Thursday, June 30, 2005

What a CEO does

Business success is all about focus - focusing on the right things.

At a brainstorming session for a company recently, we had an interesting discussion on how one evaluates a CEO. What should he/she be focusing on, and how do we measure success?

Part of it is easy. Look at the bottom line every quarter or year. If things are going right, you are hitting your targets, and (hopefully) exceeding them. We also agreed that tracking the share price (for those companies that put a value on their shares) is key.

And there it stopped - for some. If those two indicators are going the right way, some people said, what more do you need?

I argued for much more. I believe the CEO's job is complex and multi-dimensional. You can't just measure the past. To make sure the CEO is focused on the right things, you have to measure the present - and try to measure the future.

So I pushed to add metrics such as market share, R&D, market leadership and new product development to the CEO's burden. And, some measurement of employee engagement/morale/satisfaction, as well as ongoing monitoring of staff turnover levels. There are lots of off-the-shelf tools you can use to study these, to make sure things are truly going well.

To protect the future, I also argued for a strategic-planning metric. Today's markets are changing fast. How focused are we on what we need to do to keep on being successful - next year and the year after that?

You can't measure our success at predicting tomorrow (not yet, anyway). But you can encourage the CEO to keep one eye on the future, and then measure his or her ability to continually motivate individuals and teams to focus on where the markets, trends and technology are heading - and propose new strategies for moving forward.

The CEO's job is not just to perform - but to protect the company's freedom to perform in future.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Secret Search Terms Revealed!

About half the traffic to this weblog comes from search engines.

My site stats enable me to read what search questions people entered into Yahoo, Google, etc. (But don’t worry: I have no idea who you are.)

To help understand how the world works, here are some recent search terms that led people to this blog. Clearly, some came of their own accord, while others probably went away disappointed.

Some are pretty funny. Some say something about human nature, while others simply point to the randomness that develops when you write 30,000 words that are all searchable.

tennis venture capital deals Winnipeg

canadian entrepreneur website

“rick segal”

Problem that encountered by a canadian business in the international marketplace


company of wolves bittorrent

email addresses and the guest book of manufacturers and entrepreneur in uk posted

Canadian Entrepreneur

john delponti

The unions have helped us to understand that we've been looking at the retailing business

Richard Branson", "employee recognition" OR "employee rewards"

45,000.00 canadian equals how much per hour

why canadian business fail

"what is leverage" "entrepreneur"

thunder bay lakehead canada blog

"benjamin keaton"

Canadian Entrepreneur Guide

canadian newspapers make michael jackson sound quality

"john delponti"

rick Spence

"clarity systems" + glenn cullen"

Come back next month for more “Secret Search Terms Revealed!”

TOM SWIFT and His Space Solartron

When I was a kid I read a science fiction book called Tom Swift and His Space Solartron, about a boy genius and a machine that could make any manufactured good you wanted (imagine, one machine replacing every factory in China).

The solartron isn’t reality yet, but we’re getting close. The Economist recently wrote about Neil Gershenfeld, the director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Center for Bits and Atoms, who has created version 1.0 of the personal fabricator.

What’s a Personal Fabricator? It’s a package of commercially available machines that can produce almost any complex electronic gadget you ask it to.

“Among other tools,” says the Economist, “it includes a laser cutter that makes two-dimensional and three-dimensional structures, a device that uses a computer-controlled knife to carve antennas and flexible electrical connections, a miniature milling machine that manoeuvres a cutting tool in three dimensions to make circuit boards and other precision parts, a set of software for programming cheap computer chips known as microcontrollers, and a jigsaw..."

“Together, these can machine objects with a precision of a millionth of a metre. The fab lab's purpose is to endow inventors—particularly those in poor countries who lack a formal education and the resources to implement their ideas—with a set of tools that can translate back-of-the-envelope designs into working prototypes.”

These “FabLabs” are already in use around the world. In Boston, residents of a housing complex are using one to create a wireless communication network. In India, students have built a sensor to measure the fat content of milk for local dairy farmers. In Ghana, FabLabs have been used to produce jewellery, car parts, agricultural tools and radio antennas. In Norway, animal herders are making radio collars and wireless networks to track their herds.

Gadgets to Go. A boon for innovation, and specifically for the developing world. And it’s not science fiction anymore.

The June 9 issue has an article on Fab Labs called “How to make (almost) anything”. The online version is subscriber-only, but here’s a link to a March story:

Visit FabLab Central at

Friday, June 17, 2005

Best positioning statement ever

I am fascinated by positioning statements.

I believe most business people are terrible at introducing themselves. Introductory statements are supposed to engage and compel people, but most simply confuse, mystify or bore.

I wrote a column on this in PROFIT magazine a few months ago. I thought it was a decent but unimportant column, but it garnered more reader response than any previous column. Everyone wants to introduce themselves better.

So I am glad to report that at the PROFIT 100 CEO Summit in Toronto yesterday, most entrepreneurs had decent positioning statements. They were short, clear and to the point. They serve up just enough information to empower the people they meet to pursue a business conversation if they wish.

But one entrepreneur had the best positioning statement I have ever heard. It says what he does, who his market is, and why his product is special – in 10 words.

Phil White is an engineer and cycling enthusiast who now heads Toronto-based Cervelo Cycles Inc.

His positioning statement: “We make the bicycle that won the Tour de France.”


Every old product is new again.

That’s the message from Ken Nickerson, a former tech guru with Microsoft who now invests full-time in technology firms through his own private investment company, Toronto-based iBinary.

Nickerson was a featured speaker yesterday at the PROFIT 100 CEO Summit, for the leaders of Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies. The attendees are pretty sharp themselves, but they were hanging on Nickerson’s every word. (He’s the guy who convinced Microsoft to buy HotMail.)

In his first public speech in five years, Nickerson said new information technology – digital processing, storage and communications – is transforming consumer and business markets. “Everything gets a chance to be new again. Everything we’ve invented is getting smarter and able to communicate or store more information about themselves.”

Nickerson says that is creating upheaval in a range of markets – which of course means opportunity for fast-moving entrepreneurs. Music, photography, video and security are niches already neck-deep in change. Other sectors that Nickerson believes are ripe for revolution: money, homes, cars, education, health, entertainment, privacy and (of course) sex.

To get ahead, look at how you can add information storage, processing capacity or one- or two-way communications capability to a wide range of products and services.

He also has a warning for old-line producers: “If you can’t incorporate intelligence into your products, outsource it – because you’re competing on price.” And you’re not going to win against lower-cost producers.

Based on the success of Apple’s iPod, which was neither the first MP3 player nor the cheapest, Nickerson offers this advice. “Invest in design,” he says. “We’re seeing a new idea that you should expect good design in everything you buy and touch – and it’s having an impact on business.”

Incredibly enough, he says the changes we’re going to see from infotech are tiny compared to the coming impact of biotechnology and nanotechnology. That’s where he’s investing now.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

What is Leverage?

What is leverage, and how can I use it to grow my business?

That was the question debated by 10 entrepreneurs at a brainstorming meeting I attended this afternoon. It was a refreshing experience – there was no agenda, no required outcome – just a group of unaffiliated entrepreneurs discussing the process of doing business.

I arrived knowing nothing about leverage. When I covered Big Business for the Financial Times of Canada 20 years ago, “leverage” meant borrowing large sums of money to invest in growth opportunities (usually real estate) that were otherwise out of the company’s reach financially. The idea was that these assets would make more money for the company than it was shelling out to pay interest on the debt.

This group, however, studied the use of leverage in non-financial situations. Essentially, we defined leverage as strategically exploiting (in the good sense) all the assets available to your business. The goal: to reach more customers, increase sales, and become more profitable.

We identified lots of assets that we should all be leveraging more effectively: customers, cash flow, reputation, superior products, relationships and partnerships, knowledge, time, industry contacts, referral sources, etc. We decided the ultimate leverage is that enjoyed by Microsoft, whose software is preloaded in just about every PC sold today.

The first step to successful leverage, we decided, is to achieve focus and clarity. What are you really trying to do? What are the objectives of your business?

Only once you truly understand all that can you effectively exploit leverage, by knowing which areas to invest in, what customers to talk to about joint ventures, how to market your products’ benefits more effectively, or who to ask for referrals.

It was a valuable discussion, organized by StreetSmart marketing expert Michael Hepworth ( and well moderated by Rick Wolfe of PostStone Corp., who specializes in leading “kitchen table conversations.” This conversation made us all realize how inadequately we are all exploiting our unique business strengths, but it offered great ideas on how to get started.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

To Boldly Grow

The 2005 PROFIT 100 is out!

That’s PROFIT magazine’s annual list of Canada’s 100 – actually, 200, but that doesn’t sound as cool – smartest, fastest growth firms. All laid out for you on the Web, along with what they do and how they do it.

If you want to understand where Canadian business is heading, run (don’t walk) to the new list of Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies at

And get this: even the 200th-ranked company has tripled its sales over the last five years.

This is the 17th annual PROFIT 100: among the winners on previous lists are Research in Motion, Pivotal Corp., Clearnet, Bioware, QLT, DataMirror, Angiotech, OpenText, Janna Technologies, TLC Laser Eye Centres, Western Financial, Cangene, GAP Adventures, and many other growth firms you should have known much earlier than you did. Check out this year’s list to discover tomorrow’s best marketers, newsmakers and speculative stock plays.

This year’s No. 1 firm this year is Toronto-based Internet hosting service, with five-year revenue growth of (gulp!) 13,000%. Interestingly, this firm includes the entire senior management team from Tucows, a multi-year PROFIT 100 firm from about five years ago. It’s a nail-biting story of a firm that struggled to make it – but is now a secure industry leader that may soon go public.

I was privileged last month to interview the CEOs of the top five companies on the PROFIT 100. You can check out those profiles at

This is required reading at the Starfleet Academy of Entrepreneurship.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Partnerships that Work

At the Wisdom Exchange conference on Tuesday (see similar post below), I led a discussion of Ontario CEOs on “Creative Collaborations.” The best part came at the end, when we “whipped around” the table and asked each participant to suggest a personal strategy or tip on “How to Make Your Partnerships Succeed.”

Here’s what they said.

- Ensure that one player in the partnership is dominant - a “partnership of equals” won’t succeed
- Make sure the alliance is a clear win for both (all) participants
- “I don’t think you can partner with a direct competitor.”
- Have a plan. Know what you’re doing and why. Do your homework.
- Be committed. If you have just a casual interest in its success, it won’t succeed.
- Look for the win-win. Understand the motivation of both sides and keep track of it as you go forward.
- Pay attention throughout. Monitor the partnership and keep talking to your partner. “Treat them like a customer.”
- Accept imbalance. “If you are the small guy in that partnership, you will always be the small guy. Stay in that box.”
- Have a third party (neutral and catalytic) to tie the partnership together, keep it going.
- Be prepared to invest resources: money and time. (If the market needs more money and time, be prepared to pony up.)
- To start an effective partnership, especially with a larger partner, “bring a customer to the table. That gets their attention.”

That's it: real-world advice from entrepreneurs who've "been there."

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Ten Factors that Make Alliances Fail

How do you make business alliances, joint ventures and partnerships work? That was the theme of a roundtable I led earlier this week (May 31) at the Wisdom Exchange, a forum for the entrepreneurs who run Ontario's Fastest-Growing Companies.

We had some pretty interesting discussions, and I wil include some of that material tomorrow. For now, according to my group of successful Canadian entrepreneurs, here are the 10 Factors that Make Alliances Fail:

* Different expectations
* Different priorities
* Lack of focus
* Lack of buy-in by all stakeholders
* Insufficient incentive for all parties to make it work
* Lack of clear vision/strategy
* Failure to plan exit strategy
* Inadequate due diligence
* One partner’s incompetence, misrepresentation or failure to perform
* Changes at the corporate level for one partner, e.g. a corporate takeover

Forewarned is forearmed.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Thoughts on Marketing

I’m taping a TV show next week about marketing for small business. In preparation, I wrote up some of my thoughts on the topic for the producer, and then thought I'd share them with you here. Basically, this is the framework for my contention that most entrepreneurs need help to become good marketers.

Let me know what you think. The Comments link at the end of the post is here (as always) for you.

Thoughts on marketing:

"I see marketing as a core incompetency for most Canadian entrepreneurs.

"In my experience, most people get into business because they have a particular skill and a pre-existing customer relationship, often from their previous job. As they develop their company, they grow its capacity, product line and relationships, but they often neglect basic marketing. They presume that their current and growing relationships with prospects and customers, along with their basic competence and market knowledge, is enough.

"While they work hard at cultivating direct relationships, they really don't know anything about direct marketing, advertising, soliciting referrals, etc. Many have trouble distinguishing between marketing and sales. And they are reluctant (or genetically uninclined) to ask for help in these areas. (Many entrepreneurs don't trust what they don't know.)

"Another almost universal problem: they are poor at marketing themselves. I just facilitated a roundtable yesterday consisting of a dozen entrepreneurs from a wide variety of fields. The first job was introducing ourselves. Not one of them had a compelling personal statement to introduce themselves and their business. Few were capable of clearly explaining what their business does in jargon-free language. And most of them mumbled so badly that I would not have known the names of their companies if I had not had the list in front of me!

"So I believe there is much we can do to promote marketing skills among small business. We could talk about the basic skills many entrepreneurs lack, marketing success stories that illustrate some of the wins that are out there, and how entrepreneurs can learn more."

For more info on this topic, see this 2001 story from PROFIT Magazine: Why Canadians Can’t Market.
It’s a fun piece.