Thursday, May 29, 2008

Your Next Big Export Opportunity?

Three years ago I worked on a feature for PROFIT Magazine about opportunities for Canadian exporters in Nigeria. Some people snickered.

Chronically broke, tragically and corruptly misgoverned, Nigeria has been the poster boy for failed African regimes. In fact, with its difficulties enforcing the law and its subsequent reputation as ground zero for spam Internet scams – not to mention its inability to secure its own oil refineries from terrorists – Nigeria had become a laughing stock.

A sad fate for an English-speaking country of 140 million people brimming with natural resources. In 2004, per capita GDP was just $430, compared to $444 in 1977.

But all that may be changing. An article from INSEAD, the France-based international business school, sees reassuring signs at last of a turnaround in Nigeria.

* The crackdown on corruption has led to the seizure of $5 billion in assets for the state.

* With the election in 2007 of president Umaru Yar'Adua, Nigeria has now held three elections in a row without a coup d’├ętat – which some observers consider a signal to invest.

* Government fiscal reforms have broken the link between oil prices and government spending. Between 2003 and 2006, foreign reserves increased fivefold to about $38 billion. (They're now around $$60 billion.) The government is nearly debt-free. (Take that, George Bush!)

* Since 2003, Nigeria’s GDP growth has averaged about 7% a year.

* Despite record-high oil prices, non-oil revenue is playing a bigger role. Agriculture contributes 42% of Nigeria's GDP.

There are still challenges, to be sure, including inadequate power supplies, roads and public transportation, and issues around the enforcement of contracts and a national ID system. But with improved governance and rising revenues, these issues can now be addressed.

Oil infrastructure, roads, transit, agriculture, power, the beginnings of a stable banking system. Opportunities for Canadian exporters, engineers and service providers?

What do you think?

Read the complete story here.

Related story: Can Western business afford to ignore Africa any longer?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Great Marketing Resources

Get more sales!
Here are a few useful marketing resources and tipsheets that have wended my way this week:

How to create a winning domain: Toronto copywriter Simon Smith advises how to name your website, promote your brand, and win traffic through search engines. A good primer or a useful refresher.

Tagline Tips: MarketingProfs opine on how to create a unique and bold tagline for your business. They say your tagline should:
* Represent the spirit of your brand.
* Apply specifically to you, and not to anyone else.
* Involve risk: an unexpected rhyme, word choice or attitude.
* and Speak to your target audience, and aim to prompt an action.
Click here for more.

36 Blogs on Brand Experience: Fun reading from Sean Moffit’s BuzzCanuck blog. Because success starts with your customer’s experience.

I didn't make it to the Mesh Conference last week on Social Media Marketing. It’s the always interesting coming together of social mediopaths trying to guide us through the brave new world of blogs, podcasts, web video and online brand-building. For a look back at the future of marketing, check out co-organizer Mathew Ingram’s blogpost here. It sums up where you can find summaries, videos, liveblogs and even Twitter Posts of this year’s Mesh presentations.

In the digital future, everything lives forever.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Another right bites the dust

Good story today in The Globe & Mail on Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty's possible plans to ban motorists from talking on cellphones - and playing with other electronic equipment, such as Blackberries and GPS units.

Interesting stats in the story:

Quebec's coroner's office has blamed cellphones for 24 fatal car crashes in the province between 2000 and 2006. In the United States, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration estimates that driver distraction contributes to about one-quarter of all collisions.
In the past I have written in defence of cell phone drivers. I consider the cell phone the single most important tool in creating the entrepreneurial revolution of the1980s. The magical ability to be in two places at once - keeping tabs on the office while driving to sales calls - suddenly doubled (or tripled) the productivity and capability of individual entrepreneurs, leveraging their time and enabling them to compete more evenly with much bigger organizations.

When New York became the first U.S. state to ban drivers from using handheld cellphones in 2001, I thought it was a huge mistake. As other states (New Jersey, Washington), cities (Chicago) and provinces (Newfoundland, Quebec, Nova Scotia) followed suit, I shook my head and figured, "Oh well - this just gives entre-preneurs in Ontario a competitive edge."

I still don't like shackling entrepreneurs in this way. But like many other people, I no longer oppose this legislation. I've seen too many lazy, stupid drivers wandering out of their lanes or braking suddenly while they try to dial their phones. And whenever I pass cars on the highway that are weaving or driving erratically, the drivers are almost always chatting on the phone.

And yes, my own experience tells me that my concentration diminishes when I talk on the phone while driving. Unlike many people, I avoid complex conversations on the cell, since I know I can't concentrate on both tasks at the same time.

Just last week a car beside me was all over the road, slowing down and speeding up randomly. I looked over as I passed and saw the driver, head down and looking to her right, seeking a document while she clutched a cellphone - along with the wheel - in her other hand.

Big Brother, take away another freedom. We seem unable to use our rights responsibly.

Click here to read today's Globe article, or the 197 accompanying comments.

And feel free to comment here on the topic as well. Can you drive responsibly while holding the phone? Do you think the government should legislate away this right? Will it (or does it) affect your business?

Monday, May 26, 2008

Best-Ever Entrepreneurship Quotes, Week 86

The latest entry in our ongoing series of motivational quotes, personally selected to get your week off to an inspired start. This week: recruiting lessons from one of Canada’s greatest entrepreneurial heroes.

“We don't motivate people. We hire and train motivated people.”
Isadore Sharp, founder and CEO of Toronto-based Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts.

When Sharp opened his first luxury resort hotel in Hawaii, he wasn't satisfied with hiring staff from the local labour pool. So he sent recruiters into the sugar cane fields to find motivated workers who really wanted to upgrade their lifestyle and learn new skills.

Four Season’s insistence on quality service has helped it transform from one Toronto hotel in 1960 to 76 hotels in 32 countries, with more than 30 new properties now under development. Issy Sharp has headed the company for nearly 50 years.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Communicating with Dragons - or anybody else

Across Canada, dozens of excited entrepreneurs are nervously preparing the pitches they will deliver to the Dragons when CBC’s Dragons' Den show starts taping next week.

One of them called me this week about helping prepare her pitch. So we talked. And I was pleased to see that a six-step formula I use for helping entrepreneurs market their business works just as well in pitching to fire-breathing multi-millionaires.

That formula: Know your objectives; Understand your audience; Identify your message; Communicate it as concisely and effectively as you can (painting word pictures where possible); Find creative, memorable ways to communicate; and Encourage audience feedback.

Here’s what we did:

1. I asked the entrepreneur to identify her objectives. Did she really want to win Dragon capital, was she out for the publicity, or did she want to win the “people’s choice” award of $75,000 cash?

2. Once we settled that, we determined how to reach our goal. We decided we needed to present the most credible pitch we could. We didn't want to shock, surprise, or impress anyone with our arrogance. In the context of Dragons’ Den, that meant three things: positioning the business as a legitimate growth opportunity; presenting the entrepreneur as a credible, capable business decision-maker; and explaining why the Dragons’ participation would make a big difference.

We even ended up changing the amount of money the entrepreneur would ask for, to ensure it matched our strategic goal.

3. We then wrote up a one-page pitch that met those three criteria. That meant discarding a lot of details about the business and “future plans” that would be nice to mention, but aren't essential when you only have a minute or two to pitch. Knowing that the Dragons may interrupt and start throwing questions at you after 15 seconds helps concentrate the mind wonderfully.

4. Once we knew what we wanted to say, we focused on how to say it memorably. That meant using specific, visual imagery and examples – and the occasional saucy quip - that will resonate in people’s minds and help this entrepreneur make a direct connection with the Dragons. We also worked on concise, focused descriptions of what the business does – a new set of verbal branding tools – to help her make a more professional impact.

5. Then we took that a step further by developing a creative framework for the presentation: an introductory “hook” that would create immediate reactions and invoke favorable impressions. To communicate with impact, you have to stand out from the crowd.

6. There’s one thing you can count on in the Dragons’ Den: feedback. We thought carefully about what the Dragons might say and the questions they might ask, and we incorporated many of the answers back into the presentation (to discourage interruptions until she’s finished her pitch). We also took a little content out of the presentation and held it back for the Q&A session, so the entrepreneur would have some creative, credible responses ready to go.

Will it work? I think so. Thinking strategically about your messaging always pays off. If a message is worth communicating, take the time to focus it, and then deliver it in a memorable way.

But we’ll all know for sure when the Dragons return to TV in October.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Best-Ever Entrepreneurship Quotes, Week 85

Here's the latest installment in our ongoing series of motivational quotes, personally selected to get your week off to an inspired start.
This week: an invitation for you to change the world. From a rock star.
"The world is more malleable than you think. And it's waiting for you to hammer it into shape."
(Paul David Hewson, born 10 May 1960: activist, occasional entrepreneur, and main vocalist of the Irish rock band U2.)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Entrepreneurial Poll Results

If you're excited about the imminent return of Indiana Jones, or even if you're not, please answer the question on my Summer Movie Poll on the right side of the page (about halfway down). I have a theory about the entrepreneurial mind and the movies, and I'm eager to see what you think.

(No, I'm not going to tell you my theory now. I don't want to bias the results.)

The Summer Movie Poll will be up until late June.

In the meantime, here are the results of our April-May poll: "Would you encourage your child to pursue entrepreneurship?"

29% of respondents said "Are you crazy? I want my kid to have a real job and a good future."

46% of people said, "Of course. Future jobs will be scarce or temporary anyway."

14% said "Doesn't matter to me. It's their life."

And 3% said, "No kids yet." Then they probably went off on a Greek cruise.

Another Great Moment in Marketing

Eclectic Montreal blogger Stephen David Wark posted recently about an eBay purchase that went wrong. To help sort things out, he e-mailed PayPal about the situation.

They weren't much help, since he had missed the 45-day deadline for taking action. (He had spent much of that time trying to deal with the seller.)

Even so, he was slightly shocked to receive the following e-mail from a PayPal rep:

“Thank you for contacting us. I am sorry to hear about (briefly repeat member’s situation).

As Wark notes, "It’s good to know that Paypal is supposed to pretend to care, but they’re just too lazy."

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

What is leadership?

I've had some positive feedback on my rant on leadership in the Financial Post this week.

I call it a rant because I was tired of meeting entrepreneurs (and other business leaders) who just don't get what true leadership is all about. Just being "in charge" doesn't make you a leader, any more than wearing a geeky green gown makes you a doctor.

"Real" leadership requires vision, a plan, empathy and collaboration. It requires a little more effort on your part than giving orders and awaiting results.

Or as I said in Monday's article:

"Leadership is the art of aligning people behind a goal. It's the ability to persuade people to share objectives, and help them find joy and pride in accomplishing things together;
- It is not about accomplishing things yourself. It's about communicating: creating hope and empowering others to act."

For the full story, click here.
(I apologize that the Post's method of uploading stories to the Web eliminates some of the bullet points and paragraph breaks. I will bring it to their attention.)

Monday, May 12, 2008

Last Call in Calgary, and Founders' Error

Contrary to last week's post, there is one more audition for Dragons' Den. Aspiring Alberta entrepreneurs will be pleased to know the CBC TV show is returning to Calgary on May 16 for one more day of pitching.

If you want to face the Dragons, head to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce's historic headquarters at 100 6th Avenue SW (4th Floor), from 11 AM to 4 PM. (Seems that the CBC producers' trip to Calgary last month coincided with the Great April Blizzard, so they're back to give you one more chance.
For more info on registering or auditioning online, click here.

Last Saturday (May 10) I played "deputy dragon" again at the Toronto auditions. It was a high-energy day with lots of great pitches. If I don't find time to blog about it in full, here's one thought: more entrepreneurs need to be more aware of where they add value.

One question I asked the pitchers quite often on Saturday was: "Why are you the right person to make this business succeed?" Or, "Why should the Dragons want to work with you?"

Ironically, the only person to answer this well was a former civil servant now promoting medical tourism. He was was able to concisely describe his background, his vision, and how both help create significant competitive advantages.

Most of the pitchers who answered this question committed the classic "Founders' Error": they assumed that starting the business gives them some innate edge in running it successfully. Many people answered my question by saying they have the "vision." They are hard workers; they have the desire.

Of course, all of these are definite assets, good things to have on your team. But none of them are as important as industry knowledge, management experience, a track record of achievement and execution, or experience working successfully with investors. This is what Dragons and angels and other venture investors are looking for. Your love for your idea is a minor plus, but it is not a competitive advantage. In some cases, if you're the type of person who falls in love with your own ideas, it can even be a disadvantage.

Step back from your business. Know your strengths and weaknesses. Understand where you are adding the most value. Make sure you know how to explain what your unique abilities are. And let us know how you are addressing your weak points.

Entrepreneurial passion is not enough. If you can objectively assess your tangible contributions to the business, the more chance you have of a) landing outside investment, and b) succeeding in your marketplace.

Best-Ever Entrepreneurship Quotes, Week 84

Here's the latest installment in our series of motivational quotes, personally selected to get your week off to an inspired start.

This week: Ode to a universe ruled by chance, not design. And happy surprises.

"We need more tinkering: Uninhibited, aggressive, proud tinkering. We need to make our own luck. We can be scared and worried about the future, or we can look at it as a collection of happy surprises that lie outside the path of our imagination. "

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, applied statistician and derivatives trader-turned-philosopher/essayist; author of The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable.

A former managing director and worldwide head of financial option arbitrage at CIBC-Wood Gundy, Taleb is described by Wikipedia as "a polymath scholar of randomness and knowledge... As a pioneer of complex financial derivatives, he had as a day job a lengthy senior trading and financial mathematics career in New York City, before he started a second career as a scholar in the epistemology of chance events."

Taleb is the morning keynote speaker tomorrow (May 13) at the Ontario Centres of Excellence conference, Discovery 08.

I certainly agree with Taleb's point that the randomness of success needs to be better understood. As he wrote on Forbes.com last year:

"Things, it turns out, are all too often discovered by accident--but we don't see that when we look at history in our rear-view mirrors. The technologies that run the world today (like the Internet, the computer and the laser) are not used in the way intended by those who invented them. Even academics are starting to realize that a considerable component of medical discovery comes from the fringes, where people find what they are not exactly looking for."

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Losing Focus – Anyone can do it!

What’s going on, Starbucks?
Ted Matthews and his team of “brand coaches” at Toronto-based Instinct Brand Equity are accusing the international coffee chain of losing sight of its true self in its quest for growth. Of course, it’s the same problem that besets many companies that lose sight of basic values and operations as they grow.
“You’ve really been screwing up,” they tell Starbucks this week in their newsletter, Instinct. “Your stock price has halved in 52 weeks. You’re closing stores — terribly humbling for a company that has 16,000 units and wants 40,000 to cover the planet."
The grounds for Instinct’s complaint? “Bad service, poor product and dirty stores: these are the issues ruining your experience, your profitability, your Brand.
“You have too many staff with inadequate training, and substandard hires who lack a positive attitude.”
They also take aim at coffee temperatures (“the same drink can be lukewarm on one visit and tongue-burning the next”) and stale sandwiches.
The Brand Coaches conclude that Starbuck’s emphasis on growth has shifted its focus “from a consistent, high-quality coffee experience to a massive construction project.”
Their advice: “Focus on pleasing your customers — not the stock market.”
I reprint these comments in detail because I love to see companies called out publicly for non-performance – especially when it’s by people who truly love those businesses, and just want them to rediscover what made them great.

The question for you is: why would your best clients say about your standards, your attention to detail, your brand? Are you still putting the emphasis on customers, or are you being distracted by selfish concerns of your own?

What would a Brand Coach say about you?

(For more info on Instinct, see www.instinctbrandequity.com
To read their newsletter, click here.)

Last Call!

Want to be on Dragons’ Den? Your last two chances are coming up. There will be in-person auditions Saturday, May 10 in Halifax and Toronto.

Venues: Centre for Entrepreneurship Education & Development, Halifax
- or the CBC Broadcast Centre in downtown Toronto.

(Warning: If you come out to the Toronto audition, you may get me as your Deputy Dragon. Be afraid. Be very afraid. Or just drop by and say Hi!)

For more information on the in-person auditions, or on the web auditions which continue till May 31, go here.

Monday, May 05, 2008

“The dirty secret is that most businesses hate the Internet”

My column in today’s Financial Post is a must-read. Not because of any brilliance on my part, but because of the rant – er, crusade, by a fomer CBC comedian turned web guru.

Paul Chato is one of The Frantics (second from right), a young, edgy comedy troupe about 25 years ago. (Now they're back, but they're not so young. But then, who is?) His company, Electramedia, sells an easy-to-use website platform to companies such as Mercedes-Benz. But he also sells web services to small business, and it’s driving him crazy.

“The dirty secret is that most small businesses hate the Internet and don't know what to do with it,” he says. “The only reason they have a site is because their competition has one. They have no idea how to make it work because it requires money and attention.”

He also says (and this didn't make it into the column), that business people hate the Web because it involves two commodities that they don't understand: technology and content. He claims 60% of businesses in Canada do not have websites, and “the ones who do have terrible sites.”

And it’s all because “Canadian companies view websites as an expense rather than an investment.”

Chaot says that a successful small business website isn't just about “your stupid product,” but about what the company stands for. He sees websites as the absolute centrepiece of marketing and brand management. Your site should reflect who you are and what you value – not just what you do.

His handy formula: “Show. Do. Tell.”

I've told you enough. You can read the rest of the story here.

Best-Ever Entrepreneurship Quotes, Week 83

Here's the latest installment in our series of motivational quotes, personally selected to get your week off to an inspired start.

"How well we communicate is determined not by how well we say things, but by how well we are understood."

Andy Grove, CEO, Intel Corporation

Friday, May 02, 2008

Inundated with Innovators

Sadly, work kept me from attending this week's Canadian Innovation Exchange. It brought together venture capitalists and other interested service providers with 20 hot companies looking for financing or other support. Like a high-class Dragons' Den, but with more class and (mostly) less sarcasm.

The "Canadian Innovation Leader’ Award went to Toronto-based startup Octopz Inc.(http://www.octopz.com/), which develops advanced online collaboration technologies for creative professionals.

No, I don't know what that means either. It's from the press release. When I went to their website, they didn't do a good job of explaining it either. (How ironic. I guess they do a better job presenting live than on the Web.) But I did learn this:

"Octopz allows you to work collaboratively on an unprecedented range of document types that includes static content (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and images such as jpgs) and rich digital media, such as videos, audio, animations, Flash files, and 360┬║ panoramas.
"Octopz has easy-to-use templates for managing and building advanced media content, making it simple for users to create their own custom content."

In the release, Octopz CEO Ron McKenzie says this: “We are thrilled to win this award, which ideally positions us for the next phase of growth.”
It also says: "MacKenzie swayed attending delegates with an impressive and polished presentation that described the platform’s ability to accelerate decision making and speed-to-market for companies in the advertising, design and media sectors."

Pictured is the company mascot. His name is Inky.

The runner-up was Montreal-based Akoha Inc. (http://www.akoha.org/), with a presentation for a massive multi-player reality game that just recently received $1.9 million in angel funding.

The 20 companies in the CIX showcase were shortlisted from over 100 applicants by a committee of leading investors. The award winner was determined by a vote among attending delegates conducted through text messaging.

Now that's innovative!

CIX will returning next year as an annual event.
For more information on CIX and the CIX Award winners, go to http://www.canadianinnovationexchange.com/.Video content from CIX is available on blip.tv. Go to http://www.blip.tv/ and search CIX or visit the showpage at http://cix.blip.tv/#872746.