Entrepreneurs Who Don’t Pass the Grade

Can an entrepreneur be graded? What would the assessment look like? Jason Nazar, the founder of Docstoc, created a 55 question assessment to do just that. He posted it on Forbes yesterday and invited the reader to begin with the end in mind. The questions are listed below:

Checklist man

1. See opportunity where others see issues 

2. Have a discipline for making decisions among various opportunity costs

3. Rapidly double down on something when it starts to work and blow it out to its full potential 

4. Balance “gut decisions” with of a love of data-driven decisions

5. Focus on 

6. Stay attached to the problem they are trying to solve, but be flexible in the solutions to solve it 

7. Know when to apply a 

8. Protect their downside and prevent the organization from being put at risk

9. Communicate expectations clearly, build buy-in and hold everyone accountable (most of all themselves)

10. Encourage open feedback on what they can improve

11. Put others in positions to make critical decisions and drive key initiatives forward 

12. Prefer to give credit than to take credit

13. Do, or have done, what they ask others to do

14. Remain organized and disciplined in any work habits that affect others

15. Seek out and follow the council of advisors in and outside of the business 

16. Balance “Coaching and Cheerleading” vs. “Doing and Directing” 

17. Know when to set unrealistic goals

18. Regularly thank and appreciate others for a job well done (thanks to my co-founder Alon Shwartz for reminding me)

19. Make themselves consistently accessible to their team

20. Are honest and ethical in all their dealings

21. At least 20% of their time goes towards recruiting top talent (tip: some say 50% via Vinod Khosla)

22. Build a team of A vs. B players

23. Define the most important qualities for hiring 

24. Counter-balance their weaknesses by hiring people better than them

25. Hire Fast & Fire Fast 

26. Define what the culture should be

27. Create an ingrained culture, not one of platitudes 

28. Make the culture about something bigger than business 

29. Build ownership and accountability across the entire organization

30. Put in their own capital before they ask others to put in theirs

31. They sell ether, sell the dream

32. Have mastered the investor pitch process

33. They first sell themself

34. Understand “People, Product, Progress, Passion, Persistence” 

35. Always ensure the business is properly capitalized 

36. Treat investor’s capital like a borrowed treasure to be protected and returned

37. Know their product better than anyone else

38. Regularly talk with customers to see what can be improved

39. Have a vision for the product that gets translated across the organization

40. Make their product different and better than the competition

41. Build lean products iteratively and ship expeditiously

42. Genuinely care about the interests of the customer more than their personal financial gain

43. Focus on execution over ideas

44. Participate in key sales functions and deals 

45. Spend enough time courting key relationships that move the business forward

46. Great at generating PR and buzz for the company 

47. Listen more than they talk 

48. Stay scrappy as they grow 

49. Have a strong sense of demand and how to extract it 

50. Self aware, willing to admit mistakes and take responsibility

51. Fierce competitiveness, hate to lose

52. Extreme sense of urgency and intense work ethic

53. Have a big WHY 

54. Can sell the dream

 

55.) Do they get results with integrity?  That is the only standard by which entrepreneurs are eventually judged.  Everything else is just a test; grades don’t matter, but results do.

 

What a great and wise summary of what’s most important! When Nazar sums it all up in the phrase “results with integrity,” he eliminates all doubt as to what is really the key driver in successful leaders–be they entrepreneurial, intrapreneurial, or otherwise! 

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Build Human Capital With Interpersonal Savvy

Relationships in business are super important. When tasks and goals are pursued without regard to the interpersonal collateral, it is tragic. Leaders who see human capital as their greatest asset are revered by those who serve alongside them. Those who run roughshod over others are despised–though they may see results from a Machiavellian style in the short run, they never get the voluntary commitment of others and, therefore, cannot take an organization as far.

Three person relationshipJeff Haden recommends the following best (business) relationship practices in an Inc article today:

1. Take the hit.

A customer gets mad. A vendor complains about poor service. Sometimes, whatever the issue and regardless of who is actually at fault, some people step in and take the hit. They’re willing to accept the criticism or abuse because they know they can handle it–and they know that maybe, just maybe, the other person can’t.

2. Step in without being asked.

It’s easy to help when you’re asked. Very few people offer help before they have been asked, even though most of the time that is when a little help will make the greatest impact. People who build extraordinary relationships pay close attention so they can tell when others are struggling. . .they come up with specific ways they can help. 

3. Answer the question that is not asked.

Where relationships are concerned, face value is usually without value. Often people will ask a different question than the one they really want answered. Behind many simple questions is often a larger question that goes unasked. People who build great relationships think about what lies underneath so they can answer that question, too.

4. Know when to dial it back.

Outgoing and charismatic people are usually a lot of fun… until they aren’t. People who build great relationships know when to have fun and when to be serious, when to be over the top and when to be invisible, and when to take charge and when to follow.

5. Prove they think of others.

People who build great relationships don’t just think about other people. They act on those thoughts. One easy way is to give unexpected praise. Take a little time every day to do something nice for someone you know, not because you’re expected to but simply because you can. 

6. Realize when they have acted poorly.

Very few people apologize before they are asked to–or even before anyone notices they should. People who take the blame, who say they are sorry and explain why they are sorry, who don’t try to push any of the blame back on the other person–those are people everyone wants in their lives, because they instantly turn a mistake into a bump in the road rather than a permanent roadblock.

7. Give consistently, receive occasionally.

In business terms that means connecting with people who can be mentors, who can share information, who can help create other connections. . .(also) The person who builds great relationships doesn’t think about what she wants; she starts by thinking about what she can give. 

8. Value the message by always valuing the messenger.

When someone speaks from a position of position of power or authority or fame it’s tempting to place greater emphasis on their input, advice, and ideas. People who build great relationships never automatically discount the message simply because they discount the messenger. They know good advice is good advice, regardless of where it comes from.

In short, taking the time to make much of relationships should be a priority. Doing so builds credibility with others that is huge when it comes time to pursue goals together. 

 

Be Bold and Flexible In Leading Others

One of the challenges that leaders face is the need to customize their approach to individuals under their charge, at the same time as driving corporate performance. Far easier is it to try a singular approach–either one we’ve seen others before us model or one that is very comfortable. To be observant and empathetic enough to notice what others need, in what measures, and at what distinct moments delivered in ways that are point is a skill–particularly if you as a leader are able to do this consistently for many who look to you for guidance, direction, and nurture.

Nick Petrie from the Center for Creative Leadership wrote, “Hindsight does not lead to foresight since the elements and conditions of the system can be in continual flux”? Understanding what we should have done in a particular situation does not, as Petrie indicates, bode well necessarily for interacting with others going foreward. 

Jane Perdue, in a blog post last Friday, says that “it’s time to hang up on heroic leadership — the notion that a single person has all the answers — and embrace a new orientation to leading yourself and others: flexibility.” She quotes Scott Yorkovich, adjunct faculty at Capella University, in defining  flexible leadership as the “ability to receive and process diverse and potentially conflicting sources of information, the openness to implement a variety of strategic solutions, and the ability to adapt to changing conditions.”

Perdue  writes that “getting comfortable with ambiguity is a must in a turbulent business environment filled with perpetual transitions. Having a boundary-spanning mindset is crucial for successful personal and professional leadership.” She recommends the tips below to assist in developing a leadership style that is adaptive and connecting:

contrarian

  • Be the water. The past’s linear lessons have questionable applicability in today’s hyper-connected, technology-driven, multiple-generations business world. The mental scripts we’ve written based on our past experiences can limit our ability to think and respond creatively, a performance gap that can render us obsolete. Flexible leaders are fluid — managing to drive change and innovation while still preserving a core of stability.
  • Transcend ego. Agile leaders naturally think less of “me” and more of “we,” having long ago abandoned command-and-control power trips. As Ben Dattner, adjunct professor at New York University, advises us, “Twenty-first century leaders might benefit from thinking of themselves as being in the center of a web rather than on top of a pyramid.”
  • Keep the number of rules, policies and procedures to a minimum. Four-inch-thick policy binders foster rigidity and stifle innovation. Flexible leaders know when to go by the book and when to take a risk. “If you want to encourage more risk-taking in your company or your unit, you’ll need to reduce the conflicting signals and create an environment where the benefits of taking a risk outweigh the costs,” writes Ron Ashkenas, an organizational transformation consultant.
  • Embrace the contrarian. We’re rewarded for and conditioned to rely on our strengths, a default position that sometimes prompts us to marginalize ideas generated by those with whom we disagree or discount. The trouble is that over-reliance on a strength can become a weakness. Flexible leaders seek out those with alternate points of views and listen closely to what they have to say before things go wrong.
  • Think paradoxically. Managing contradictions and opposites are the power breakfast of flexible leaders. One’s leadership focus may be on task completion, yet there is still an understanding that building and maintaining relationships is equally important. Flexible leaders are both strong and vulnerable, provide both structure and managed chaos, and value hard and soft skills equally.

 

Risk a Mistake; Earn a Valuable Lesson

 

Entrepreneurship is about taking risks. With risk taking comes the chance for failure. Failures, however, need not be a detriment to success. Quite often, they can be the building block. Matthew Turner is currently writing a book called The Successful Mistake: inspiring tips, tricks & tales from 250 successful entrepreneurs. The premise, he writes, is to interview business people and discuss their mistakes and how they turned them around. In a blog post for under30ceo.com, he shared some of the thoughts that will be in the book and a story of struggle from Richard Branson:

Mistake Or Valuable Lesson?

Having interviewed dozens of inspiring individuals I’m beginning to connect some rather important dots. Often the difference between a successful person and everyone else is how they react to adversity.

Bad things happen from time-to-time, and we’re often left with a rather simple decision: Fight or Flight

Yes, that natural instinct of fighting or fleeing comes to mind, and those successful entrepreneurs that build empires are often those that fight…fight…and fight some more. Success is rarely handed on a plate, and I’d like to share (a) Famous Entrepreneur who had to find success the hard way:Mistakes

Richard Branson

In 1971 Richard Branson was just starting to grow Virgin Records, and although things were going rather well, money was tight and tough times lay ahead.

His mistake began when he won a contract to export records to Belgium, and after a few things went wrong, he realised he could avoid certain UK taxes by appearing to export but never actually doing so. His debts would soon be cleared and all would be well, but this little idea was illegal, and as with all illegal matters, the risk is high.

As you can imagine the Tax Man came knocking and Richard Branson spent a night in jail and was forced to pay a rather hefty fine. Yes, the same Richard Branson that so many people idolise (including me).

What Richard learned was that his reputation is his biggest attribute, and no amount of fame or fortune can replace it. He vowed in that jail cell that he would never return, and this mistake helped him build a certain set of values that he’s since lived to. As with most wealthy people he’s no doubt faced occasions where bribes and ‘loopholes’ could have been taken, but he’s learned his lesson from a rather large and potentially devastating mistake. This error in judgement could not only have ended his business, but tainted his entire life.

Mistakes can shape our destiny. As you can see in Branson’s story, there are people who can take the proverbial lemon and turn it into lemonade. Clearly, his experience has shaped his drive to become the dynamo businessman esteemed by many today. Think about your own experience…what have you done that, when it happened, you wished you hadn’t, but in retrospect would not trade the lesson learned for anything?

Moving beyond mistakes in the past, think about your current situation. Does fear of being wrong or making a mistake hold you back in a key decision that you are considering? Are you paralyzed with apprehension about what may go wrong with a pending strategic move? There must be a balance between due diligence and postponing risk taking for fear of failure. We can overcome most failures and become better for the experience. Are you willing to risk it?

Entrepreneurial Twists and Misfortune

Anyone who has read my blog for more than one sitting knows that I began my career doing turnarounds, mixed in some strategy added to marketing and nonprofit, started some businesses, and now help startups and SMEs. Invariably, some of the companies I run across or that you may read about in an epitaph simply do not pan out. Megan Kauffman posted a blog entry today that features the thoughts of Wen-Szu Lin, a Wharton grad whose entrepreneurial venture in China was unsuccessful. Lin’s thoughts are below:

When our business in China did not work out as hoped, I could not believe that I failed at something I set out to achieve.  Four years of my life were gone.  The emotional scars and physical ailments resulting from the stress were real enough.  I couldn’t believe that I had lost money for my investors (who were friends and family).

Few people discuss the details about such periods in their lives.  Most entrepreneurs that we hear about succeed.  Or else they fade into oblivion.  Older entrepreneurs occasionally discuss the multiple failures that they experienced to reach success.  Yet, those painful memories are long past.  The younger a successful entrepreneur is, the more he or she is featured and sought after in stories.Venture failure

So, what happens with the majority of the entrepreneurs who, like myself, have experienced a major setback?  By far, this period was the most challenging in my life, and I was the most unprepared for the moment.  All of the business cases that I had studied in school, read in books, and heard first hand from entrepreneurs focused on how to handle business success.  How would I deal with failure emotionally and mentally?

Range of Initial Reactions

In China, I saw a lot of failed businesses, both from local Chinese and foreign entrepreneurs.  Through my years in Beijing, I have met many entrepreneurs and witnessed their responses when their businesses fail.

Based on my un-scientific observations, initial reactions fall into a few categories:

  • Reflect and move on
  • Disappearing Act
  • Denial (negative energy)
  • Oblivious (optimistic)

There are probably many other common responses to a failed business venture, but these were the ones that I encountered most often.

What happens now?

My foolish pride was quickly replaced by an immediate concern:  I needed to support my family, as my wife had just given birth to our first child.  Perhaps this urgency snapped me out of a potential downward spiral into depression. I had to quickly figure out how to generate an income for my family.

I experienced many mixed emotions as I evaluated my options and next steps.  Here were some of my main take-aways:

  • Personal reflection:  I started writing anecdotes, detailing each of the memorable stories from our four years.  I relived them in my mind and tried my best to put them on paper with the same intensity as I experienced them.  That was how I learned to move on from my experience.

Bottom line, I wrote a book (The China Twist) that reflected my experience.  The book contains the most vulnerable moments in my career, so I am facing my fears and my ‘shame’ head-on.  I am proud of what I wrote and what I have experienced. 

  • Job opportunities:  I did not realize that my degrees and background experience in consulting and technology were such a strong security blanket.  My options were actually quite varied and better than I had expected when the business ended.  
  • Another shot at entrepreneurship:  Growing up, I could think of nothing else I wanted to do except start something from the ground up.  My priorities definitely have changed but my dreams have not. One thing I know for sure is that I will be back in the entrepreneurship game sooner or later.

Some great advice from someone else who has lived the highs and lows. Take it to heart…stick a copy of it in a file and read his book –“just in case” you ever need the encouragement!