Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Half an Opportunity

I found this poem in an old book of "inspirational" poetry. 
19th century American, but very Victorian.


This I beheld, or dreamed it in a dream:—
There spread a cloud of dust along a plain;
And underneath the cloud, or in it, raged
A furious battle, and men yelled, and swords
Shocked upon swords and shields. A prince's banner
Wavered, then staggered backward, hemmed by foes.

A craven hung along the battle's edge,
And thought, "Had I a sword of keener steel—
That blue blade that the king's son bears,— but this
Blunt thing—!" He snapped and flung it from his hand,
And lowering crept away and left the field.

Then came the king's son, wounded sore bested,
And weaponless, and saw the broken sword
Hilt-buried in the dry and trodden sand,
And ran and snatched it, and with battle-shout
Lifted afresh he hewed his enemy down
And saved a great cause that heroic day.

Rick's One-Sentence Summary: 
It's not the tools you have that count -- it's how you use them.  

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Reaching Out for Help to People Who Are More Important than You

How do you catch the attention of prominent business leaders or investors who can help take your business to the next level? 

Don't Be Angry If I Write | Saving LoveVery carefully.

To advance his mildly successful e-commerce business, a friend of mine was hoping to attract the attention of a certain well-known tech entrepreneur. But first, he asked me to take a look at the email he wrote to ask for the entrepreneur’s help.

When I looked at the email, I realized my friend had made some common mistakes. As I made a few notes on how to improve it, I decided this would also make a useful case study. So I got my friend’s permission to post his email (and my critique). Of course, the details have been changed to conceal his identity and that of the Unnamed Prominent Person.

This critique should interest any entrepreneur or startup aspiring to catch the attention of any business leader, investor or proinent potential ally. Check it out and let me know what you think.
(Paragraphs numbered for easier comparison.)

A letter from a struggling entrepreneur to a much better-known one
Dear [Name Withheld]:
1.     I am an entrepreneur living in [City name withheld]. A few years ago, I came up with a great idea for an innovative product that allows [people with a certain type of problem] to easily [solve that problem]. I did all of the work on a prototype to get it to the production stage. I should have known that it is not enough to have a good idea; it needs to be marketed to the buying public and to people who can see the vision and push it forward. I have handled most of the production tasks myself, producing rough drawings and prototypes, and travelling to [unnamed foreign land] with my prototype in hand, to find a company to make my product. 

2.     I didn’t have a lot of issues moving my product from idea stage to production stage. The real problems, for me, are being able to speak to the right people in this industry. I have researched similar producers and major brands, and sent out hundreds of emails, only to find out I am not dealing with the decision makers.

3.     I decided to reach out to you [because this person has been known to help aspiring entrepreneurs in the past]. I heard about you [where and how].  That’s when I knew you would be someone to help me move my business along, and get to the next level. 

4.     I am now selling my sandals on my own website. Xyz.com, and through [an impressively large international broker], as well as to one industry supplier in the U.S.

5.     I was hoping you might have the time to sit down with me, have a look at my business, and come on as an investor or mentor, if you see it as something you would like to get involved with.

6.     Please let me know if you have any questions.

Best regards,
Name Withheld

Rick’s Critique:

Para 1: Your first paragraph provides WAY too much history. When writing to important people, you have to EARN the right to share these details with them.
(ie, Before they care about such details, you have to MAKE them care.)
Don’t begin with the history of your business. Talk about the present or future, instead. These are just details – go with the big picture first. GRAB their attention with something impressive or cool!

Para 2: This is good because you are now getting at the nub of the problem. Prominent people don't have time to go trouble-shooting on your behalf – but they may be intrigued if you can define one specific issue you need help with.

Para 3: I don't get it. You say he is the right person to move your business along, but the context you cite doesn't actually justify that conclusion. Why is this person the RIGHT person to help you with the specific problem cited above? Make the connection clearer. If possible, appeal to his business instincts.
Stress that there is a unique opportunity here to make a significant impact. E.g., “This is an important business, and it could be a big one. But I need some help with… xxxx.”

Para 4: This is great information that should come much earlier in the letter. More important than all the time that you've put into this business (detailed in your Paragraph 1), this paragraph proves you have done some very good work. You're not just a startup, you have traction.
Of course, your pitch could be made even better if you could share a sales statistic (or a cool customer story) that would really make him sit up and take notice. Do you have any of those?

Para 5: This sounds vague and na├»ve. Your target is very busy. You need to SELL him on working with you. And that means not making an indefinite drain on his time. I suggest you come up with a more specific ask, and make it clear that you’re not asking for a favor – this will be a rewarding venture for him.
(I say “rewarding” rather than “highly profitable” because you might be able to concoct an ask where part of his reward is satisfaction, reputation, or some other intangible that doesn’t cost you as much money.)

Para 6: Let’s try to find a more energetic, epic ending that whets the recipient’s appetite for more.

I don't mean to be hyper-critical. The original letter isn’t that bad. But it’s unlikely to get the desired results, for all the reasons stated above.

What’s important is that my entrepreneur friend knew what he wanted to do, took the initiative to write up a first draft, and then requested feedback on his proposal from someone he trusted.

This is how you get results. Ambition, Action, Reflection, OUtreach and Feedback. Entrepreneurs who do everything by themselves are unnecessarily limiting their own potential success.

Your thoughts are welcome.

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

How Every Zoom Meeting Ends

You know that chaotic scramble at the end of every Zoom meeting and the anticlimactic feeling as they slowly peter out? It's the same in Middle Earth.

Thanks to Josh Gad for reuniting the cast of "The Lord of the Rings." I have posted a few subtitles onto the last two minutes of their reunion to demonstrate that celebrities don't know how to deal with Zoom either.

Yes, it has the "Where was xxx?" part, a too-late passionate speech at the end, garbled "next steps", the competition to be the last person to sign off,  and the guy who's been drinking the whole time.

Watch to the end for Gimli's (John Rhys-Davies) homage to his other most iconic role.

You can watch the cast's full 50-minute reunion at "Reunited Apart": https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=5&v=l_U0S6x_kCs

It's more fun than any Zoom meeting I've ever been part of. 

Thanks to @JoshGad for initiating these events and using them to raise funds for charity. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

A Startup Worth Watching

I'm pleased to announce an incredible startup I'm involved with: Nineteen.AI.

Nineteen is a coalition of concerned entrepreneurs - most of them colleagues and friends from Startup Canada - who banded together in April to explore ways to use technology to "flatten the curve" of Covid 19 infections.

Six weeks later, Nineteen is getting ready to launch "SafeKids," a wearable device with accompanying app that will help keep kids safe for the return to playgrounds and schools - and give parents peace of mind.

We're prioritizing customer needs, integrity, and speed. We've already accomplished more than most startups do in six months. But of course, nothing matters till customers start buying.

I am truly excited to see where this leads.

Website: https://nineteen.ai/
SafeKids: https://nineteen.ai/safekids/
The Team: https://nineteen.ai/about/#
Careers at Nineteen: https://nineteen.ai/careers/

My blogpost on Nineteen's culture of trust: https://nineteen.ai/voice/2020/05/12/a-company-built-on-trust/

Monday, May 11, 2020

Compelling AI-created video of a blogpost you may have already read

Lumen5.com is a Canadian company that uses automation and AI to turn social-media posts into compelling short videos. Their versions are usually deficient in weird ways and require some tweaking or re-editing. But it's a start, and likely easier than making your own videos.
So you can read my previous post on "Four ways business will change in the post-pandemic world,"
OR you can watch the video below.

Let me know which version you like better.

And double down on that value proposition!

(If you're not happy with your value prop, follow my Twitter feed "Instant Clarity." That's where I tweet about positioning statements, USPs, introductions, etc., and offer to help you with yours for free.)

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Four ways business will change in the post-pandemic world (and how YOUR company can win!)

How will business change in the post-Covid period?

·       Clearly, discretionary spending will be down. Companies will operate as lean and mean as they have to, to make up for months of reduced revenues and fixed expenses.
That means companies that sell to other businesses must double down on their value proposition: how do you help your clients make more money? If you can't answer that question, then your services are just another expense – and we're all minimizing those for now.

·       ·       Employees and bosses will remember who helped them through the tough times, and who took advantage of them. It will be a rare win for business leaders and companies that are thoughtful, considerate, and genuinely put others’ interests first.

It’s never too late for businesses to do the right thing. Go the extra mile to help your customers during tough times. Offer extra value. Extend subscriptions without being asked. Pay sooner, if you can afford it. Introduce people in your network to each other if you think they can help each other. (Your network is a miracle asset: the more you use it, the more it grows.) Be spontaneous, generous, pro-active. People will notice it and remember.

·       ·       Customers will be more demanding than ever. “What have you done for me lately?” “What else can you do for me?” It’s not personal. They're making up for lost time and lost income, and eager to find out who their best suppliers are.

This is a time for resilience, creativity and flexibility. How can you rebundle your projects and services to work better and create results sooner? How can you restructure pricing and payment terms to take these difficult times into account? Now is not a time to stand on “We've always done it this way.” Now’s the time to ask, “How can I help you?”

·       The crisis has shifted public sentiment towards empathy, collaboration, equity, diversity and sustainability. The best parts of our nature have been nurtured as we have seen once-trusted businesses and institutions fail our most vulnerable – the sick, the elderly, the poor. We have curtailed our mobility and freedom of movement to protect others – we have become more than ever an interconnected global community.

How can your business fit into – indeed, lead – this new culture of conscious community? How are you making things easier, safer, healthier, more accessible for those on the margin? This isn’t a constraint on your business – it’s a whole new opportunity for those who see the future clearly.

As the economy turns grim, hope and growth will come from those who turn gloom into light. Help your customers succeed! 

Share more value with your customers and watch them return the favour, through increased orders and by creating buzz in the marketplace. Collect these success stories and tell them over and over again. Fight fear with hope, empathy and community.

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

And now, the one-minute movie version

The following video is one last, blatant attempt to get you to read our article, 
SHIFT HAPPENS: How to Thrive in the Post-Crisis Landscape
(See previous post.)

"The bottom of the market – the point when people are most fearful, and prosperity seems far off – is usually the best time to think creatively and act boldly. "

Now is a time for bold action.
Now is your time.

Sunday, April 05, 2020

How to Thrive in the Post-Crisis Landscape

The coronavirus pandemic and lockdown have created trying times for everyone... but especially for business leaders. In a time of fear, suspension and isolation, how do you rally your team and keep your organization moving forward?
76% of Canadians are voluntarily self-isolating to fight COVID-19 ...

With two friends, I wrote an article this week exploring the current shutdown and lookng at ways to survive and thrive in the "new normal."

The story's entitled, SHIFT HAPPENS: How to Thrive in the Post-Crisis Landscape.
You can read it on LinkedIn (the preferred version) or on Medium.

This excerpt offers the six key takeaways for thriving in uncertain times.