Exciting Disappointment

Every entrepreneur will experience disappointment at one time or another – that’s a fact. We tend to be optimistic and visualize very positive outcomes. Of course not every outcome is realized exactly the way we anticipate. To succeed we need to have a heavy dose of resilience. But there’s more to it than just the ability to bounce back.

We had a really big deal blow up recently. It involved the sale of several apartment properties and would have resulted in a very large financial gain after holding these properties for nearly 20 years. The buyer had made a preliminary inspection of the properties, and a purchase and sale agreement had been executed by both parties. Then the buyer claims that our broker misrepresented an element of the transaction that would ultimately result in a substantial reduction in the price – something we were unwilling to accept. We believe that the buyer never intended to pay the agreed-upon price and was starting the process of “chiseling” once the documents were signed.

This isn’t the first time we’ve had a deal blow up and it certainly won’t be the last. And it isn’t the first time that a buyer acted less than honorably – nor will it likely be the last. Our initial reaction was one of disappointment. It would have been wonderful to monetize an investment that was many years in the making, and we would have disposed of some smaller assets that no longer fit our strategy going forward. Naturally, resilience kicked in and we didn’t shed any tears over this situation. The broker went back to the drawing board and worked to find another buyer. Here’s what may be a surprise to you though – our mindset in the moment.

After I understood the transaction wasn’t moving forward, I actually became excited in a positive way. Why? Because I tend to look at situations like this as a sign that “something better is in store!” Yes, we would have had a very favorable result had we closed the deal. But I’m convinced that there’s something much bigger and better to come from this.

Some may snicker and laugh when they hear this. They might say that this is simply naïve and wishful thinking. I would tell them that I’ve been living my life this way for 40+ years and more often than not, I’m right. Here’s why. By knowing and believing that something better is in store, I’m telling my creative juices to kick into overdrive. In the case of this apartment sale, our broker might come up with another buyer. Yet I have an idea that will require a bit more innovation and take a bit more time, but the end result could be even more profitable than originally planned. And it jazzes me to develop and execute the strategy necessary to make this happen.

A more conventional approach might be to lament the loss of the original buyer. It might be to play the victim and become angry that the original buyer was less than honorable in his dealings with us. We could be mad at the broker for his misstep in the way he worded the offering document that purportedly caused the issue in the first place. But what purpose is served with all of the negativity? The fact still remains that the buyer backed out. The choice is ours as to which fork in the road we take. The one that leads to an even greater success or the one that leaves us wallowing in misery and limited thinking.

When we realize that our entrepreneurial lives are continually unfolding as a series of opportunities, we never look at unexpected outcomes as setbacks. Instead they give us a chance to use our skills, our resilience, our experience and our creativity to achieve even better results than we initially sought. Allowing negative thoughts and emotions enables limitations on our creativity. What might otherwise be viewed as a disappointment is simply a nudge to adjust, modify and tweak in such a way as to eventually win a better prize.

Entrepreneurs need a baseline level of resilience to survive. Seeing greater opportunity in what others might term as failure is a step beyond resilience. And knowing and believing that something better is in store enables us to thrive in amazing ways.

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 73 – The 1,057 Point Swing.

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

The 1,057 Point Swing

The 2016 presidential election results surprised everyone and created much uncertainty in many quarters. Often uncertainty produces fear about what’s going to happen in the future. There’s no doubt that many people have expressed such fear in recent weeks. I watched the election results during the evening of November 8 and remember how futures for the Dow Jones Industrial average plummeted as much as 800 points on the prospects of Donald Trump being elected president. Then when the markets opened on Wednesday, November 9, the Dow marched ahead closing up 257 points. This is a swing of more than 1,000 points in less than 24 hours. What the heck happened?

It’s pretty clear to me that there was a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the direction the election results were headed. This uncertainty produced much irrational fear that drove the markets lower. When cooler heads prevailed the irrationality evaporated and the markets moved up. What is the byproduct of uncertainty and fear? It’s opportunity. It’s my opinion that the greater the level of uncertainty the greater the level of opportunity.

I attended an affordable housing industry conference a week after the election. There was a lot of hand-wringing and pessimism. A number of attendees were convinced that support for affordable housing was going to decline and the industry would blow up. No doubt there are some potential threats on the horizon, but there are an equal if not greater number of opportunities. As entrepreneurs we have a choice to make. It’s the classic “glass half-full or half-empty” choice. There’s no question that things can and will happen that are less than desirable – that’s an absolute. It’s how we prepare and deal with them that matters.

At the industry conference I sat on a panel and posed the following question to the audience. I’ll pose it to you as well. “How many of us have a strategy to deal with the effects of uncertainty?” Out of a room of 750 people maybe two or three hands were raised. Was your hand raised? It’s so easy to become lulled into a sense of complacency. We think we know where our business is positioned in the marketplace, and we generally understand the direction our industry is headed. But then something happens to completely upset the apple cart. Simulating various scenarios and their impact in advance of such occurrences can be very helpful in identifying potential courses of action. But there’s still a healthy dose of optimism that is also required.

The real test for us is how we react to uncertainty. Do we immediately begin envisioning all of the negative possibilities? Or do we lick our chops at what uncertainty could mean in positive terms? Some entrepreneurs thrive on uncertainty. They run toward the disruption caused when things don’t go as planned. Why? Because they know how to adapt. They modify their strategy to fit the current situation. They are nimble and opportunistic. They are unafraid and know how to manage risk.

We too can learn how to use uncertainty to our advantage. To do so we must constantly be looking at a multitude of “what-ifs.” What if the election goes a certain way? What if interest rates increase? What if our top salesman walks out the door? As we cycle through the various possibilities, we weigh the pros and cons. And only seeing the cons misses the entire picture. There are always silver linings in whatever happens – we just have to look and find them.

One of the biggest threats to our affordable housing development business is the prospect of corporate tax reform. Investors use a federal affordable housing tax credit to help fund our developments. If the tax rate goes down, the value of the credit is less and there are fewer funds available for development. With the election of Donald Trump and a Republican Congress, the prospects for corporate tax reform are much improved. But we’ve been hearing about corporate tax reform for the past several years. And tax reform won’t cause the demand for affordable housing to be any less. So even before the election, I’ve been mulling over other ways to deliver affordable housing should the tax credit be diminished or even eliminated. We do have a strategy to pursue an additional product set that will enable us to continue providing such housing with or without the credit.

When we develop a strategy to deal with the effects of uncertainty the sky is the limit. We are able to move forward with confidence and optimism while others may be mired in negativity and limited thinking.

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 23 – Misplaced.

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.

threedoors-copy

Vacuum Cleaners and Movies

“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’s a phrase that is toxic to the entrepreneurial mindset – “It’s too hard.” Why? Because it’s an affirmation – and a powerful one at that. There’s 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’s a signal that it’s 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’s an opportunity to witness the power of a positive attitude. It’s 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’s no doubt that someone uttered the “too hard” phrase with each of these accomplishments. And that someone was obviously dead wrong.

Here’s what I’ve 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 2015 sales of more than $2 billion. Here’s another example. Blockbuster had 2004 revenue of $6 billion while Netflix brought in $500 million. Today, Netflix has more than 75 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’s 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 pretty 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.

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 22 – Yin and Yang

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.

vacuum_cleaner

Obstacle-Proof

The space shuttle had approximately 2.5 million moving parts. There are 100,000 miles of blood vessels in the human brain. There are approximately 2,300,000 stone blocks weighing from two to 30 tons each in the Great Pyramid of Giza. The Chinese Tianhe-2 supercomputer is purportedly the fastest in the world with 33.86 quadrillion of FLOPS (floating-point operations per second).

“That’s really going to be hard.” “I don’t know if we can do that.” Ever heard someone utter these phrases? Sometimes we struggle to get our head around a difficult project or initiative and our default thinking goes to seeing the obstacles rather than the opportunity. This may be especially true for those who are linear thinkers. The obvious cliché here is that of “staying inside the box.” We are stuck in traditional thought patterns and are unable to immediately see the multiple options that exist with nearly every decision that must be made. It doesn’t have to be this way – witness the amazing feats described in building the space shuttle, performing complicated brain surgery, constructing the Great Pyramid and creating the supercomputer.

Every organization needs a combination of linear and abstract thinkers to provide a healthy balance of ideas. Those of us who are extremely creative and can dream in a big way need down-to-earth team members with whom we test our ideas. That said, I’m an advocate for the notion that the organizational mindset should be “how we can” as opposed to “why we can’t.”

Here’s an example of the “how we can” philosophy. Let’s say that Company A manufactures a particular type of fastener. Business has been growing and then the CEO receives a call from a prospective customer, Company B, indicating that it would like to place an order for fasteners that represents 35% of the company’s production. Company A is operating at full capacity and cannot divert any product away from its steady customers. But the CEO in typical entrepreneurial fashion, isn’t about to tell Company B that he can’t supply the fasteners. When he pulls his team together he could hear a lot of “why we can’t,” or he can challenge his team members to tell him how Company A can meet the current production requirements and also increase production by 35%.

Instilling the “how we can” mindset is not a walk down Pollyanna lane. Instead it involves convincing a team to develop a default perspective of looking around, over and under the obstacles and figuring out what steps can be taken to achieve the goal. We start by creating the path to success. Then we work backwards and look at the risks involved and how to manage them. Perhaps Company A can’t add a second shift to produce the extra fasteners because it doesn’t want to risk having excess labor capacity after the order is filled. But as an alternative, maybe Company C that’s not a direct competitor, could “white label” the fasteners and produce them under the watchful eye of Company A. While the profitability may be less by using Company C, Company A may be able to win a new customer in Company B, whose repeat business results in a permanent expansion of production capacity.

It’s also important that the entrepreneur not send the signal to his team that “we’re going to make this work come hell or high water.” The danger with plowing ahead is that the more skeptical and cautious members of the team may simply acquiesce rather than express their true opinions. And those who are the natural risk takers may run toward the cliff at full speed without realizing that there’s real pain 400 feet down!

We want to inspire team members to build a “how we can” enterprise. And simultaneously we thoughtfully measure risk and return on investment. The endgame is a dynamic organization that always pushes the boundaries to grow in a healthy fashion.

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.

obstaclecourse

Transformers

Question: Some entrepreneurs seem to be able to take an unexpected and difficult situation and turn it into success. How do they do it?

Answer: The skill to which you are referring is very simply the ability to adapt to a particular situation. And as with so many other things in life, it all starts with mindset. Have you ever created a plan that didn’t work perfectly when implemented? How did you feel? I can remember times in the past when I would become very upset and frustrated when my carefully crafted plan seemed to go up in flames. Other people always messed things up for one reason or another.

Recently we had an historic building we wanted to develop but needed a state agency to approve affordable housing tax credits in order to move forward. We submitted the project twice to the state agency and both times did not win an award. Of course this was immensely frustrating and we very easily could have given up and moved on to another project. Instead, we figured out a different (and even more complicated) structure for the deal and have been able to put the train back on the track, so to speak.

Being adaptable means having a mindset of flexibility. But there’s one more element that really unlocks the secret. It requires being able to anticipate that when something goes awry, it’s an opportunity. An opportunity to be creative, change direction – slightly or a lot – and make things even better than originally foreseen. I’ve reached the point where I expect to have such opportunities. This isn’t negative thinking by any stretch. Instead it’s a mindset of looking for ways to improve upon a situation. When something isn’t working quite right that’s a signal to me that there’s a better way.

You’ve probably seen the kids’ toys called Transformers. The basic premise is a toy that transforms from a seemingly mundane robot into a much more powerful object. Optimus Prime was the original hero in the Transformers franchise – a robot that transforms into a Kenworth truck cab containing a powerful ion blaster. Sounds silly, right? But that’s exactly what we entrepreneurs want to have happen. We want our good ideas to transform into great ideas. Sometimes this takes some twisting and turning, but eventually we prevail.

Problems lead to solutions. But be careful what you believe for what you believe creates the world in which you live. If you believe that problems are an opportunity to adapt and improve, your world will be filled with outcomes that are better than you ever imagined.

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.

Optimus Prime

The Moon Shot

Question: It seems like everything is always in a state of change. This can be disconcerting at times. How do I keep up?

Answer: Entrepreneurs embrace change. We’re sort of like scientists in a sense. A scientist who is looking to discover a cure for a disease runs countless experiments. With some experiments the cure formula is changed incrementally. In other experiments it’s changed dramatically. Regardless, the formula keeps changing until the solution is found.

For us change is exhilarating. Why? Because it’s a way to make things better. It’s a way to find out what works and what doesn’t work. If we view change with trepidation or fear it will be difficult for good things to come about. But if we see change as a golden opportunity we can meet and exceed our goals. I love change from a business perspective because it creates inefficiencies in the marketplace. The opportunity I see is to react to such inefficiencies in a profitable way. Look at the companies that figured out how to successfully adapt to changing conditions in our society. Xerox got its start selling photography paper. Tiffany’s was a purveyor of stationery before it became world famous for jewelry. LG sold cosmetics before the days of flat screen televisions. Now look at companies that failed to change – Eastman Kodak recently filed for bankruptcy as did Borders Books and Blockbuster Video.

A key to understanding change is the word “pivot.” I played basketball as a kid. Our coaches taught us how to pivot in every practice. We would keep one foot anchored to the floor and rotate our body around that foot in different directions. In business as well as our lives, we should always be on the lookout for opportunities to pivot. Perhaps a slight change in direction will yield better results. But remember, a pivot should be undertaken with a clear objective in mind. In basketball the objective was to pivot into a position to score or to pass the ball to someone else who could score. If we just pivot around and around with no objective it’s likely that we won’t score.

One final thought on change. I have found that to be able to thrive on change as an entrepreneur, I need certain constants in my life. Remember that pivot foot in basketball stays anchored to the floor until I dribble, pass or shoot. I’ve been fortunate and blessed to be with the same wonderful woman for more than 41 years; be with the same company for more than 37 years, and live in the same house for 34 years. Look for something in your life that is a constant or a positive anchor – faith, family, friendships – and then shoot for the moon where change is concerned. Happy flying!

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.