Tag Archives: entrepreneur

The Entrepreneur as Leader and Manager

Entrepreneurs are doers. One of the strengths of successful entrepreneurs is that they get things done. However, relying solely on their own capabilities is limiting.

We only have so much time, energy, creativity and intelligence; it is a finite game. To realize the fullness of our potential, we have to harness the time, energy, creativity and intelligence of others. We need to be playing an infinite game.

To do so, we must learn to lead and manage.

In this complex and ever-changing world in which we live, we typically are dependent on others to get the results we want. As an entrepreneur grows his or her business, the interdependencies multiply. Entrepreneurs have to trust others — and other people have to trust them.

See also: 6 Tech Rules That Will Govern the Future  

The starting point is leadership. My friend and colleague Dr. Herb Koplowitz defines leadership as follows:

“Leadership is the ability to set a direction and coordinate the actions of others in implementing it.”

Leadership is primarily concerned with vision and strategy. Vision is the direction toward which you want to take your business. Strategy is the clear plan of action to get there. Management is concerned primarily with accountability and authority. The challenge for many entrepreneurs is that they lack clarity around their vision; they lack strategy to build the right structure; and they have never learned how to exercise authority or hold people accountable.

For the entrepreneur, the ability to create highly productive working relationships that can fulfill their vision depends on three factors:

  • Effectiveness: Doing the right things to reach their strategic goals.
  • Efficiency: Doing things right to optimize the use of resources and to reduce costs.
  • Trust: Creating a positive working environment where people feel safe, respected and valued for their contributions.

As a leader and manager, it is important to take the time to develop and implement a business plan that includes:

  • A well-articulated vision (where do you want your business to be in five years?)
  • A clear strategy to reach that vision (what needs to happen to fulfill your vision?)
  • A formal organization structure designed to implement your strategy (who and what do you need to support your strategy and achieve your vision?)
  • Staffing and managerial leadership practices to maximize effectiveness, efficiency and trust (how do you need to transform the way you lead your business?)

See also: Incumbents, Insurtechs Must Collaborate  

To take your business to the next level, you need to be a leader and a manager.

5 Pitfalls to Avoid for Intrapreneurs

Entrepreneurship is not for everyone, especially in the traditionally complex and conservative insurance business. Honing skills as an “intrapreneur” enables success in a large corporate environment while also developing the mindset to take the leap as an entrepreneur. An intrapreneur is very much like an entrepreneur, except an intrapreneur is an innovator and change agent within the confines of a traditional corporate environment.

Having been through the trenches and formerly serving on the leadership team of two major insurance organizations, becoming an intrapreneur is, unfortunately, easier said than done.

Intrapreneurs are driven employees who can harness ideas and clearly articulate their vision in a way that energizes the organization. Intraprenuers operate at the intersection of experience, ideas and insight. They innovate or facilitate innovation by building capabilities focused on dramatically changing the customer experience.

Ideas Are a Dime a Dozen

The challenge for most organizations is not a shortage of ideas but rather the shortage of intrapreneurs who can bring ideas to life and effectively execute on them to deliver sustainable competitive value. One study published in the Harvard Business Review found that, in a firm with 5,000 employees, there are at least 250 natural innovators; of these only about 25 are great intrapreneurs who can build the next business for your organization.

See also: Insurance Innovation: No Longer Oxymoron  

Intrapreneurs have an unusual ability to operate at the intersection of experience, ideas and insight. Within the confines of a traditional corporate environment, these are typically individuals who have a broad view of the business (or businesses), as opposed to someone whose experience has been focused on a singular business unit or discipline. In addition, intrapreneurs do not operate alone but are masters of recognizing the importance of aligning strategy, culture and leadership to create sustainable value. Without this, they are just another employee with a good idea and good intention operating alone in a corner office or cubicle.

  • To better understand what makes a successful intrapreneur, perhaps it is best to explain it from the perspective of the pitfalls to becoming an intrapreneur. These pitfalls can be viewed from the intersection of strategy, culture and leadership. An open culture and effective leadership team is essential to nurturing the proper environment for an intrapreneur to flourish. Because I often get questions on how strategy comes into play with regard to facilitating innovation, in my experience I have found it most helpful to discuss it from the perspective of the pitfalls to avoid. To that end, I will focus on five strategic pitfalls to avoid and how a leader can effectively go from just having ideas to becoming an engine for innovation.

The Pitfalls to Avoid in Becoming an Effective Intrapreneur

It all starts with strategy — the integrated set of choices of how the business will achieve its objectives and deliver value to customers.

  • Problem and market not clearly defined: The intrapreneur cannot reply to nor expect an organization to have a preexisting framework to prioritize its external threats or weaknesses. Taking the initiative to think about this on your own time via an exercise like a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) puts an aspiring change agent in a position to be seen as a person who takes initiative — and one who is not only looking at problems from an internal micro perspective but from an external macro view as well.
  • The customer experience is an afterthought: A recent trend in organizational development is the change of the role of customer service to “customer success” or “customer happiness.” It’s typical particularly in larger organizations and consultancies to get so wrapped up in internal change initiatives that the external customer is almost an afterthought. If you are an intrapreneur with customer-facing responsibilities, establishing a set of key performance indicators (KPIs) for customer success provides a way to test and measure improvement. Approach this from the mindset of being the new leader of an organization — what metrics would you put in place to move the organization from vanity metrics such as call response times to more meaningful KPIs such as net promoter score (NPS) and qualitative data like testimonials?
  • No delivery mechanism to bring innovation to market: An idea is not effective until a framework for execution is put in place to test, prioritize, execute and track any internal innovation initiatives. Consider appointing a champion of this initiative who is not only an innovator but is someone with a track record of delivering results. This doesn’t mean going through the expense of simply bringing in a consultant. A simple Google Sheet can be the start of listing the tasks, resources, time required and cost of going to market with an internal innovation. Share this within the organization to give other innovators an opportunity to comment and contribute, thus creating further momentum and interest in seeing these initiatives to fruition.
  • A bloated road map: Taking a play from the Lean Startup framework, an established organization need not waste time mapping out a “five-year plan.” The next step is to break the initiative into bite-sized chunks that can be validated and to then proceed to the next stage. For example, suppose one of your innovations is to enable a live-chat service on your enrollment website. Traditionally, this would involve conversations with compliance, IT, marketing and sales — all with the assumption that people will actually use it. Instead, validate it before you even build it by polling existing users if and to what degree they would prefer live chat to your existing email- or phone-based support. If the results are significantly in favor of the chat initiative, then you have just successfully validated a real need without spending a single dime.
  • No clear path to revenue: One final and perhaps most important characteristic about successful intrapreneurs is that they have a clear view of how the business will make money and how profits will be delivered and sustained. Few characteristics make intrapreneurs more prepared to move into the world of entrepreneurship than this resolute focus. This is often one of the most difficult challenges of being an effective innovator, particularly if you are entering an entirely new market or vertical or are developing a new product.

See also: Innovation — or Just Innovative Thinking?  

There is no better testing ground to becoming an entrepreneur than first testing the waters in a responsible way within your own organization as an intrapreneur. From the leadership team down to the customer service new-hire, innovation should be not another top-down initiative but an organic exercise where employees are encouraged — and rewarded — for thinking outside of the box.

5 Things Sailing Taught Me

Most entrepreneurs don’t just want to be entrepreneurs—they have to be entrepreneurs.  

As a driven entrepreneur in the insurance industry, you will encounter both challenges and rewards far beyond that of the average employee. Navigating these ups and downs can be as challenging as steering a ship through a storm on the high seas, but I’ve done both—and lived to tell the tale.

The lessons I learned sailing the seas have served me just as well on land. Here are five tips about entrepreneurship that sailing has taught me:

  1. Know the terminology

In sailing, understanding boating terms like aft, starboard and leeward is vital to working with your crew and operating your vessel. The same is true in business. If you can`t speak the language of your clients and your competition, your next deal may get lost in translation.  

Attending conferences and taking courses are both great ways to learn new terms and highlight that there`s a reason why you’re the expert.

  1. Use trends like the wind

When sailing, jibing and tacking help you manipulate the winds to steer your vessel in the right direction. In business, trends are your winds, and you need to understand which direction they`re heading. Take a few minutes every day and bring yourself up to speed on the latest global and local trends.

Aggregators like Feedly or SmartNews, along with social media feeds, keep you on the cutting edge and aware of which way the wind is blowing.

  1. Learn when to tighten or ease the sheet

The sheet is a line or rope used to adjust a sail against a force of wind.  

In business, you need to think about when to tighten or loosen your budget and your business’s growth in line with your sales cycle and market forces.

Markets ebb and flow, and your business will, too. Tracking these fluctuations over time will help determine the ideal time to launch marketing campaigns and hire employees, or to tighten the purse strings.

  1. Adjust quickly and wisely to a changing climate

The weather can change in an instant when you’re sailing, and you need to know how to use the sails to compensate, navigate under tough conditions and capitalize on whatever’s thrown at you. It`s not much different when you`re a leader in business.

Like the weather, business is always moving and changing. Whether you`re steering your ship at sea or driving your business on land, it takes experience and at times raw courage to weather a storm. See each storm as a chance to gain experience for the next one and know that sometimes you simply need to batten down the hatches – and wait it out.

  1. Be a decisive captain

It can take an entire crew to run a sailboat, but they won’t work effectively without a captain calling the shots. The crew rely on your vision, tenacity and experience to guide their actions. Without this direction, no one will know which way to travel.

As the captain of a ship or a business, you spend your days adjusting your sails, guiding the crew and at times navigating dangerous waters. If you’re on the verge of starting a business or taking it in a new direction, remember one thing above the rest – always keep your hand on the helm and keep in mind:

The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader trims the sails and sets a new course.

Dear Founders: Are You Listening?

Since my last post, “Distribution is 80% of your problem,” I have had the opportunity to speak in-depth with several terrific start-up founders about some of the incredible things they are doing and why things are not going so well. Several of their stories remind me of another big lesson I have learned over the years: We entrepreneurs often mistake “listening” as “waiting to talk,” until it’s too late.

A Little Knowledge (About Your Users) Is a Dangerous Thing

All the stories have a similar theme: We launched our product, and we got 10,000-plus users (or 100-plus small paying customers) using unscalable ways. Now, we are not sure of what to do next.

One founder I communicated with had talked to hundreds of her paying users and managed to convince herself that her market was women who want to make sure their kids don’t get too much unsupervised screen time. We talked to the company’s users and discovered that, in fact, the core group that loved the app were working women who want to keep track of their kids and know they are safe after school. Whenever this start-up had spoken to its user, it heard the answer it wanted to hear, not what the users were saying. The lesson learned here was about waiting to tell users what they “should” be doing with the app.

Another app — one that got to 20,000 users quickly with a small amount of seed money — found, once we dug deep, that fewer than 150 of their users were active weekly. The start-up had no idea who these 150 users were or what, specifically, they were doing with the product. After 20 user interviews, we discovered the start-up’s core use case was far from what the company thought it was and that the product was too hard to use. For far too long, the start-up was convinced its technology would change the world, especially because 20,000 users seemed to be using the product.

A third, B2B-focused start-up I recently spent time with has more than 100 paying users but has stalled growth and usage numbers. When I asked the company to tell me who its users were and what pain point it was solving, I kept getting back a laundry list of features and user personas instead. When the company dug deeper and spoke to users, it found that, of the 27 features, users are using two and that no one had discovered the three the company thinks are the real killer benefits. We realized the company’s model needs to shift away from “my users are using the wrong features and should have discovered the ‘right ones.'” As a start-up, you don’t get to tell users what scenarios and which features they should use your product for; consumers will tell you by using whatever they find useful.

Apple May Not Need to Talk to Users, But the Rest of Us Do

As a founder, you start with a hypothesis. You have all these incredible suppositions on how you will change the world with your product. You may think you can get away with: “My users do not know what they are doing. I will tell them what they should do. It works for Apple (or so goes the myth) so it will work for me — let’s just ignore users.” Believe me, those kinds of companies are black swans. For the rest of us, our users matter—who they are, what they use our products for and what they ignore.

This is for two basic reasons:

  1. Product/Market Fit: Unless we know and understand our users (or potential users), our incoming hypothesis of the value our product provides is literally that —a hypothesis. Sure, some people may not get it, and some may just dismiss it. But without a group of people who buy into the value we hypothesize that we can provide and who agree to become ecstatic users of our product, we probably did not have a real hypothesis to begin with, just a supposition that is wrong.
  2. Go-to-market: The more detail we can find out about users, the more we can figure out how to go after them in a tight, focused way. Going after moms who want to limit unsupervised screen time is very different from attracting busy working moms who really want to know where their kids are after school. The two are different products, have different features and have a different go-to-market.

One potential red herring during the early days comes when you manage to attract a chunk of users quickly. You can easily get deluded by the numbers — they’re like inventory, they hide a lot of problems. You convince yourself that what you’re doing can’t be wrong if 20,000 users think you’re right. The fact is that these 20,000 people do not think you are right ;  you somehow managed to “get” them, and they experimented with your product hoping to find something of use. 200 of those users might think you are onto something, but you don’t know who those 200 are. If you understood what those 200 really like about your product, you might be able to find the next 20,000 users who are really right for you.

What to Avoid When You Do Decide to Talk to Users

  1. Don’t defend what you have built and try to convince them you are right;
  2. Don’t keep coming back to your vision and what will come later or focus on product features they should be using;
  3. Don’t make a sales pitch about your company and yourself, make it about them and their real reaction to your product—even if it means you have to throw everything away and start over again.

If you do not do these things, you have not really listened to your users—you have just waited for your turn to talk and convinced yourself you understand your users.

A FRAMEWORK FOR WHEN TO LISTEN TO USERS–AND HOW 

Here’s a framework I have developed over the years about when and how to listen to users:

The First 500 Users

Those first 500 users are the most important people in your journey. You need to do more than just talk to them, you need to build a solid relationship with them — they are the foundation of your product.

In my previous start-up, a career marketplace, I personally introduced my early adopters to friendly hiring managers at many companies and helped them land a job. A lot of those early customers are now my Facebook friends. Some of them even became our ambassadors and had equity in the company.

Those first users add immense value. They  validate your hypothesis, refine your ideas, recruit more users and test new features, on top of a whole lot more. And they are also very forgiving to defects, crashes, bad user experience (UX), everything.

I used to schedule as many phone calls with them as I could. In every conversation, I would first show what we were working on (in detail) and get their feedback. I would then open up  and  ask about what they were doing with the product, why they chose it over others, how they found it added value, what related issues they had that we could help with, among other questions. I logged every conversation.

Listening Is Hard to Do—For Founders in Particular

Most of the time when we think we’re listening, we are actually just waiting for our turn to talk. Here are three reasons why:

  1. We are always busy talking — to ourselves. Even when we are obviously talking to someone else, we are also internally talking to ourselves. So listening genuinely — muting your internal conversation and giving someone your full attention — is hard.
  2. For founders, listening genuinely is harder. Most entrepreneurs have their product, features, ideas and vision so deeply ingrained that, when they talk to users, entrepreneurs are always defending things they find users having problems with . (“But you didn’t see the profile page; the settings let you change this,” “There are so many cool things you can do, didn’t you see this feature?,” “We’ll get to that in Version 3,” “Wait, no, you don’t understand, that’s where the puck is going,” etc.)
  3. It is not easy for people to articulate what they are thinking. To really understand what users are saying, you have to read between the lines. Even if you lead with your world view, you really have to listen to users’ views carefully — both what is said and what is not.

Talking to users requires real effort . Be aware of that and start focusing on your first 500 users. Treat your early adopters with special respect — make them feel special and take care of them beyond just the product.

Beyond the First 500 Users

Moving forward with your customer base requires using other techniques (in addition to real conversations) that are still important. One such tactic is talking through the product,  provoking conversations with product experiments.

An example of this would be radically changing your on-boarding — drop everything and get them in — for a small set of users and seeing what happens. Remove a feature you think is not useful and wait for users to complain. Removing things temporarily is the best way to test if they are really valuable.

It also helps to create ancillary products  ( quick prototypes )  to test value outside your core product. As you learn more about your users, you will start to see more value propositions, some that align with your vision and some that don’t.

Until you are truly convinced you have product-market fit, do not be shy about running small experiments on the side to keep testing different ideas. Use conversations to create hypotheses, and experiment quickly.

Another technique is to always ask, “What else would you want this product to do for you?” in every support email. My start-up once introduced a critical defect in our iPhone app that led to hundreds of support emails. Adding that one question uncovered several hundred feature requests, including a lot we had not thought about.

Talking to users as you scale is more than just about having conversations. Lead with a hypothesis, measure, iterate, run side experiments continuously to test.

Dear founder, do not wait to talk to your users until it’s too late.

And when you do, listen. Don’t just wait to talk.

productive

15 Habits of Ultra-Productive People

I recently interviewed more than 200 ultra-productive people: seven billionaires, 13 Olympians, 20 straight-A students and more than 200 successful entrepreneurs. I asked them a simple, open-ended question: “What is your No. 1 secret to productivity?” After analyzing their responses, I coded their answers into 15 unique ideas.

SECRET #1: They focus on minutes, not hours

Average performers default to hour and half-hour blocks on their calendar. Highly successful people know where each of the 1,440 minutes in a day goes, and they know there is nothing more valuable than time. Money can be lost and made again, but time spent can never be reclaimed. Olympic gymnast Shannon Miller told me, “To this day, I keep a schedule that is almost minute by minute.” You must master your minutes to master your life.

SECRET #2: They focus only on one thing

Ultra-productive people know their Most Important Task (MIT) and work on it for one to two hours each morning, without interruptions. Tom Ziglar, CEO of Ziglar Inc., shared, “Invest the first part of your day working on your No. 1 priority that will help build your business.” What task will have the biggest impact on reaching your goal? What accomplishment will get you promoted at work?

SECRET #3: They don’t use to-do lists

Throw away your to-do list; instead, schedule everything on your calendar. It turns out only 41% of items on to-do lists are ever actually done. And all those items that aren’t done lead to stress and insomnia because of the Zeigarnik effect. Highly productive people put everything on their calendar and work and live from that calendar. Jordan Harbinger, co-founder of The Art of Charm, advises, “Use a calendar and schedule your entire day into 15-minute blocks. It sounds like a pain, but this will set you up in the 95th percentile.”

SECRET #4: They beat procrastination with time travel

Your future self can’t be trusted. That’s because we are “time inconsistent.” We buy veggies today because we think we’ll eat healthy salads all week, then we throw out rotting green mush in the future. I bought P90x because I thought I would start exercising vigorously, yet the box sits unopened one year later. What can you do right now to make sure your future self does the right thing? Anticipate how you will self-sabotage in the future and come up with a solution to defeat your future self.

SECRET #5: They make it home for dinner

I first learned this secret from Intel’s Andy Grove, who told me, “There is always more to be done, more that should be done, always more than can be done.” Highly successful people know what they value in life. Yes, they value work, but what else should they value? There is no right answer, but, for many, values include family time, exercise and giving back. They allocate their 1,440 minutes a day to every area they value (i.e., they put it on their calendar), and then they stick to the schedule.

SECRET #6: They use a notebook

Richard Branson has said on more than one occasion that he wouldn’t have been able to build Virgin without a simple notebook, which he takes with him wherever he goes. In one interview, Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis said, “Always carry a notebook. Write everything down…That is a million-dollar lesson they don’t teach you in business school!” Ultra-productive people free their mind by writing everything down.

SECRET #7: They process email only a few times a day

Ultra-productive people don’t check their email throughout the day. They don’t respond to each vibration or ding to see who has intruded into their inbox. Instead, like everything else, they schedule time to process their email quickly and efficiently. For some, that’s only once a day; for me, it’s morning, noon and night.

SECRET #8: They avoid meetings at all costs

When I asked Mark Cuban to give me his best productivity advice, he quickly responded, “Never take meetings unless someone is writing a check.” Meetings are notorious time killers. They start late, have the wrong people in them, meander in their topics and run long. You should get out of meetings whenever you can and hold fewer of them yourself. If you do run a meeting, keep it short.

SECRET #9: They say “no” to almost everything

Billionaire Warren Buffett once said, “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.” James Altucher colorfully gave me this tip: “If something is not a ‘hell, yeah!’, then it’s a ‘no!’ ” Remember, you only have 1,440 minutes in every day. Don’t give them away easily.

SECRET #10: They follow the 80/20 rule

Known as the Pareto Principle, in most cases 80% of outcomes come from 20% of activities. Ultra-productive people know which activities drive the greatest results, and they focus on those and ignore the rest.

SECRET #11: They delegate almost everything

Ultra-productive people don’t ask, “How can I do this task?” Instead, they ask, “How can this task get done?” They take the “I” out of situations as much as possible. Ultra-productive people don’t have control issues and are not micro-managers. In many cases, good enough is, well, good enough.

SECRET #12: They create themes for days of the week

Highly successful people often “theme” days of the week to focus on major areas. For decades, I’ve had “Mondays for Meetings” to make sure I’m doing one-on-one check-ins with each direct report. My Friday afternoons are themed around financials and general administrative items I want to clean up before the new week starts. I’ve previously written about Jack Dorsey’s work themes, which enable him to run two companies at once. Batch your work to maximize your efficiency and effectiveness.

SECRET #13: They touch things only once

How many times have you opened a piece of regular mail—a bill, perhaps—and put it down, only to deal with it again later? How often do you read an email and close it, leaving it in your inbox to deal with later? Highly successful people try to “touch it once.” If it takes less than five or 10 minutes—whatever it may be—they’ll deal with it right then and there. This reduces stress because it isn’t in the back of their mind, and it is more efficient because they won’t have to re-read or reevaluate the item in the future.

SECRET #14: They practice a consistent morning routine

My single greatest surprise while interviewing these more than 200 highly successful people was how many of them wanted to share their morning ritual with me. Hal Elrod, author of The Miracle Morning, told me, “While most people focus on ‘doing’ more to achieve more, The Miracle Morning is about focusing on ‘becoming’ more so that you can start doing less, to achieve more.” While I heard about a wide variety of habits, most people I interviewed nurtured their body in the morning with water, a healthy breakfast and light exercise. They nurtured their mind with meditation or prayer, inspirational reading and journaling.

SECRET #15: Energy is everything

You can’t make more minutes in the day, but you can increase your energy—which will increase your attention, focus, decision-making and overall productivity. Highly successful people don’t skip meals, sleep or take breaks in the pursuit of more, more, more. Instead, they view food as fuel and sleep as recovery, and they pause with “work sprints.”

Tying It All Together

You might not be an entrepreneur, Olympian or millionaire—or even want to be—but their secrets just might help you get more done in less time and help you to stop feeling so overworked and overwhelmed.