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 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 in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Not a Fairy Tale

Once upon a time there was a prince who traveled to the far reaches of the kingdom. He spied a young woman who was the most magnificent creature he had ever seen. The prince spoke to her and rather than being demure, she was witty and charming in her reply. They conversed for nearly an hour over a chalice of wine and the prince hurried back to the castle in a state of euphoria. He just knew that he was going to take this woman to be his wife. After telling his father and mother about his encounter, he set about making plans for the wedding. The royal florist was summoned as was the baker. The wedding was going to be an elaborate affair with only the finest of materials for the bride’s gown. Special jewelry was to be made for the soon-to-be-bride, and the prince had a long conversation with the priest about the ceremony. He also cast about to find the perfect location for a new home to be constructed inside the castle walls and met several times with the royal furniture and cabinet makers.

Everything was going to be perfect . . . or so thought the prince . . . except for one thing. The woman with whom the young prince was smitten was already married. In his eagerness to move forward with a wedding and a life with a new wife, the prince ignored the first step in developing a plan. He forgot to get the facts first.

It’s easy to fall into this trap whether we’re entrepreneurs or not. We become so enamored with an idea that we immediately want to plunge into developing a plan to make it a reality. Then we either pay lip service to the facts, or we just blow right on by this step. Fact Finding should always be Step One for any planning process.

Suppose we have an idea to scale our business. We’ve been sailing along making a reasonable profit, but believe that we could really make it big if we could only grow much larger and capture a wide range of efficiencies in our processes and cost structure. Our experience in the industry is extensive and we think we’re tuned in to the nuances of the market. We begin to look at all of the different options for expansion. The owner of a competitor is rumored to be retiring and perhaps we could acquire his company. There’s a sharp woman in another city that we’ve been recruiting for quite some time – she could open an operation for us in that city. Our production line has been running at full capacity for over a year. Maybe we could invest in a second production line that would allow us to ramp-up even further. Lots of ideas are swirling around and suddenly we’ve entered the Danger Zone. Why? Without some serious Fact Finding we could make a number of mistakes with our expansion – some of which could be fatal.

For starters, even though we think we know the market like the back of our hand, there may be subtle shifts that we haven’t noticed. When is the last time we calculated our market share and that of our competitors? What is the longer term outlook for our product? Maybe it’s going great guns right now, but in two years it will be obsolete because a better mousetrap is in the offing. Do we have more than anecdotal evidence that there’s demand for a second production line?

The Fact Finding step should take a “fresh eyes” approach to all aspects of our business and the market. It’s as though we are entering the business for the first time. No matter how much we think we know; no matter how experienced we think we are, looking at everything with a fresh and detailed perspective is critical to our success and maybe even our survival.

Great ideas need to be fleshed out in a careful and systematic fashion. While we don’t want to be frozen in analysis paralysis, performing adequate Fact Finding should always be the first step when creating an implementation plan.

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 44.

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

Dead End or . . . ?

Have you ever found yourself pursuing an idea or an initiative only to discover you’ve reached a dead end? Often times people give up and move on to something else. Why waste any more time on something that’s not going to work, is the conventional thinking. But what if this is an entrepreneurial endeavor in which we’ve invested serious money as well as time and energy? Walking away isn’t so easy. In fact there may be a tendency to stubbornly throw good money (and time and energy) after bad.

There is a way to turn some dead-ends into cul-de-sacs. This is done through a process called pivoting. Very simply, a pivot is a change of direction. I remember playing high school basketball and having the ball thrown to me close to the basket. Usually there was a defender trying to stop me from scoring which required me to pivot or change direction to get a better unobstructed shot. Sometimes I was so hell-bent on bulling my way to the basket that my shot would be blocked or the ball would be stripped away. Frustrating? You bet. But it was my failure to finesse the situation and pivot that resulted in my failure to score.

While pivoting seems like an easy and obvious course of action, it’s not. We entrepreneurs tend to be a proud lot. We often think we have the best ideas since sliced bread. We also believe we can make anything work with discipline and perseverance along with our charm and good looks. We may not even realize we’re headed down a dead-end street. How can we become more objective on our journey? Setting milestones at the beginning of the process can be very helpful. This is accomplished by establishing measurable performance indicators that enable us to know if we’re progressing toward our end goal or not. By keeping track of our milestones it becomes easier for us to see when we need to make a course correction.

There are numerous examples of pivots in American business that resulted in extraordinary products and companies. The likes of Pay Pal, Groupon, Starbucks, Nokia, Flickr, Hewlett-Packard, Nintendo, Instagram, Wrigley, Avon, Pinterest and Suzuki are all case studies. An article in Forbes Magazine dated October 8, 2014 by Jason Nazar and Rochelle Bailis chronicles one of the most famous pivots of the modern era – Twitter.

“The most legendary pivot in social media history is the transformation of Odeo into Twitter. Odeo began as a network where people could find and subscribe to podcasts, but the founders feared the company’s demise when iTunes began taking over the podcast niche. After giving the employees two weeks to come up with new ideas, the company decided to make a drastic change and run with the idea of a status-updating micro-blogging platform conceived by Jack Dorsey and Biz Stone.”

Keeping an open mind; avoiding being married to an idea; setting and watching milestones; collaborating with others, and maintaining an environment for innovation is the perfect recipe for discovering when and how to pivot. Sometimes multiple pivots may occur before we nail it. Smart entrepreneurs are always on the lookout for pivots that will deliver the results they are seeking.

A pivot may actually bring about an even more exciting product or service (or company) than originally intended. The process of pivoting will also help to minimize or eliminate the incidences of dead-ends.

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


Great Idea!

Entrepreneurs are brimming over with new ideas. Some are novel, some are revolutionary and some well, let’s just say there’s a lot of room for improvement. Regardless, we often find ourselves enthralled and passionate about our ideas. It’s our nature to share these ideas with others to attain validation and receive encouragement. And because most people are nice, we seldom hear rejection – especially from friends and family. Further, we may interpret tepid enthusiasm as an endorsement and plunge ahead to develop our ideas in the absence of a solid reality check.

How do we find out if our ideas are worthy? We start by treating our ideas as if they are a product or service – and they very well may be. Does our idea solve a problem? In the world of venture capital that funds ideas, a different question is asked. Is the idea a “vitamin pill” or a “painkiller?” People take vitamins because they desire better health. They take painkillers because they hurt. Which has the higher probability of being purchased on a consistent and ongoing basis? You got it – the painkiller. Consumers can put off purchases that make their lives better, but they won’t do so when they hurt. So, is your idea a “painkiller” that solves a real problem? If so, you may have a winner. But just because your idea might be a “vitamin pill” doesn’t mean it won’t work. However your case for someone to “purchase” may need to be more compelling.

Next, who is going to use your idea? In other words, who is your customer? Remember that we’re looking at our ideas as though they are products or services. To successfully implement an idea we must understand who our customer is as well as their various characteristics, traits and tendencies. For example, let’s say that we have an idea to launch a new process within our company. Who are the members of our team that will be utilizing this process? Could there be a “generation gap” with the way we plan to deploy our process? If we’re Baby Boomers, and Millennials will be using the process, we need to make certain that Millennials can relate to it.

In keeping with our ideas-are-products-or-services theme, we need to test our idea with our potential customers. Bouncing an idea off a spouse or friend isn’t the same as having an in-depth discussion with those who are going to use our idea. Before we completely perfect an idea, it’s best to work with a small focus group of eventual customers. We lay out our thesis and describe the problem we are attempting to solve. We explain the “vitamin pill” or “painkiller” notion of our idea. Then we share our solution and solicit feedback – just like we would do if we truly were launch a product or service in the marketplace. The responses we receive will be invaluable in refining our idea to be that much more appealing and useful to our “customers.”

Once we’ve completed these three steps we can evaluate whether or not our ideas are worthy of pursuit. In some cases we’ll get a thumbs-up signal, and in others we’ll either need a complete idea overhaul or throw it on the scrap heap. While sometimes challenging, being completely objective is the byword.

Evaluating ideas as a product or service reduces the chance for us to emotionally chase a fantasy. It allows us to allocate our time and energy pursuing viable opportunities that we envision.

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


Sliced Bread

Question: I’ve been working for the past two years on bringing my dream idea to fruition. And it seems like it’s two steps forward and three steps backwards. When do I know it’s time to throw in the towel?

Answer: This question really resonates with me. Over the course of the past 40 years I can’t tell you how many dream ideas I’ve pushed, prodded, cajoled, coaxed and dragged, trying to get them across the finish line. Fortunately I’ve succeeded more often than I’ve failed, but there definitely have been a number that succumbed along the way.

Something I learned may surprise you. I’ve discovered that becoming emotionally invested in an idea can be dangerous. You may rightly ask, “How can we work to realize our dream without emotion and passion?” And here’s where the distinction comes for me. I am very passionate about the process of creating an idea and taking the steps necessary to implement it successfully. But I try and avoid becoming emotionally attached to the idea itself. By doing so, I can pursue an idea up to the point that it appears to be no longer viable and then discard it, moving on to the next idea.

Here’s what happens when we take a “this is my baby” approach to nurturing an idea. The process of birthing the idea takes on an emotional dimension that can blind us to things that we may not want to see. As a result we may not maintain our objectivity and might even miss some critical signals that would otherwise steer us in a different direction. We tend to have tunnel vision, believing that our idea is the best thing in the world since sliced bread. Yet others may not see what we think we see. So we start trying to sell people on our idea . . . rather than helping them buy it. When we don’t get the response we’re looking for we may begin to put pressure on ourselves to push the idea over the top. Then the frustration builds to the point that we’re ready to scream. By now our creative flow of energy has been blocked by our frustration and there is no way we’re going to succeed.

What works for me is to remove the emotion from the idea and replace it with a process. This process includes milestones and metrics that help me determine if I’m making progress in developing an idea. I’m also more receptive to pivots that may be necessary – that is, changes in direction that I need to take to ensure that the idea succeeds or is enhanced. More than anything, it’s liberating to know when an idea needs to be thrown on the scrap heap. I can now do this with ease, knowing that I did what was reasonable to make it work and recognized when it wasn’t meant to be.

Becoming emotionally invested in our dreams may actually hinder our success. Having passion for the process of realizing a dream will help us relax and maintain our creative flow.

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

sliced bread