Category Archives: Leadership

Just a couple of weeks ago I bought Seth Godin’s latest book “Poke The Box” for my Kindle.  It’s a really short book and took just an hour or two to get through but it was a great motivator.  Definitely the kind of book that I could read once or twice a year as a reminder to keep on getting stuff started.

The main premise of the book is that to be successful as an entrepreneur, or in any job really, is to continually just do stuff.  Get things started, put ideas out there and take the risks of failure head on.

I think though the big take away for me was the reframing of the word “start”.  The way Seth Godin puts it you haven’t really started anything until you have made it available in the market place for sale.  Until what you have built is available for people to buy what you have is just a hobby.

Once you do have something available in the marketplace is really when you can start with everything that really matters in business.  You can start testing things:

  • offers
  • price points
  • copywriting

Until you have started selling what you have, you really haven’t started anything.

The other big idea that Seth talks about in the book is the nature of most big business to become a factory like machine with little freedom to find better ways to do things, or to find and develop new areas for the business to be in.  Many businesses out there keep their employees restricted to doing their job and nothing more than what is asked of them.  Anything that may shake things up is discouraged.  Businesses that follow this pattern are doomed to be second-tier to the ones that are continually taking risks and developing fresh ideas.

Anyway it was a great read and I recommend checking it out on amazon.com.

Poke the Box By Seth Godin (amazon aff. link)

Within the last week I have nailed down the final set of features and bug fixes for Automatic Blog Machine. It’s now in a stage where the development is finished and I can start focusing on the sales and marketing push and finally release it out to people like you who may be interested in using it.

There are a few different phases to go through in the creation of a business like this. Through my past failed experiences at entrepreneurship I have found that there’s a number of steps that require different skills which can create problems for a one man show like mine.

To be successful you need (at a minimum):

  1. idea generation
  2. development and testing of the idea into an actual product or service
  3. financial and legal organization
  4. sales and marketing ideas and execution
  5. customer support

The vast majority of people don’t have interest in doing all of these wildly different tasks.  They all require different skill sets and different motivations.   All of these steps can be broken down further revealing more mundane day to day details which can bog down even the most determined entrepreneur.

The job of the entrepreneur is to learn which of these pieces they have the desire and motivation to see through themselves and which are better handled by paying someone else to do it for them.  Unfortunately sometimes the way to learn these things is to try and fail.

I have on several occasions tried to get a business idea off the ground.  As the idea generator and the software developer I usually find myself stalling at the software testing phase.  It’s so boring.  Going though a product writing test code and manually checking interfaces takes time and effort which is often the downfall of the entire enterprise.

Your mileage may vary, but for this latest project I was able to get through the testing phase with the extra external motivation I received by attending a conference and meeting people that were actually interested in buying the final product.  That gave me the confidence to get though it.

For the financial and business organization stuff I decided to hire an accountant.  This may have been more beneficial than I expected.  Besides having someone else deal with the paperwork and keeping me from having to dig though reams of material to figure out what the best business structure to use, how to allocate shares and file and register everything with the government.  There were a number of side benefits to having someone else do the work:

  1. Makes it feel more legitimate – I have registered businesses myself, but when you do that it somehow feels less real.  You just hand in a few forms pay the fees and declare yourself President.  Having an accountant witness you declare yourself President somehow feels less like a scam.
  2. Provides external motivation – I told the accountant what I expect to be making and when I expect to launch.  I know he’ll see the numbers when tax time rolls around so there’s pressure to actually see it through and start generating some revenue.  Going back to the accountant with $0 in revenue to declare would be a huge embarrassment.
  3. If I had to figure out how to do everything it would have taken months of dragging my feet figuring out what forms go to whom and in what order.  The accountant got through everything in about 3 days.
  4. I now have an expert on my team to ask questions about how best to organize things.  He can quickly tell me how to organize my finances, and when is a good time to register holding companies, trusts, and how to issue additional shares.

Dealing now with the mental switch going into sales and marketing is tough.  The technical aspects of software development suits my personality but switching then to the creative aspects of creating a marketing plan, recording videos, and being persuasive requires a completely different set of skills.

Not many of the projects I have started made it to this stage.  Most die off much earlier.  But the few things that I have successfully managed to get a marketing plan for and get the product available for sale has taught me a few lessons.

Getting something for sale is THE major turning point.  I have met quite a few people trying to make money online and very few of them actually get to the point where they have something for sale.  The few that do have something for sale are in a much better position – they can test different marketing strategies, split test offers, find and partner with others and run customer surveys.  Once you have something for sale there’s lots you can do to grow the business.

For any business you simply can’t make money if you have nothing to sell.  Selling other peoples things can be done profitably but in my experience it’s difficult to compete against the army of people trying to do the same thing.

Finally, customer support will land on you whether or not you are prepared for it once you have sold something.  There are two methods for customer support.  The classical approach is to have people answer customer questions and concerns either through a call center or some other  support center.  The Google approach is to move most of the support to the community through the use of wiki’s and forums – customers can help themselves and help other customers directly.

These five categories of skills are the major distinct skills required in a small online business.  I’m sure that as I continue to learn and hit new stages of business growth new lessons will be learned and skills acquired.

With any software product there is a massive wishlist of features to implement and things to develop. It is a never ending process of thinking of ideas, evaluating them, and perhaps adding them into your software.

Nowhere is this more apparent, and more of a problem than in the first release.

I have been experiencing this lately.

You get near the end of the list of things needed to do, and somehow new things always get added and they seem crucial for the product. The release date slips and you go even longer without customers and revenue.

One of the great development philosophies in software development is “Release early. Release often. And listen to your customers.” It was popularized by Eric S. Raymond and was originally applied to Linux kernel development. It has since become more and more popular in many more projects including essentially everything that is developed at Google.

One of the most influential business books I have read recently Ready, Fire, Aim: Zero to 100 Million in No Time Flat(aff) shares an idea that meshes very well with the release early, release often development process.

From a business perspective the most important thing a new business has to do is get customers. In the processes of finding your first customers you learn the most valuable thing you need to succeed. Which is how to sell your product. The sales process can take years to really figure out – everything from identifying who the customers are, what language they use, where you can find them, and what their pain points typically are. It’s fair to say that many of your assumptions will be wrong in this area.

Under the assumption that you don’t really know what your customers want – releasing early is even more critical. Getting something out into the marketplace which can later be improved with feedback received in the sales process or from your first customers can give you a first mover advantage and reduce the missteps taken on developing features you thought would be important, but which are rarely used.

So as an entrepreneur and software developer how can you balance these concerns and draw a line to determine what are the minimum set of core features required for an initial release?

Here are some of my tips:

  1. Identifiy the core problem that you are trying to solve, make it something concrete and simple
  2. For every feature idea ask yourself “Can I say I have solution to the core problem without this feature”
  3. For everything that’s not truly required, defer it to a later phase of the project
  4. Keep in mind that it’s much easier to add new features than to modify poorly implemented ones (this is why many first movers in a market lose out to copycats)
  5. Start the sales process and marketing push before the product is actually ready

Following this framework should whittle the list of features down to something manageable and keep the pressure on to get it out.

Good luck.

I was unable to find the source of this research study that was apparently done for the Harvard Business Review, but nonetheless I believe it to be true.  The study was looking to find the most important factor in determining a person’s or business’s success and found that above all else – leadership, vision, organization, systems – the key was what they called ‘speed of implementation

Speed of implementation refers to the time between hearing of an idea and the execution of that idea.  The most successful companies are the ones that can hear an idea like a new marketing method, or a product feature and can have that implemented and out quicker than competitors.

There are very few people that I have met with this personality trait.  People that just get things done – quickly.  The vast majority of people go home after work and veg on the couch.  However that gives you an edge.  By developing this one trait, you’ll be vastly more successful than most people.

The question then is how do you become someone that has a fast speed of implementation?

I think there are 3 key aspects to develop your speed of implementation.

  1. removing distractions – turning off or moving the TV, turning off instant messages, emails etc when you’re at the computer.  Give yourself the time to focus and really get deep into just one thing at a time when you need to work.
  2. finding the best tools – Good tools make doing something easier and faster.  If there’s a tool out there that can automate your work, get it.  if there’s something that makes it easier and faster get it.
  3. Have people that can do things for you – When someone tells you a great tax tip and you don’t have an accountant to call to use it then it is worthless.  If you are away from work and hear a great new product idea, or marketing strategy having someone to call immediately to start work on it can be the difference between massive success and the status quo.

There you go, three quick tips to make you think.  Of course if you’re the type of person with a speed of implementation near zero you’ll never do any of these things.

I was just introduced to the concept of Inevitability Thinking and I felt so excited that I just had to write a post about it.  inevitability thinking is a real game changer and perhaps the most important thing that I have ever come across to guarantee success.

You are probably familiar with the concept of goal setting.  Goal setting has been recognized as a key part of achieving the success you want in life.  It basically involves thinking about where you see yourself in the future.  It’s a powerful and important aspect of developing your plan for success because without a destination you’re really just meandering through life.

Earl Nightingale recorded the very first gold spoken word record.  This record was really the beginning of the modern self-help market and in it he impressed the importance of proper goal setting.

An evolution to that idea was made by Robert Biel who found that a majority of people prefer to think in terms of problem solving.  Make a list of the things standing in the way of you reaching your goal and then systematically solve the problems that are in the way of reaching that ultimate goal.

Inevitability thinking operates at the root of both of these.  The real problem that most people have it is the follow through.  All the best intentions in the world won’t ensure that you actually get it done.  You have to ask yourself these two questions:

  1. What condition would force me to make a necessary part of my goal?
  2. What can I do to get that condition in place as soon as possible?

If you’ve taken the time to really establish your long and short term goals and developed those goals fully to understand what your life will be like when you have reached them, and then enumerated all the necessary things that will have to happen. Then the final step is to make sure that they do happen.

For example, imagine you’ve set a personal to get fit and run a marathon.  Then you would have to visualize what specifically you would have to do to reach that goal. How much exercise would you need to do every day, when and where would you do it?  If you’ve developed a plan and know what you can do today to take a step towards your goal then you need to create a condition that would force it to happen.  This might be to find someone to be accountable to for your workouts, higher a coach, form a mastermind group to talk with regularly or put something in the way.  Anything you can do to make avoiding the things you have to do impossible.

It’s perhaps the most important question that somehow was never impressed upon me until now.

What do you think?

I’ve hit on perhaps the most important aspect of success in life and business.  In order to really accomplish your goals you need two things:

  1. To know what to do.
  2. To get stuff done.

Getting started in business requires a change in your daily routines. Changing from the mentality of working for someone else to working for yourself is not as simple as it seems. That change is a big part of what many people get hung up on.

The book “Change or Die” really introduced me to the complexities involved with truly changing your behaviors and mindset. It involves more than just deciding that you want to take on something new. Think about how many people make New Years Resolutions and then never follow through. All the best intentions in the world is not enough to stick with a change. Even the threat of death isn’t enough to get people to make permanent change. The surprising thing is that no matter how much you think that you’re different, that you can change, the statistics tell a different story.

The other thing to note is the importance of good rituals. A ritual is a special type of habit that is designed with a logical purpose to accomplish a goal. Rituals free us from the decision making that we would otherwise have to make on a daily basis. Here’s the kicker. Psychology studies have shown that after taxing your mind with the stresses of decision making, your ability to complete intellectual problems is actually significantly reduced.

A good ritual allows you to get more done with less thinking.

So the real crux of the problem is: how do you make a new ritual stick?

Here are some tips:

  1. Be as specific as possible in what your ritual entails (how it will be done)
  2. Include transition time to allow time to deal with getting ready or changing your mindset.
  3. Ask yourself when and where you’ll do the ritual. (be very specific)
  4. Don’t take on too much at a time.  One new ritual per month is more than enough.
  5. Be prepared for the mental resistance you’ll get for the first 2-3 weeks.
  6. If you’re having a particularly hard time it could be that by adding the new ritual you’ve had to remove something that was a valuable part of your life.
  7. The support of friends and family is very important.  Someone that will really hold you to your commitments can be a real help.
  8. Visualize, and mentally rehearse everything you can.  Doing something mentally is sometimes better than actually doing it.
  9. Create smaller rituals that help you center yourself. Something as simple as closing your eyes and breathing could trigger you to disconnect from stress and focus on what’s important.
  10. Ensure that there is flow and reduce the chances that you have any reason to think during your ritual.  Leaving things in the right places so that you don’t have to go looking for them for example.  When you have to start thinking you’ll be more likely to get sidetracked.

In the last few months I have started changing my rituals and have noticed HUGE improvements in the amount of stuff I get done.  Hopefully these tips will help you create your own rituals.

At just $10 this book this book is perhaps one of the best investments you can make.  Tony Schwartz’s The Power of Full Engagement is a brilliant piece of work.

The ability to focus could be one of the most important determinants of success. Something that I’ve come to learn in recent weeks is that it’s possible to get amazing things done when you take time to remove distractions and focus on a single goal.

There is a huge problem these days with people trying to get too much done. We pile lots of work up and then try to tackle it all at the same time. It leaves us feeling stressed. But it also doesn’t allow us to get the momentum we need on any specific task to really succeed.

There are two aspects of focus to keep in mind. Quantity and Quality. Quantity is the amount of continuous focus you put into something. It takes practice to learn how to be good at focusing on a single thing for an extended period of time. It’s worth practicing to build your endurance. The quality of your focus is about what you choose to focus on. If you focus on the things that give you the most leverage in you business you’ll get the most progress done.

How do you know what to focus on? It should be things that will lead you towards your long term goals.

If there’s a secret it is to use a countdown timer. Set it for 50 minutes, turn off everything that could interrupt you and don’t do anything other than the one thing you need to get done until the alarm goes off.

If you want to learn more about how to really put your productivity on afterburners check out this amazing book, The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker

Many people struggle with remembering peoples names. I’ve always found it difficult to do, in fact until recently I’ve avoided using peoples names in conversation, and avoided conversations with people that I wasn’t sure of their name. Fortunately it’s a situation that can be mended.

Have you ever run into someone that you met briefly a month before, and they call you by your name? How does it make you feel? Important. You can give that feeling to others simply by remembering their names. Continue reading