its employees to work from home?

A: It's not as easy as giving everybody a laptop and sending them on their way. But when a company's leadership creates the right workplace culture, says Jim Ball, co-founder of Alpine Access, a Denver-based virtual call-center company and a pioneer in the delicate art of telecommuting, the arrangement can benefit workers, management and the bottom line.

"You have to have it in your DNA the fact that you don't have workers coming into an office space," says Ball, whose 4,500 employees--spread across 45 states--all work from home.

Creating that culture, he adds, means planning ahead to prevent the chaos that can result if you don't. You'll need to take into account, for example, training, security and communication issues. In most organizations, Ball says, the direction should come from the top. "There needs to be a person at a level of responsibility who absolutely embraces the model and ensures that the model is put into place correctly," he says. "For a small company, that needs to be the CEO. The CEO needs to say, ‘We're going to embrace this. We're going to get it done the way it needs to be done.'"

A key part of getting it done is making sure that every worker--at home or in the office--has equal access to technology, supervisors and, of course, promotions. What you don't want to do, Ball says, is create an us vs. them scenario.

"You can end up with people who feel isolated, limited in their ability to move up the corporate ladder, frustrated if the technology does not work," Ball says. "There's a whole list of things that need to be considered when you're putting together a work-at-home operation."

That starts during the hiring process. It's vital to screen your employees carefully, Ball says, to determine who among them can prosper working away from the office. At Alpine Access, prospective employees go through a battery of tests, including a personality test, to identify those who are most comfortable operating on their own (each test is given online or over the phone, rather than in person). "We can tell these are folks who don't need face-to-face interaction," Ball says, "who don't feel threatened by not being physically seen."

As Ball sees it, telecommuting just makes good business sense. It's clear that many other employers agree. Nearly 3 million Americans work principally from home (not including those who are self-employed), according to a study released earlier this year by the Telework Research Network. Another study, by WorldatWork, an organization of HR professionals, showed the proportion of American employers offering work-at-home options grew from 30 percent in 2007 to 42 percent in 2008.

Telecomm "In coming years' work forces, this is going to become more of an expectation with [younger workers]," Ball says. "Preparing for that is really going to give your company access to what's really going to make you successful, and that's high-quality talent."

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Decisions That Waste Time and Money

Many managers rely on gut instinct to make important decisions, which often leads to poor results. On the contrary, when managers insist on incorporating logic and evidence, they make better choices and their companies benefit. Here are three ways to introduce evidence-based management at your company:

  • Demand evidence. Whenever anyone makes a compelling claim, ask for supporting data. Don't take someone's word for it.
  • Examine logic. Look closely at the evidence and be sure the logic holds up. Be on the lookout for faulty cause-and-effect reasoning.
  • Encourage experimentation. If you don't have evidence, create some. Invite managers to conduct small experiments to test the viability of proposed strategies and use the resulting data to guide decisions.

Startup Mentor is a place for all the Startups to find their virtual mentors. The forum is dedicated to giving ideas to the aspiring entrepreneurs and the first generation entrepreneurs. If you fee that you can contribute to the community of entrepreneurs by providing your articles, opinions, analysis and case studies, please send an email to

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Seven Steps to Superstar Employees

Many employers sit their workers down once a year for a review. At that time, the employee finds out what they've been doing right or if there are areas in need of improvement. But what happens the other 364 days of the year?

Coaching is a different approach to developing employees' potential. With coaching, you provide your staff the opportunity to grow and achieve optimal performance through consistent feedback, counseling and mentoring. Rather than relying solely on a review schedule, you can support employees along the path to meeting their goals. Done in the right way, coaching is perceived as a roadmap for success and a benefit. Done incorrectly and employees may feel berated, unappreciated, even punished.

These seven steps, when followed, can help create a positive environment for providing feedback.

Step 1: Build a Relationship of Mutual Trust
The foundation of any coaching relationship is rooted in the manager's day-to-day relationship with the employee. Without some degree of trust, conducting an effective coaching meeting is impossible.

Step 2: Open the Meeting
In opening a coaching meeting, it's important for the manager to clarify, in a nonevaluative, nonaccusatory way, the specific reason the meeting was arranged. The key to this step is to restate -- in a friendly, nonjudgmental manner -- the meeting purpose that was first set when the appointment was scheduled.

Step 3: Get Agreement
Probably the most critical step in the coaching meeting process is getting the employee to agree verbally that a performance issue exists. Overlooking or avoiding the performance issue because you assume the employee understands its significance is a typical mistake of managers. To persuade an employee a performance issue exists, a manager must be able to define the nature of the issue and get the employee to recognize the consequences of not changing his or her behavior. To do this, you must specify the behavior and clarify the consequences.

The skill of specifying the behavior consists of three parts.

  • Cite specific examples of the performance issue.
  • Clarify your performance expectations in the situation.
  • Asks the employee for agreement on the issue.
The skill of clarifying consequences has two parts.

  • Probe to get the employee to articulate his or her understanding of the consequences associated with the performance issue.
  • Ask the employee for agreement on the issue.
Step 4: Explore Alternatives
Next, explore ways the issue can be improved or corrected by encouraging the employee to identify alternative solutions. Avoid jumping in with your own alternatives, unless the employee is unable to think of any. Push for specific alternatives and not generalizations. Your goal in this step is not to choose an alternative, which is the next step, but to maximize the number of choices for the employee to consider and to discuss their advantages and disadvantages.

This requires the skill of reacting and expanding. You should acknowledge the employee's suggestion, discuss the benefits and drawbacks of the suggestion, ask for and offer additional suggestions, and ask the employee to explain how to resolve the issue under discussion.

Step 5: Get a Commitment to Act
The next step is to help the employee choose an alternative. Don't make the choice for the employee. To accomplish this step, the manager must be sure to get a verbal commitment from the employee regarding what action will be taken and when it will be taken. Be sure to support the employee's choice and offer praise.

Step 6: Handle Excuses
Employee excuses may occur at any point during the coaching meeting. To handle excuses, rephrase the point by taking a comment or statement that was perceived by the employee to be blaming or accusatory and recast it as an encouragement for the employee to examine his or her behavior. Respond empathically to show support for the employee's situation and communicate an understanding of both the content and feeling of the employee's comment.

Step 7: Provide Feedback
Effective coaches understand the value and importance of giving continual performance feedback to their people, both positive and corrective.

There are a few critical things to remember when giving feedback to others. Feedback should:

Be timely. It should occur as soon as practical after the interaction, completion of the deliverable, or observation is made.
Be specific. Statements like "You did a great job" or "You didn't take care of the clients' concerns very well" are too vague and don't give enough insight into the behavior you would like to see repeated or changed.
Focus on the "what," not the "why." Avoid making the feedback seem as if it is a judgment. Begin with "I have observed..." or "I have seen..." and then refer to the behavior. Focus on behavior and not the person. Describe what you heard and saw and how those behaviors impact the team, client, etc.
Use a sincere tone of voice. Avoid a tone that exhibits anger, frustration, disappointment or sarcasm.
Positive feedback strengthens performance. People will naturally go the extra mile when they feel recognized and appreciated. When corrective feedback is handled poorly, it will be a significant source of friction and conflict. When it is handled well, people will experience the positive effects and performance is strengthened.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Three Tips for Making Trade-offs

Every important decision inevitably involves a trade-off. Knowing what you can't pursue is as valuable as articulating what you will. But how do you know which trade-offs are acceptable and which are losing propositions? Here are three ways to help make the distinction:

  • Get input on pros and cons. List advantages and disadvantages and ask others for their perspective on which carries the heaviest weight.
  • Balance short term with long term. Determine what you'd be willing to give up in the long run for some important short-term gain — and vice versa.
  • Gauge support. While weighing alternatives, think about who will support a particular idea and who will oppose it. Ask whose support you can live without, and whose backing and buy-in you absolutely need.

Startup Mentor is a place for all the Startups to find their virtual mentors. The forum is dedicated to giving ideas to the aspiring entrepreneurs and the first generation entrepreneurs. If you fee that you can contribute to the community of entrepreneurs by providing your articles, opinions, analysis and case studies, please send an email to