About anentrepreneurswords

R. Lee Harris grew up in Manhattan, Kansas and has lived in the Kansas City area since 1977. A 1975 graduate of Kansas State University, Harris began his career with Cohen-Esrey, LLC as an apartment manager two weeks after he graduated. Now president and CEO, he is involved in apartment management, development and investment; construction and tax credit syndication on a nationwide scale. Over the course of his career Harris has overseen the management of more than 27 million square feet of office building, shopping center and industrial space and nearly 60,000 multi-family units. He has started dozens of business enterprises over the past 40+ years. In 1991, Harris wrote a book entitled, The Customer Is King! published by Quality Press of Milwaukee. In 2012 he authored the book, An Entrepreneur's Words to Live By. He has mentored a number of business people over the years and has been a long-time participant in the Helzberg Entrepreneurial Mentoring Program. He and his wife Barb have two grown daughters and one grandson. They are active in their church, community and university.

The Never Say Never Entrepreneur

“If you think life is magical or life is hard, either way you are right. Your thoughts are the source of reality.” I love this quote by Dr. Debasish Mridha, an American physician and philosopher. And here is a phrase that is toxic to the entrepreneurial mindset – “It’s too hard.” Why? Because it is an affirmation – and a powerful one at that. There is nothing wrong with acknowledging that the mountain in front of us may be huge. But we can easily tip over into defeatist territory if we say something is “too hard.” Often that is a signal that it is time to give up. Au contraire!

Conquering something difficult and maybe even insurmountable is a true entrepreneur’s dream, much in the same vein as climbing Mount Everest or something less daring like public speaking. I want to “run to hard” and embrace it. I do so because I know that many others have run away from it. “Too hard” is an opportunity to blend innovation and creativity into a solution. It is an opportunity to witness the power of a positive attitude. It is an opportunity to learn how tough we are and how able we are to persevere.

There are examples all around us of how “too hard” really wasn’t. Think how hard it must have been to put a man on the moon in 1969 before the technological advancements we have today. The first heart transplant must have been amazingly hard – yet someone did it. And how hard was it for swimmer Michael Phelps to win 28 Olympic medals over the course of his career? There is no doubt that someone uttered the “too hard” phrase with each of these accomplishments. And that someone was obviously dead wrong.

Here is what I have learned. A leader must be the eternal optimist. He or she must absolutely and totally believe in the goal or objective. This belief must be authentic and genuine – not playacting for the team. There’s confidence on steroids at work here. But more than sheer willpower is necessary to generate the desired result. The effort must be strategic and smart.

Hoover, Electrolux, and Oreck seemed to have a corner on the vacuum market for years. Then along came James Dyson with a revolutionary idea in the late 1970s.  He created 5,127 prototypes over five years and the G-Force Dual Cyclone was born. Dyson has since become a worldwide market leader with 2019 sales of more than $7.3 billion. Here is another example. Blockbuster had 2004 revenue of $6 billion while Netflix brought in $500 million. Today, Netflix has more than nearly 208 million streaming subscribers and Blockbuster is out of business. What happened to “too hard” with Dyson and Netflix?

Dyson revolutionized vacuum cleaner design and eliminated the need for a bag. It was clearly a disruptor in its industry. Its swivel ball technology also made it easier to use a vacuum cleaner in tight spaces – something the incumbent makers had failed to do. Netflix was all about convenience for its customers. I remember having to drive to the Blockbuster store to rent a movie. Meanwhile Netflix was sending them through the mail. Ultimately, the company figured out that streaming was the future and rode the wave in handsome fashion. “Too hard” was transformed into stunning success through innovation, creativity, perseverance, resilience and above all a “can’t lose” mindset.

How do these stories apply to us? If nothing else, it is imperative that we learn how to convert too hard into let’s do it.” We must first convince ourselves that we can do whatever we set out to do. Then we must persuade our team to believe the same way. I know that this sounds like a lot of rah-rah. But the formula is a simple one. Yes, there will be risks – but we figure out how to manage them. Yes, there will be failure – but we use it to learn what works and what doesn’t. And yes, there will be periods where progress seems painfully slow – but we keep moving forward until we break through.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Opportunity-Juggling Entrepreneur

Are you a juggler? Or do you like to focus on one thing at a time? This is the classic conundrum for an entrepreneur. True confession. My personality is such that I could become easily bored if forced to focus on only one thing. I flourish when I am juggling 67 balls and trying to keep every single one of them in the air. There are times when juggling is not only useful but necessary. And there are times when intense focus is mandatory. Mind you, I can focus like a laser when I absolutely must. But I do not really like to do this day-in and day-out.

In the start-up world, venture capitalists often advise entrepreneurial founders to focus on a single product or service. This is generally sound advice. Too often, founders “flit” all over the place with a million ideas and are masters of none. I understand this. At the earliest stages of the corporate lifecycle, we are searching to find the right product; the right features; and the right market. As a result, we may tend to cast a wide net over many products, many features, and many markets, looking for the right combination in the process. And so, the juggling act begins.

There is a fine line between juggling to fine-tune a product or service and juggling a panoply of unrelated ideas that we think are opportunities. One of our business units is focused on acquiring market-rate apartment properties across the country. This product set has been painstakingly refined and our team is very disciplined within the parameters that have been established. This strategy calls for purchasing properties of 200 to 600-units, built in the 1980s to 2000s, and located in larger markets in the Midwest, Southeast and Southwest. I am very supportive of this approach. A couple years ago I suggested that we purchase some smaller properties in the same markets for a different group of investors wishing to write smaller equity checks. Fortunately, our team knows my proclivities and accommodated my suggestion. I think they would prefer to maintain their focus on the larger properties. But they understand that this second product set provides some diversification as well as some operating efficiencies. Needless to say, this additional strategy has caused a certain amount of juggling to accomplish.

Many of the great companies have started with a single product. Amazon sold only books in the early days. One could order hard copy books and eventually digital books that could be read on Amazon’s e-reader, the Kindle. It was years before Amazon began juggling in the sale of other products. Apple did the same thing with a personal computer. Again, it was years before they started selling MP3 players, phones, and other electronic devices. Somewhere along the line these companies had to begin juggling in a more robust manner. What was the inflection point? If you are an entrepreneur, have you found the inflection point where juggling more opportunities is appropriate and perhaps even necessary?

Working within a team structure is critical to discovering the right time to begin juggling more and more opportunities. Debating and discussing a multitude of ideas is healthy and will lead to the right decision. One thing I appreciate about our team is the fact that while willing to juggle, they will say “no” to opportunities they do not believe are productive. They test each idea and opportunity against our corporate vision and mission. This is the most important factor of all. Earlier in my career I grabbed at everything. That was before our vision and mission was clear. It is much easier now to juggle while still remaining focused when understanding which opportunities are truly a fit.

As entrepreneurs we are destined to juggle. But we must know when to be singularly focused and when to look at many ideas and opportunities. Using a team approach to make these decisions and testing each idea and opportunity against the corporate vision and mission is the ticket to success.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Moat-Building Entrepreneur

We know from our history lessons that in medieval days, members of noble families often lived in castles. These fortresses were imposing in appearance and have stood for centuries – a testament to their design and construction. Castles were built over a 900-year timeframe which is truly amazing. These structures were protected by a wide range of defenses including various forms of artillery, arrows, boiling oil, tar and sewage, and there are even reports of diseased dead bodies being catapulted at assailants. Finally, deep wide ditches were dug around many castles and filled with water, requiring access via drawbridges. In fairy tales we heard about moats being home to alligators, crocodiles, and other horrible monsters though it is doubtful that in real life moats were populated in this fashion.

So, what is your moat? Strange question you ask? I have written several times in the past about how important it is that entrepreneurs differentiate themselves from their competitors. In 2007, Warren Buffet was speaking to a group of University of Florida MBA students and had this to say about differentiation.

“I don’t want a business that’s easy for competitors. I want a business with a moat around it. I want a very valuable castle in the middle. And then I want…the Duke who is in charge of that castle to be honest and hard-working and able. And then I want a big moat around the castle, and that moat can be various things.”

“The moat in a business like our auto insurance business at GEICO is low cost. I mean people have to buy auto insurance, so everybody’s going to have one auto insurance policy per car basically, or per driver. And…I can’t sell them twenty…but they have to buy one. What are they going to buy it on? They’re going to buy it based on service and cost. Most people will assume the service is fairly identical among companies, or close enough, so they’re going to do it on cost, so I gotta be the low cost producer. That’s my moat. To the extent my costs get further lower than the other guy, I’ve thrown a couple of sharks into the moat.”

Thinking about differentiation in terms of a moat is a slightly different perspective than I have had in the past. I have viewed differentiation proactively and as an opportunity to exploit. Buffet seems to be seeing it from a defensive standpoint – thus his moat analogy. Either way, we get to the same place. There must be a reason that people want to do business with us beyond our charm and good looks.

I am advocating for a combination of defense and offense with respect to differentiation. On the one hand, I am looking for products and services that have high barriers to entry. Perhaps this is due to substantial capital requirements; extremely complex aspects to the product or service; maybe it is a patent; or perhaps there is a vertically integrated process that is extremely difficult to replicate. All those factors become the moat. They make it hard for competitors to easily jump into our space and make inroads.

Now let’s play offense. Simply keeping our competition at bay does not ensure success or profitability. It is what we do inside the castle that really counts. We can sit on a throne, eat rich foods, and get fat (dumb and happy), or we can exploit the opportunity we have to function in an arena where competition may not be as intense. This might take the form of developing a premium product, or a marketing strategy that creates FOMO – the Fear of Missing Out. Maybe exploiting the opportunity looks like the streamlining of an internal process that produces even greater profits. The point is that with a moat in place we can take our endeavor to an even higher level than ever before.

Differentiating ourselves as entrepreneurs is essential to our success. Doing so with a dual strategy of building a moat and exploiting the opportunity allows us to play defense and offense at the same time.  

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

What’s Wrong With Retail?

During 2020, 12,200 retail stores closed, up from 9,300 store closures in 2019. Another 5,700 retailers closed their doors in 2018, and 8,000 closed in 2017. That is a total of 35,200 stores over a four-year timeframe. Experts have offered several reasons for this trend including the growth of e-commerce as well as the opening of too many stores in years past. Certainly, these are likely factors in the struggles experienced by the retail industry. But there are some basic and fundamental reasons as well. Entrepreneurs would do well to pay attention to how these basics and fundamentals could have an impact on every business – whether retail or otherwise.

We recently traveled several miles to a large national furniture home store in search of a particular kind of lamp we wanted to purchase. When we arrived, there was a grand total of one salesperson on the showroom floor and he was working with a family that appeared to be pondering a significant purchase. I cannot say that I blame him for focusing all his attention on a customer that would earn him a very nice commission. Unfortunately, he did not even acknowledge us or try to find another salesperson to assist us. We waited approximately 20 minutes and then I began wandering the store and came across another salesperson who was arranging a display. He didn’t even ask if I needed help until I finally told him we had questions and would appreciate speaking with a salesperson. I then showed him the lamps that were exactly what we needed and asked him to ring up the sale and we would take the lamps home with us. Not so fast, he responded. The store did not keep lamps in stock and would have to order them. I asked if we could just buy the floor models and he said no. If they did that, they would not have anything to display on the floor. He then informed me that it would be about four weeks before the lamps would be delivered. Disappointed, we told him that we would order them online from a different supplier which we did – and had them three days later.

A friend of ours related another story which she said she has encountered several times. She recently visited a large national department store chain in a local mall. As happens so often, there were no salespeople on the floor, and she had to go looking for them – sound familiar? Once found, the salespeople (remember, this happened on numerous occasions) were uncaring and unknowledgeable. She wanted to try on different clothing items only to find the dressing rooms filthy to the point that she did not want to use them.

Finally, we periodically patronize a large national household goods store. This chain purportedly sells everything under the sun. And yet, we always leave with at least one or two very common items remaining on our shopping list. Why? Because the items are not in stock for one reason or another. We have tracked down sales associates who tell us that if it is not on the shelves, they do not have it. This was understandable during COVID-19, but the problem was occurring well before the pandemic.

So, let’s review. A large retailer does not carry floor items in stock so that customers can take their purchases with them. In fact, a customer must wait longer to receive such items from the store than if they make the purchases through an e-commerce site. Several large, national retailers do not have adequate sales associates available to help customers. And, in several cases the sales associates they do have are of no help. Finally, cleanliness in a few cases is apparently not on anyone’s “To Do” list.

Let’s be clear. There are many retail establishments that are doing it correctly. Home Depot and Lowe’s have plenty of friendly and knowledgeable sales associates who are instantly available to assist. This is not an indictment of the retail industry as a whole. But the fact that so many large, national chains are falling short is baffling – especially considering the existential threat posed by e-commerce.

As entrepreneurs we should understand how critical the customer experience is to our success. This is certainly an obvious statement; so why are so many businesses continuing to fall short with the basics and fundamentals? I am sure as you read this that you can relate your own examples of the disappointing encounters you have had in the retail sector. Just remember to make sure that your customers aren’t saying the same things about your business.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Premium-Priced Entrepreneur

What do the following have in common? A To’ak Chocolate Bar, Sapporo’s Space Barley Beer, the Shure KSE1500 Electrostatic Earphone System, the Rolls Royce Phantom Serenity automobile, and the Bunn Tiger XL Super-Auto Espresso Machine? OK, here is a hint. The chocolate bar costs $260; the beer retails at $110 per six pack; the earphone system costs $2,999; the Rolls Royce runs $1.1 million, and the Bunn coffee machine is $12,000. It is obvious that all are ultra-premium products. A Hershey Bar at Sam’s Club can be purchased for $.57. A six-pack of Bud Light is about seven bucks. For less than $20 you can buy Philips SHE3590 earphones. A Toyota Corolla will set you back $18,500, and a Mr. Coffee BVMC-SJX33GT-AM 12-Cup Programmable Coffee Maker with Thermal Carafe Option is available on Amazon.com for $18.26 – and in a chrome finish no less!

You may be thinking “A chocolate bar is a chocolate bar,” right? And why would anyone want to drink a beer that costs $18.33 – would it really taste 1,467% better than a Bud Light because that is the cost differential! Isn’t driving from Point A to Point B basically the same whether it’s in a Corolla or a Rolls? Why is there so much of a difference between a regular product and a premium one?

In nearly every industry there is always a product or service that commands a premium price. In this extremely competitive world in which we live, how can this be? There are a lot of wannabes when it comes to premium products, but most come up short. As entrepreneurs we want to look for the opportunity to create a premium product or service that generate huge margins and burnish our reputation. So, what do we do?

Let’s look at the primary elements that comprise a premium product or service. Certainly, Quality is at the top of this list. The Rolls Royce Phantom Serenity is amazing in the category of quality. A Gearheads.org write-up had this to say, “The interior of the car received exceptionally crafted elements that are probably the most perfectly sculpted and crafted elements in the car world. Bloom effect and bloom motifs that are scattered throughout the cabin are applied by artists using a squirrel hairbrush. The extent of lunacy of perfection went so far that Rolls-Royce imported a specially woven silk from Suzhou in China and integrate it throughout the cabin. Bloom effect was added onto the silk as well and Rolls-Royce officially published information that painting one silk panel with bloom effect required 600 working hours. You have read that right too. Basically, a man should work fifteen weeks straight to make a perfect blossom motif on only one silk covered panel.”

Another component attributable to the premium label is that of Features. Listen to this about the Shure KSE1500 from the Shure website. “Offers five EQ presets, four customizable EQ settings, and Bypass Mode which bypasses digital processing for pure analog audio enjoyment. Features high-resolution 24/96 ADC/DAC, aligning with the Japan Audio Society High-Resolution requirements for both analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog conversion. Works with any earphones or headphones with a 3.5 mm jack; compatible with Mac, PC, iOS, and Android devices. Includes paired earphones and amplifier (not compatible with other earphones or amplifiers), charger, Lightning® and OTG cables, two 1/8″ cables, 1/4″ adapter, airline adapter, attenuator, cable clip, two security bands, cleaning cloth, case and user guide.” If I wanted a set of premium earphones, I would be impressed with such a wide array of meaningful features.

The final primary facet of a premium product (or service) revolves around Brand. Sometimes a brand can be so legendary that it overshadows the actual product. There is no doubt that a Rolls Royce is exquisite in terms of quality, but the Rolls brand is so steeped in a tradition of luxury that just about any automobile it produces will be perceived as an ultra-premium vehicle.

We entrepreneurs would do well to study premium products and services and model them to the greatest extent possible in our own organizations. Too often companies charge higher prices just because it costs more to produce whatever they are selling rather than providing true value to the customer. When we give premium value to our customers, we are well on our way to achieving a level of product or service differentiation that commands a premium price.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Incremental Entrepreneur

The drive from New York to Los Angeles covers 2,791.8 miles. Or put another way, that is 176,888,448 inches. And to show you that I am not playing favorites – for those of you who prefer the metric scale, the New York to LA trip spans 449,295,541.2 centimeters. Why the obsession with inches (or centimeters)? Simply put, it is about progress. Totally confused? Let me explain.    

We all know that progress is “a movement toward a goal or to a further or higher stage,” according to most dictionaries. We entrepreneurs hold a steadfast belief that progress is the Holy Grail, and wheel spinning will send us spiraling into a major funk. Even progress that seems too slow to us can be cause for great angst. I certainly stand before you guilty as charged! But here is what I have learned. Sweeping change may not be lasting. Here is an example. Suppose that our business begins to grow at a very rapid pace. Year-over-year our top line revenues (fueled by sales) increases 35% to 50%. What a wonderful problem to have – right? Well, rapid growth comes with a price. Often, there is not time to lay a solid foundation of systems and processes. We are just go-go-go all the time. And the success masks over the rickety infrastructure that may have been installed in haphazard fashion.

Let us look at another example. We are negotiating a new contract with a vendor that has proposed taking over our entire human resources function. There could be a substantial savings involved. But this is a big leap, and what if it does not work? How do we rebuild our HR operation? Would making a change force us to hire another outsource provider because re-starting our internal HR department would be too difficult?  

There is something to be said for embracing incremental change. I am not saying that taking the inch-by-inch approach is right for every situation. There is no doubt that there are situations where making a big, honkin’ impact is the right thing to do. But I know that too often I want everything at once in nearly every circumstance. And of course, this leads to mounting frustration when it does not happen to my liking. I have written before about patience – a gene that is absent for most entrepreneurs. Embracing incremental change is not all about patience, however.

Incremental change can be plain smart business. Take the example of the outsourcing of the HR function. Perhaps there would be a way to dip our toe in the water with the vendor. Maybe we outsource a portion of the HR function on a test basis and evaluate the results. If after sufficient time we feel comfortable, maybe we move another portion of the HR function (or even the rest of it). Maybe rather than grow at 50% per year we throttle back to 25% or 30%, and intentionally invest resources in building a solid infrastructure. Instead of rolling out an entirely new sales training program, we prioritize our weakest areas and develop training around them. The ultimate goal would be to implement a new sales training program, but over the course of 18 to 24 months.

As much as we want everything to happen right now, sometimes we are better served by making change inch-by-inch. We take what the market will give us. We take the gains that our team can generate. Sure, it is nice to score a touchdown with a 103-yard punt return in 11 seconds. But we score the same seven points when we grind out positive yards. Yes, sometimes we achieve a first down with just an inch or two to spare. If we are in it for the long haul, the incremental approach may even be more rewarding because our wins are not the result of a fluke or a lucky break. We know how to win.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The “Looker” Entrepreneur

I knew a person who always seemed to have a black cloud following over his head. He encountered some of the most bizarre situations I have ever known. His drive to work regularly was a harrowing experience. I would hear tales of near-death situations involving rogue drivers forcing him off the road. Then there was the incident at the sporting goods store. He tried to return an item he purchased and got into a massive fight with the store that involved an ongoing string of e-mails and phone calls. Finally, he always seemed to be feuding with a friend. The reasons were so banal that I never figured what was really the problem.

At one point I dug in a little deeper to try and understand why this individual was always struggling so much. And guess what I found? He had an LFT problem. If you have not figured it out by now, LFT means Looking for Trouble. He was continually loaded for bear and saw a conspiracy against him every time he turned around. Turns out he was a very aggressive driver (I rode with him once and he scared the bejabbers out of me). He could be very demanding so I imagine that in a retail store he might have been inclined to run roughshod over the salesclerk. He told me that his motto was to “expect the unexpected” and be ready to “play offense.”  

Going through life with an LFT mindset must be depressing. And it is an attitude that’s pure poison for entrepreneurs. I can see preparing for the unexpected, but intentionally expecting something bad to happen seems like it could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I truly believe that if we see conflict and strife in every situation then that is how we will live. Those types of thoughts are like a magnet. 

I can count on two or three fingers the number of times I have had close calls in my car. I know I am vigilant when it comes to driving and while alert, I am not “waiting for the other shoe to drop.” In other words, I do not believe that there is someone out there looking to make my driving experience a miserable one. As an entrepreneur I am aware that there may be others who are looking to gain an unfair advantage. But I do not obsess on this awareness. Instead, I go into each situation with the belief that the person across the table from me is going to deal honorably and I know that we will find a mutually acceptable conclusion to our interaction.

Life is so much better when we are in an LFG mode. LFG? Looking for Good.Do not be fooled by this approach. It is not naïve or Pollyanna-ish. LFG is relatively simple. We look for the good in every experience and with every person. This type of thought is also like a magnet. When we Look for Trouble, we find it. When we Look for Good . . . we find it! It does not mean that I am going to walk down a dark alley in a big city and flash a big roll of Benjamins! After all I am not bulletproof. But it does mean that until someone proves me wrong, I am going to choose to see a positive outcome in whatever I am doing.

The entrepreneur who wakes up in the morning with a siege mentality and wonders who or what is going to come at him today, is in trouble before his feet hit the floor. By contrast, the entrepreneur who wakes up and knows that today is going to be positive and productive has just set the stage for a great day. Oh sure, there will be challenges because that’s just life. But the challenges are so much easier to resolve when we do not have a nagging belief that there is someone hiding around the corner ready to whack us in the kneecap. 

So, which will it be – LFT or LFG? The choice is 100% ours to make. There is no conspiracy. And there is no “other shoe” about to drop.  

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The O-Fer Entrepreneur

In baseball the stat line for a hitter who strikes out, flies out or grounds out in all his at-bats during a game is shown as 0 – 4 or 0 – 5. The stat sheet for a basketball player who continually shoots and misses without scoring a point might show 0 – 7 or 0 – 10. In athletic terms this is an O-fer . . . O for 4 or O for 5 . . . O-fer. Going O-fer is an ignominious experience and generally brings on scorn from the fans. In 1922, Babe Ruth faced St. Louis Browns’ pitcher Hub Pruett. The first 14 at-bats for the Babe resulted in 10 strikeouts and two walks. During the 1922 World Series, Babe Ruth hit one single and one double in 17 trips to the plate. Arguably one of the greatest players to ever step on the diamond, Babe Ruth struck out 1,330 times. That was fewer than other baseball luminaries such as Barry Bonds (1,539), Mark McGwire (1,596), Mickey Mantle (1,710), Alex Rodriquez (2,287) and Reggie Jackson (2,597). Any student of the game will tell you that all of these players were some of the best in the history of baseball.

There is another side to the story. Ruth had 2,214 Runs Batted In (RBI); Bonds had 1,996; McGwire had 1,414; Mantle had 1,509; Rodriguez had 2,086, and Jackson had 1,702. And each smacked a lot of home runs during their respective careers – Ruth (714); Bonds (762); McGwire (583); Mantle (536); Rodriguez (696) and Jackson (563). I know this is a lot of statistics and if you are not a baseball fan you may not fully understand the astounding nature of these feats. But there is a point to all of this. In life we do strikeout. Baseball players strikeout. Entrepreneurs strike out. Salespeople strike out. Going O-fer is just part of the game.     

What matters is how we deal with going O-fer. When we flameout do we play the victim and blame someone else? Or do we examine our technique as well as the surrounding circumstances and look for ways to tweak our “form?” How easy would it have been for these great baseball players to have let their propensity to strikeout destroy their careers? Instead, they did something else. They figured out how to take the strikeout experience and find a way to hit the ball out of the park in a future plate appearance. Babe Ruth was number 118 in lifetime strikeouts, but he was number two in RBIs. I find this fascinating. Here is a man who drove in far more runs than he struck out – yet he had a lot of strikeouts over the course of his career.  

I listened to a podcast recently about a venture capital firm that was launching its first fund. The principals were doing the typical road show and calling on prospective investors in multiple markets. They would typically be gone for a week at a time – one week they made 25 meetings in Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, and New York. During that week they were O-fer through 22 meetings. Imagine how this might feel! Yet, on their final day, they went three-for-three and netted tens of millions of dollars in commitments.

There’s more than just resilience at work here. It is critical to understand that going O-fer is just part of the game. It does not mean the game is over. With each new meeting, pitch, visit or idea, we are starting zero to zero. It is a tie game. I have learned not to look at O-fer beyond zero to zero. If we do not win the last at-bat we simply start over with the next one. We remember the instructive elements from the encounter and discard all emotion as we make the pitch again to the next customer. We only lose if we stop playing the game. We know in our bones that eventually we will hit a home run or an RBI. So, we keep playing the game.

If we understand that O-fer is just part of the game and can maintain our positive energy, we can erase our doubts and feelings of limitation. This sets us up to ultimately connect with the ball and score consistently.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The “Danger Will Robinson” Entrepreneur

Lost in Space was a classic television show broadcast on CBS between 1965 and 1968. A young Billy Mumy played the part of Will Robinson who regularly interacted with the Robot. For those of you too young to remember, the plot centered on a modern-day Swiss Family Robinson, marooned in space where the goal was to somehow figure out how to return to Earth. I enjoyed watching this show in black and white, and later in color, while Will and his family would constantly encounter misadventures. One of the most epic lines was spoken in a raised voice by the Robot – “Danger Will Robinson; Danger!” whenever Will was about to be eaten by some exotic space creature, or step into an abyss that lay below some cosmic quicksand.

We entrepreneurs need our own version of the Robot to help us avoid many of the missteps that we encounter in our daily lives. One such opportunity for disaster comes when we are in the middle of negotiating. In my world, we are always buying and selling apartment properties. Let’s use the acquisition of one such property as the example for this blog. The property in question seems to perfectly fit our acquisition strategy. The location is right, the property age falls within the target timeframe, the unit mix is perfect and historical data shows a very strong operation for the past several years. But . . . the price is significantly higher than we can pay to generate the return on investment we are seeking.

We negotiate back and forth. Offers and counteroffers ensue, but we just are not quite at the price we are looking for. Here is where we need the Robot to save us from ourselves. There is a psychological threshold at which point we are committed to getting the deal done. We are vulnerable at this point to being taken advantage of. Maybe we start looking at our projections again and tinker with the annual rent increase percentage we initially underwrote. When we do this, the numbers work, and we can close the deal. Yet are the new rent increase projections realistic? Or are we simply looking for a way to rationalize the adjustment? I have certainly done it before. My reasoning went like this, “The standard 3% increase on this property is approximately $25 per month. Another .5% pushes the rent up by $29 per month. A renter isn’t going to balk at $29 any more than at $25, so I’m comfortable using an annual rent increase factor of 3.5%.” Now, it is very possible that this line of reasoning is sound. But it is important to understand the motivation behind it. Are we modifying our projections just to get the deal done, or are we really being ultra-conservative and there really is not going to be a problem with the rent increase tweak?

There is a fine line to walk between being creative to successfully complete a negotiation and allowing our emotions to drive the terms and conditions that we are willing to accept. By establishing strategic parameters in advance, we can avoid becoming vulnerable to doing a bad deal. For example, we will only acquire an apartment property that is of sufficient size that we are not compelled to purchase a second or third property in the same market just to gain management efficiencies and economies of scale. It is also important to remember to separate business negotiations from personal ones. Buying a piece of artwork for a personal residence is an emotional decision and it is acceptable to allow emotions to enter into the negotiations. Making a business acquisition of some sort should be completely divorced of emotion in all but the rarest instances.

In a business negotiation understanding where the line is between sound decision making and being vulnerable to manipulation, is critical. Establishing strategic parameters before the negotiations commence and then sticking to them during the negotiating process, will help us avoid crossing this line.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Collaborative Entrepreneur

Nike’s corporate tag line is “Just Do It.” And that could be the tag line for many companies of all sizes. Leaders at all levels send the message of “Just Do It” to their “charges.” This notion boils down to a command and control style of management. And I probably do not need to point out how poorly this approach works with today’s Millennial workforce. We Boomers grew up in this environment and may tend to continue its practice. Perhaps it is time for something different.

I know that many entrepreneurs agree in principle with a more collaborative style of leadership. Yet, the language that is used may belie this agreement. Examine the following statement that rolls up many of the words used into a massive contradiction with collaboration. Mr. Smith is a senior executive with the ABC Company and he’s describing a recent business win for his company.

My employees really came through with this project. I have a hundred people working under me and every one of them did their jobs like they were supposed to. I set their goals and they achieved them. I’ve been focused on this opportunity for a long time. I love winning this way!”

At first blush Mr. Smith seems to be giving credit for the win to others. But the way he says it indicates that he is not yet a convert to a more enlightened style of leadership. Note the highlighted words. Clearly, he is in charge here and other people have done his bidding.

Entrepreneurs can change this narrative. When we are comfortable in our own skin, we are easily able to eliminate the unhealthy aspects of our ego from our interactions with others. It is often the case that having to take the credit for an accomplishment or reinforcing the fact that we were “at the top of the food chain” is a result of our own lack of confidence or some other insecurity. With our new level of comfort, we relax, smile, and become totally humble.

Here is another version of the previous statement. Mr. Doe is a senior executive with XYZ, Inc. and is celebrating a recent success.

“The XYZ team is amazing! They worked together to establish the goal and drew upon our Core Values to develop a winning strategy. We are so appreciative of each and every one of the hundred team members who worked tirelessly on this project for more than a year. Their commitment, dedication and creativity are the reasons for our success.”

Sounds a little different doesn’t it? There is not a single mention of the words “I,” “me” or “my.” The word “employee” has been replaced with “team member.” Mr. Doe simply delivers the message without allowing his ego to enter the picture. Clearly, Mr. Doe’s team members work “with” him – not “under” him. I have written before about how we need to be intentional about modifying our vernacular away from “I,” “me,” and “my,” and changing to “we,” “us,” and “our.”  

Collaborative leadership is not decision making by committee – as a leader we still make the ultimate critical decisions. Collaborative leadership is about seeking out team members and listening to their thoughts and ideas. It is valuing others as human beings and the contribution they make to the enterprise. It is about having empathy and creating a culture of respect. And it is about using the words we say as a reflection of all these factors.

When we think about what we write and say we can ask ourselves this simple question – “Do my words focus the spotlight on me or on others?” Doing so helps us move away from the old command and control approach of the past.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.