Best in Class

focus-22One of the things that I’ve previously discussed is the importance of focused direction. It is paramount, from the standpoint of what your business is doing, but also tremendously important to the clients that you are pursuing. Once your focus is defined, one must recognize the need for specialization. The more laser-like effect that you have when you are providing a service or product to someone, the greater the chance for success. This recognition comes only from vast experience in the business world.

Your specialization will naturally occur when you take yourself up a learning curve by digging into a focused area, and you start to really excel. As you practice this repetition, you’ll experience speed, enhanced knowledge, and super-high process flow. All of which will lead you to a better reputation and referrals as an expert in the industry you are working.

I had an interesting reminder of this when I read a LinkedIn article, shared by Verne Harish in his recent blog. The article, written by Tim Williams, was titled The Best-in-Class Approach to Brand Marketing. Tim starts by posing the question, “What is the top reason marketers search for a new advertising agency?” Even though “creative differences,” “cost,” or “poor service” were mentioned, it was “the best-in-class specialists” that was the number one reason sited.

Tim says that in today’s complex world, trying to take care of everything for everyone doesn’t meet realistic expectations. There are two ways to focus your expertise – either in a certain competency or through expertise in a market. So what it boils down to, is that markets aren’t buying a service, they are buying a solution. A solution that will solve their pains, or as we discussed in last week’s blog, do the job the client is trying to get done.

When Efficience was more of a custom software company, we built different types of software applications for people in different industries. This was hard since our team had a stiff learning curve with each new company, its systems and its industry – definitely not the right way to have success. As we began to focus on mobile apps, we found ourselves on a much better path. Now, we are building apps that integrate into an ERP system for a company called Infor. We are also honing in on companies within the cleaning distribution business that use Infor. This is helping to provide the opportunity to scale, and allowing them to tell a story within a target audience that is likely to share it. And in the process, Efficience is growing.

What are you focusing on and specializing in that helps you to have the best-in-class status for your respective products or services?

bounceit!™ Update: This past week, an article on mobile apps was put out by the Knoxville News Sentinel and also picked up by Bloomberg.  Check out the live news story aired on WLTV. Also, we pushed to the app store a new release with a few important changes to share and use, along with some design changes. Check it out! Gary Hardin, CEO of bounceit! ™, has had many meetings with investors and good-sized chunks of money have started coming in to support changes and marketing. Gary and Rick Metzelder will be at Everywhere Else, in Cincinnati, to showcase the app. We are excited bounceit!™ is the official voting mechanism used for the conference.

What Is Your Job to be Done?

light-bulb-idea-think-brain-stormWhen trying to find opportunities to grow during times you may have hit a lull, or even when you are starting a new company, there is a process that can help get you there. That is what I found when I started to read the book Seizing the White Space: Business Model Innovation for Transformative Growth and Renewal, by Mark Johnson. Mark will be speaking at the next Fortune Growth Summit in Las Vegas. I was intrigued by him since he is partners with Clayton Christensen, who wrote The Investors Dilemma and shared a lot of break-through thinking in this book.

I assume that most think like I do, and we think that the cool idea happens when some light bulb goes off and then somebody is off to the races, trying something and seeing if it works. Mark says that you actually can get this innovation with a process that starts with asking, “What is the job to be done?”  Other times, it may be when you do customer research and the clients tell you what they want from you. Doing it this way, Mark says, has shown that you are being held back from pursuing the game-changing, transformative, new growth opportunities.

To ask the question of what job needs to be done, it takes looking at things differently from the natural way that we see from the inside-thinking of our products and company. When you think of it as unmet jobs, you are looking for the things you are not doing now, but things potential customers want done. When we go about this by asking our clients what they need from our products, they usually put out answers like “less expensive,” “easier to use,” “less invasive,” and “more features.” When you think of it in this perspective and also look at it from a typical segment of target markets, it doesn’t usually align with jobs customers might want us to do. Marks says, to be truly more customer-centric, you must stop asking “what do you need?” and start asking “what are you trying to get done?”

He uses a very cool example of this when a company was trying to improve the sales of its milkshake. They initially tried to define the market in terms of the product and then its demographic segments. When they asked the target person what they wanted, they got more of the inside-out answers by supplying categories like thicker, more chocolaty, cheaper or chunkier. They made changes, and then they didn’t get any increase in sales, so they brought in a researcher who watched to determine what the target person was trying to get done when they “hired” a milkshake.

The researcher noted things like, who was with them when they were buying, what time they were there, did they eat there or when they left, and on and on. From the perspective of looking at the job to be done, they determined that buyers hired a milkshake for two different reasons. The buyer was the same for both, a working father. The difference was that in the morning, dad didn’t have time to eat breakfast so he grabs a shake for the daily commute. In the latter part of the day, the dad brings the kids in for an afternoon treat or after meal milkshake. The job to be done is to fill working dad up in the morning, so the shake needed to be thicker, maybe with chunks of fruit. In the evening, dad with kids wanted them to hurry up, so a not-so-thick, fruit-free shake was better.

This information could not be obtained by asking the customers what they wanted. To do this, the mind-set had to be one of paying close attention to the jobs that customers are having a tough time fulfilling. So when you look around your product or service offering, what are the jobs not being done that your customers need done?

bounceit!™ update: Over the past few weeks, we have been working on some improvements for bounceit!™ that will include a new look and improvements with some of the features. This will be in the Apple store next week. We have also been doing some venture capital presentations and looking to get some money from some angle investors. We have some good press going, as well. Gary Hardin was interviewed on a local TV show in the live segment and an article was out Sunday in the Knoxville News Sentinel. I will have links for you on both of them next week.

Bitter Sweet for Brock Candy

greg and frank brockA few weeks back, I wrote a blog on the experience I had going to the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, TN, with my EO Forum. Along the way of doing the tour, my forum mate, BJ Miller, met a gentlemen by the name of Frank Brock. Frank happens to be of the Brock Candy Family of Chattanooga, which was founded in 1909.  He was friendly to chat with, and when we told him we were an entrepreneur group and asked to spend a few minutes with him, he was very gracious to do so.

Let’s first share a little about the Brock Candy Company. Its founder was William Brock Sr. who, after traveling a lot, settled in Chattanooga. He invested, with some associates, in the Trigg Candy Company, but bought them out in 1909, and named the company after himself. He focused on making penny candies, and sold to his relationships he made as a traveling salesman to his former clients in small country stores.

The company had an interesting history, and went through quite a few challenges over the years that were turning points of the company. Frank pointed out three of them to us, and described how they went through them.

The first challenge was during World War I, a time in which sugar rationing occurred. This hampered the business to get enough sugar to make the amount of candy they needed to keep the business running. To substitute for some of the quantity of the sugar, Brock Candy put peanuts in a candy bar and added a light coating of chocolate. This five cent bar soon became a big seller, and is what is known today as the Baby Ruth bar.

Then, after they were hit hard in the Great Depression, Brock Candy needed capital to continue running its operations. At that time, it wasn’t like it is now with so much bureaucracy, regulations and paperwork. Thing were done at that time based on relationships, and with the great relationships that Brock Sr. had, he was able to get the money he needed to keep is business going with a hand shake.

The last challenge was trying to compete as times were changing and the rise of supermarket chains began eliminating the independent rural stores. The company depended on this network of small outlets to sell its candy. Also, the bigger candy companies, like Hershey and Mars, had more of an “in” with the supermarkets, pushing the company to change to survive. They stopped with focus on the penny candies, and went to a more expensive candy. You know them today for Chocolate Covered Cherries, Old-Fashioned Crème Drops, and Gummy Bears, which was a much more profitable outlet for them, and proved popular in the market place.

Brock Candy went on to become a public company in 1993, and after only a year, was taken over by Chicago’s Brach to become a private company again. The new company was named Brach and Brock Confections, Inc., and was headquartered at the facility in Chattanooga. The merger put them just under the big boys, like M&M/Mars, Hershey and Nestle in the American candy business. Then in 2003, with $340 million in sales, they were bought by Barry Callebaut AG, a Zurich based company, to become the world’s leader in cocoa and chocolate products.

So I guess sometimes you just don’t know what lessons you will find in a friendly face. Thank you, Mr. Brock, for sharing your family history and some tough experiences of an entrepreneur to adapt and survive.

Hooray…I Failed!

happy businessWhat have you failed at lately? Do you brag about it to others? I don’t know about you, but I have tried a lot of things and I have failed at a lot of things. Most people think that it reflects badly on you to fail and then to share what you have failed at doing. I was that way when I was younger and was embarrassed and shy about discussing things that didn’t go so well. Now, I don’t feel that way, because I realize that these attempts have led to my successes.

How do you become successful if you don’t try? Ask anyone that has achieved success and they will tell you, it was not a straight line from where they started to whatever place they realized their relative success. They will tell you it was filled with a few big failures, or maybe a bunch of small ones, but whatever the case, there were failures along the way.

Let’s look at some of mine. I started a comic business when I was about 12, and invested in a bunch of comics that didn’t sell. Then my brother, Mark, and I bought some equipment ($15k) to take pictures and place the pictures on tee shirts, cups, calendars, and just about anything. That took a while to pay off. My partner in the financial planning business, Robert, and I started an investment newsletter that went for naught. Then, even with the success of our first mutual fund, I had the idea to start the iFund, which was the first fund run by the shareholders. That was about $500k down the drain.

My current partner, Rich, and I invested in the franchise 1-800-Got-Junk that couldn’t compete with an established brand in our local market. That was a lot of headaches and an expensive education. Then a few years back, there was the software application, called FlockGPS, that didn’t make it, which was a side project within our software company.  So as you can see, failure is a part of the process. And if you are not failing, in my opinion, you are not going anywhere.

This was supported in a video I saw posted on LinkedIn recently, reiterating my point. Sara Blakely, who is the founder of Spanx, talks about how her dad asked her at the dinner table, “What have you failed at today or this week?” He spoke like it was something to be proud of, and if you were not failing, you were not pushing hard enough. Sara pushed hard enough to become the youngest female billionaire in the world, doing it all on her own. Check out her CNN interview.

I remember listening to Jim Clayton of Clayton Homes, at one of our EO events. He sold his company to Berkshire Hathaway for something like a billion dollars when he said, you will not be truly successful, until you have had at least one bankruptcy. That was something that made me go hmmmm.

So….what have you done this past week, month or year to fail?

The Dark Secrets of Entrepreneurs

depress entre 2Not a lot is written about how hard being an entrepreneur can really be, so it was very nice to see an article about the deep struggles that those at the top, who running a business, can deal with at times. The article is called The Physiological Price of Entrepreneurship, and I thank my EO forum mate Vonda White for sharing.

I think we don’t see a lot of this because the entrepreneur is frequently glamorized. You don’t often hear about the struggles and the ones that don’t make it after the hard work, sacrifices and money have been invested. Where is the glamor in that story? It is very lonely in that position because you can’t really talk to anyone about your struggles. If you do, then employees, customers and service providers will run from you and everything will fall apart anyway.

It was interesting in the article how they shared the story of Bradley Smith, whose company’s sales are now at $32 million, has grown 1,400 percent in three years, and is now 310 on the INC 500 list. What happened before that is what makes it interesting. In 2008, Bradley was consulting with clients on their debt when his debt had skyrocketed and he would think listening to them, “I’ve got twice as much debt as you do.”

With the 401(k) cashed in, a $60,000 line of credit, his Rolex sold, and going to his dad to ask for money, Bradley was in a bad situation. He and his wife would drink a $5 bottle of wine for dinner and contemplate how close they were to the edge. Then, his wife got pregnant with their first, and Bradley would stare at the ceiling at 4 a.m., wondering when it would turn around.

Bradley did turn it around, but as you can see from various other stories in the article, some have gone to the extreme of committing suicide, with even more contemplating it as their only way out.

This is the struggle that those on the outside don’t see and those on the inside find it hard to discuss with others.  I find it somewhat insulting for those on the outside that vilify the successful entrepreneur and make it look like either they got there by being born to success, or because they are privileged in some way. In my experience, both scenarios are rare and most entrepreneurs work hard, sacrifice and push it to the edge to get the success they want. It is just that everyone around us only sees the material things and good life, and not all the gut-wrenching agony that we have gone through.

One of the powerful aspects about The Entrepreneur’s Organization and the Forum meetings that go with them, is that they are safe outlets for members to share and help each to get past these situations. Vonda said it well when she shared the article, “This is an important reminder why Forum is so important – so we can share the really deep, dark struggles of being an entrepreneur.

As an entrepreneur, how are you dealing with the loneliness and the struggles of running and leading a company?

An Inside Perspective

Volkswagen ChattanoogaSomething that is always a great experience, and chock-full of learning, is taking a tour of a business. If you have a fascination for business like I do, going into and getting a hands-on tour of a business, especially by the founders, is an amazing learning tool. We do this with the Entrepreneurs Organization EO at our conferences in the different cities that host us. We also do this in the local chapters, getting in to see businesses where our members may have connections, which allows us to get the quarter tour, instead of the nickel tour.

We have done this in Knoxville with the owners of Jewelry Television, with Michael Strickland, founder of Bandit Lights, and with Jim Clayton, of Clayton Homes. These all have been amazing experiences and I always come away with something that is profound with each one. Well, we did it again this past week when my EO Forum group went on our annual retreat in Chattanooga, TN, where we visited the Volkswagen Plant that was finished and went online there a few years back.

This tour was extra informative and exciting, even though we didn’t get the founder or owner perspective. All of us in the Forum were pretty much blown away at what they are doing there to be classified as the most technologically advance plant in North America. I will give you a few bits of the highlights that I got out of the tour and perspective as to why it was so impressive.

This 2 million square foot plant is LEED Certified, which means that it meets the highest standards in many areas, cost less to operate and increases the efficiency of the building. They reduce water and energy consumption, which was apparent to us because they don’t use air or heat in the building. The insulation they use is extreme and the roofs are made with some light-colored, reflective coating that allows this to happen. We were very comfortable in the plant when the temp outside was 85.

In addition, they use their rainwater to flush all the toilets and the toilets flush at .8 of a gallon. The tiles on the floor are made out of recycled coke bottles. They have their own special academy that is connected to the college programs in the area, and when you graduate from the academy, you are guaranteed a job. The plant comes with a fitness director to set up workout programs, and provide yoga and other boot camp type of workouts. The plant pushes out 150,000 Volkswagen Passats a year and has the capacity to make three different models and up to 230,000 cars.

Lastly, the plant is not unionized, which according to the tour guide, the people are very adamant about remaining non-union. A few have left Germany to work in this plant to get away from union structure. The plant has more 33,600 solar panels on 65 acres that can generate up to 12.5 percent of the plant energy. The most exciting thing about walking around was seeing the people work with the robots, which at times, felt like we were in the movie Transformers, given the size and sounds. They have dashboards everywhere to allow the teams to see exactly where they stand in their respective area of staying on track.

This was a great learning experience to see high performing teams in action and to see how technology and people working together can create a solid energy and environmentally conscious productive environment.

Bounceit!™ update: We got an article this week in Nibletz, and we have been working to get in front of more people to expose them to the new app and to get feedback to help improve it. We are working to raise money to continue to improve the app and market it our target audience.

Not Scaling – Part 2: Starting Small to Build Big

devicesThe big news to share this week on bounceit!™ is that the app went live in the app store, after a long period of creation, and we are starting the process of scaling by not scaling, as was discussed in last week’s blog. This week will be focused on getting a small group to use and try it out on all devices to make sure everything is flowing well. Then, we will move to our local and social media friends to give it a try and to share with others, if they like it. And finally, on to the rest of the world.

Well, sort of to the rest of the world. Some people think big launches matter and they want to create a big event with a lot of hoopla, excitement and media attention. After this happens, then everyone will know about it and you are set to go viral. We thought about this approach a while back and decided against it.  Interestingly, Paul thinks that this is not the way to go either. He says founders like to think that they have a great building and everyone who hears about it will want it. Even the best of the viral applications don’t start this way. He also says it is part laziness, that with the big launch, the hard work of creation is done and you can sit back and watch your amazing creation take off. This will not happen and will require getting users one at a time.

Another thing that usually doesn’t work on the way to scalability, is partnerships. Paul’s experience is that they don’t work for startups in general, in the form of getting the big break. They usually take lots of work and don’t lead to the scalability that was hoped for in the beginning. That is where you are trying to be scalable. When you get with organizations or other companies to work on building a core group of users in a certain demographic to experience the feedback, then this approach is doing the non-scalable with a few users at a time. We will be doing this with the University of Tennessee and with Regal Cinemas.

We will move in small, non-scalable aspects first, to build a presence with certain groups that we are targeting.

Paul says that what matters is not the big launch or the big partnership, but the ability to delight your customers is the key to getting bigger. Take a handful of people, make them really happy, watch what they do so you can learn, and they will get friends like them taking you further down the road.

So our plan is to go slowly with our initial roll-out to build a core group of users in our local community and test the app with the different ways new people may think about using it, and also to make sure all the software and hardware running the app will handle the pressure of hundreds of pictures and votes, and then thousands.

Bounceit!™ will have announcements locally next week in the press and we will have an article in Nibletz, which has agreed to use bounceit!™  to get feedback on speaker choices for their two big conferences.

This is an exciting time for founders and also a time not to sit back and wait for things to happen.  Entrepreneurism is about getting out and creating the success you want!!