According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women.  In 2005, 652,091 people died of heart disease.  Moreover, approximately 37% of adults reported having two or more of six risk factors for heart disease and stroke (high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, current smoking, physical inactivity, and obesity).

So to summarize: a lot of people take no steps to prevent THE most statistically probable cause of death.  If they would stop smoking, exercise, and eat healthy then they would put a huge dent in a good portion of the risk list and possibly save their own lives.

But…

They will wash their hands religiously and talk non-stop about how to prevent the spread of Swine flu.  About 150 people in Mexico have died of Swine flu.  In the US, 66 cases of the pig bug have been reported along with one fatality.

It seems like people are more afraid of the uncontrollable than they are of the actual risks.  I know that if I take horrible care of my body, then I might get a heart attack.  But I control that risk to some degree.  Becoming ill from a virus is random and less controlled.  It stirs up more fear and gets better ratings on the news.

And sometimes fear leads people to take extreme actions with more negative consequences than the initial feared problem itself.

Forecasting.  This word stirs in me a mix of love and hate feelings.  Early on in my career I had an abnormal fixation with excel spreadsheets.  Business to me was about pro forma statements and linked excel formulas.  I can still create a mean worksheet, but my perspective has changed.

Recently I have been forecasting for Elias.  Initially I considered business school thinking: What is the total market size for ecommerce?  Now how much of that market can we capture? etc…  The problem is that these numbers are crap.  Every novice business plan seems to include something like this market estimate along with, “If we just capture 1% of the market then we will make a fortune!”  When has this really worked for a start-up?

Instead, I have been working from the bottom up.  Elias provides a service, which means that we add value to our customers by using time to implement technology.  The upside to this is that we have little risk in terms of cost (depending on how you value time in the equation or account for opportunity cost).  The downside is that we sometimes have to turn away customers when we do not have enough time to sell.  It is essentially a scalability problem.  The challenge: how to package expertise so that it provides value to customers without an increase in time.  The formula must be reworked.  In the meantime, my forecasting is based on the number of projects Elias can take on and still fulfill commitments in a timely manor. That’s the most effort I’m willing to invest on forecasting revenue.  The variable which can be controlled is cost.  A start-up should be able to predict with relative accuracy the costs associated with doing business.  This is the kind of forecasting that warrants being intimately familiar with the numbers and watching them like the first time you met your wife, that is, study them passionately.

And that’s it.  Really the focus should be on the customer and cashflow.  Too much focus on forecasting and setting goals can actually have a negative effect on an organization over the long haul.  Make customers happy and collect money.  This is the primary objective for a start-up.

picture-2For some reason I have a knack for finding helpful things online.  It started with an emailed link from time to time to my partners.  Now we have taken to crowning the really good finds with the term “Find of the day” and made the discoveries into something of a game or contest among us.  It just seems selfish to keep some of these treasures of the web to ourselves.

Today’s featured “find of the day” comes to us thanks to Eric Clark. Eric, the organzied planner among us, has been maintaining a growing spreadsheet of web passwords.  He did this until discovering Passpack – a free online password manager.  Passpack took about 5 minutes to set-up and I can now manage that spreadsheet of passwords from a secure online portal.  Watch this video to learn more or sign up for an account yourself to test it out.

Hopefully our days of wasted password reset time are gone.

Check out this quote from a Time Magazine article entitled The New Internet Start-up Boom: Get Rich Slow (Props to Derek from 37signals for posting this on SVN):

At no other time in recent history has it been easier or cheaper to start a new kind of company. Possibly a very profitable company.

The article goes on the highlight how one guy joined a growing wave of businesses springing up that are going to market inexpensively (and sometimes profitably).  Now, I studied entrepreneurship in college.  My training was centered around creating a business plan, raising capital, and pitching your ideas to potential investors.  In fact, the coursework was desinged to simulate the risk of starting of a business by requiring seniors in their last semester to risk graduation on one course: an A or F class which hinged entirely on a presentation to a panel of business executives during the final week of school.  About 30% of my class failed, which meant they had to awkwardly call mom and dad to tell them that they should cancel the hotel room for graduation weekend because they would not be able to get their degree for another year (the class was only offered once a year).  My how the rules have changed.

Let’s cover the rule change.  Old rules for starting a business:

  1. get an idea
  2. write a 50 page (or more) business plan
  3. pitch business plans to angel investors or VC firms until someone gives you money
  4. Build product
  5. Pray that your plan works before you run out of money

Proposed New Rules for starting a business:

  1. Figure out what is valuable to a business (hint: look for pain points)
  2. Offer a service to fix that pain and thus add value
  3. Translate that service into a product
  4. Charge customers to use that product on a reoccurring basis

In my opinion, starting a new business by offering a service is smart for a couple of reasons: 1. it makes it easier to get close enough to clients to really understand the product they would find valuable and thus be willing to pay for; and 2. services will provide cashflow while/if the product is being adopted in the market.

Also, I want to emphasize that I don’t intend to negate the importance of planning within the new rules.  The ability to plan and manage a project are arguably more important, actually, because you will hopefully be working with several clients at once on your services business while at the same time building a product in your spare time (at least that is what we are experiencing at Elias).  It is just a different type of planning.  For a more detailed perspective on the topic, I highly recommend Guy Kawasaki’s Reality Check.

I’m waiting
I’m waiting on You, Lord
And I am hopeful
I’m waiting on You, Lord
Though it is painful
But patiently, I will wait

I will move ahead, bold and confident
Taking every step in obedience


While I’m waiting
I will serve You
While I’m waiting
I will worship
While I’m waiting
I will not faint
I’ll be running the race
Even while I wait

I’m waiting
I’m waiting on You, Lord
And I am peaceful
I’m waiting on You, Lord
Though it’s not easy
But faithfully, I will wait
Yes, I will wait

I will serve You while I’m waiting
I will worship while I’m waiting
I will serve You while I’m waiting
I will worship while I’m waiting
I will serve You while I’m waiting
I will worship while I’m waiting on You, Lord

– John Waller

iamsecond

I did it.  I clicked one of the Facebook ads.  It took me to a site called I am Second.  Wow.

First, the site has incredible design.  Just check it out for yourself.  The videos are high quality interviews of people telling their stories.

Second, the message is life-changing.  I watched three of them: 2 stories and 1 answer to a question.

Please drop me a note if you get anymore information on who is behind this one.

Immerse Yourself in the Right Information

Immerse Yourself in the Right Information

Inc Magazine features a slideshow on 4 mistakes Young Salespeople Make.  Here is the caption for the picture above:

They immerse themselves in the wrong information.

Some neophytes spend all of their time studying up on their products. Knowing the details of what you are selling is obviously crucial, but don’t forget to do some basic research about the prospect, too. Being able to draw on specific information about a sales lead is the most effective way to get his or her attention. “A salesperson should have something to refer to that the prospect has actually said or done,” says Hoffman. He recommends reading anything the prospect has posted online, and even citing snippets of things they’ve said or written in the past during a presentation. “Most people are primarily interested in themselves,” says Hoffman. “So let’s talk about the topic you care about, which is you.”

My team at ExactTarget has been preparing for a significant meeting with a prospect that will take place later this week.  It’s interesting to note our preparation in comparison to the above advice.  We have read everything we can get our hands on with regard to the client’s business: its press releases, articles in various magazines, video interviews with their founder, and blog posts.  We purchased their service to get first hand experience.  And we pulled quotes from these sources to integrate into the presentation.  In the end, we will have spent 80% of our time researching the client’s business and 20% of our time preparing to speak to our product.

The results, we believe, will make us far more engaging to the client because we will be relevant to the client’s business.  And if we find out we are wrong about halfway through the meeting, then maybe we’ll ask him if he is into fishing.