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“I do”

February 8, 2011 7 comments

I spent the weekend in NYC at my cousin’s wedding and while listening to the speeches at the party and the rabbi speak during the service, I thought, “hmmmm – that sounds exactly how I feel when I’m going through the interview process and decide I want to commit myself full time to a business”. Some of you may read that and think, “she’s nuts!” and certainly I’m not one to argue your opinion; but if you break it down as I will below, you’ll see the similarities. Granted, there will still be those of you who think I’m crazy – but in response I would preface with perhaps you’re mistaking “crazy” for “passion”.

So let’s break down a wedding speech. They typically start with the story of how the two have met; and how “they just knew” or “there was chemistry right away”. Any job I have taken, there has been a definitive chemistry felt during the interview process. I only work with / for people who “get it”, “get me”, and vice versa. If a common bond or understanding is not developed with at least one of the Executives in the interview process, I do not continue. This works for ME because I’m a quick rapport builder; if you know yourself and know how quickly you connect with people, use that as a ‘judge’, but in my experience if there is no connection – the job will likely not be for you.

The speeches then talk about “how the relationship has grown” and at my cousin’s wedding, they talked about their relationship growing because “they had the same values; family was of the utmost importance.” Similarly, when you are attempting to build business relationships, especially with your internal team or attempting to evaluate whether a company is the right fit for you, having similar values is important. If, for example, your top priority is ‘family’ and you are in a company culture that does not value family; there is likely going to be a rift at some point. If you value your religion and your company Executives are all agnostic or atheist, it is probably going to cause a problem if you are the one person who wants to take off for every holiday. Values are a hard thing to find out about as the topic can be one that is not “HR Friendly”, but you can usually develop an understanding of the company’s values by reading their mission statements, by asking open ended questions about how the company reacts when put in certain situations, and even by external clues like looking at what’s on the wall in someone’s office. If an Executive has 3 diplomas and all pictures of his family, he probably values education and family; ask about the diplomas and the pictures. Here is where you need to ‘dig’.

The speeches typically end with “how they got engaged” or “how he knew she was ‘the one'” and they tell the story of their engagement. If the couple is ecstatic and happy, you can see it when they tell the story – they are teary, emotional, animated, uncaring if they look ‘cool’ or not, and they have an unmatched excitement that even makes you a bit jealous. When you are given that job offer from the “one” or the “right company”, you feel the same way. Well, at least I do – unbridled emotion and excitement.

You can even take it one step further to the wedding vows. While you certainly can’t use ALL language, anyone who has built a business from scratch with other founders can likely attest to, “In sickness and in health” (work ALL the time), “good times and in bad” (usually there are more bad than good when starting a business), “support your goals” (company vision – enough said), “honor and respect”….I could go on and on.

So, if you are a crazy passionate business person; perhaps you can see the similarities above. Or, of course, it is possible that I’m just crazy, but in the words of Jack Kerouac, ““The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”

PEOPLE make start ups profitable. Period.

August 26, 2010 3 comments

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I’ve worked in 4 start ups and been successful 4 times. I define success in a start up as the company becoming profitable as well as a “going concern” business.

While my ego would like to think I can attribute these successes to my own intellectual superiority, I have become more of a realist. There have, however, been 3 constants to these successes and now consulting for numerous start ups, I’m shocked to find the minimal time and thought that goes into what I consider the initial recipe for success.

A strategic and well thought out human resource initial plan will

1. Hiring on 4 traits

Always list these 4 criteria in order of the ‘traits possessed’ for your potential hire:

Education
Motivation
Experience
Innate Intelligence

The order that will bring you a successful candidate in a start up world;

Motivation
Innate Intelligence
Experience
Education

What does this mean? It means that someone who is tenacious, ambitious, has unparalleled work ethic while also having the ability to make good decisions and think ‘outside the box’ is going to be far more valuable than the “MBA who has worked in corporate America for 5 – 10 years”. Certainly, there are roles for these folks, but not in the core of your start up executive, senior, or middle level management teams.

2. Sacrifice is KEY

Offer a very minimal base salary – regardless of the role. PAY FOR SUCCESS ONLY.

When you have team members that are confident enough in their abilities that they agree to being tied directly into accountability metrics to get paid, you have people who are ‘bought in’. Take the time to develop a monthly accountability plan. It may take you a couple hours to develop the ‘right’ plan and another hour to explain it to a colleague, but it will drive millions in revenue over time; as well as cut costs.

3. CUT THE FAT

Stop hiring people who do not have the ability to act in numerous roles. Oftentimes, I see start ups where executives can play numerous roles; they can develop and drive strategy on the marketing side, but also be an operator if needed – and most times a salesperson as well. Then when it comes to hiring senior and middle management, ‘executives’ seem to think that they should each have a vertical of employees reporting to them. Forget the vertical. Find senior and middle managers who can play multiple roles as well. YOU WANT TO HIRE MINI C.E.O.s.

For example, you don’t want just a ‘director of creative’, you want a creative designer who can design, code, has an e-commerce and technology background, can manage websites, QA the site, and has the operational background to project manage anything in your marketing department. Many start ups hire 1 “director of marketing”, 1 creative designer, another technology person. Find someone with all of these skills.

Another example; do not hire a “director of sales” or “director of marketing”…Hire a “director of revenue driving operations” or a “rain maker”. Find someone who can negotiate deals and don’t only use them on the business development side; use them on the marketing team as well – to work on marketing negotiations. If the individual is “innately intelligent” and “motivated”, they will pro-actively learn about all areas of your business (motivation) and adapt their skill sets quickly based on the knowledge (Innately intelligent). Combined with creative deal making and negotiation skills, you want your ‘revenue driver’ to also have had an operational background – who needs a sales / marketing operations person? Until you’re profitable – it’s a waste.

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What Good is a Start Up Company if You Run it Like a Corporation?

June 16, 2010 8 comments

It’s not good. period. I should probably start by telling you what I think of as a corporation: 1) Sign offs 2) “strategic plans” that cannot be altered in a moment’s notice 3) High level executives who want to ‘stick with what they know’.

In my first start up, we went completely outside the box and did things that had never been done before. We didn’t listen to other people’s opinions, but like the book BLINK says, we went with our gut…and we got it right. We had belief in our product (leads), we were able to sell our product, and our CEO / COO that ran the marketing component of our business were not limited by norms. To be more precise, they went against the norms. We ended up with two things: 1) Profitability in under one year 2) A new business model for our industry. If we had been running our business trying to stick with what we knew, not changing or testing things on the ‘fly’, and not listening to the younger / less experienced folks in our organization, none of this would have occurred.

Taking “C” level executives from the corporate world and throwing them into a start up business is not a good thing unless there is balance. If you have 3 “C” level or “VP” level employees from ‘corporate’, they should be balanced by those of us who have succeeded in the ‘start up’ world. There is a reason the same people are successful in start ups again and again and again; they have great business instincts, have no fear, and are tenacious. When they try something that is “outside of the box”, they’re going to do whatever it takes to make it work. They’re out to prove their model. In many companies, they would likely be defined as “rebels” as they may be superstars, but many of their ideas are viewed as outrageous.

Start up people need freedom. They need freedom to make decisions and freedom to act on decisions within a short time frame. Not everything must be laid out in a “plan”. If something works, SCALE IT…and scale it immediately before your competitor does.

Where did this come from? Many companies I work with have solid products…not disruptive technology and neither are all business models different, but the products can certainly beat out that of their competitors. Most have high level executives who come from ‘corporate’ backgrounds; certainly brilliant and experienced in their respective areas, but ‘corporate’ nonetheless. At times, I’m hired to consult in one area that I’ve had immense success in; marketing for higher education. Under the marketing umbrella, many times I’m hired to execute on ONE aspect of that strategic marketing plan. I attempted to remain focused on that specific ‘goal’ and as I’m was executing, it becomes apparent that there are secondary strategies needed to supplement what I was doing. It’s low risk / low cost. I put it out there for the companies to evaluate. Response, “We’ll think about it”…and you could tell the companies weren’t ‘really’ going to think about it. Think about it? 1) Who thinks about anything in a start up? Think about it for 5-10 minutes maybe…and get back to me with an answer. It would be less than a $2K test. I wanted to say, “if it doesn’t work, take it off my paycheck…” but surprisingly keep my mouth shut. 2) DATA. Past data from the same exact type of campaign shows that my ‘gut’ instinct was correct. I guess I should have sat down and made a formal “business case” for what I wanted to do, but it’s a start up – who has the time?

Anyways, as a consultant – even if hired to focus on 1 area of the business…I consider it my “job” to advise on other parts as well. I don’t mind being told, “No”, if there’s a good reason…but for a cheap test, that’s 100% scalable, and historical data proves it works…I don’t want a “No” or an “I’ll think about it”. I want a “Go for it” – like a start up company with a “start up” executive team would do.

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The Recipe to Become a Sought After Consultant

May 16, 2010 9 comments

50% Track Record
50% Relationship Builder / Networker

Is it really so simple?

Under each of these areas are several bullet points / advice on how to mazimize each bullet point; but once you hear my story, I have proved this is the recipe for a thriving ‘restaurant’.

While I was working in the corporate world, I always did projects on the side; pro bono. Sometimes they were internal, sometimes helping partners I was working with (relationship building), but always seeking to build 1) my knowledge base 2) My network. I also always wanted to prove to myself that I couldn’t “only do” what was needed in my day to day jobs; I wanted ‘practice’ with other industries and the experience of working with different executives.

When I left my most recent company (about 5 months ago), I was going to take a few month “break”, as I’ve been working 80 hour weeks for about 8 years now, but didn’t have the chance. As soon as “word got out” that I had left a company, my phone was ringing; my email was flowing. Companies that I had ‘partnered’ with in the past, prior colleagues, they all had projects for me. I certainly wasn’t going to say “no”, but I did need to learn the consultancy market in about 3 days…which of course, I did. I was truthful with the people I called and asked how they ‘normally’ pay consultants. The same 4 or 5 options were out there, so I adopted each to diffferent projects and was on my way. Here is where and how I’ve found success and clientelle – with no direct response or branding marketing. As sad as this is…I haven’t even had time to put together a website. Go figure.

Part One: Track Record

Under this category lies several things that companies love to see.

1. Obviously the successes in each of your positions or endeavors. While this is important to put on your resume or linkedin page, what I’ve found is that my track record of MISTAKES (when speaking to companies) has worked equally as well in my favor. My explanation – “I succeeded in ‘X’, but would not have done so had I not made these mistakes…which I learned from and constantly adopt in my new endeavors”.

2. TYPES of companies worked for:

one suggestion I have for anyone who is entrepreneurial, ambitious in business, and wanting to really learn how to build a company is to work for a start up company. This shows executives at companies several things (dependent on your role and in what type of company). Just to be sure we’re on the same page; when I say, “start up company”, I am referring to a company that is IN THE RED with minimal employees.

First, it shows that you are willing to take RISK. Important for someone hiring a consultant for 2 reasons: 1) The company will not be ‘afraid’ to give you something as a project 2) The company and consultant can create different deal types that puts the onus on the consultant to get work done. It’s allows the consultant to take on a ‘pay per performance’ model, which companies love.

Second, it shows that you have likely worked in an environment where you have had to wear a myriad of professional ‘hats’. For example: while you may have held a “biz dev” role, the likelihood is you also probably had to learn the ‘sales operations’, developed the sales process, the documents, even the ‘creative’ to send out to clients. That is three other skillsets other than biz dev: Operations, BPI, and marketing / creative development.

Third, it shows you are tenacious with a phenomenal work ethic.

Fourth, The “best” type of start up you can work at…one that is “doing something that has never been done before”. If you can work for that company in a managerial role and move up to an executive role while there; AND be there while the company is successful, going from the “red” to a “black” going concern…you’re a golden child.

Another great type of company to work for is one that offers continuing professional and management development courses. While there are some “large” Fortune 100 companies that put you in a position, teach you about that position, and ‘call it a day’; there are others that invest heavily into bettering their employees. You’re looking for a company that seeks promotion from within as well as one that values the education of their employees.

A third company that will help what others view in your ‘track record’ is one that may not be a start up, BUT is constantly building out new smaller businesses, departments, concepts, products, etc. If you can become part of that “new” team, fantastic experience as well.

Start up businesses seem to be the place where most consultants are sought out, so let’s talk about the type of person you have to be to not only enjoy this role, but be successful in it. This takes a particular type of individual, so before you jump on that, let me explain attributes needed. Start ups are NOT for everyone.

1. The vision to identify the “right” start up. Don’t kid yourself; this is a gift and a skill set. As 95% of start up companies fail, you need to learn how to identify the ones that “have a high chance of success based on the market, product or service, and executive team. If any one of these components are not at 100%, your business will fail.

2. The “NO FEAR” attitude. You are going to be placed outside your comfort zone 75% of the time. That’s the FUN of the start up! You cannot be scared to do something you’ve never done before, you cannot be scared to share your opinions even if everyone else is countering it, you cannot be scared to work 100 hours / week, and you certainly cannot be ‘scared’ of success or failure.

3. Passion; you must be passionate about the mission of the company. If you are a person who is typically not ’emotional’ or does not get “attached” to their job or feel loyalty for their product, service, or team members; this may be a tough transition for you.

To Be Continued This Eve

Why START UP companies are KEY to Work For!

April 13, 2010 8 comments

Two things I look for in every company I work with:

1. Do they executives believe in continuous learning as well as personal / professional growth AND will they aide you in your journey…
2. Is their business model, or product, something new, innovative, and / or something that the market has not seen before.

If the answer to these two questions is not “YES”, than I know this start up business is not for me. However, if the answer IS “yes”, I know that I will do anything in my power to work with, and learn from, these individuals. Even if it means working for free for a while; just to prove myself.

When I was 22 yrs old, I began working at Kaplan University, online higher education giant. However when I entered the working world, Kaplan University was called “Kaplan College”; they only offered 4 degree programs (now offer over 100 if we include specializations); and more importantly, only had 60 admissions advisors or ‘sales reps’. While it wasn’t a “pure” start up in the sense of the word, it did grow immensely over the next two years and when I moved to a ‘real’ start up, had over 1500 admissions advisors, and had grown the student base over 1000%. It was a rush to be a part of. We purchased new buildings, there was a lot of room for advancement and learning. We had access to the C level business executives, ideas were listened to; and while sure – there were bumps along the road, it was still fun to come to work everyday. Not only were we doing jobs we believed in, but there was always something “new” and “innovative” to look forward to.

About five years ago, original owner and SVP of Sales and Marketing for Kaplan University, Richard Capezzali, developed a business concept with a young man named Todd Zipper. They wanted to prove that they could execute on numerous strategies that had never been ‘done’ before. The two innovators founded Education Connection, which was at first a lead generation company, and became the first lead generation company to 1) Be agnostic 2) Develop commercials – not school specific, for themselves, 3) Develop a lead that converts at over 10% 4) Build out an advising call center. I basically stalked Richard and Todd until they brought me on as their ‘first’ employee. I was in heaven. I was working with two men; one – an expert in education sales and marketing and the other – an Ivy league MBA who taught me operations, finance, etc. and both believed that it was POSSIBLE to make the impossible possible. I learned more over the four years with these men than I could have in any MBA program.

After four years with Education Connection, my husband and I were recruited to another start up higher education company out in Dallas. While the answers to the questions above were “Yes” and the interviews were fantastic, there was a difference in this company, yet I couldn’t put my finger on it. As soon as I came aboard, I was back in the “start up” mode; building and executing quickly, driving revenue, and having fun doing what I love to do: build businesses. What I realized while I was working for this company was that although they were a ‘start up’ company in that the idea was new, we were just reaching profitability, etc. all of the C level executives or business partners had worked together for 15 years. And in that 15 years, they had already developed a culture; one that was unlike a “typical” start up business; it was more like a 10 year old corporation. Not for me. That being said, because I believed (and still do) strongly believe in the mission, I stayed onboard and did what I do best: drive revenue and cut costs…

Until a few months ago.

For the past few months, I’ve been consulting with numerous marketing and education companies. Some are start ups, some are trying to devise new revenue streams, some I’m working with to build out new products…but here is what I know. I love consulting. Every ‘project’ is basically a small start up company AND I get to choose who I work with. If I don’t like a project, I “just say no” and move to the next. I’m only working with companies I believe in, working with people who are innovators and allow me to be innovative, and I’m building my skill set with every project I take on.

The first three companies I worked for, while only over a seven year time span, all played integral parts in allowing me to do what I’m doing now.

So, for those of you who are going to be out of college soon, looking for internships, a career path, a job, etc. my advice to you is to look for a start up company. You will learn and blossom quickly and it will give you the skills you need to go anywhere. You will be adaptable, wear many different hats, and know what a true “team” environment is. There are several solid sites you can check out, a great one being Start Up Digest, that will send you jobs from all over the world with start ups.

Be innovative. Work for a start up.

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