Competitive Edge
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Competitive Edge
Creating your Unique Value Proposition to gain your Competitive Edge.
Curated by Marc Kneepkens
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10 Trends for 2015 You’d Better Pay Attention To

10 Trends for 2015 You’d Better Pay Attention To | Competitive Edge |
Keep a close eye on the future and how it will affect your business -- it will be here before you know it.

Every large business in the world keeps a close eye on future customer trends and demographics--they have to if they hope to be selling the right products and services to the right customers at the right time.

Ford Motor Company recently published its 2015 trend report, and no matter what size your company is--or in what industry it does business--the results are extremely valuable for any company.

Here, according to Ford, are the 10 trends to pay close attention to in 2015:

Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Really interesting information about a new generation growing up in this digital, mobile, cyber age.

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The Strength Of A Transparent Startup | TechCrunch

The Strength Of A Transparent Startup  |  TechCrunch | Competitive Edge |

If you ask a member of the business-tech community about the benefits of closed systems versus their open counterparts, one word that will almost certainly come up is “security.” There’s been a long-held belief in the tech industry that closed systems are more difficult to corrupt and, therefore, more secure than systems built on a philosophy of radical openness.

But in recent months we’ve seen this idea of “closed is more secure” flipped on its head. Once concerned primarily with keeping hackers and other “outsiders” from accessing sensitive data, consumers are now more aware of the importance of maintaining personal security and privacy from corporations, governments and other powerful “insiders.”

We’ve seen this trend gain momentum in America following Edward Snowden’s NSA program leaks, and even more vocally in Hong Kong recently with the Occupy Central protests against the Chinese government’s famously closed election system.

Meanwhile, we’ve also begun to see cracks appearing in one of the world’s most popular and fanatically trusted closed systems — Apple’s. While the iCloud celebrity nude leaks reminded us of the value of multi-factor authentication, a fake Occupy Central app that spread phishing malware in Hong Kong poked a few more holes in the perceived security of iOS’s closed system.

So in a world where being “closed” can not only prove ineffective but also raise red flags, it makes more sense than ever for tech startups to adopt a policy of radical openness: transparency leads to trust; collaboration leads to innovation; and decentralization leads to empowerment.

Transparency Leads to Trust

Each year, GMI Ratings releases a list of the 100 Most Trustworthy Companies, inspired by the abuses that led to the financial collapse. GMI’s stance is that trustworthiness comes from transparency — even when the news is bad, the companies on this list are keeping shareholders informed, leading to less investor uncertainty and, in most cases, solid stock prices.

What might surprise you (or might not) is that technology is cited as one of today’s most fraudulent industries along with pharmaceuticals. This means that the opportunity is ripe to distinguish your tech startup from closed-up competitors by employing a model of radical openness with investors and clients.

That may mean providing more performance and financial data, being up front about long-term goals (or your more agile, wait-and-see approach, if that’s the case) and even coming forward to report your mistakes and near misses. It might be painful, but it can actually strengthen your relationships over time.

Collaboration Leads to Innovation

Some of the most talked-about startups in recent years would not exist if not for open data. Wikipedia is an obvious example, but also consider Waze, which was acquired by Google in 2013. Waze uses user-submitted traffic data to recommend the fastest driving route, which adjusts in real time as the user drives. Imagine the efficiencies that would be lost if Waze tried to generate this data by itself instead of tapping into the free, unlimited power of collaboration.

Investors in companies like IFTTT (which stands for If-This-Then-That) are also placing huge bets that the future lies in interconnection and open interaction among a multitude of platforms and devices. While many tech startups were thinking about how to carve a niche, own it and charge for it, IFTTT was strategically positioning itself as the go-to platform for the impending Internet of Things.

This brilliant, long-game strategy landed the company a $30 million investment in August of this year. Imagine if the company had instead built a platform that only functioned with IFTTT-approved devices, following a closed, vertical integration model. It might have enjoyed some early success, but it would have inevitably been unseated by a more open provider.

No closed system is safe from the disruption of a more open alternative.

Even a closed behemoth like Microsoft is now recognizing the value of open-sourced collaboration, recently announcing its decision to open source its server-side .NET Framework and also take it to Mac and Linux. Launching a startup with “artificial walls” in place, such as exclusive partnerships or extensive restrictions, in all likelihood means signing your own death sentence. Hold up Apple as a shining exception if you want, but history shows that tech that doesn’t play well with others gets left behind as collaborative innovation happens outside its walls.

For example, if Apple decides to throw its hat in the virtual reality ring, it will have to do on its own what the united front of Samsung (in other words, Google’s Android OS), Oculus Rift (in other words, Facebook), and the world’s entire network of virtual reality developers are collaborating to create.

Companies that rely on the idea that they’re “completely irreplaceable” need only look at the long list of alternatives that have arisen to even some of our most institutionalized services in recent years: bitcoin for traditional currency; at-home 3D printing for manufacturing; and right now in Hong Kong, Firechat, which is enabling protesters to circumvent Internet service providers. No closed system is safe from the disruption of a more open alternative.

Decentralization Leads to Empowerment

Back to Waze for a moment. Let’s imagine the blowback the company would receive for trying to charge for its user-submitted information. The commercial real estate industry has done precisely that for many years. The largest data providers have served as arbitrary gatekeepers for the world’s commercial real estate listings by asking brokers and agencies for info on their available spaces, then packaging that information and charging for access to it.

It’s unsurprising that free and open alternatives are now arising, threatening the existence of these long-established gatekeepers. (Disclosure, I run RealMassive, one such company.)

The commercial real estate industry lost sight of one important fact — the Internet has made kings of us all. In a Google world, the encyclopedia salesman is a relic, and businesses built around proprietary data have an expiration date.

If your startup is basing its business model on data that another company could feasibly gather and give away for free, you can expect that very thing to happen in the near future. Would you be able to survive? Do you really want to find out?

The Choice Is Yours, And Not Choosing Is a Choice

When it comes to making a choice between radical openness and “closedness” as a business philosophy, the best time to choose is in the early months of your company. A company that starts out with a closed paradigm and later chooses to open up will have a tough time rerouting company culture and also runs the risk of losing ground to more open competitors early on.

Even worse, a company that starts out open and later chooses to become closed will almost certainly make enemies, as Makerbot learned after it suddenly clamped down on its open-source 3D printing hardware after a community of early supporters spent years contributing to Makerbot’s design (it’s worth watching “Print the Legend,” a new documentary that chronicles the whole ordeal, available on Netflix).

Since you must choose one — and you must — openness is simply a better option for tech startups who stand little chance of deploying a successful vertical domination strategy like Apple or Sony built in decades past. When it comes to relationship-building, innovation, and eliminating competition, the best thing you can do to guarantee your company a spot in the future is to employ a philosophy of radical openness.

Schoolyard politics still apply: Secrets don’t make friends and neither do bullies.

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Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Excellent article. Openness promotes collaboration and is a sign of self confidence and trustworthiness. Apparently, it's similar in the tech world.

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5 Killer Lessons I Learned from Interviewing World-Class Entrepreneurs

5 Killer Lessons I Learned from Interviewing World-Class Entrepreneurs | Competitive Edge |
These founders have taken their businesses to the next level, and you could do the same by applying what they've learned.

Through the work I’ve done at Growth Everywhere, I’ve been lucky enough to chat with notable entrepreneurs such as Jason Lemkin (founder of Echosign, which sold to Adobe), Mark Organ (co-founder of Eloqua, which sold to Oracle) and others who are constantly pushing the boundaries of business success with their own companies.

But not only has this series of interviews given my followers plenty of inspirational material to help them take their businesses to the next level, it’s inspired me as well. Here are just a few of the lessons I’ve taken from these conversations and applied to my work at Growth Everywhere and my company, Single Grain.

1. Success comes from handling difficult situations well.

Want to hear something inspiring? When Ron Klein, inventor of the magnetic credit card strip, was 16, he contracted hepatitis and spent almost two years recovering. During this time, he wasn’t able to go to school or work, so he kept himself busy by reading 18 volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica. While his reading didn’t directly contribute to his work with credit card strips, they do show how Klein was able to take what was a difficult situation and turn it into something positive.

The truth is, we all hit roadblocks and obstacles. We all get frustrated by projects that don’t go as smoothly as we like. But it’s the way that you handle these challenges that separates those that will become successful from those that fail. Take a page out of Klein’s book and be the entrepreneur that makes the best out of bad situations.

2. Never be afraid to pivot.

All entrepreneurs think they’re starting out with a brilliant idea, but the reality is that businesses are often more complicated than they initially appear. Take the example of eToro, a social-investment network led by Yoni Assia.

Initially, eToro aimed to bring a social-gaming element to financial investing. But when the company’s first patent wound up being too over-gamified and over-simplified with consumers, the company was quick to pivot to a more traditional alternative, and then to a happy medium between the two. Today, eToro has produced more than $30 million in revenue, despite its rocky start.

If your initial idea proves unsustainable -- whether due to a lack of product-market fit, limited consumer interest, incorrect pricing strategies or some other factor -- don’t beat yourself up over it. Instead of giving up, look for the seeds of success that exist in all failed ideas and use them to move on to a stronger alternative.

3. Look for unexpected opportunities.

Yali Elkin was a pretty unlikely tech entrepreneur. Coming from a background in finance and data management, Elkin was inspired by the 2012 presidential debates to start LiveDial, a polling company that distributes surveys on any topic to an unlimited audience at a moment’s notice. To date, the program has more than 7,000 downloads and is growing every day.

It would have been easy for Elkin, when the idea for a survey platform crossed his mind, to say, “I’m a finance guy -- what business do I have founding a tech company?” But he didn’t. And you shouldn’t let yourself be tied down by expectations either.

Look for these types of unexpected opportunities and don’t let them pass you by. Capitalize on them by taking the action that other wannabe founders aren’t willing to.

4. Surround yourself with good people.

Recently, I had the chance to chat with Finnegan Faldi, founder of TruEffect, which focuses on first-party cookie technology. Faldi has a serious sales and business development background, so I was surprised when he told me that he doesn’t just believe CEOs should spend 25 to 33 percent of their time recruiting, he believes it should always be a top priority. Instead of posting jobs when he has open positions, he wants to have eager applicants who are ready, waiting and excited to work for him.

I’ve talked about what it takes to find a good CMO before, but don’t limit yourself there. Every position at your company is critical, so follow Faldi’s example and make constant recruiting a priority. A good team can make the difference between a company that barely gets off the ground and one that’s a runaway success.

5. All you have to do is ask.

While I’ve been fortunate to be able to connect with some amazing entrepreneurs through my interview series, what I want to emphasize is that there’s nothing special about me. I don’t have tons of inside connections, and I haven’t yet been admitted into any super-secret business-owner societies (if these exist at all).

I was able to learn great lessons that will save me a significant amount of time, money and energy, all because I was willing to ask for it. I get told “no” plenty of times by prospective interview subjects, but because I’m persistent, I’m able to chat with fascinating people doing amazing things in the business world. If there’s something you want out there, ask for it. Even seemingly-impossible requests might be easier to fulfill than you’d imagine.

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Here's What I Learned from Working with 50+ PR Firms

Here's What I Learned from Working with 50+ PR Firms | Competitive Edge |
First Round is a seed-stage venture firm focused on building a vibrant community of technology entrepreneurs and companies.
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What a letter from 1855 can teach us about startups today

What a letter from 1855 can teach us about startups today | Competitive Edge |

In 1855, Daniel McCallum wrote a letter to his bosses at the New York & Erie Railroad. McCallum had risen up through the ranks from carpenter, to bridge engineer, to chief of bridges, to regional manager of the Susquehanna division of the railroad. His latest promotion, to general manager of the entire railroad, was a big one.

So he picked up his pen and put his ideas about managing the railroad down on paper. It was the first time we know of that anyone ever did this.

McCallum’s biggest problem was cost-per-mile. As fast as the railroad grew in size, operating costs grew faster. Where the company should have seen productivity improvement (declining cost per mile), it saw the opposite. Communication, coordination, operations, sales — all became more difficult, not less so, as the railroad grew.

For McCallum, a productivity problem was a general management problem. And his ideas about general management marked a turning point in business history.

Fast forward not quite two centuries and many talented people in Silicon Valley are in McCallum’s shoes. They’ve risen rapidly in their careers because they were great at their jobs, because the company was growing like crazy, or both. They are getting shoved into leadership and management roles. And it is the hardest transition many of them have ever faced.

Against all their hopes and dreams, the bigger the company gets, the less well things work. Instead of productivity and happiness, there’s the opposite. These companies often have plenty of financial runway. And they have raw talent that’s the envy of the world. But they grind the gears on general management — burning too much cash, energy, and time setting goals, organizing the work, getting it done, and improving performance. The gears grind, people get frustrated, and the runway gets a lot shorter.

McCallum was at the height of his career, still prototyping how to manage. Remember, there were no business schools or how-to books in 1855. No general manager apprenticeships. McCallum had been taught to engineer and build bridges, not to manage thousands of people across half a continent.

McCallum’s letter outlined five key challenges:

  • How do you get a group of people to work together to common goals?
  • How do you give people the right amount of responsibility?
  • How do you make sure the job gets done?
  • How do you know how things are going?
  • How do you do all this with respect for others?

McCallum designed his railroad’s management structure and operation to answer those questions. He created a custom blend of hard assets, people and technology — for instance, he used the telegraph the way we use email or the internet today — to make the railroad work.

I believe that McCallum added years to the life of the New York & Erie railroad. The railroad had financial capital. It had engines, rail cars, all the physical assets it needed. It had fleets of talented people at every level of the organization. What the railroad needed was great general management to amplify the productivity of the capital + labor combination, to extend the life of the business. Great general management adds runway.

OK so what do we do with this story? Daniel McCallum. Interesting person. Hard problem. Railroads matter.

McCallum accidentally gave us a beautiful scorecard for general managers.

Take a look. Here are McCallum’s five challenges:

  • Group works together on common goals.
  • People have the right amount of responsibility.
  • Team gets the job done.
  • General Manager knows how things are going along the way.
  • People feel respected.

By each, write a score for your team from 1 to 10, with 1 being the worst and 10 being the best.

McCallum’s scorecard is an optimistic one. It’s based on the idea that sometimes you can get better in each of the five areas. So don’t be shy about giving a low score.

Now go back and spend time dissecting the low scores. McCallum took his lowest scoring areas and prototyped improvements. He changed procedures for communication. He changed the organization design. He added some steps and removed others in key process. You can do the same thing.

If you are grinding the gears in your work, the company’s spiritual and financial runway is shorter than it could be. It’s kind of surprising that in the mid-1800s there was a person who struggled with what it meant to be a good general manager. His struggle can save you time and worry. Borrow McCallum’s ideas to put grease on the gears.

Michael Dearing is the founder of the venture capital firm Harrison Metal. He has held numerous executive roles at companies including eBay, Filene’s Basement and the Walt Disney Company.  He most recently served as an associate professor at Stanford University’s

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Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Lots to learn, even from struggles long times ago.

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Marc Andreessen teaches startups what disruption is really about (in 17 tweets) | VentureBeat | Entrepreneur | by Jordan Novet

Marc Andreessen teaches startups what disruption is really about (in 17 tweets) | VentureBeat | Entrepreneur | by Jordan Novet | Competitive Edge |
Marc Andreessen is one of those few people whose opinion about disruption is actually worth paying attention to.

You’ve probably heard about “disruptive innovation,” a concept from Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen. But prominent Silicon Valley Marc Andreessen wants to be sure that you actually understand disruption — because the term does get thrown around a lot.

In his latest onslaught of tweets, Andreessen this morning first quoted from Christensen’s writings and then went on to provide examples. And then he went on to show why people really should be in favor of disruption.

And it’s worth paying attention to Andreessen on disruption, given that he was one of the key people behind the Netscape Navigator web browser, a hit among consumers that improved on the Mosaic web browser he had developed for the National Center for Supercomputing Applications.

The position from Andreessen, a cofounder of the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, amounts to a strong defense of the concept. It’s quite a bit different from New Yorker writer Jill Lepore’s critical take on it.

Andreessen’s newly articulated stance could well bring on a whole new round of discussion about the already widely cited term.

To see the series of Tweets, go here to the original article:

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Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Every wondered what disruption is really all about? It's probably much more than you imagined.

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This is How You Build Partnerships to Make Your Startup Better, Faster, Stronger

This is How You Build Partnerships to Make Your Startup Better, Faster, Stronger | Competitive Edge |
First Round is a seed-stage venture firm focused on building a vibrant community of technology entrepreneurs and companies.

Mr. Shore Gregory was skeptical. As owner of Island Creek Oyster Bar and Row 34 in Boston, he gets pitched by a lot of Harvard students who claim to be building the next 'distruptive' app for restauranteurs. Unsurprisingly, this is rarely the case, and the result is a huge waste of time. So when he got approached by Reserve, led by Co-founder and CEO Gregory Hong, he had his guard up. Here was another team with an app designed to improve the dining experience — only something was different. The product actually seemed to answer real needs.

“Right away, I think it was obvious that we had more than an idea — we were able to talk to him about features and show him things he could interact with,” Hong says. “More than that, I think we convinced him that our business depended on the strength of our partnerships with restaurants, and that we were really interested in creating an incredible experience for them, not just the consumers using the app.”

After a number of conversations, Island Creek Oysters was sold, and it's since become one of the startup's strongest advocates. “He realized that we're going all in on building tools that will help restaurants run their businesses better,” says Hong. And so far, this has been the case. For eight months before the app officially launched, Reserve diligently gathered feedback from hundreds of restaurants — as it continues to now — to craft a product that will attract more great restaurants, and in turn more customers.

Balancing all of these relationships, especially through rapid scale, is a massive challenge. But Reserve, a young company with a lot to prove, is approaching it as an opportunity to gain the feedback and influence it needs to become the market leader. In this exclusive interview, Hong shares his advice for startups that need to build strong, healthy partnerships to survive.

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Marc Kneepkens's insight:

This is a long and detailed article, but definitely worthwhile reading. It describes what building relationships in business is all about.

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The Unusual Strategy That Made This Woman a Multi-Billionaire

Elizabeth Holmes's growth strategy flies in the face of conventional startup wisdom.

In each generation, an elite few entrepreneurs skyrocket to almost unimaginable heights. Among that already select group, an even more exceptional group emerges: those whose business success affects society in such a way that they become forever ingrained in the public consciousness.

Warren Buffett, Oprah Winfrey, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and now Mark Zuckerberg are a few examples of this top-tier, ultra-successful group. As self-made billionaires, they certainly experienced success, but they went on to become household names and forever cemented a place in history thanks to their innovation and ingenuity.

A young woman named Elizabeth Holmes is rapidly working her way toward this status.

Never heard of her? That's not surprising, and was actually by design.

Most entrepreneurs can't wait to get their startup in the news. You need customers to buy into your idea. You need the industry to take you seriously. You need investors to get on board and help you grow.

Looking back, Holmes was certainly a prodigy, though like many other billionaires, she dropped out of college to pursue her dream. In high school, she taught herself Mandarin and sold C compilers to Chinese universities. She went on to Stanford for chemical engineering, where she filed her first patent and traveled to Singapore to work on the SARS virus. Just ahead of her sophomore year, however, Holmes left Stanford behind and went after her dream of pioneering personalized medicine.

Her company, Theranos, was born of her desire to make the greatest change she could in the world, Holmes recently told the San Jose Mercury News.

She has spent the last 11 years developing a revolutionary blood-testing technology to run diagnostic tests with a single drop of blood, drawn by a painless fingerprick. Imagine completely accessible diagnostic testing available across the country, capable of running hundreds of tests with a tiny amount of blood--and at a fraction of the current cost.

It will fundamentally change health care, in America and around the world.

Blood testing hasn't evolved since the 1960s and Holmes saw a unique way to shake up the industry, while doing social good.

But she kept it quiet.

Contrary to the strategy of the vast majority of startups, Holmes hasn't been shouting her idea from the rooftops. There's no PR team behind the curtain orchestrating speaking engagements and media coverage. In fact, until Holmes landed on Forbes's "40 Under 40" list and the cover of Fortune magazine this year, she was virtually unknown.

(Holmes was featured in's "30 Under 30" list in 2006 but still managed to stay unusually under the radar.)

Holmes had a vision so significant, she didn't want her competitors to catch on until she had the creation of an entirely new market--consumer health technology--well under way.

And her competitors are huge; think Quest, LabCorp, and other well-established players in the $70 billion U.S. blood-testing industry. Yet instead of coming out of the gates with barrels blazing, Holmes quietly worked away at her startup for a decade before beginning to increase her public presence. In that time, she built a business that now has about 500 employees and counts Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle, and venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson among its investors.

In the age of selfies, YouTube stars, and "breaking the Internet," isn't it refreshing to discover a young entrepreneur focused more on her business and doing social good than on her public persona? At just 30 years old and as 50% owner of her $9 billion company, Holmes only now seems to be making a concerted effort to come into the limelight.

It's an unusual growth strategy, to work away diligently, largely out of the public eye, but it's one that has served Elizabeth Holmes, the world's youngest self-made female billionaire, incredibly well.

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Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Creativity and entrepreneurship combined deliver unique results.

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Startups: Does your marketing feel like a gift or a re-gift? | VentureBeat | Entrepreneur | by Mark Sullivan

Startups: Does your marketing feel like a gift or a re-gift? | VentureBeat | Entrepreneur | by Mark Sullivan | Competitive Edge |

Tell me if this sounds familiar. You came up with what you think is a really great idea. You spent countless hours developing your idea into a workable demo. Then you developed an elevator pitch that went something like this – we are the (blank) for (blank).

You then networked your ass off — selling yourself, your team, and your elevator pitch to prospective investors and partners until you were able to raise some capital. You did it by telling everyone how great you are…and it worked! Now you’re ready to ramp up the marketing machine and grow the business to enormous heights.

Here’s where things can go sideways. What worked to get you where you are now may not work to get you to where you want to be. One of the biggest marketing mistakes I see startups make as they try to grow their customer base is talking about themselves too much.  While this may be an effective way to get VCs excited about your business, it often fails to excite the target consumer.

Why? It’s because of an insight into people that is as old as the hills. As sales guru Dale Carnegie taught us many years ago, people don’t care about you, they care about themselves. Unlike investors, consumers aren’t really interested in you or your company. They don’t want to hear about how great your company or your product is. They want to hear about what your company or your product can do for them.

To attract consumer attention and build long term connections, you need to change your point of view. If you want truly great marketing, you need to stop thinking about you and start thinking about them.

The difference between great marketing and bad marketing is the difference between a gift and a re-gift.  Think about the last great gift you got from someone. Think how you felt the moment you opened it. If you are like me, you probably said something like “Wow, how did you know?” You felt special, you felt cared about, and you felt understood. The gift demonstrated a high level of insight into who you are and what you want. Maybe you felt they understood you even better than you understood yourself.

This is what great marketing should feel like.

On the other hand, think about the last time you were “re-gifted.” You probably got the feeling that the gift giver didn’t really care about you as much as you had hoped. They didn’t really “get you.” Nor did they even try. You felt like an unimportant afterthought. You probably questioned the strength of your relationship with that person.

This is what bad marketing feels like.

In the startup space, we talk a lot about quantitative metrics and acquisition models. These are all important concepts, but great marketing requires great content. It requires marketing content that makes a connection with people on a human level. When consumers see your ad, read your emails or visit your website, they should thinking this:  “Wow, this brand gets me like no other brand!”

Publishing your Twitter feed is not great marketing. Making the extra effort to show people you care is.

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Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Essential to know. What is marketing all about?

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The 23 Best Business Tools Built By Startups

The 23 Best Business Tools Built By Startups | Competitive Edge |
These apps could help you run your company more efficiently.

You might not realize it, but some of the best new tools available for business owners today are being made by startups. Here are 23 tools and apps I love and use that could make your business better:

1. Coschedule 

This is a lightweight Wordpress plugin that provides a one-stop solution for managing editorial calendars for blogs or websites that regularly publish content. It also automates social-media promotion when posts are published. Coschedule currently costs $10/month per website.

2. Optimizely

This service bills itself as “A/B testing you’ll actually use” and focuses on making testing as easy as possible. It allows you to track what you are actually interested in (as opposed to tracking information and data that you’re not going to use) and also allows you to set deadlines and run reports for specific timelines.

3. UserTesting

UserTesting records actual users as they view your app, website or other digital product. It records video of the user’s screen, and they are given tasks to complete on the platform being tested. They can create annotations for notes and also verbally give their feedback as they are working their way through the experience.

It offers a single video for $50, or pro plans that are $225/month for small businesses and $1,250 for enterprise businesses. The pro plans offer much more robust feedback and reports based on the user test findings.

4. Intercom

This tool allows you to not only see your users’ behavior when they are using your online tools or apps, but it also helps you interact with them through popups while they are on specific pages or using specific features. This type of user interaction can help further your product development and customer service. Intercom ranges in monthly pricing packages from free to $99, depending on how many features you need.

5. Slack

Slack is an easy-to-use searchable-team communication platform that integrates with existing software that your team is probably already using, such as Dropbox, Google Drive and MailChimp. Slack currently ranges in price from free to $12.50 per user, depending on which features are needed. Pricing is based on an annual payment.

6. Fuze

Fuze is a video and conference-call service that also allows users to type and send files during calls, record calls for later purposes and send participants calendar invitations directly from the app. It can be used via the web, its downloadable program (which is required for video calls), mobile app or via a conference-call number. The top-level plan also allows the facilitation of webinars. Its plans range from free (up to three call participants) to $40 per month.

7. Mailbox

Mailbox was created to optimize the email experience on mobile. You can swipe new emails to either trash or archive them, and can also schedule emails to reappear in your inbox at a specific period of time. Mailbox is currently free and available for iPhone, iPad, Android and a beta version for Mac OSX.

8. Mynd

This app, currently only available for iOS, is a helpful optimized calendar that works with your existing calendar information (as well as the Internet) to make your life easier. For instance, it alerts you when you need to leave to make a meeting on time and automatically inputs conference-call codes to make dialing in easier. It has in-app purchases, but is free to download.

9. ZenPayroll

ZenPayroll aims to make employee payroll easy. It allows you to integrate with existing systems (such as human-resources platforms, invoicing platforms or insurance-plan management tools) to make employee management simpler.

10. Xero

Xero provides online accounting and invoicing services for small businesses and accountants or bookkeepers. It integrates add-on services such as popular payment, customer-relationship management and business tools such as PayPal and Salesforce. In addition, it integrates with your online banking, so you can automatically sync banking transactions. Pricing plans ranges from $20 to 40 per month.

11. HelpScout

This service is an online help desk that also integrates with your email, documents and other apps to make customer service as easy as possible. You can also use one user account to manage the help desk for multiple brands or domains, making it ideal for outsourced support desks or companies that own more than one product. It currently costs $15 per user per month.

12. IconFinder

This unique service is a tiny component of web design, yet crucial to the user experience. IconFinder helps you find the perfect icons for your apps, promotions or websites. You can either pay a per-icon rate or a monthly membership fee for its premium offerings, which are higher quality. There are also some free icons as well, depending on what you are searching for.

13. Drip

Drip describes itself as “marketing automation that doesn’t suck.” It offers marketing, trial and customer-email automation that makes campaigns easier. Once you choose an opt-in form, it walks through the automation set-up process, all on a lightweight platform. Plans range from $49 to more than $149 per month, depending on email volume, size of email list and desired features.

14. Canva

Canva makes great graphic design within anyone’s grasp. It has hundreds of pre-designed layouts, elements, fonts and image styles that make it possible to design everything from a great Twitter header to a flyer for your business. It offers free design elements, but also allows you to buy premium elements piecemeal, for about $1 each (at the moment). It also keeps track of all your designs in your account, so you can re-edit or re-download them as needed.

15. Zapier

This service is a lot like If This, Then That (IFTTT), but for businesses. You can connect your well-known apps you are already using to automate your work process. For instance, every time you are assigned a new task in your company’s project-management platform, it will automatically create a calendar alert to reminder you to finish it. The pricing plans for Zapier run from free to $150 per month, based on the number of “zaps” (such as automated tasks) that are needed to run.

16. Buzzsumo

Buzzsumo is a content analysis and discovery tool to help you find out what type of content does best for a specific topic or industry. It also helps you identify influential online users that could help you promote and share your content. You can also research specific domains to see their social backlinks and which pieces of content are the most popular. Buzzsumo has a free account for viewing information, but the paid options (ranging from $99 to more than $499) allow you to export reports and alerts.

17. When I Work

This tool (disclosure: I'm the vice president of marketing at the company) aims to makes scheduling hourly employees as easy as possible. You can create and send out work schedules for the next week just as easily on a mobile device as you can from your computer. Managers can text employees when their new schedule is out, and they can also request time off from the When I Work app on their phone. Plans range from $9 to $49.

18. BambooHR

BambooHR is focused on turning human resources back into what it is supposed to be: interacting with employees, not tracking data in spreadsheets. Its interface is focused on making data (such as time off, benefits and personal information) about employees easy to search and accessible by both the HR team and the employees themselves. Its pricing structure is based on the number of employees and ranges from $69 a month to $2,999 a month for 1,500 employees (beyond that requires a custom quote).

19. HelloSign

This is an edocument signing service that lets all parties sign a document digitally, while still being legally binding. In addition to an online platform to upload and send out documents, it also integrates with Google so you can upload documents that need to be signed right from Gmail. Its free plan allows for the signing of up to three documents per month, and $13 per month (when paid annually) for unlimited document signings, but one template. The $40 monthly plan allows for five templates and unlimited signatures.

20. Boomerang

This service allows you to “boomerang” your email to remind yourself to follow up with it at a later date. It will bring the email thread back to your inbox, making it great for following up with clients, sales contacts and other colleagues if they don’t respond. It has a free account that offers 10 boomerangs per month and also offer higher-level options from $4.99 to $49.99 monthly.

21. CrashPlan

The CrashPlan from Code42 automatically backs up your computer’s files online with unlimited cloud storage (which is its main draw). The personal version starts at $4 per month and the family plan starts at $9. There are also custom quotes available for business backup plans.

22. Sqwiggle

Sqwiggle is a collaboration tool that is perfect for teams that are remote or have telecommuting members. Along with video and text chat, it also periodically takes photos of team members as they work (so everyone feels more connected), allows for easy file sharing and also utilizes minimal bandwidth (something Google Hangouts and Skype occasionally have issues with, according to some users). It offers a free plan, and also has two other plans that are $9 and $25 per user, per month.

23. GoodData

This is a business intelligence-gathering tool that allows you to gather data from any source, as well as combine, analyze, visualize and store it. It allows you to combine data and information from other tools, such as Yammer and Salesforce. It doesn’t offer pricing options on its website.

What other tools would you add to this list? Add them as a comment below. Original article here:

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7 Startup Success Factors that are Often Overlooked | PAKWIRED

7 Startup Success Factors that are Often Overlooked | PAKWIRED | Competitive Edge |

The basic startup success factors? A good idea, dedication, clarity in one's objectives, proper marketing. These are a given, and they've been covered on just about every business blog under the sun . But what about those insidious little factors that could sneak in and ruin everything without your knowledge? There are plenty of factors that could hinder a startup’s overall success – ones that aren’t all that obvious.

1. Providing better than average customer service
The key to providing a good customer experience isn’t rocket science. It’s simple empathy – the ability to put yourself in the shoes of another. If there are areas within your operation that feel shaky, put yourself in the shoes of your customers (or hypothetical shoes, if you do not have customers yet). Go through your website as if you were a customer. Ask yourself questions like, “would I want this delivery method?” or “would I wait this long for service?” or “would I be happy with this email response?” If there is any wobble, and you can’t answer with a definite yes, your customer service needs some work.

2. Continuous learning
Startup founders must be diligent about personal education. If you’re done learning, your business is done growing. According to the Startup Genome Report, “startups that have helpful mentors, track metrics effectively, and learn from startup thought leaders raise 7 times more money and have 3.5 times better user growth.”

There are plenty of tough lessons to learn in the early years of a startup – and that is for those who are lucky enough to make it that far. By trial and error, founders must learn what issues are worth worrying about, and which can’t be controlled. This not only leads to wisdom and insight, but also helps to avoid burnout.

3. Retaining employees
The importance of finding quality talent is a given, but retaining that talent is often less emphasized by thought leaders. Particularly important for new startups is the need to retain team members. This gives a startup a distinct identity to settle on and a foundation from which to grow. Retention is also crucial for partners and investors who play a firm role in the development of the startup.

4. Not just “following your passion
There is a difference between what you want to provide and what people want to spend money on. Yes, it’s a match made in heaven when those two things happen to align, and the idea you are passionate about becomes a lucrative endeavor. However, you shouldn’t assume that there is high demand for a technology or service without doing much research. Be sure your industry is in a growth phase, or at least confirm that there is a subset of people awaiting the solution you will offer.

How do you know if an idea for a new startup, product, or launch is viable? There are a number of online tools and resources to help tease out an answer, however, a little communication goes a long way. Talk to those already in the industry, and anyone you know that suites the description of your target market. Business leader Janet J. Kraus, uses a simple and clever method for determining the value of an idea, called oxygen, aspirin, or jewelry.

5. Scaling at the right time
Scaling too early is another common problem for new startups, and as much as Forbes tirelessly tried to warned you, you could scale too soon without even realizing it. Again, according to the Genome Report, “solo founders take 3.6x longer to reach scale stage compared to a founding team of 2, and they are 2.3x less likely to pivot.” So this is especially risky for those flying solo.

But how do you know when it’s time to scale? Generally, you’ll be exhausted when it’s time to scale up. Founders who aren’t getting the help they need may get bogged down in miniscule tasks that a freelancer or assistant should be handling. If you feel distracted from core tasks, or like you are doing 10 different jobs to keep up with growth, scale away.

6. Not getting hung up on investors
For those working within service-oriented startups (i.e. there’s no tangible product), finding investors shouldn’t be a priority, as they aren’t going to invest in a startup that requires minimal capital. If nothing else is in place, finding investors will not deliver success – it will simply mean you have more people to apologize to when things go south. If you’re not even close to convinced, check out 10 Reasons Why I Self-Funded My Startup and So Should You for more considerations.

7. Precise Targeting
We’re often told in life, “not everyone is going to like you, and that’s ok.” This applies to startups too. Oftentimes startups will overcompensate with broad-scale marketing to make up for the fact that they simply don’t have a target audience, or more likely, they don’t know their target audience. A few quality, repeat customers will always trump a higher quantity of one-time customers. If you’re looking to be around next year, focus on the few customers who return for big purchases, not the bundles who drop in for the metaphorical pack of gum.

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A Rigid Mind Blocks Success. Try These 5 Strategies for Fearless Leadership.

A Rigid Mind Blocks Success. Try These 5 Strategies for Fearless Leadership. | Competitive Edge |
Be ready to set aside methods of the past. Bring vigorous, flowing thinking to conquer today's problems.

Rigid thinking is natural to the human psyche. This rigidity causes people to repeatedly apply the same behaviors over and over to diverse business situations. The reality is that people are the most comfortable doing what they know orhave done in the past.

The challenge that arises is that diverse problems require varied responses, yet human beings are especially prone to doing what they're familiar with because it doesn’t awaken any fear.

Fear leads to rigid thinking and subsequently blocks abundance. This is how people get stuck in self-doubt, confusion and stress and their energy drains away as they dip into despondency and frustration.

These psychological states of mind are the reason many aspiring leaders quit. They cannot move past the fact that the approaches they think should work don’t. And so self-doubt and fear take over and the entrepreneurs feel blocked. Successful leaders wage war on these habituated patterns and this, in turn, leads to their success.

1. Breaking mental patterns.

Successful leaders fight against their habitual tendencies. They force themselves to react to what's happening in the present moment without going back and trying to apply past philosophies.

Great leaders know that in order to be successful they have to be hard-nosed ahd not letting their reactive emotional responses get in the way of a current business opportunity. They are adept at yanking themselves away from using the same tired methods, even when it involves risk and invokes fear. They are clear that everything they want exists on the other side of fear and so they jump.  

2. Creating shock. 

In moving away from rigid and safe decision-making responses, great leaders are aware that while they might sacrifice emotional comfort and security, they will gain the element of surprise.

Because they can be flexible in the present, they are unpredictable. This is powerful for leadership and success as their creating shock doesn’t allow customers, competitors and strategic partners to know what they will do next. This creates further interest and fascination with the entrepreneur and also generates awe and respect. Shock inspires people to pay close attention and want to follow.

3. Using mindfulness.

Successful leaders are clear that being elite in a field is not just about having knowledge.

When a deal is lost, the problem is often not because a person thought of a solution too late. Some individuals will ruminate, “If only I had had more knowledge.”

Successful leaders know this is an incorrect approach. What creates failure   is not being mindful of the present moment. Great leaders refrain from getting lost listening to their own thoughts, reacting to things that happened in the past and habitually applying prior concepts and ideas to the present, which might have little relevance to what the situation is calling for.

They are able to intuit and stay attuned to the demands of a current deal, letting them spontaneously figure out what needs to be accomplished (which may be entirely different from similar prior negotiations). 

4. Embracing the unexpected.

Accomplished leaders dispel the myth of preparation as being the greatest strategy for success. Top leaders know that no amount of thinking in advance can prepare them for the chaos of business or the infinite opportunities of today's deal.

The current negotiation is completely new and full of possibility -- which a fixed mind won't be able to see. The present moment is fresh and always brings uncertainty and great leaders know their minds have to keep up with change and adapt to elements that are unexpected.

In this way, knowledge, experience and theory have limitations and can be deterrents to seizing and keeping up with unexpected changes arisng from the present arrangement.5. Developing a flowing mind.

Successful leaders view the mind through the metaphor of a river. The faster the mind can flow, the better it keeps up with the present and responds to change. The faster it flows, the more it refreshes itself and the greater the momentum.

Fixated thoughts, past experiences (whether successes or failures) and rigid ideas act as boulders in this river, damming it up. When blocked, the river stops moving and stagnation sets in. For this reason, great leaders wage war on their mind so it's open to the flow and keeps up with the creativity of the present opportunity on the line.

To improve leadership skills and become an esteemed leader, a person must shed old traditions and misconceptions. Strategy does not involve learning a series of steps to follow like a recipe because success has no magic formula.

To lead effectively, people must learn to become their own strategists, based on intuition and relying on new and unused tactics. They have to take chances that may not at first seem to make sense.

The greatest leaders, the most creative tacticians stand out not because they have more knowledge but because they are able when necessary to drop their preconceived notions and focus intensely on the present moment and all it has to offer. That is how creativity is sparked and new possibilities in business are seized.

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Top tips for women startup leaders

Top tips for women startup leaders | Competitive Edge |

Two years ago, I was hired by the four cofounders of mobile Ad-tech startup ClicksMob to lead their company.

They hired me because I shared their vision of growing the company exponentially, and because they believed I was better positioned to run it than they were. Shortly after beginning my position as CEO, I discovered I was pregnant. It’s been a wonderful journey being a mother and chief executive, and I’m due any day now with my second in 14 months.

But it hasn’t been easy. The work culture at startups is fast-paced, incredibly demanding and — especially in my field — tends to be male-dominated.

It has taken careful steering through the industry’s “boys club” to successfully lead the company and to balance my ambition with all the other aspects of who I am.

Here are some things I’ve learned along the way:

Your startup is like a newborn. The very early stages of a startup are critical for its future development, so creating a positive work environment — which involves how you hire and treat employees — is essential for building the company you envision. So, for example, legal issues aside, there is still a stigma at many startups around hiring expecting mothers. This couldn’t be more wrong-minded. An employee who has been supported through the various stages of motherhood — or any other lifecycle event for that matter — is more likely to feel valued and that will be reflected in their dedication and loyalty for the long run. That goes for a startup of three to a company of three hundred, as those who are with you from the early stages will be an integral part of the company’s future success.

In short, always hire the right person for the job, period. From our experience, from top to bottom (with more than 50 percent female employees at ClicksMob, including top management), it always, always pays off.

Fake it ‘til you make it. Improvising and “putting on a brave face” even in the face of uncertainty are leadership qualities too often associated with males, but I assure you, women do them equally as well, if not better. You will be overwhelmed at times balancing work with the rest of your life — it’s only natural.

By putting on a brave face, you won’t only steady others in stormy seas, you will convince yourself of your own strength.

Build a support team.  It is of crucial importance that as you build your budding startup team, you also build an all-star support team outside of work. Your life partner is like your cofounder, choose a good one and it’s the best move you’ll ever make. Steadfast friends are like your leadership team, they will be your rock during feast or famine. Babysitters are like your star hire — worth their weight in gold.

In short, build strong relationships with a network of people who support your executive leadership role and whom you can lean on, both on the job, and off.

Let go. It’s OK to relinquish control of some of your duties. Delegation is smart and indicates foresight, talent, strength and confidence. It should never be considered a sign of weakness – whether in your professional or personal life.

It can be deliciously lonely at the top. Make sure you schedule time for yourself. If you can find the time to sit it on a conference call about a lone unpaid invoice or for a long discussion with a manager about their concerns, you can also make time for yourself. Go to the gym, for a walk, to meditate, or just be alone with your thoughts. It’ll keep you sane and it may just be your most important meeting of the day.

There has never been a better time for women leadership in business — just look at Marissa Mayer, Sheryl Sandberg, and Indra Nooyi. A new crop of startup CEO’s is following suit — keep your eye on us and you’ll see … tech will never be the same.

Chen Levanon is the CEO of ClicksMob, a fast-growing mobile performance advertising network.

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Great tips, not just for women.

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7 Ways to Prepare Your Startup to Scale Up

7 Ways to Prepare Your Startup to Scale Up | Competitive Edge |
Are you a startup founder who's eager to scale your business? Make sure you make these preparations first.

Assuming that you've successfully started a startup. Scalability is the ability of a startup to grow. Or, to put it more precisely, a scalable business can adapt to a larger workload without compromising performance or losing revenue. Can your business with $0 in annual revenue grow to a million dollar company?

If it's scalable, then yes.

But not every business is poised to make it big. Some startups get off the ground without the right systems, people, or mindset in place. Trying to grow such businesses is like trying to inflate a tractor tire with a bicycle pump.

Here's how you can prepare your startup to scale up.

1. Get the basics down.

Before you even worry about scaling your startup, make sure your fundamentals are fool proof. According to the StartupGenom's survey of 3200+ startups, 74% of failures can be explained by premature scaling. So make sure you're covered for the following:

  1. Make sure your core product line reaches "market fit". You can make gradual improvements through product iterations based on user feedback and data.
  2. Find out your largest core users.
  3. Find out the marketing channels with the biggest ROI and scaling potential by testing with smaller budgets first.
  4. Make sure you have the resources to scale. Seek additional round of funding if necessary. You can't worry about profitability while scaling, and the last thing you want is to run out of money.

Note: Even though these practices are software-centric, they also apply to physical products. So if you started an e-commerce site, make sure you take the time to get the basics right before scaling.

2. Automate Everything.

If you're spending a long time "setting up" your business, then good for you.

  • Setting up cloud storage and organization...
  • Setting up training processes for new hires...
  • Setting up marketing automation...
  • Setting up payroll for rapid processing...
  • Setting up billpay for automatic withdrawals...

Even though it takes a long time on the front end, this activity will pay for itself in the long term. You'll be able to access data faster, hire faster, market better, pay easier, and streamline operations for a truly scalable model.3. Boost marketing.

How can a business scale if no one knows about it?

Focus on marketing, and scalability will follow. But not every form of marketing is scalable. According to Forbes "direct marketing is...not scalable" and "word-of-mouth does not scale."

Content marketing, on the other hand, is one of the most scalable growth methods. Content marketing has evergreen value and viral potential, making it the growth-hack method of choice for most startups.

4. Outsource non-essentials.

For big corporations, the name of the game is "in-house." They've got in-house graphic designers, developers, conversion optimizers, SEOs, CPAs, lawyers, and even janitors.

Startups can't afford that luxury, and if you want to be strong enough to grow, you'll need to outsource all non-essential roles.

Your graphic design firm doesn't need a law department. Your SEO consulting firm doesn't require a full-time PowerPoint designer. You just need to focus on what you're good at.

This lean approach is what allows a startup to break into the big time. When you're nailing it with your core competencies, you'll start to scale up.

5. Keep an eye on social media.

Every new startup is in the public eye. Whatever happens on social media will be examined by the world.

It's important in your startup days to watch your social media carefully. Fledgling startups can't afford to take a major PR hit with a social media flap. Big companies might be able to weather the storm, but your startup isn't ready for it.

Scalability is about surviving, as much as it is about growing. If you hit a PR fiasco, you're limiting your chance of survival and scalability.

6. Excuse yourself.

Your business is not about you.

In order to be truly scalable, your business should be able to function just fine without you. The way you put that into place is by deliberately shifting responsibility off your shoulders, or into the oversight of someone else. In addition, you should take deliberate absences so you can force the business and personnel to be independent.

It may be a little bit humbling to come back from a four-week vacation and discover that the business is thriving without your being there. But this can actually be encouraging, too.

Your business is making money while you sleep, relax, or build something else.

You've proven to yourself and to your employees that the business isn't tied to your presence or even your existence. You feel liberated. They feel empowered. The business is ready to grow.

7. Hire the right people (and only the right people).

A business is scalable, only when it has the right people on board.

First, though, you have to hire only the people that are necessary to the operation. (See "outsource" below.)

Here are some of the key characteristics of a team member who will help you scale:

  • They can do what a program can't. If you have a human doing something that a machine can do, then you're wasting human effort. A startup needs to automate everything that it can in order to maximize the output of human team members.
  • They are full of good ideas. You can't put a dollar price on the value of a good idea. A single lightbulb moment on the part of one employee can more than pay for that employee.
  • They have more than one skill. In the startup environment, one person might have to do three jobs. Hire people with a multifaceted skill set, or skills that can be transferred from one task to another.
Final thoughts.

Scalability is a mindset, too. Sure, you need to have the right systems and processes, people, and plans.

But you also need to think big to become big. Having a scalable business means that you are free to unleash your dreams, make a lot of money, and have fun doing it. Once you get your mind in the game, scalability becomes way easier.

What have you done to create a scalable business?

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Marc Kneepkens's insight:

As a startup you need to scale up your business. Investors would not be interested if you can't.

Ian Harris's curator insight, December 23, 12:11 AM

Worth considering!

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Doing your best work while in The Zone

Doing your best work while in The Zone | Competitive Edge |
Steve Cadigan on the similarities between sports and doing your best on the job!

I am and always have been a huge sports fan. From my early days when my Dad was a soccer and basketball coach, I have loved playing, competing, watching and just being around sports. I actually got so far as to play a few sports at the collegiate level and today I do my best to keep my tennis game sharp and play regularly with friends and in a few leagues. My love of sport had a great deal to do with how I chose my profession. You see-- I don't just love playing and competing-- I equally enjoy watching and observing how others compete and how they play in certain situations against other players and teams and perform in different settings. When I fell in love with the profession of Human Resources around age 30, I realized that the main reason I loved HR was because it had all the components that I loved about sports--helping teams win, finding who plays best in what environment, and seeking to unlock the best outcomes from individuals and teams. Being a Talent Leader has, to me, always felt like I imagine a Sports General Manager must feel or perhaps a college Athletic Director feels as they strive to build the best possible organization and team to win.
I don't think I am unique among athletes in saying that sport, working out and competing, is like breathing air--it is an absolute necessity, not an optional or, "nice to have," element. And when I think about some of my most fulfilling moments as an athlete, it's been when I have been on great teams and when I have, on those rare occasions, been "in the zone" either individually or as a team. It's those times when every shot you take goes in and every move you make is the right one. Have any of you ever felt that? Have you ever felt that everything falls into place so easily and you are meeting and exceeding your goals almost effortlessly? And, best of all, when you are in the zone, winning seems a preordained know you will win.
In reflecting on "being in the zone" and the almost zen-like state you experience, I've often wondered if that feeling could ever be realized professionally. "Is it possible", I have asked myself, "to be in the zone at work or to have it feel effortless while in the moment?" HR for me, most of the time, has been like many professions, quite different from sport in that the work and the team you need to work with are typically larger and more complex than in sport, and the competition sometimes is not always as clear as the team you are competing against, in basketball, for example. But, even so, can you find that state?
While I can honestly say that I have rarely experienced the same rush of being in the zone or in any of my jobs, I have definitely noticed that some places and situations bring out the best in me. As you would suspect, it was much of the stuff you see written about all the time: boss who cares, good compensation, good work-life balance--but I found over time that there were a few more key things that I needed to be in the zone to really fly--I need to be trusted and left alone to do my thing. I find that I thrive when my work was not being constantly inspected as if I was going through airport security. I like being the guy who gives assists vs. the guy scoring. I love helping others score and high people interaction. I like a high diversity of work, an environment where you can laugh and be playful at times, and I don't like working on teams where decisions are democratic and take forever. Most of all, I need to work in places where the trust is high and fear is low. Knowing these things and more about myself, I have been able to find myself in the zone a few times professionally over the years.
Beyond individual experiences in the zone, I have also found myself being on a team that is in the zone a few times--which is also possible, though rare. When I was on the Acquisition Integration team at Cisco from 1998 to 2002, our company and team purchased and integrated over fifty companies around the globe, and we became very cohesive as a group in this process. While at our peak, (there were about 25 of us on the team)--we built a special bond--more special than any bond I've had on any professional team I've been a part of. All of us were focused on a common goal and we all shared the same game plan. The work was extremely intense and forced us to really come together to integrate a company. This was intense work and you did not have a lot of time to make it a success. The bond we built over the years by going through these intense situations served to, among other things, build a short-hand communication style that allowed us to anticipate each other's actions so we knew what each other was going to do before it even happened. This allowed us to work extremely well together- as more time was spent doing and succeeding than debating or disagreeing.
By Founder and CEO, Cadigan Talent Ventures LLC@scadigan on

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How Successful People Build Exceptional Professional Relationships

How Successful People Build Exceptional Professional Relationships | Competitive Edge |
You can be a rich jerk ... but you will also be a lonely jerk.

Professional success is important to everyone, but still, success can and does (and definitely should) mean different things to different people.
But one fact is universal. Real success, the kind that exists on multiple levels, is impossible without building great relationships. Real success is impossible unless you treat other people with kindness, regard, and respect.
After all, you can be a rich jerk... but you will also be a lonely jerk.
Here's how successful people build unusually successful business relationships:
1. They help without having to be asked.
It's easy to help when you're asked. And most people will. But some 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 great relationships pay close attention so they can tell when others are struggling. Then they offer to help... but not in a general, "Is there something I can do to help you?" way. Instead they come up with specific ways they can help.
That way they can push past the reflexive, "No, I'm okay..." objections and then roll up their sleeves to make a difference in another person's life.
And they do it not because they want to build a better relationship -- although that is certainly the result -- but simply because they care.
2. They take the undeserved hit.
A customer gets mad. A vendor complains about poor service. A mutual friend feels slighted. Whatever the issue and regardless of who is actually at fault, occasionally someone steps forward to take the hit. She's willing to accept the criticism or abuse because she knows she can handle it -- and she knows that maybe, just maybe, the person who is really responsible cannot.
Few acts are more selfless than taking the undeserved hit. And few acts better cement a relationship.
3. They answer the question that was 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.
A colleague might ask you whether he should teach a class at a local college; what he really wants to talk about is how to take his life in a different direction. A partner might ask how you felt about the idea he presented during the last board meeting; what he really wants to talk about is his diminished role in the running of the company.
An employee might ask how you built a successful business; instead of kissing up he might be looking for some advice -- and encouragement -- to help him follow his own dreams.
Behind many simple questions is often a larger question that goes unasked. People who build great relationships listen carefully to discover what lies underneath so they can answer that question, too.
4. They truly 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. Everyone loves unexpected praise -- it's like getting flowers not because it's Valentine's Day, but "just because." Praise helps others feel better about themselves and lets them know you're thinking about them (which, if you think about it, is flattering in itself.)
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. When you do, your relationships improve almost immeasurably.
5. They step up when they have acted poorly.
Most people apologize when their actions or words are called into question.
Very few people apologize before they are asked to -- or even before anyone notices they should.
Responsibility is a key building block of a great relationship. 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.
6. They know when to dial it back.
Outgoing and charismatic people are usually a lot of fun... until they aren't. When a major challenge pops up or a situation gets stressful, still, some people can't stop "expressing their individuality." (Admit it: You know at least one person so in love with his personality he can never dial it back.)
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.
Great relationships are multifaceted and therefore require multifaceted people willing to adapt to the situation -- and to the people in that situation.
7. They give consistently... and receive occasionally.
A great relationship is mutually beneficial. In business terms that means connecting with people who can be mentors, who can share information, who can help create other connections; in short, that means going into a relationship wanting something.
The person who builds great relationships doesn't think about what she wants; she starts by thinking about what she can give. She sees giving as the best way to establish a real relationship and a lasting connection. She approaches building relationships as if it's all about the other person and not about her, and in the process builds relationships with people who follow the same approach.
In time they make real connections. And in time they make real friends.
8. They 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.
We listen to Tony Hsieh. We listen to Malcolm Gladwell. We listen to Seth Godin.
The guy who mows our lawn? Maybe we don't listen to him so much. (Although clearly we should.)
Smart people strip away the framing that comes with the source -- whether positive or negative -- and consider the information, advice, or idea based solely on its merits.
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.
And they know good people are good people, regardless of their perceived "status."
9. They start small... and are sometimes happy to stay small.
I sometimes wear a Reading Football Club sweatshirt. The checkout clerk at the grocery store noticed it one day and said, "Oh, you're a Reading supporter? My team is Manchester United."
Since I'm pretty shy I normally would have just nodded and said something innocuous, but for some reason I said, "You think Man U can beat Real Madrid next week?"
He gave me a huge smile and said, "Oh yeah. We'll crush them!" (Too bad he was wrong.)
Now whenever I see him he waves, often from across the store. I almost always walk over and chat a little about soccer. That's as far as our relationship is likely to go, and that's okay. For a couple of minutes we transcend the customer/employee relationship and become two people brightening each other's day.
And that's enough, because every relationship, however minor and possibly fleeting, has value.
People who build great relationships treat every one of their relationships that way. (That's a lesson I need to take to heart.)

LinkedIn Influencer, Jeff Haden, published this post originally on LinkedIn.


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Startup Advice: Stay Alive - A Guy Who Sold His Startup For $200 Million Has Simple Advice For Founders - Business Insider

Startup Advice: Stay Alive - A Guy Who Sold His Startup For $200 Million Has Simple Advice For Founders - Business Insider | Competitive Edge |
Stay alive.

What's the number-one reason startups fail?

Some studies find it's a lack of product fit. Others say it's because companies run out of cash.

But a common reason startups fail is because the founder doesn't want to run it any more, and he or she decides to quit.

Bryan Goldberg cofounded Bleacher Report and sold it for more than $200 million to Turner. He now runs Bustle, a media site that targets women and earned 11 million monthly readers within its first year. Goldberg's recipe for startup success is pretty intuitive: Just stay alive. 

If you keep your startup alive long enough, you may break through a traffic barrier, earn traction, or outlast a competitor and gain industry recognition.

"Winning in startups, and in media specifically, is very much about refusing to give up. Resilience matters," Goldberg told Business Insider in an email. "It takes a long time for a media publication to gain mindshare with the general public — in the case of Bleacher Report, it took five years until people at parties or networking events told me, 'Yeah, I know you guys.' That's a long time for a startup, especially when each day brings growing pains, financial complexities, and potential fire drills. But you have to stay alive...Tough, nimble, spirited media startups are going to thrive, so long as they stay focused on their mission and have the patience to endure."

Paul Graham, the cofounder of startup incubator Y Combinator, calls this refusing-t0-die mentality being a cockroach.

In 2008, when he let Airbnb into Y Combinator, he told the cofounders that he appreciated their hustle (Airbnb used to sell boxes of cereal to fund itself when no investors wanted to give it cash.) 

"[Paul] was basically looking for cockroaches," Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky said at a South by Southwest talk. "He said we were cockroaches and that's why he funded us." Now Airbnb is valued at about $10 billion.

Graham believes failure is often a founder's choice. They could choose to keep their startups alive — they just don't want to.

"You should shut down the company if you're certain it will fail no matter what you do. Then at least you can give back the money you have left, and save yourself however many months you would have spent riding it down," Graham wrote in a recent blog post. "Companies rarely have to fail though. What I'm really doing here is giving you the option of admitting you've already given up."

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6 Ways to Reduce Startup Debt

The startup failure rate has widely been disputed through the years, yet suffice it to say the failure rate is pretty high. The majority of the reasons why startups fail will boil down to poor management of finances, and especially, the incapability of saving money. If you began your own venture recently, read below to see how you can trim expenses, as well as boost the likelihood of long-range success.

Convert Expertise into Capital

It is vital that you utilize everything at your disposal as it will come to decreasing business overhead expenses and your business acumen may actually come in handy. If you are an expert in accounting, do not contract the accounting out to a company--take some time to do it yourself. Likewise, you might generate additional capital for your startup by taking on a side gig to assist other startups with tax preparation. If information technology is your thing, it is possible to offer to do some personal computer troubleshooting in exchange for services that your startup needs. In order to avail yourself of opportunities at bartering, check out these sites SwapRight and BarterQuest.

Buy Supplies for a Discount

Whether you require general office supplies, like printer paper, writing utensils, or Post-it Notes, or you require larger items such as office furniture, there will include methods of finding what you require for free or at a substantial discount. For the larger items, check Freecycle or Craigslist. For pretty much all office supplies, sign up for a customer loyalty program at a preferred office supply retailer, as well as search for products offered free of charge after a 100 percent cash back rewards plan.

Fine Tune Marketing

At the start, you might discover yourself over-focusing on the importance of marketing. Advertising will be important, but it isn't always a good idea to utilize costly platforms in order to generate a buzz. Rather, begin with social media marketing; if you already have this going, you can expand your Internet efforts to fresh players like Instagram and Google Plus, instead of branching out to pricier methods such as radio spots and billboards. It is possible to observe your results around a variety of channels to check what works, then accordingly modify your strategy for marketing.

Negotiate Vendor Contracts

Startups were hit harshly by the recession, just as consumers were. With the recovery of the economy still underway, you might have the ability to secure outstanding pricing from vendors that are hurting for business. Negotiate expenses which are as low as possible for month-to-month services like pest control, janitorial, as well as communications.

Limit Full-Time Staff

You cannot do it all, yet that does not mean you have to instantly employ a staff of workers. Staffing expenses are the highest expense of any startup; therefore, it is vital that you be certain not to employ full-time staff as you possess better options. If you require assistance, but are not quite prepared to employ workers, consider hiring a freelancer for projects.

Expect the unexpected

Things can go wrong, accidents occur, disasters happen. Misfortune may come in multiple forms, from an auto accident to a fire, flood, illness, or a couple of big customers being slow to pay or not paying. It's where insurance and additional types of financial protection will come into play. Even though it might seem like a superfluous expense, you have to make sure that you have enough insurance to protect your financial interests as the unthinkable occurs; your startup may depend on it. You must then budget for your insurance deductibles and premiums.

"One of the biggest things we see is that entrepreneurs do not save for the bad times and fail to save in the good times. When bad times hit entrepreneurs need savings or they have to borrow and that usually comes in the form of personal loans or business loans " Ania Dziadon CEO of As you begin to save money, take into consideration where you ought to invest your surplus wisely short term, in case you will need it in the same year. Perhaps it is time that you pay down business debt or contract out more services. Or perhaps you have a desire to build cash reserves up in securities and equities. . Whatever you determine, keep in mind that slashing expenses is just as critical as investing in your startup.

No startup owner may be prepared for each financial hit they'll experience in a year, yet those who have performed their due diligence and are aware of what may come usually are those whose startups still are standing after two years.

Take a page from a book of the successful, smart, and strong; be prepared.

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Ten Rules for Web Startups

Ten Rules for Web Startups | Competitive Edge |
#1: Be Narrow
Focus on the smallest possible problem you could solve that would potentially be useful. Most companies start out trying to do too many things, which makes life difficult and turns you into a me-too. Focusing on a small niche has so many advantages: With much less work, you can be the best at what you do. Small things, like a microscopic world, almost always turn out to be bigger than you think when you zoom in. You can much more easily position and market yourself when more focused. And when it comes to partnering, or being acquired, there's less chance for conflict. This is all so logical and, yet, there's a resistance to focusing. I think it comes from a fear of being trivial. Just remember: If you get to be #1 in your category, but your category is too small, then you can broaden your scope—and you can do so with leverage.

#2: Be Different
Ideas are in the air. There are lots of people thinking about—and probably working on—the same thing you are. And one of them is Google. Deal with it. How? First of all, realize that no sufficiently interesting space will be limited to one player. In a sense, competition actually is good—especially to legitimize new markets. Second, see #1—the specialist will almost always kick the generalist's ass. Third, consider doing something that's not so cutting edge. Many highly successful companies—the aforementioned big G being one—have thrived by taking on areas that everyone thought were done and redoing them right. Also? Get a good, non-generic name. Easier said than done, granted. But the most common mistake in naming is trying to be too descriptive, which leads to lots of hard-to-distinguish names. How many blogging companies have "blog" in their name, RSS companies "feed," or podcasting companies "pod" or "cast"? Rarely are they the ones that stand out.

#3: Be Casual
We're moving into what I call the era of the "Casual Web" (and casual content creation). This is much bigger than the hobbyist web or the professional web. Why? Because people have lives. And now, people with lives also have broadband. If you want to hit the really big home runs, create services that fit in with—and, indeed, help—people's everyday lives without requiring lots of commitment or identity change. Flickr enables personal publishing among millions of folks who would never consider themselves personal publishers—they're just sharing pictures with friends and family, a casual activity. Casual games are huge. Skype enables casual conversations.

#4: Be Picky
Another perennial business rule, and it applies to everything you do: features, employees, investors, partners, press opportunities. Startups are often too eager to accept people or ideas into their world. You can almost always afford to wait if something doesn't feel just right, and false negatives are usually better than false positives. One of Google's biggest strengths—and sources of frustration for outsiders—was their willingness to say no to opportunities, easy money, potential employees, and deals.

#5: Be User-Centric
User experience is everything. It always has been, but it's still undervalued and under-invested in. If you don't know user-centered design, study it. Hire people who know it. Obsess over it. Live and breathe it. Get your whole company on board. Better to iterate a hundred times to get the right feature right than to add a hundred more. The point of Ajax is that it can make a site more responsive, not that it's sexy. Tags can make things easier to find and classify, but maybe not in your application. The point of an API is so developers can add value for users, not to impress the geeks. Don't get sidetracked by technologies or the blog-worthiness of your next feature. Always focus on the user and all will be well.

#6: Be Self-Centered
Great products almost always come from someone scratching their own itch. Create something you want to exist in the world. Be a user of your own product. Hire people who are users of your product. Make it better based on your own desires. (But don't trick yourself into thinking you are your user, when it comes to usability.) Another aspect of this is to not get seduced into doing deals with big companies at the expense or your users or at the expense of making your product better. When you're small and they're big, it's hard to say no, but see #4.

#7: Be Greedy
It's always good to have options. One of the best ways to do that is to have income. While it's true that traffic is now again actually worth something, the give-everything-away-and-make-it-up-on-volume strategy stamps an expiration date on your company's ass. In other words, design something to charge for into your product and start taking money within 6 months (and do it with PayPal). Done right, charging money can actually accelerate growth, not impede it, because then you have something to fuel marketing costs with. More importantly, having money coming in the door puts you in a much more powerful position when it comes to your next round of funding or acquisition talks. In fact, consider whether you need to have a free version at all. The TypePad approach—taking the high-end position in the market—makes for a great business model in the right market. Less support. Less scalability concerns. Less abuse. And much higher margins.

#8: Be Tiny
It's standard web startup wisdom by now that with the substantially lower costs to starting something on the web, the difficulty of IPOs, and the willingness of the big guys to shell out for small teams doing innovative stuff, the most likely end game if you're successful is acquisition. Acquisitions are much easier if they're small. And small acquisitions are possible if valuations are kept low from the get go. And keeping valuations low is possible because it doesn't cost much to start something anymore (especially if you keep the scope narrow). Besides the obvious techniques, one way to do this is to use turnkey services to lower your overhead—Administaff, ServerBeach, web apps, maybe even Elance.

#9: Be Agile
You know that old saw about a plane flying from California to Hawaii being off course 99% of the time—but constantly correcting? The same is true of successful startups—except they may start out heading toward Alaska. Many dot-com bubble companies that died could have eventually been successful had they been able to adjust and change their plans instead of running as fast as they could until they burned out, based on their initial assumptions. Pyra was started to build a project-management app, not Blogger. Flickr's company was building a game. Ebay was going to sell auction software. Initial assumptions are almost always wrong. That's why the waterfall approach to building software is obsolete in favor agile techniques. The same philosophy should be applied to building a company.

#10: Be Balanced
What is a startup without bleary-eyed, junk-food-fueled, balls-to-the-wall days and sleepless, caffeine-fueled, relationship-stressing nights? Answer?: A lot more enjoyable place to work. Yes, high levels of commitment are crucial. And yes, crunch times come and sometimes require an inordinate, painful, apologies-to-the-SO amount of work. But it can't be all the time. Nature requires balance for health—as do the bodies and minds who work for you and, without which, your company will be worthless. There is no better way to maintain balance and lower your stress that I've found than David Allen's GTD process. Learn it. Live it. Make it a part of your company, and you'll have a secret weapon.

#11 (bonus!): Be Wary
Overgeneralized lists of business "rules" are not to be taken too literally. There are exceptions to everything.

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Rule #12: Break all the rules.

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Why I Look for Obsessive and Competitive Founders

Why I Look for Obsessive and Competitive Founders | Competitive Edge |
  Obsession. The drive to succeed at all costs. When second place isn't good enough because we live in winner-take-most markets. The desire to be better

This blog started from a series of conversations I found myself having over and over again with founders and eventually decided I should just start writing them.It would often make my colleagues laugh because they’d hear me like a broken record and then the next week read my ramblings in a post.

Last week’s obsession was about obsession itself.

10 days ago I saw the film, Whiplash, which is one of my favorite films of the year. I would be shocked if it doesn’t win at least one Oscar. I won’t have any spoiler alerts here, don’t worry.

The protagonist in the film, Andrew, is a drummer and the story is his experiences in his freshman year of one of the most elite music conservatories in the country. He wants to compete to be the lead drummer in the competitive ensemble and study under Terence, an obsessive instructor who is hell bent on winning competitions for the school.

I absolutely loved the film. I loved the music. I loved the intensity. I loved the drive to succeed, to compete and to be one’s best. As you can imagine – all great films have conflict and the tension is this – what is an acceptable level of obsession to put into success, whether instructor or student?

The rest you should see for yourself.

But the film has my brain buzzing all week about obsessive and competitive people. Think about Kobe Bryant. Kobe is famous for waking up crazy early every morning and practicing for longer and harder than nearly anybody else in the NBA. Kobe isn’t Kobe just because he was born naturally tall and athletic – although that is a sine qua non.

Kobe is kobe because he practices more than even the most elite professionals in a hyper competitive industry and because he is simply more dedicated to his success than many other people are.

In our society we revere athletes. We revere musicians. We glorify their successes and we marvel at their achievements.

Yet somehow many people think that startups intended to operate at massive, Internet scale can be casual affairs. I see founders who think they can be at every conference, advise multiple companies, do side investments in angel deals, leave the office at 6pm and have a balance life. I don’t believe it’s possible to compete at Internet scale and have balance.

I’m not making a qualitative statement that I believe obsession in startups is necessarily a good thing. In fact, I have written about the negative health consequences and sometimes mental consequences of doing so.

But I would make the observation that if you stumble on to a really important idea that has the potential to be really valuable know that others will enter into the market precisely because markets are competitive and a lot of money and prestige is at stake. In fact, think about it. Even MORE money is at stake than what Kobe or even the best rock bands in the world can make by being at the top of their game. Zuckerberg. Larry / Sergey. The founders of DropBox, Airbnb, Uber – you name it.

So if you’re going to raise venture capital and compete in large, growing, winner-take-most markets you had better be prepared for other people to want to knock you off your stool, steal your limelight, grab your customers and muck you up.

I don’t know Mark Zuckerberg. But I’m willing to bet (and certainly from the profiles I’ve read) that he was pretty obsessive and all in at Facebook for many years (if not still) to drive their success. It isn’t as if there weren’t other people trying to dethrone Facebook all along.

I write all this because I am constantly asked “what I am looking for when I make an investment” and the most honest answer I can give is that I’m looking for maniacally driven individuals who are obsessive in their pursuit of an idea and who are so competitive and driven that they can’t accept failure.

I know it sounds cliché.

But I would ask you this. If it takes compulsive individuals to be at the absolute peak in sports or music – why wouldn’t it take the same to create a disruptive product or service that can change an industry. It’s not a 9-to-5 job. It’s not for people with soft elbows or compressed egos.

I look for many things. I’ve even written about the Top 12 attributes of an entrepreneur here (each number is clickable).

But I’ve also got to be able to observe the inner Whiplash.

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Ben Horowitz On Management - Business Insider

Ben Horowitz On Management - Business Insider | Competitive Edge |

The excerpt below is from the lecture "How To Manage," by Ben Horowitz, investor, entrepreneur, and co-founder of venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. It appears in the online class "How To Start A Startup."
This text is annotated! Click on the highlights to read what others are saying. If you'd like to add your own insights, comments, or questions to specific parts of the lecture, visit the lecture page on Genius, highlight the relevant text, and click the button that pops up. Your annotation will appear both here and on Genius.

When Sam originally sent an email for me to do this course, he said "Ben can you teach a fifty minute course on management?" And I immediately thought to myself, "Wow, I just wrote a three hundred page book on management. So that book was entirely too long."

I didn't actually have time to collapse the three hundred pages into fifty minutes. Like Mark Twain, I didn't have time to write a good short letter, so I'm going to write a long letter. But in this case, I am going to teach exactly one management concept.

I see CEO's mess up this one management concept more consistently than anything else. From when they're very, very early to when they're very, very big as a company. It's the easiest thing to say and the most difficult to master. The concept in musical form is from Sly and the Family Stone. "Sometimes I'm right and I can be wrong. My beliefs are in my song. No difference what group I'm in."

That's the musical version of today's lesson. For those of you who are musical, you can leave now.

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Find a Niche to Grow Your Business

Forget the glamor of crowded business categories and find the niche where your services will be most valued.

Construction sites, hard hats and tower cranes aren't glamorous to most young women, but embracing the construction industry--a previously uncharted territory for marketing and PR, allowed Sarah Berman to find her niche and launch one of New York's leading media and events agencies working with labor unions, high-rise contractors, and real estate developers.

"The construction industry didn't widely realize the value of PR and marketing when we entered the industry, and I like to think we were part of laying the foundation," says Berman.

[ click here to expand advertisemenSarah strategies:

1. Stay Loyal to your Supporters: Berman says: "Many of my early mentors and advocates were leaders in the construction industry and they weren't like me--they were mostly men, many of which are now close to retirement age, but their support and referrals keep growing."

2. Go Where No One Else Goes: "I always felt that construction and real estate was more 'my industry' than PR. I spent time in these circles and soon realized there was very little competition. I may have had more peers and a path cut out for me in an industry like beauty or fashion, but I knew I would be 1 of 1,000. 10 years later, young women are still a rarity in construction, but the industry has nonetheless become an incredibly supportive home to me and my firm."

3. Give and You Will Receive: "We have been fortunate to grow steadily each year, and I believe if you use your success to give to others, they will always support you and business will follow. We love pro bono work and make a point to give back to organizations that better the industry and world at large," says Berman.

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Success Will Never Come to Entrepreneurs Who Do These 10 Things

Success Will Never Come to Entrepreneurs Who Do These 10 Things | Competitive Edge |
There will always be winners and losers. Make sure you don't end up the latter.

Whether we are talking about a football game, an election or an entrepreneurial journey, one thing is certain -- there are going to be winners and there are going to be losers.

Want to stack the odds of being a successful entrepreneur in your favor? You can start by taking note of the following 10 things that you should never do.

1. Be jealous or envious

Seeing other people around you succeed should motivate you, even if they are your competitors. You should understand that every single person has the ability to become successful, and wasting time focusing on other people’s success or achievements will just sidetrack your own progress.

2. Look back

You are going to face hard times, difficult decisions and possibly even failure at some point. Don’t let small bumps in the road stop your forward progress. Find ways to maneuver around obstacles and continue to push forward, never looking back.

3. Make excuses

If you make a bad decision and screw up, own it. If something doesn’t work out as planned, don’t look for excuses. Search for the cause of the problem and chalk it up to a valuable business lesson. If you identify and own the problem you will not make the same mistake again. If you are constantly making excuses for your mistakes, you will continue to make them because you haven’t properly identified the root of the problem.

4. Stop learning

Your age, years of experience or level of success should never prevent you from learning. There isn’t a single person on this planet who knows everything. We can all continue to learn and be inspired from other entrepreneurs, whether they are billionaire household names or those just starting his or her entrepreneurial journey. 

5. Associate with negative individuals

People who constantly make excuses, complain and have a negative outlook should be avoided like the plague. We all know people like this. No matter what you say or what the situation is, they always chime in with negativity. People like this are a cancer and their negative aura can rub off on you. Surround yourself with like-minded individuals that are as focused and determined as you are.

6. Wake up without a plan

Time management is a crucial part of being an entrepreneur. There are only so many hours in a day, so to be efficient you need to know what your goals are and what tasks you need to get done prior to starting your day. If you are scrambling to create a plan of attack every day you are going to be in trouble. End each day by mapping out the following day’s to-do list.

7. Be scared to make changes and adapt

You need to be willing and able to adjust your plan and overall strategy, because there is a very good chance that you will need to adapt to maintain success in the future. Imagine if Apple never adapted and just stuck to making computers? After releasing the iPod it started manufacturing smartphones, tablets and now are releasing its first wearable technology, the Apple Watch. Once just a computer company, it is now a consumer-electronics powerhouse. 

8. Let your bark be bigger than your bite

Successful entrepreneurs don’t sit back and talk about what they are going to do. They plan, follow through and conquer. Nothing is going to get accomplished just by talking about it, and nobody is going to be impressed with words alone. 

9. Focus solely on dollar signs and decimal points

Instead of chasing the money, focus on creating products and services that make a difference and provide value. If you do this, the money will come. I would be lying if I said the goal of my company wasn’t to make money, but focusing on providing a great service paves the path for the money to follow.

10. Let failure stop you

Most statistics state that eight out of every 10 new businesses fail. Successful entrepreneurs go into everything knowing that there is a chance of failure. If in fact they fail it is viewed as part of their growth and they keep plugging along.

James Dyson is a perfect example, as his first 5,126 prototypes were failures, but the 5,127th one worked and went on to become the top-selling vacuum in the U.S. He is now worth $4.5 billion because he never once let failure stop him.

What are some others things that successful entrepreneurs should never do? Share your own in the comments section below.

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Don't end up with the losers. No mistakes.

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Why Ben Picked Jerry

Why Ben Picked Jerry | Competitive Edge |
Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield launched the legendary ice-cream brand Ben & Jerry's in 1978. And they're still friends today.

In the early days of launching their now legendary brand, Ben and Jerry lived and breathed ice cream. They would sleep on their freezers some nights. But one thing was always more important than their business: Their friendship.

That, says Ben Cohen -- the “Ben” who founded the famous Vermont ice-cream in 1978 -- is the secret to their long-lasting working relationship. It’s what got them through some long, stressful days, and helped them avoid serious clashes.

“We chose to make our friendship the most important thing. The way we worked, whoever felt the most strongly about it got their way,” Ben told Entrepreneur during The Feast social entrepreneurship conference in Red Hook, Brooklyn, earlier this fall.  

That kind of co-founder compromise allowed Ben and his co-founder Jerry Greenfield to survive through many ups and downs, including the company’s takeover by consumer-products conglomerate Unilever in 2000. “It really helps to have a solid friendship with whoever you are doing it with before you start the business,” says Ben.

Ben and Jerry met in gym in the seventh grade. (“Running around the track, we were the two slowest, fattest kids in class.”) The two remained friends through college. Jerry failed to get into medical school, and Ben dropped out of college to pursue a career as a potter, but wasn’t making many sales.

The out-of-luck hippie duo decided to make a right-angle turn and go into business together. “The only thing we really liked doing together was eating and we decided it should be a food business.”  

Ben & Jerry’s was almost a bagel business. With $8,000 between them, Ben and Jerry had decided they wanted to bring a trendy food concept to a rural, college town. They narrowed it down to bagels or ice cream.

Fortunately, the bagel idea turned out to be too expensive. The friends went to a used restaurant-equipment shop outside of Albany, N.Y., and tried to negotiate the cheapest possible prices on a rotary oven and other equipment. The old, cigar-smoking shop owner, Lou, promised to give Ben and Jerry the best prices he could, but it wasn’t enough. “We couldn’t afford the bagel stuff. And that’s why we decided it had to be ice cream,” says Ben.

The would-be doctor and would-be potter taught themselves how to make ice cream through a correspondence course from Penn State University and with the textbook Ice Cream by  Wendall S. Arbuckle, who Ben calls the “father of American ice cream.” To brush up on their business skills, they bought how-to booklets written by the Small Business Administration for as little as 15 cents a piece.

Ben and Jerry often worked seven days and 100 hours a week to get the first shop up and running. Some nights, they didn’t bother going home, opting to snooze on top of the industrial freezers instead. Slowly, they went on to grow their first ice-cream shop -- in a renovated gas station in Burlington, Vt. -- into a $300 million business famous for quirky flavors such as Phish Food and Cherry Garcia.

Later career success belied early startup struggles. “Most of it was we were just trying to survive each week.”

As partners, Ben and Jerry each had absolute veto power if either of them felt strongly that a certain decision would send them in the wrong direction. But this decision-making authority was used “very, very rarely,” says Ben. Primarily, the childhood friends turned multimillion-dollar business partners would either agree on what to do, or agree on whose opinion was the deciding factor in a particular situation.

Ben and Jerry aren’t making each pint of ice cream anymore, but they are still involved with their namesake company’s social missions and the two remain friends today. The company they created is a leader in the movement to bring ethics into business -- which makes sense. From the beginning, it was built with an ethos of “friendship always comes first.”

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Tim Ferriss on personal mantras, work-life separation and the future of flexible careers

Tim Ferriss on personal mantras, work-life separation and the future of flexible careers | Competitive Edge |
Tim Ferris, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, weighs in on work-life balance, dependance on technology and the future of the career landscape.

There's no shortage of motivational career and lifestyle advice out there, but one of the most ubiquitous presences in the space over the past few years is surely Timothy Ferriss, author of the acclaimed 4-Hour book series and the de facto face of a concept (and movement) aptly dubbed "Lifestyle Design."

For all intents and purposes, Lifestyle Design is a more modern incarnation of the "American Dream" — but with a focus on leading a happy, healthy and fulfilling life instead of working yourself into the grave. Much of the advice found in Ferriss' hugely successful published work provides glimpses into the future of the career landscape, as well as an underlying message of "you do you" that resonates with millennials and established business professionals alike. The bottom line: Your life is yours; don't let the status quo dictate how you live it.

We caught up with Ferriss to discuss his predictions for the future of the career industry and some of the most rewarding aspects of his work. Check out the full Q&A below.

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