Winning

“Just concentrate on throwing the ball over the plate rather than breaking the sound barrier and be more varied and selective with your pitches.” That’s the advice catcher Norm Sherry gave to future Hall of Fame pitcher, Sandy Koufax, in 1961. Prior to that Koufax had labored through several seasons of mediocre pitching. Once he solved his control problem, he became nearly unhittable striking out 2,396 batters in his relatively short career. Koufax retired from the game in 1967 at age 30. Without a doubt, he went out a winner.

When we think of winning, what comes to mind? Most of us would say that we have achieved the success of victory – that’s the obvious answer. But when we’re asked how we won, the answer becomes a bit murkier. So, exactly how do we win? Do we simply throw the ball harder than anyone else? Or is there something deeper?

As we study great winners in sports and other walks of life one thing becomes abundantly clear. Great winners are fanatical about the basics and fundamentals of what they do. We’ve all heard how the basics and fundamentals are the foundational elements to success. And yet many times we just want to swing hard and hit the ball into the left field seats. The result is that we often strikeout. Lesson #1 – we’ll strikeout less and win more if we pay attention to how well we are executing the basics and fundamentals of our game. In business, perhaps we have enjoyed a winning streak lately. Human nature may cause us to take our foot off the accelerator and start enjoying the ride. What happens then? Maybe our winning streak comes to an end. We haven’t spent the time and energy continuing to cultivate relationships. We aren’t making the follow-up calls that we used to make. And we aren’t doing the homework necessary to understand what our customers really need and want.

Sandy Koufax would be an anomaly in today’s sports environment. He shunned the spotlight and stayed out of the public eye. He loved violin music – it’s said that Mendelsohn was one of his favorite composers. He chose not to chase the money and quit the game rather than risk further injury to an ailing arm. He was his own man which in itself is a special mindset. Lesson #2 – ignoring the noise in the world around us and maintaining our focus puts us on the path to winning.

Winning is seemingly about competing – right? Well, yes and no. If we are out to “beat” someone else the chances are higher that we won’t. In other words, if we become fixated on how to beat the competition, we’re really ceding our power to someone else. Why? Because our focus has shifted away from what we need to do to execute in the necessary fashion, and we’re now conjuring a methodology that we think will give us a competitive advantage. Unfortunately, we’ve forgotten that the way we win is to ignore the noise around us and execute our game plan in a flawless manner. Lesson #3 – don’t allow our competition to dictate the terms and conditions for winning.

Zig Ziglar famously said, “You were born to win, but to be a winner, you must plan to win, prepare to win, and expect to win.” I used the term “special mindset” in this blog. The only thing special is the absolute, 100% core belief that we deserve to win, and we will win. But there’s one more piece to this puzzle. We must relax into winning. If our intensity is too great, we can easily deviate from the basics and fundamentals and overcompensate. I’ve seen terrific baseball pitchers that start losing because they are so amped up that they try to “throw” the ball and over-control it, rather than relaxing and “pitching” the way they know how. Lesson #4 – to win, we must believe that we will and we must remain relaxed while doing so.

Winning is a relatively simple formula that involves always executing the basics and fundamentals; ignoring all the noise that is going on around us; playing our game and not trying to beat the competition and believing without any doubt that we’ll win. Oh, and yes, relax. Putting it altogether ensures that we’ll be Hall of Famers in our own right.

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.

Success Without Sacrifice?

Much has been made about “work/life balance” over the past several years. This discussion is a somewhat backhanded slap at past generations where high achievers sometimes (maybe often) spent a great deal of time and effort clawing their way to the top. Today’s meme is that there is a better and smarter way to reach the pinnacle of success. And it involves much less of something we old-timers know as “sacrifice.” I submit that there is a fundamental misunderstanding about both these notions – work/life balance and sacrifice.

Entrepreneurship is more competitive than ever. Competition pushes us to innovate and find better ways of doing things that results in winning. Believe me when I say that the entrepreneurial environment doesn’t care about work/life balance. This is a full-throttle pull-out-all-the-stops world in which we compete. Then, does this mean that we can’t achieve work/life balance AND achieve high levels of success? The answer is . . . yes and no.

The yes and no answer is actually a sliding scale. On one end of the scale we have a healthy work/life balance and some level of success. On the other end of the scale we are making considerable sacrifices and achieving some other level of success. The wild card is the level of success we really want to attain. Some entrepreneurs can operate a business that is successful enough to provide for a very comfortable lifestyle. And they can do so without giving up much to do so. There are other entrepreneurs that are driven to the point that they become single-minded in their focus to the exclusion of all else – and achieve unimaginable success. The key to understanding what we must sacrifice is to understand exactly what level of success we want and what it will take to achieve it.

Many of us who entered business in the 1970s and 1980s know what it was like to “pay our dues.” We started at the bottom of the corporate ladder, learned our business and perfected our craft. While we were always chomping at the bit to get ahead, we also knew that we were going to have to prove that we were worthy. Sometimes that meant 100-hour weeks and toiling in the salt mines for what seemed like an eternity. There was much frustration, anguish and a healthy dose of fear. We ultimately prevailed through a formula that was one-part smart enough, one-part hard work, and a secret ingredient called pure passion.

While passion drove me when I was young and still drives me today, I was able to prioritize in such a way as to never miss an event involving my daughters; never miss taking a vacation with my wife, and never endangering my health. My work and my personal life became intertwined to the point of being inseparable. I’m not sure how a big vision can be reached without this sort of work/life relationship.

There are many young entrepreneurs brimming with confidence and vowing to do things differently than their parents and grandparents. That’s fine and I wish them well. What they will need to eventually determine is what level of success they want to achieve and what will be required to achieve it. It’s an extremely rare individual who can dream a big idea, implement it and create a moonshot while coasting on a cloud and exerting minimal effort. Most of the time, moonshots require incredible amounts of blood, sweat and tears. Entrepreneurs who are too impatient or are unwilling to make certain sacrifices are going to see their dream fizzle and fall into the sea. There’s no question that young entrepreneurs can and should learn from the mistakes made by previous generations. This will help smooth the path to success. But what can’t be ignored are the benefits of business experience, life experience and the notion of eating, sleeping and breathing the entrepreneurial vision. And there’s no way around it . . . there will be sacrifices.

We’ve all heard about some of the legends of enterprise. Steve Jobs worked non-stop, calling close associates late into the evening to bounce around ideas. Mark Cuban didn’t take a vacation for seven years during the time he was launching his initial business venture. Marissa Mayer worked 130-hour weeks when she was at Google and sometimes slept under her desk. Elon Musk said in an interview with Vator News, “You just have to put in 80-to-100 hour weeks every week. If other people are putting in 40-hour work weeks and you’re putting in 100-hour work weeks, then, even if you’re doing the same thing, you know that you will achieve in four months what it takes them a year to achieve.”

Achieving extraordinary levels of success still requires sacrifice. Entrepreneurs need to decide for themselves what level of success they desire and understand what it will take to achieve it.

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 Fearful Entrepreneur

What are you afraid of? I don’t mind confessing that I have issues with claustrophobia. This manifests when I get inside an MRI machine. Even an open CT scanner gives me the heebie jeebies. My heart pounds in my chest and my blood pressure goes through the roof. I don’t know what happened in the past for me to develop this fear, but it’s a cross I bear. I’ll never forget the time I heard about a poor soul who was exploring a cave and got stuck deep inside – upside down – and no matter how hard they tried, rescuers could not get him out. Within days of that story, I found myself in an MRI machine for 45 minutes. It took every ounce of my fortitude not to completely freak out.

I don’t know of a single entrepreneur who doesn’t experience a fear of something. There is the fear of public speaking, fear of heights, fear of flying, fear of being in social settings, fear of spiders (and snakes), fear of death and a wide assortment of other phobias that we may experience at a personal level. And then there’s what I consider to be “entrepreneurial fears.” Let’s examine a few of them and their antidotes.

  1. Competition“I’m afraid that the competition will overtake my company. I’m also fearful that someone is going to steal my business concept and crush us.” There’s a lot to unpack here. The forward-thinking entrepreneur will see competition as a healthy factor in his or her business life. If we have the right mindset, we can use competition to make us better. How? We do this by understanding exactly what our customers need and want and tool our product or service accordingly. We know that the competition is probably studying the customer in similar fashion – we just have to do it better!
  2. Ideas “My ideas are no good. I’m afraid that I’m just not creative enough to win in this business.” No one knows our ideas better that do we. And it’s not so much about having fresh new ideas as it is our ability to iterate on those we already have – or that someone else has. Look at Facebook for example. Many students of the Facebook phenomenon point out that the company has rarely had a new idea. They simply steal ideas from other developers or companies and execute them better.
  3. Failure “I’m afraid to fail and I’m afraid of what others will think of me if I fail.” This is one of the most common entrepreneurial fears that I’ve heard during my career. Unfortunately, this fear reflects a misunderstanding about what failure is. Too many entrepreneurs confuse “failure” with “defeat.” Failure is simply an unfinished experiment in the laboratory of life. It’s part of a process that we undertake to achieve success. Success is built on failure. Without some failure along the way, how do we really know that we have succeeded in optimal fashion?
  4. Money “I’m afraid that my money is going to run out before I succeed.” There are entrepreneurial stories abound where the founder was down to a triple digit bank balance and somehow pulled a rabbit out of a hat and turned things around. I also know that there are many more stories of businesses that folded when the cash spigot turned off. In the entrepreneurial world we learn how to improvise. We learn how to stretch a buck. We barter and trade. Better yet, we always have a Plan B in our hip pocket . . . just in case. Having a little bit of the “cash-strapped” fear is actually a healthy thing as long as we use it in a positive way to maintain focus on scaling our enterprise.
  5. Talent “I’m afraid a competitor is going to steal my best people; or my best people are going to walk across the street and start their own company.” Here’s the thing. If we provide the best value for our team, they’ll stick around which is the same philosophy we adopt with our customers. Sure, employees want to be fairly compensated, but loyalty goes beyond pay and benefits. Developing a dynamic culture goes a long way toward talent retention. So does making people feel that they and the contribution they make are genuinely valued. In the companies with which I’m involved, we don’t lock up our team members with long-term contracts or non-compete agreements. Instead, it’s incumbent upon us as leaders to show our team every single day how they are in the right place with our firm.

Being afraid can either be paralyzing or motivating. Smart entrepreneurs overcome fear to propel themselves to great success.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 129 – The NPS and You.

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.

Moats

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 actually built over a 900-year timeframe which in itself 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’s doubtful that in real life moats were populated in this fashion.

So what’s your moat? Strange question you ask? I’ve 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’s 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’ve had in the past. I’ve 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 has to 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’m 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’s a patent; or perhaps there’s a vertically integrated process that is extremely difficult to replicate. All of 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 doesn’t ensure success or profitability. It’s 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 FOLO – the Fear of Losing 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 are able to 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.

 You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 29 – Lost Art.

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.

moats

Hall of Famer

“Just concentrate on throwing the ball over the plate rather than breaking the sound barrier, and be more varied and selective with your pitches.” That’s the advice catcher Norm Sherry gave to future Hall of Fame pitcher, Sandy Koufax, in 1961. Prior to that Koufax had labored through several seasons of mediocre pitching. Once he solved his control problem he became nearly unhittable striking out 2,396 batters in his relatively short career. Koufax retired from the game in 1967 at age 30. Without a doubt, he went out a winner.

When we think of winning, what comes to mind? Most of us would say that we have achieved the success of victory – that’s the obvious answer. But when we’re asked how we won, the answer becomes a bit murkier. So, exactly how do we win? Do we simply throw the ball harder than anyone else? Or is there something deeper?

As we study great winners in sports and other walks of life one thing becomes abundantly clear. Great winners are fanatical about the basics and fundamentals of what they do. We’ve all heard how the basics and fundamentals are the foundational elements to success. And yet many times we just want to swing hard and hit the ball into the left field seats. The result is that we often strikeout. Lesson #1 – we’ll strikeout less and win more if we pay attention to how well we are executing the basics and fundamentals of our game. In business, perhaps we have enjoyed a winning streak lately. Human nature may cause us to take our foot off the accelerator and start enjoying the ride. What happens then? Maybe our winning streak comes to an end. We haven’t spent the time and energy continuing to cultivate relationships. We aren’t making the follow-up calls that we used to make. And we aren’t doing the homework necessary to understand what our customers really need and want.

Sandy Koufax would be an anomaly in today’s sports environment. He shunned the spotlight and stayed out of the public eye. He loved violin music – it’s said that Mendelsohn was one of his favorite composers. He chose not to chase the money and quit the game rather than risk further injury to an ailing arm. He was his own man which in itself is a special mindset. Lesson #2 – ignoring the noise in the world around us and maintaining our focus puts us on the path to winning.

Winning is seemingly about competing – right? Well, yes and no. If we are out to “beat” someone else the chances are higher that we won’t. In other words, if we become fixated on how to beat the competition we’re really ceding our power to someone else. Why? Because our focus has shifted away from what we need to do to execute in the necessary fashion, and we’re now conjuring a methodology that we think will give us a competitive advantage. Unfortunately we’ve forgotten that the way we win is to ignore the noise around us and execute our game plan in a flawless manner. Lesson #3 – don’t allow our competition to dictate the terms and conditions for winning.

Zig Ziglar famously said, “You were born to win, but to be a winner, you must plan to win, prepare to win, and expect to win.” I used the term “special mindset” in this blog. The only thing really special is the absolute, 100% core belief that we deserve to win and we will win. But there’s one more piece to this puzzle. We must relax into winning. If our intensity is too great, we can easily deviate from the basics and fundamentals and overcompensate. I’ve seen terrific baseball pitchers that start losing because they are so amped up that they try to “throw” the ball and over-control it, rather than relaxing and “pitching” the way they know how. Lesson #4 – to win, we must believe that we will and we must remain relaxed while doing so.

Winning is a relatively simple formula that involves always executing the basics and fundamentals; ignoring all the noise that is going on around us; playing our game and not trying to beat the competition, and believing without any doubt that we’ll win. Oh, and yes, relax. Putting it altogether ensures that we’ll be Hall of Famers in our own right.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 6 – A Right Way and a Wrong Way.

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.

sandy-koufax

Mousetraps²

I don’t want our customers to be satisfied. Put another way, customer satisfaction is not our objective. I also don’t want our team members to be satisfied. There, I’ve said it. I’ll bet you’re thinking that there’s a punchline somewhere in all of this. And yes, there is. But let’s dig a bit deeper before getting to the bottom line.

When we serve others we certainly want them to be satisfied – right? This seems like a perfectly rational objective because we all know what happens when a customer or team member is dissatisfied. So, when a customer (or team member) makes a request, we do our best to satisfy that request. We generally believe that when someone is satisfied they are happy. Here’s an interesting dilemma. Suppose we’ve done everything we can to satisfy our customer; they tell us they are happy, but then they quit anyway. What’s up with that?

One of our companies is involved in managing apartment properties for our own account and for third-party clients as well. I can remember several times over the past many years that a long-time client told us he was perfectly satisfied with our service, only to make a change and hire another firm. We were assured that we’d done nothing wrong and other circumstances stimulated the change. In some cases the client was consolidating the management of all his properties with a national property management firm. In another instance we were told that the client had a relationship with another company and though he was satisfied with our performance, he thought he might do better with the other firm. Naturally there’s a strong level of disappointment when we hear that someone is satisfied and yet they are still making a change. What in the world are we to do?

OK, here comes the punchline. Customer satisfaction isn’t enough. Team member satisfaction isn’t enough. Customers and team members leave even when they are completely satisfied. Attempting to achieve customer and team member satisfaction is a siren song that will lure us into the rocks and sink our ship. Instead, we need to focus on fulfillment. Fulfillment is a much higher state than satisfaction. It’s a concept that’s similar to exceeding expectations but is even more than that. Trust me – you won’t get any help from the dictionary on this one. It says that to fulfill is to satisfy. I think the dictionary’s definition misses a very important nuance here.

Suppose an apartment resident calls and reports that her kitchen faucet is dripping. If our maintenance technician goes to her apartment and completes the repair, then he’s satisfied her request. However, if he goes and fixes the faucet, and then checks a number of other physical elements in her apartment and fixes other items that he finds, then we’re moving toward a level of fulfillment for the customer. Total fulfillment comes when there’s nothing else a customer could possibly want or need, even if he or she hasn’t articulated it. In other words, we’ve anticipated every possible scenario that could impact the customer and we’ve taken all the steps we could to resolve unforeseen issues and create an over-the-top experience. This was what was missing when we lost a client who told us he was satisfied. We had not gone above and beyond to create the over-the-top experience that achieved total fulfillment.

Customers and team members leave or quit all the time when they are satisfied. Usually it’s because they aren’t aware of a better alternative. But when that better mousetrap is presented to them it’s not hard to understand their motivation for making a change. Changing our focus from satisfaction to fulfillment increases the odds in our favor that we possess the better mousetrap.

Achieving fulfillment for our customers and team members requires a combination of commitment, innovation, understanding, vigilance, appreciation and gratitude. Fulfillment is the best mousetrap in today’s highly competitive entrepreneurial environment.

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.

mouse-trap-helmet

The Enemy?

Evil, dirty, underhanded, devious, conniving, despicable, dishonest, cutthroat, backstabbing, snobbish, arrogant, lying and cheating. These are terms I’ve heard applied to competitors over the last 40 years. Without a doubt I’ve missed some. What emotions are evoked when you think about your competitors? Some entrepreneurs I know have pure hatred for the competition and others display a great deal of fear. Why do we associate such negativity to our competition?

The amateur psychologist in me believes it has something to do with our childhood (don’t all of our issues?). On the playground we engaged in competitive duels involving kickball, dodge ball, four-square and other gladiator-like activities. Losers were vanquished with taunts and teasing. When we were older, competition for relationships with the opposite sex was intense. When a sought-after girl or boy chose someone else, we were crushed and dejected. Fast forward to today and it’s no wonder that we often see our competition as the enemy.

But do we really benefit from viewing our competitors in this manner? Competition is actually a wonderful thing. Let’s look at several of the reasons why.

  • Competition stimulates creativity and innovation. Every day we know that our competitors are working overtime to develop new products or services. To keep from being left behind we do the same. New discoveries are made out of this process that may generate greater profits and capture a larger market share.
  • Best practices emanate from a competitive environment. Let’s face it; we don’t have all the answers. So, observing how others do things and testing our approach accordingly can lead us to implement better systems and processes. Without competition what would be the incentive to improve?
  • An inefficient market is the byproduct of competition. Some competitors are stronger and some are weaker. If every competitor was equally strong how would anyone win? The concept of winners and losers is critical to a healthy yet inefficient market.
  • Hand-in-hand with the inefficient market theory is the opportunity for differentiation. This is good for the consumer and it’s outstanding for the entrepreneur. Why? Because we have the opportunity to create a level of variety that may appeal to more customers. It’s not just about “better;” it’s also about “different.” If every boutique sold the same black dress, doesn’t it stand to reason that a boutique selling a purple skirt might win a few more customers than the black dress sellers?
  • Competition helps to broaden the talent pool. It provides career paths for the workforce into which we as entrepreneurs can tap. We can create cultures where people want to work, giving them the chance to grow and advance their careers. And in the process we get to attract the best and the brightest.

For years we’ve enjoyed good relationships with our competitors. We view them with respect and in some cases, admiration. Other terms come to mind as well; friendship, collaboration, empathy and gratitude. Collaboration you say? Yes, we’ve often referred customers to our competitors when we couldn’t meet their needs and they’ve done the same for us. In 2008 a Maine portable restroom business owned by Jeff Bellino burned to the ground. Who came to the rescue? Bellino’s competitors! They provided portable restrooms, toilet tissue and chemicals so that he could keep going while he rebuilt his operation. Competition is at its healthiest when competitors have each other’s backs in a time of need.

When we embrace the notion of strong and healthy competition we enhance our chances for success. There’s no doubt that competition makes us better entrepreneurs in every respect.

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.

gladiators