The Entrepreneur’s Three-Legged Stool

We entrepreneurs have no shortage of books and other resource materials at our disposal to understand how to win in today’s environment. We are barraged with a multitude of tips, tactics, strategies, and a host of other concepts. Everyone has an opinion, and everyone insists theirs is the right way. Ask any coach or consultant and undoubtedly each will have their own secret sauce. I have no issue with any of this and believe that this diversity of ideas is healthy for entrepreneurship as a whole. Fortunately, no one individual has it all figured out . . . so we continue to seek. As one of the “seekers” I might as well add my thoughts to the mix.

My approach involves a three-legged stool, and it is a very simple calculus. The first leg is that of Culture. For most of my career I was not very focused on Culture and we certainly didn’t do much to promote it. Our Culture just kind of happened in a laissez-faire manner. Oh sure, we had a company picnic every now and then as well as a Christmas party; and from time-to-time we would undertake a community service project. But for the most part it was nose-to-the-grindstone – chew ‘em up and spit ‘em out. However, I have learned a lot over the past few years, and I am now drinking the Culture Kool-Aid – lots of it. Why? Because I have found that Core Values matter. Not just to the company but to each member of our team. And we really live our Core Values every single day. As a result, we now have a team of people who have a common alignment and purpose. We are able to connect with Millennials and Boomers alike and productivity has markedly increased. While Culture is more than just Core Values, they serve as the foundation for a Culture.

The second leg of the stool is Product. With the strengthening of our Culture, we have become more creative and innovative with respect to the products and services we provide. The positive environment that has emerged in our companies has enabled us to shine a spotlight on our Product set. We are constantly making tweaks every chance we get to differentiate from our competition that which we offer. “How is it different?” has become our mantra. We have become much more targeted with our marketing and sales effort in a manner that complements our Product refinement. A clear focus on Product has been the impetus for a much more strategic approach to decisions that we make as opposed to the small-ball tactics that we used to deploy.

Finally, the third leg of the stool is Customer. Many companies pay lip service to their customers. Everyone recognizes that without customers we do not stay in business very long. But to succeed entrepreneurs must go far beyond basic customer service. We must do the deep dive into understanding what makes the Customer tick. It is more than just needs and wants . . . it is also a more comprehensive understanding of buying patterns and lifestyles. It is about anticipating what the Customer will value. Thus, the value proposition becomes the Holy Grail. How does the customer experience attain complete and total fulfillment?

Maybe I have oversimplified this, but everything else seems incidental beyond Culture, Product and Customer. Without a strong Culture how can we possibly create a great Product and take care of the Customer? Without a great Product, our Culture begins to crack as team members become demoralized and the Customer eventually suffers. And yes, without the Customer, there is no point in a Culture or a Product. 

Culture, Product and Customer. A three-legged stool that looks simple but is strong enough to support a long winning streak for us as entrepreneurs.

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 Anti-Gotcha Entrepreneur

I purchased a couple of new beds for our home at a national mattress store. One was a fancy model that is adjustable, vibrates and has other bells and whistles. I would normally pay for such a purchase outright, but the mattress store was offering free financing for a year. I thought, “what the heck, why not?” So, I paid the monthly principal amounts over the course of 12 months like clockwork. Toward the end of this one-year period I started looking for a payoff balance to show up on the monthly statement, but it never did. Then I received a statement showing a large amount of “deferred interest” that when calculated produced an exceptionally high interest rate.

In looking back at the previous month’s statement (four pages of legal-size paper), I found a single sentence in small print advising me to look elsewhere in the statement for an acceleration amount. I finally found the payoff figure – again in small print. Unfortunately, I had missed the deadline by ten days and now owed over $3,000 in interest charges. I called the national bank that had purchased the paper from the mattress company and pointed out what my intentions had been from the outset and that the small print notice was deceptive and easily overlooked. I spoke with a supervisor and then a manager who ultimately cut my interest cost by 75%. I still contend that the interest should have been fully waived.

The national bank involved in this incident was clearly playing a “gotcha game.” There is no doubt in my mind that they intentionally used fine print and required the customer to hunt through the bill to find the amount owed. This is despicable behavior and does nothing to help the cause of entrepreneurship. I am not a fan of a lot of government regulation, but it is situations like this that trigger calls for more regulation in the first place. 

As entrepreneurs we should look at our business practices to see if we too are playing the “gotcha game.” Are the documents we use with our customers very clear relative to what is owed as well as the terms and conditions for payment? Or are we using fine print, misdirection, and incomprehensible language to obfuscate and confuse the customer? And if we are doing this, what is our end game . . . to shake down the customer for extra dollars?

Companies that are winning in today’s environment are focused on culture, product, and the customer. Profitability at any cost is not part of this calculus. Businesses that gouge their customers like the national bank with which I dealt, will ultimately suffer through new regulatory initiatives and/or customer abandonment. We entrepreneurs have a golden opportunity to identify competition that is perpetrating such behavior and differentiate ourselves in striking fashion. With the right messaging, winning customers from the bad actors should be relatively easy.

The integrity we maintain with our customers is one of the most valuable assets we possess. Playing the “gotcha game” can quickly turn that asset into a liability.

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.

Swivel Head

A good pilot has his head on a swivel. He is constantly scanning his instrument panel as well as the skies around him. There may be other airplanes in the immediate area to avoid. Maybe there are TV towers or smokestacks to miss. Engine performance gauges must be monitored and navigational displays are critical to comprehend. All of this can be summarized in two words . . . situational awareness. Without situational awareness we are more vulnerable to physical dangers around us. A lack of it can result in an auto accident, stepping off a curb and breaking an ankle, or starting a fire when the grill is too close to the house.

In the entrepreneurial world, situational awareness is worth its weight in gold. Now, you may be wondering how this concept applies to business situations. It has less to do with physical proximity and more to do with possessing a sixth sense about a multitude of factors. As entrepreneurs we can attain a much higher degree of success as we develop our entrepreneurial awareness. For example, how well do we sense what is happening in our marketplace? There’s more to this than just crunching numbers. The key is to look behind the empirical data and understand what is truly happening. Here’s a simplistic illustration. A quick look at market share might show that our firm is way out in front of the competition. And yet, we know that a start-up company has won three of the last five contracts for which we’ve competed. Not enough to move the market share needle, but could signal trouble down the road. Situational awareness would have us take immediate action to understand why they are winning and we are losing, and then do something about it.

Situational awareness from an entrepreneurial perspective involves a deep understanding of our customers and what makes them tick. Customer satisfaction surveys help in this regard, but we may need more than data. In person meetings are the best bet for getting a good read on our customers. If not in person, the next best option is a phone conference. At the root, we’re looking for little tells that might indicate whether or not our customers are 100% in our camp. We encountered a situation a few years ago where we thought our client was totally satisfied with our services. Our team was convinced that we had performed as or better than expected. And yet, I had a gnawing feeling that something was amiss. When we dug in deeper we learned that the client was actually hiring a competitor. The reason had nothing to do with our performance and everything to do with the fact that a corporate decision had been made to consolidate its business to a national company. I’ve always wondered whether we might have saved the business by doing some things in a radically different manner had our situational awareness enabled us to act sooner.

Finally we must keep our finger on the pulse of our team. Are we on the lookout for signs of tension, boredom or anxiety? It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day chaos that we all experience and miss the signs that are flashing relative to our team. Perhaps an outgoing team member who normally participates in company activities gradually pulls back and is less gregarious. Without situational awareness, we could easily overlook that this individual is headed for the exits until it’s too late. Realizing this sooner might have given us a chance of resolving whatever issue is causing our teammate to look elsewhere.

Situational awareness at the entrepreneurial level requires a certain degree of intuition. But even more important is our being intentional about having a deeper understanding of that which is happening around us. Then we’re less likely to unwittingly step off the cliff and into the abyss.

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.

Shark

The Three-Legged Stool

We entrepreneurs have no shortage of books and other resource materials at our disposal to understand how to win in today’s environment. We’re barraged with a multitude of tips, tactics, strategies and a host of other concepts. Everyone has an opinion, and everyone insists theirs is the right way. Ask any coach or consultant and undoubtedly each will have their own secret sauce. I have no issue with any of this and believe that this diversity of ideas is healthy for entrepreneurship as a whole. Fortunately no one individual has it all figured out . . . so we continue to seek. As one of the “seekers” I might as well add my thoughts to the mix.

My approach involves a three-legged stool, and it’s a very simple calculus. The first leg is that of Culture. For most of my career I wasn’t very focused on Culture and we certainly didn’t do much to promote it. Our Culture just kind of happened in a laissez-faire manner. Oh sure, we had a company picnic every now and then as well as a Christmas party; and from time-to-time we would undertake a community service project. But for the most part it was nose-to-the-grindstone – chew ‘em up and spit ‘em out. However, I’ve learned a lot over the past few years and I’m now drinking the Culture Kool-Aid – lots of it. Why? Because I’ve found that Core Values matter. Not just to the company but to each member of our team. And we really live our Core Values every single day. As a result, we now have a team of people who have a common alignment and purpose. We are able to connect with millennials and Boomers alike and productivity has markedly increased. While Culture is more than just Core Values, they serve as the foundation for a Culture.

The second leg of the stool is Product. With the strengthening of our Culture we’ve become more creative and innovative with respect to the products and services we provide. The positive environment that has emerged in our companies has enabled us to shine a spotlight on our Product set. We’re constantly making tweaks every chance we get to differentiate from our competition that which we offer. “How is it different?” has become our mantra. We’ve become much more targeted with our marketing and sales effort in a manner that complements our Product refinement. A clear focus on Product has been the impetus for a much more strategic approach to decisions that we make as opposed to the small-ball tactics that we used to deploy.

Finally, the third leg of the stool is Customer. Many companies pay lip service to their customers. Everyone recognizes that without customers we don’t stay in business very long. But to succeed entrepreneurs must go far beyond basic customer service. We must do the deep dive into understanding what makes the Customer tick. It’s more than just needs and wants . . . it’s also a more comprehensive understanding of buying patterns and lifestyles. It’s about anticipating what the Customer will value. Thus, the value proposition becomes the Holy Grail. How does the customer experience attain complete and total satisfaction?

Maybe I’ve oversimplified this, but everything else seems incidental beyond Culture, Product and Customer. Without a strong Culture how can we possibly create a great Product and take care of the Customer? Without a great Product, our Culture begins to crack as team members become demoralized and the Customer eventually suffers. And yes, without the Customer, there’s no point in a Culture or a Product.

Culture, Product and Customer. A three-legged stool that looks simple, but is strong enough to support a long winning streak for us as entrepreneurs.

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.

3LeggedStool1