Why wait?

I just completed browsing an interesting entry over at On Startups: Wimps Wait which is suggesting that releasing a product is more important than waiting. I believe, as in many things, there is a balance in the middle. Here is the takeaway I suggest from the blog.

  1. Your product will never be to the point of you being comfortable at releasing it. You need to realize the point of diminishing returns on further tweaking it;
  2. Revolutionaries release, wimps wait — be the first to market!
  3. It is better to have customers with a half-way product that they accept, then a perfect product that hasn’t been released (i.e. zero customers);
  4. You will be more reluctant about the times you didn’t release;
  5. At the end of the day, “just ship it” — do your best and then let it go;
  6. Take a look back and realize just how many times you thought you did work out all the bugs, all the time spent, and at the end of the day, customers will were unhappy or found bugs — will waiting on your release for two more months really make a difference;
  7. To succeed, you must release — product in development doesn’t bring in revenue;

At the end of the day, be it product or service, you need to understand when you have done your best, and that more time will not significantly improve your product/service, and you just need to let it go into the marketplace and see how well it does. Be ready to adapt and change as necessary. Fix bugs, rework contracts, etc. But a few grumpy clients are better than none when you’re starting out.

Unsolicited Resumes

A business associate of mine was describing a new leveraging of the Linked In technology. The concept is simple, use Linked-In to discover the name of key people: recruiter, directors, principles, etc., for the company you’d like to work for and directly submit your resume to them via e-mail or postal mail. The rationale behind this is that often when submitting your resume through the proper channels on the corporate website, or via Monster/Dice/etc your resume may be automatically filtered out because of some negative keyword. However, by directly submitting a resume, it will increase the likelihood of it being read by a human and therefore you have a higher chance of being contacted.

However, on the other end of the spectrum, I cannot count the number of times I’ve received a unsolicited resume, for a position we don’t have or have then need for. It frequently makes me wonder how much they really want to work for my company, instead of just “some” company.

I guess the reason for the offense is my perspective of the hiring process:

1) You should be looking for a job position which specifically matches your skill set;

2) You should be looking for a company which matches your work culture/ethic;

3) You should want to work specifically for our company for a specific reason. If it came down simply to businesses (title, pay, etc., all the same) I want you to have a reason to want us.

Sending out an unsolicited resume says that you’re willing to take anything from anyone – that it really simply comes down to price. But the reality is most people leave their jobs for reasons other than money. Sure, we all would like to get paid more. But frequently there are other underlying problems. If pay is what will make you choose me, then you might simply leave when it suits you.

What are your thoughts? How have you received resumes lately?

Investing in the future

I was discussing with a friend over lunch about the concept of micro-loans and peer-to-peer lending. They have had an amazing rate of success recently, and I believe those programs will only increase in 2009, especially as banks continue to tighten down on who they’re lending to.

This brought about an idea: would you contribute $100 towards the success of another entrepreneur? A network of individuals who understand the power of collaborative efforts, investing in the future, and the benefits of new start-ups. Say, we were to pull together 5 sponsors per business and then distribute those funds to pre-qualified businesses. What our primary checkpoints would revolve around business concept solvency and a non-negative business/criminal record. Personal credit score may not apply.

Take a moment and let us know what you think about this!

The counter offer

A growing trend is the concept of a Counter Offer – those being a special offer provided to an employee, which tendered their resignation to the company, in an attempt to avoid loosing them. The reasons appear straight forward – you know you have a good employee who knows the company and ‘system’ and it is a lot of work to interview and train a new employee. However, here are a few good reasons not to offer a “counter offer”

  1. There is likely a reason they are leaving the company, if they believe they are entitled to more pay, then why was it you didn’t provide a raise sooner?
  2. Think on how this affect morale of the fellow employees? (He is just staying for the money.)
  3. 80% of employees which accept a counter still end up leaving after 1 year.
  4. Money is never the solution to problems, so there are underlying issues which may or may not be addressable.
  5. How do you think their choice to leave the company will affect you view of them, both today and during the next performance or annual review?
  6. If you had to lay someone off, how much more likely will it be this person?

So what have you really kept or bought? Perhaps a bit more time, which may be worth it – to find a replacement. But otherwise, there is little value in thinking you can keep them around for a long time.

Interview Errors

We’ve been performing a slew of interviews lately for technical positions, and have encountered at least half of all candidates who are not prepared for the interview and make errors which tend to stick out more than their selling points. After reviewing an article on Monster.com (of whom we review resumes through) we noticed they had a list of 10 tech interview errors, which are the same problems we’re having. As either an interviewer or interviewee, keep an eye out for them:

  1. Appearance: Relaxed as today’s silicon valley companies are, many people are still remembering to dress up for the interview, put on a suit and tie, but they don’t notice the details. Such as, the have unpressed shirts (perhaps thrown in the dryer before the interview) or worse yet, wrinkled! Your shoes should fit the rest of the outfit – yes, we’ve seen sneakers attached to people in suits!
  2. Arrogance: We’ve interviewing you because of your resume, you’ve already bragged – now I need to know how well you can work with the existing team and company culture – if it’s “all about you” then you can be “all you” somewhere else.
  3. Overemphasizing Skills: Again, we’ve seen your resume that you’ve been honest with – but how have you applied your knowledge – what wisdom have you gained. Any certification or textbook means little without real world experience to apply that knowledge. Yes, we want MCSE and CCNP, but what can you really do with it?
  4. Not Communicating: Interview questions are rarely “close ended” – so a simple yes or no will not do. If we ask if you know a skill set, expand upon it with application, experience or a scenario.
  5. Unprepared: You should be selecting us as much as we’re selecting you – if you don’t care who you work for, then we won’t care to hire you. Visit our website, understand our industry, or competitors and products – and most of all, know why you want to work for us, specifically.
  6. Lack of Interest: Again, interviews are a two way conversation and process. You should be looking for a match as well, not just enduring the interview process. Be excited about each 2nd, 3rd, 4th interview. Express to me that you’re longing for the group interview, company tour, or ask probing questions. When we’re asking you questions, don’t look for the quickest route out of the scenario – ask questions back.
  7. Too Eager for Perks: Only at the end, when you know you’ve landed the job with us, should you begin asking about perks. If you’re not a fit for us, or worse yet, if we’re not a fit for you, does it really matter if we’re going to pay relocation expenses, 401(k) matches, etc? If you’re interviewing and you already have a job, you know that perks have little to do with sticking at a company – they’re simply icing on a good cake. If you like the company, then perks are great. Save these towards the end.
  8. Too Casual: Let the interviewer set the tone, and then, always step it up just a small notch. Sit upright in your chair, until they relax. If they don’t, then avoid slouching, etc. We want to see you on the edge of your seat!
  9. Too Negative: The negative person can be a black hole for any company – if you come across as negative, we cannot afford to hire you. Don’t talk about negative stuff going on with your family or current position. I want to know how you positively dealt with disagreement in the workplace, not how your coworker is a jerk.
  10. Failure to Close: Don’t let an interview die, it should close with a bang – just like the finale for fireworks or a musical theater number – something for you to remembered for. Also, end it with finality, instead of a best-man’s wedding toast that seems to never, ever end. Ask what the next steps are, express excitement about the next interview, receiving an offer letter or simply working for the company! Be brief, but let me know that you’re interested, and then get out, don’t linger around like a stray cat.

Finally, a few other things we’ve noticed:

  1. Bring your credentials – if you’re certified, be sure you have your cards, certificate, etc.
  2. Respect time – understand the time-window for the interview, do your part to keep within the time-frame – if it’s an hour (which you should always expect unless informed otherwise), and you’re coming to the end of an hour, be ready to close (#10 above) at any moment.

Good luck.

Changing Services

A great quote from Giorgio Armani over at Young Entrepreneur:

Remain true to yourself and your philosophy. Changing in the face of adversity will in fact diminish your credibility with your customers.

When I think about that, I remember the numerious entrepreneurs that I’ve known, many who start off in network marketing, MLM type businsesses. They go at it for a while and then when adversity faces them — such as three months past due and staring down the eviction path, they jump ship.

Now I’m not advocating that you stick with a sinking ship. But at the same time, people jump from product-to-product, venture-to-venture, so quickly and frequently that they loose credibility with their business partners. I can think of a networking group I belonged to a while back, and this wonderful lady changed her profession three times within a period of one year. Do you think I have any faith in her ability as a business person. Would I send clients her way? How would I or anyone be certain that she would be around to continue to service my company?

Now, through my businesses, we have continued to work on the cutting edge of professional services, yet always staying within our core compentancy, as well as continuing to strongly serve our existing clients – and never dropping a service — rather we keep expanding and plus-ing our service; again, all within the very narrow relam of our core compentancy.

Documentation – Legal

Here is a quick tip — when it comes down to the matter, the person with the more documentation, paperwork, records, etc., will win. Second to that is communication – the person who communicates the most, via e-mail, letter, phone, will win. Whatever you are dealing with, from customers, clients, employees, or the government — in any legal (or potential legal) matter, the one who can substantiate their side with documentation will prevail. It really doesn’t matter who is right or wrong, it is who can prove their case better with solid documentation.

Do you have a corporation? Then you do have all of your corporate minutes, annual shareholders and directors meetings? Written consent agreements for all director level actions?

How about employees? Are you documentation disciplinary action, raises, verbal notices? How about proper timekeeping records?

And what about your clients/vendors? You always have a written contract, documented project descriptions, project scopes, payment terms?

Keep that printer and scanner busy — wear them out with the amount of paperwork and documenting you perform.

Virtual Office Space

During the beginning startup phase of a business, it is essential to manage startup costs. Many entrepreneurs want to go with the corporate image, complete with the business cards, and fansy business furniture. This is based on two important things: (1) the corporate image is important to may industries; (2) the owners pride.

The first point is very valid, there is a need to present a professional image to receive the confidence from prospective customers. The second point is important to note simply from a self-realization standpoint. You need to understand that some decisions are less about rationality, and more about personal feelings.

One area which has seen a significant boon is the virtual office space. This enables your small business to have a physical presence, even though you really don’t need to be in a real office space. This fits for business where you work out of your home, or perhaps out of your car. Take the mobile bookkeeper, or event mobile carpet cleaning service. How about an application developer or consultant who works from their home office. Yet, some of the benefits of a real office space come in handy, such as the professional receptionist to answer and forward your calls, available office or conference room space, package delivery and even hourly administrative assistants to help you.

These services are becoming more popular and their rates have remained very affordable. From around $99 to $300 you can have these services to provide your company an excellent, professional image – and also removes your home address from many business forms and paperwork.

I highly recommend you look into a virtual office space for your next startup.

Are you the sales manager too?

A great post over at Young Entrepreneur discusses that fact that in most small businesses the owner is the key sales person at the company. And while most of us are more interested in the product that we’ve developed, or the service we provide – we are the de-facto sales person. And as the business grows it is very easy to become overwhelmed with the business end of the company and neglect sales. However a continued focus on sales in the key to sustainable growth — or even to stave off attrition.

Evan Carmichael, quoting Sales guru Jeffrey Gitomer, outlined 7 reasons why the principle is the best sales person. It is worth looking at. And yet we still try to expand out business by hiring a sales person to hand this duty off to. We have and have failed twice at it! The key to this is what Jeffrey calls his 7.5th point — even with a sales person, the principle still needs to champion and lead-by-example the sales portion of the business. In a entrepreneurship video I watched a few years ago, it showed an interview with the founder of Netscape, back when they were a viable company — and people actually purchased Internet browsing software. In there, the principle spoke about how he monitored and personally trained his first sales person. And that he took an interactive and proactive approach to training and leading his first sales person – a process he repeated until he had a very size-able sales team.

So, how have you handled selling your company lately?

Building a moat

I just completed reading I like big moats and I cannot lie over at Fool.comand was really impressed with the idea. This is a concept I have understood and practices without every putting a term to it. I have been a part of networking groups which discuss this concept, and barely scratch the surface. In this article Rich Greifner quotes Warren Buffet regarding a term Buffet himself coined: the economic moat.

In other words, what distinguishes you from your competition. What sets you apart? If you cannot describe why you’re business, product, idea, etc., is different from the next hot-shot product, idea, business, service – then you’re just another face. What makes businesses successful is that they can provide something significantly different. Not just another marketing hype of better, faster, cheaper – or perhaps smaller, intimate, personal attention. Those are nothing new. I have a great deal of friends who have their own bookkeeping business. They do a great job at distinguishing themselves apart from larger firms, yet they really have nothing compelling between other small 1 or 2 person firms. They play the, small, agile, personal, flexible card — typically of small start-ups. Yet they really bring nothing new to the table. If they have good references, resume and experience, then I would choose on price alone — and that is a very bad place to be. Small businesses cannot afford to be in the commodity business.

Back to Buffet, he says that when he is evaluating a business to invest in, the key is a large sustainable moat. They key is sustainable. Is what sets you appart something that will fade? Can it be trumpped by a competitor? What are you doing about it? I may be selling a high rise appartment complex and if my speil is that it is the highet, with 360 degree views around Silicon Valley. That is a nice selling point, however it is not sustainable. It will eventually be trumped by a larger building or something that obstructs the view.

As you evaluate your small business – there needs to be something unique about your business that sets you appart from both your competitors, and your peers — as well as a sustainable plan to ensure that remains the case. A drug company can release the next miracle drug and then be off-the-market when the generic form is released, or you can be the next Merck which is constantly investing more in R&D and has one of the largest portfolios of patents. That would show sustainability in innovations.

What is your sustainable moat?

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