Competitive Edge
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Competitive Edge
Creating your Unique Value Proposition to gain your Competitive Edge.
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What kills startups? | BusinessDay

We’ve all heard the statistic that half of all startups fail within their first five years. The actual number is even bleaker. In a study of US firms formed in 1998, only 44% were still around only four years later, according to the Small Business Administration.

Risk and reward

What do we mean when we talk about risk? Simply stated, risk exists in any situation where there is a possibility of an outcome that we would rather avoid.

Unforeseen circumstances and their negative consequences are the very essence of risk. If we could predict the future, there would be no uncertainty, and there would be no risk.

Risk surrounds us. The flip side of risk is opportunity. There is a direct relationship between risk and reward: the greater the potential upside, the greater the risks involved. (As an aside, it’s worth noting that the converse is not necessarily true: situations that involve great risk sometimes have little or no upside. These are stupid risks to take.)

For entrepreneurs, this means that if you want to have a chance at success, you have to take significant risks. Entrepreneurship is neither easy nor risk free. And that’s exactly why more than half of all startups fail within a few years.

While risk is an integral part of entrepreneurship, it doesn’t have to get the better of you. Great entrepreneurs achieve success through keen awareness and management of risks.

The risk management framework

“Risk Management” is the art and science of thinking about what could go wrong, and what should be done to mitigate those risks in a cost-effective manner.

In order to identify risks and figure out how best to mitigate them, we first need a framework for classifying risks.

All risks have two dimensions to them: likelihood of occurrence, and severity of the potential consequences. These two dimensions form four quadrants, which in turn suggest how we might attempt to mitigate those risks:

Once we know the severity and likelihood of a given risk, we can answer the question: Does the benefit of mitigating a risk outweigh the cost of doing so?

Identifying & mitigating the Company killers

Companies flatline when the cash runs out and total current liabilities (i.e., bills due now) exceed total liquid assets. Risk management is all about identifying and mitigating the uncertainties – especially the company killers – that surround cash flows.

Uncertainty plagues businesses in countless ways, but we can group most company killers into the following categories:

These categories are neither exhaustive nor mutually exclusive. Some risks span several categories. Let’s look at some examples.

Market risks

Market risks refer to whether or not there is sufficient demand for what you have to offer at the price you set. Many inventors have died penniless, clinging to the belief that the market would beat a path to his door if he designed the better mousetrap.

Fortune 500 companies spend billions on market research, and every year, they introduce products that are an instant flop. On the other hand, in 1943, the president of IBM allegedly predicted, “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”

Unless what you sell is a commodity, there is no easy way to know how the market will receive any new product. Feedback from friends, surveys of potential customers, focus group testing, and beta testing are all useful techniques for helping to gauge market acceptance. However, nobody – not you, not your best friend, not your venture capitalist – can know for sure whether people will spend money on your solution until you actually try to sell it.

One way for entrepreneurs to mitigate market risk is to avoid perfection. It’s a fallacy to think that any product will ever be “finished” in the sense that it will make all users completely happy. When your product becomes good enough to make some customers reasonably happy, get it into the market where it can start generating cash flow and feedback.

As Steve Jobs put it, “Real artists ship.” Until real customers start using and talking about your actual product – as opposed to some mock-up you test in a focus group – you have no real way of knowing what you are doing right and what you are doing wrong. Release – observe – improve – repeat.

Competitive risks

Every venture has more competitors and fewer competitive advantages than it thinks. If there is money to be made by satisfying a pressing need in the marketplace (is there any other way to make money?), you can be sure that plenty of others are gunning for that same consumer dollar.

To stay ahead of your competition, you must continuously ask yourself – and your trusted advisors – what others might do to try to beat you, and then develop appropriate defenses. Know your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats – S.W.O.T analysis isn’t just a business school exercise. Figure out what you do better than all of your competitors – whether it be price, features, quality, or some other advantage – and focus on maintaining your leadership in that category.

Technology & operational risks

It’s one thing to say you’re going into the business of making and selling widgets. It’s quite another thing to master the actual mechanics of making and selling widgets.

Technology and operational risks broadly cover everything having to do with execution: Can your team finalize the product design on a limited R&D budget? Will your product work as intended? Can you find reliable vendors? Can you manufacture it? Can you optimize the logistics of product distribution? Can you create an effective product support infrastructure? Will your firewall prevent hackers from stealing customer credit card numbers? Do you have a backup plan to keep your company running when an accident destroys some key equipment in your data center?

Mistakes are inevitable; we all learn from our mistakes and become better over time. Learning from past mistakes is important, but if you really want to increase your chances of success, then find some co-founders who have succeeded in the past.

Financial risks

The end of the road for any business is running out of cash. Some days, when you’re an entrepreneur, it seems like all roads lead there.

For startups, the biggest financial risk stems from not having a Plan B in case investors and lenders say no (or don’t say yes quickly enough). Many entrepreneurs fail because they make the mistake of betting everything on being able to secure outside financing.

Financial risks don’t disappear once your business is up and running. Any number of things can adversely affect the cash flows of operating ventures: Customers can default on your invoices (credit risk). The cost of your raw materials could skyrocket (commodity price risk). A strengthening dollar can reduce the net profits from your international customers, or a weakening dollar can jack up the cost of your offshore manufacturing operations (exchange rate risk). A spike in interest rates could raise the cost of your working capital (interest rate risk). A plunge in the value of stocks or real estate you pledged as collateral could cause your bank to cut your credit lines (asset price risk).

People risks

People are, at the same time, the most crucial and least predictable element of any business.

The right combination of experience, contacts, and temperament among the founding team can vastly increase a venture’s odds of success. Failure to recruit, motivate, and retain the right partners can spell doom.

As an entrepreneur, one of your most important responsibilities is to establish a clear vision and culture that the entire team can rally behind. Everybody needs to row in the same direction. Everybody needs to be able to tolerate each other for eighty hours a week. You must manage strong egos, mediate personality clashes and disagreements, and rein in rogue team members.

A company is only as strong as its weakest link. Don’t let personal relationships cloud your judgment: your old college roommate might be a good marketer, but she may not be the best person to market your specific product to your specific target market. If you discover that a member of your team isn’t going to work out, you need to fix it quickly before the situation gets worse.

Legal & regulatory risks

The list of possible problems with legal or regulatory roots is almost endless: tax complications stemming from your choice of legal entity or state of incorporation; disputes arising from poorly structured agreements; lawsuits filed by a competitor alleging misappropriation of trade secrets by one of the hotshot programmers you recently recruited from them.

The first step towards mitigating legal and regulatory risk is to learn enough about the subject so that you can fully appreciate what you don’t know. The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Business Law by Constance Bagley and Craig Dauchy is a great place to start.

The second step is to retain the right attorneys – usually, one for corporate matters and another for intellectual property matters. You must manage them effectively and follow their counsel when it makes sense.

Systemic risks

Systemic risks are those that threaten the viability of entire markets, not just a single firm within a market. For example, rising default rates in the subprime mortgage market, and the subsequent domino effect among financial institutions created by linkages embedded in mortgage-backed securities and credit default swaps, have had a profound impact on the global financial system.

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Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Risk is the main factor in funding evaluation. Risk analysis makes or breaks the funding odds. Learn more about risk before setting up your startup.

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Five Things To Check Before You Start Your Own Business

Five Things To Check Before You Start Your Own Business | Competitive Edge |
It's easier than ever to start a business, but not so easy to run one. Here are five items to check for yourself before you hang out your shingle.

For so many of us, being our own boss is a dream—perhaps the dream. Today, it’s easier than ever to put up a shingle.

I’ve been an entrepreneur for 15 years and have started three businesses. I’m in continual amazement at how cheaply and efficiently you can get a business going. It wasn’t that long ago that you needed to finance a phone system and servers as they were prohibitively expensive for a startup.  Now, just about everything that used to be labor and cost intensive – from marketing to bookkeeping – can be done inexpensively through technology and cloud computing.

No longer do you need to rent that fancy copier/fax/scanner, you can use a home office printer and TurboScan. Need a bookkeeper? Do it yourself by tracking your expenses through Expensify and managing invoices via FreshBooks. And that expensive phone system with its requisite landline? Instead, get a free business line using Google Voice or spiffy conference capabilities with Uber Conference. And there are a host of services for finding just the right talent for just the time you need it.   

It may seem that the barriers are so low that now anyone can run a business. However, getting a business off the ground isn’t the same as creating a profitable, ongoing enterprise. I spend a good amount of time with entrepreneurs in my work and volunteer time. I also teach in Georgetown’s Institute for Transformational Leadership program helping coaches develop their entrepreneurial chops. 

Should you throw your paycheck aside and make the jump? When is the right time? While the answers aren’t straightforward, here’s some advice I can provide.  

1. Expect to invest upfront.

Yes, startup infrastructure can be cheap or even free. But you still need to consider the implications of brand. To get started, you need to pay for a quality logo and website, legal and professional fees, as well as for some technology. While incrementally inexpensive, the costs can add up.

There’s also a rub about the cheap alternatives – sometimes they look like it. As a new business, you need to show an enduring and professional image, and you can’t look like you’re operating on a shoe string even when you are. For example, the do-it-yourself websites can be visually unappealing and awkward to navigate — and even damage your brand.   

This is where a good business plan comes into play. Knowing all of your startup costs upfront will tell you if you’re prepared financially to cast out on your own. I typically advise setting aside 5-10K for startup costs as a benchmark for services firms. You may find it wise to do much of the setup work while you still have a paycheck to finance it.  

2. Realize that it takes 2-3 years to establish a good book of business.

I have learned this lesson several times over. You may in fact have clients right away, which is a great way to start. Still, it takes time for word of mouth and referral business to kick in. Patience—and a lot of hard work to establish a solid reputation—are key here.

Part of that work entails the basic block and tackle of mining your network for business. But eventually you’ll need to create ways of generating business beyond your immediate circle, which requires marketing. Start this in the beginning, and as you establish your brand, consider how you might incorporate an email newsletter, blogging, social media or even traditional PR.

3. Prepare to sell yourself—and for that to be the status quo.

I know many entrepreneurs who say they just want to do the work, and aren’t interested in being in sales. My advice: if you don’t want to devote a good portion of your time to sales, then don’t go into business for yourself. You’ll never be able to fully outsource this part of owning your own business. Clients come and clients go so you must always be developing new prospects.  

That doesn’t mean you have to be a natural salesperson or an extreme extrovert to close business. In fact, a meta-analysis of 35 studies of nearly 4,000 salespeople found that the correlation between extroversion and sales performance was pretty much zero. In reality, ambiverts, those people that tow the line between extroverts and introverts, tend to be the most successful salespeople. The good news is that the majority of people are ambiverts, so most of us can be effective salespeople and learn to sell on our own terms.  

4. Be open to evolving.

Most businesses change over time, and what you set out to do may not be what you end up focusing on. To be a good entrepreneur is to see uncertainty as opportunity.

Embracing evolution means being open to risk. A Copyblogger post by Johnny B. Truant makes a persuasive case that the ability to evolve is the top skill that makes an entrepreneur succeed: “You’ve got to learn to be uncertain and take risks. If you stay within what’s known and safe, you will never be truly successful. Doing what’s uncertain and risky isn’t easy, and that’s why the people who dare to do it are rewarded.”

Google started out as a simple search engine, and see how that’s going.

5. People who are interested in multiple business functions have it easiest.  

Entrepreneurs have to do a little bit of everything, especially in the beginning. It doesn’t mean that you have to love each function equally, but it certainly helps if the important ones can hold your interest.

If you can’t imagine dabbling in finance, sales, marketing, product/service development, and delivery, then entrepreneurship may not be the right fit for you. Entrepreneurship is not only the act of wearing many hats, but also the act of prioritizing which hats take precedent over others. It’s a classic mistake of entrepreneurs to spend too much time on the functions they like best, i.e. delivery, and forsake those that the business needs, i.e. finance.

This also means that you have to be your primary motivator. No one else is going to tell you to sit down and run cash flow projections when you’d rather be creating fun client programs.

Now, back to the great news. If you have passion for what you do, you may find that all of the pieces of advice above are merely steps in your bigger plan. And if that’s the case, you can now get your business launched in a few weeks – or even days — and begin making your dream your daily reality.

And to me, it is supremely cool to see so many entrepreneurs joining the party.

Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach, speaker and author of Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others. She blogs at

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Marc Kneepkens's insight:

What do you think it takes to start a business?

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Fine-arts schools aim to spark students' entrepreneurial savvy

Fine-arts schools aim to spark students' entrepreneurial savvy | Competitive Edge |
As crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter become more accessible than moneyed patrons, fine-arts schools want to spark students' entrepreneurial savvy.

As crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter become more accessible than moneyed patrons, fine-arts schools want to spark students' entrepreneurial savvy.

The Juilliard School, the Berklee College of Music in Boston and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music have embraced programs or courses aimed at developing students' business acumen alongside their artistic skill. Entrepreneurship is also a hot topic in courses at the Rhode Island School of Design and the Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles, while the certificate program in design entrepreneurship at Pratt Institute of New York has been in such high demand that the school is expanding the program to accommodate more students.

Focusing on craft alone won't prepare students for life as a working artist, says Joseph W. Polisi, president of the Juilliard School, which holds workshops that encourage an entrepreneurial mind-set; in one session, students pitched business ideas to Tony Award-winning producer Bruce Robert Harris.

Students "can't think that the only world out there is the world that existed" when artists were able to concentrate on their art alone, says Mr. Polisi. "That world, to a great degree, is gone."

Sites like YouTube and SoundCloud, which allow users to post music and videos, have changed the way musicians get noticed and have intensified competition for jobs and recording contracts, students and administrators say. Even for classical and jazz musicians, record labels are more likely to sign an artist who already has a ready-made following online.

The Berklee College of Music has begun holding YouTube "hack days," bringing students together with artists popular on YouTube such as Berklee alumnus AJ Rafael, along with Andres Palmiter, an audience-development strategist at the video platform. During the most recent hack day in March, students made their own performance videos in under 24 hours, and learned about the factors that go into a video's viral success.

Students "have to approach and think about what they're doing in the same way an entrepreneur does and the same way that a startup does," says Panos Panay, the managing director of Berklee College of Music's new Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship, or BerkleeICE.

BerkleeICE is also adding two elective courses this fall: one where students work with startups on such projects as designing apps or improving instruments, and another where students spend a semester forming their own music-focused startups. Mr. Panay, a Berklee alum who sold his own startup, Sonicbids—a site for performers and promoters to post about jobs—for about $15 million, will teach both classes.

Colin Thurmond, a doctoral student at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, has received three entrepreneurship grants valued at about $4,000 in total from his school, two of which helped fund a performance-design company he co-founded, and another for his online guitar boot camp.

The school, which has funded over 60 projects since 2010, says it wants students to not just learn about startups, but to create them as well. Mr. Thurmond said the grants and ventures have helped him pay for school while continuing to perform.

"It becomes less about one single stream of income," he says. "I want to be able to make my career doing things that I love."

As part of a multimillion-dollar initiative to prepare students for a wider variety of careers in the ever-changing music industry, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music is building a music technology facility and expects to add a battery of professional development courses in which students will learn how to write a press release, read financial statements and use crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter.

Assistant Dean MaryClare Brzytwa says the goal is to make graduates viable candidates for jobs as record engineers, independent composers and music supervisors for film and television.

"Many students don't have the practical digital skills necessary to actually secure employment in the field," says Ms. Brzytwa.

The Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles offers a course with nearby Loyola Marymount University on the development, funding and marketing of products such as the iPhone.

Working designers today need a broader understanding of the businesses they work in, playing a role at marketing and sales meetings, says Steve McAdam, academic chair of product design at Otis and a former toy designer at Mattel Inc.

"Because innovation is so important," Mr. McAdam says, "it has become clear that designers have to become leaders, and leaders have to become designers."

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Via Comfortable Home Design
Marc Kneepkens's insight:

No matter what you do, you still have to sell your service, product or craft to your public. It's great to see how crowdfunding brings that notion to art schools or anyone in general trying to commercialize what they have.

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Startups, Tech Companies Shop for More MBA Hires

Startups, Tech Companies Shop for More MBA Hires | Competitive Edge |

The smallest companies are making the biggest splash on business school campuses, according to a survey released this week. Slightly more schools saw more companies of any size coming to campus to recruit MBAs, driven by a flurry of startups that started to hunt for new hires.

The survey by the MBA Career Services & Employer Alliance, an association of business school career-management offices and companies, found that 55 percent of business schools saw a rise in on-campus recruitment in the spring of 2014. But that growth—up from 48 percent a year earlier—was mostly tepid, since many schools in the survey saw only a modest uptick or reported flat recruitment numbers.

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Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Recruiting quality employees is becoming a problem for tech companies.

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12 Quiet Rituals of Enormously Successful Humans

12 Quiet Rituals of Enormously Successful Humans | Competitive Edge |
Practical Tips for Productive Living

The result of enormous success is often pretty noisy – lots of people talking, writing and sharing stories about it.  The actual process of achieving enormous success, on the other hand, is far more discreet.  But it’s this process that happens quietly, behind-the-scenes, that makes all the difference in the world.

Marc and I are fortunate enough to know a number of enormously successful human beings.  Regardless of lifestyle, industry or profession, they all share many of the same quiet rituals.  And that’s precisely what I want to discuss with you today.

Building upon our recent video blog post on success, here are twelve things the most successful people we know do quietly and diligently:

To read the full article, click on the title or image.

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Via massimo facchinetti
Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Great tips.

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Join the League of Extraordinary Bosses: 4 Habits to Cultivate

Join the League of Extraordinary Bosses: 4 Habits to Cultivate | Competitive Edge |

As most employers grapple with low employee engagement, many workplace observers wonder just how the downward spiral begins.

Sometimes the low level of employee engagement is triggered by poor leadership pervading the entire company. This can be overcome, however, if leaders come to understand what makes an effective boss.

The most effective managers are those who value transparency, practice two-way communication, provide constructive feedback and above and beyond to serve their employees.

Take a look at one of America's most effective business leaders, Mark Zuckerberg. The Facebook CEO believes not only in his company and product but also his employees. He listens to his employees, values transparency and builds relationships.

Good bosses also ensure that staffers have the resources and guidance needed to accomplish their goals.  

To become a highly effective boss, embrace the following four habits:

To read the full article, click on the title or image.

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Via Anne Leong, Michael Binzer
Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Bosses or managers who don't respect those rules are into power tripping. They don't last long in this ever changing business environment. If they do, they take the company down with them.

Michael Binzer's curator insight, July 5, 2014 7:17 AM

I believe in this - transparency, openness, no hidden agendas and first and foremost to serve my COLLEAGUES.

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39 Signs You're Dating an Entrepreneur

In case you need verification, here are a few dead-giveaways.

They know the quickest, most direct route from their house to yours, utilizing back roads even your GPS doesn't know.

Entrepreneurs know how to find and capitalize on loopholes. They're always looking to beat the system.

They have a handful of parking tickets stashed in their glove box.

Entrepreneurs tend to have problems with authority.

They take you to matinee movies to save money (and forget stopping at the concession stand--you better bring your own popcorn and Raisinets). Entrepreneurs aren't rolling in the dough financially, or at least not in the beginning.

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Marc Kneepkens's insight:

39 Signs! And most of them are right on! Funny! Or not?

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Coaching on How To Ask Powerful Questions

Coaching on How To Ask Powerful Questions | Competitive Edge |

Here are ten ways asking questions can help us be more effective leaders and create breakthroughs in our impact.

If there were one single tool that would help you inspire greater creativity, drive stronger engagement, and get better results,would you try it?

It’s called a question.

Voltaire said “Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers”.

In my executive coaching practice, asking the right questions is the single most important tool I use to help others discover and grow themselves as leaders.

To read the full article, click on the title or image.

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Via donhornsby, Michael Binzer
Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Questions will start the process of communication, resolving, thinking, etc. Great article.

donhornsby's curator insight, May 27, 2014 9:21 AM

(From the article): 

Here’s the real challenge to asking good questions. It requires a shift in our own mindset as leaders. We have to let go of three ego needs that hold us back.

Let go of the need to be superior or to prove ourselves (e.g. I’m the smartest person in the room so let me tell you everything I know).Let go of the need to control outcomes (e.g. the best and most efficient way to do this is my way, so let me just help you by telling you what to do).Let go of the need for perfection or need to succeed without any tolerance for failure (we have to do this perfectly because anything less than success will make us or me look bad).

This is where executive coaching really works to uncover limiting beliefs and paradigms we have so we can let our curiosity naturally flow through. Do these apply to you?


Michael Binzer's curator insight, June 25, 2014 4:36 AM

Ten good ways to ask difficult questions. Worth reading

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You Don’t Have to Start Big, You Just Have to Start

You Don’t Have to Start Big, You Just Have to Start | Competitive Edge |

When you have a big task ahead you, getting started is the toughest part. Henrik Edberg of The Positivity Blog suggests you stop thinking about how you should start and just start.

Nothing's better than sinking your teeth into a satisfying after-hours side project—or what I guess most people may just call a hobby. But after 10 hours at work, it's not always easy to muster the energy to switch off your TV and go to work on your project. The trick I use is simple, self-evident, and it works. Getting started is everything.

To read the full article, click on the title or image.

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Via Official AndreasCY, Gebeyehu B. Amha
Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Just Do it! After the first step another one reveals itself.

Official AndreasCY's curator insight, June 21, 2014 5:35 PM

What are you waiting for?

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The 7 Critical Success Factors for a Services Business - Entrepreneur

The 7 Critical Success Factors for a Services Business - Entrepreneur | Competitive Edge |

The critical success factors for a product business are well known, starting with selling every unit with a gross margin of 50 percent or more, building a patent and other intellectual property, and continuous product improvement. 

If your forte is a service, such as consulting or website design, it’s harder to find guidance on what will get you funded, and how you can scale your business.

On the product side, once you have a proven product and business model, all you need is money to build inventory, and a sales and marketing operation to drive the business. With services, scaling the business often implies cloning yourself, since you are the intellectual property and the competitive advantage. You have no shelf life, so you can’t make money while you sleep.

To read the full article, click on the title or image.

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Via Fred Zimny, Luis Costa
Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Good information for service businesses. Be unique, value yourself, stand out, look for referrals, offer advice, etc.

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Seven Startup Metrics You Must Track - Forbes

Seven Startup Metrics You Must Track - Forbes | Competitive Edge |

The Seven Startup Metrics You Must Track

Not spending enough time gauging your business’s progress can be just as harmful as wasting your time with needless emails or Excel sheets. You may be so focused on getting your business to the next level, chasing funding and finding the right talent, that you are ignoring developing metrics to monitor your success.

But without strategic planning, you’re lost. And you can’t plan if you have no frame of reference for where you are.

I’ve found that these seven metrics (which roll up into three top-level categories: sales metrics, customer metrics, and finance metrics) are good starting points.

To read the full article, click on the title or image.

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Via Kristine Santos, Martin (Marty) Smith, malek
Marc Kneepkens's insight:

If you want to creat an amazing business you have to keep track of your progress. Test, implement, adjust, keep on creating.

Martin (Marty) Smith's curator insight, June 21, 2014 12:51 AM

Agree, our Triangle Startup Factory Funded startup is tracking most of these "magic metrics".

malek's curator insight, June 21, 2014 6:19 AM

Conversion to paid rate: if you started with a freemium model

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A Rare Peek Inside Amazon’s Massive Wish-Fulfilling Machine | Business | WIRED

A Rare Peek Inside Amazon’s Massive Wish-Fulfilling Machine | Business | WIRED | Competitive Edge |
Through the engineering of its fulfillment centers, Amazon has built the world's most nimble infrastructure for the transfer of things. We step inside to see how the formidable system works.

The first thing I saw when I walked into Amazon’s Phoenix warehouse was a man riding on a giant tricycle. Behind him, yellow plastic tubs the size of office recycling bins whizzed by on a conveyor belt. On the wall above, six massive words called out to the 1,500 workers who pass through metal detectors each day as they enter this million-square-foot cavern of consumerism: “work hard. have fun. make history.”

To read the full article, click on the title or image.

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Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Wow! This brings up many questions. It looks like science fiction. Check out the pics.

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Develop an experience, not just a product | The Venture Company

Develop an experience, not just a product | The Venture Company | Competitive Edge |

My 3-year-old daughter uses my iPhone to play music videos and YouTube videos and has not touched a PC (or better, a Mac) yet. With the same content available on either she's obviously seen me operate my Mac and looks over my shoulder now and then, but finds all the keys and even the "Magic-mouse" complicated. Clearly a usage experience is more important to her than sheer processing power. Sounds familiar doesn't it? Nintendo anyone? What I see in so many early business plans today is the old-fashioned notion of deep technology expertise, something most traditional investors still harp on. I see too many BMW engines being developed without attention being paid to the development of The Ultimate Driving Experience®. True, you can't build the driving experience without great engines, but BMW, like no other vendor understands that the total experience is the selling point. In the end, technology will become commoditized and its differentiation will be determined by the way it interacts...

To read the full article, click on the title or image.

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Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Excellent observation. Keeping this in mind will create very loyal customers. This is an older article, but still very essential for any kind of business.

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Add Value or Someone Else Will

Add Value or Someone Else Will | Competitive Edge |

The lure of maximising profits at the cost of creating customer value can be devastating in the long term.

In 2006, I moved to Mumbai and as soon as I landed, I looked for a taxi. A smiling taxi driver came up to me and asked me where I wanted to go. When I told him my location, his smile vanished. He was almost leaving when he stopped and asked me if I would be willing to pay Rs350, the fare for a long distance (and more profitable for him) carriage.

‘But I will pay by the meter? That is why you have it? Isn’t it?’ I said, irritated at the attempt to hustle me. The cabbie left without even arguing. I took the next taxi and paid Rs350 when I should have paid Rs100.

Even afterwards, the taxi experience annoyed me. Faulty meters, smelly interiors, no air-conditioning, bad maintenance and a jerky ride that tossed you back and forth every time the brakes were applied.

Everyone wants to grow. Therefore, the taxi driver’s inclination to increase profit cannot be frowned upon. However, he should have known that increasing profits without increasing value is a short-term high and, much like narcotics, can be devastating in the long term. 

Short-term gain, long-term pain

While taxi drivers continued to increase their profit through various means, the value delivered to the customer diminished. The void between price charged and value delivered expanded.

Then, in 2007, a new taxi service came and happily filled the void. While, the fare was about 20% higher, the value delivered was vastly superior.

Proper meters, clean interiors, well maintained vehicles, effective air-conditioning and most importantly, the taxi never refused to go where you wanted to go. In fact, the system remembered your most-frequented destinations saving you time reciting addresses repeatedly.

All in all, you could book a taxi in an instant and get transported to your destination comfortably, in time, and without looking like a zoo animal.

If you are not providing value, someone else will. Today, the old taxi service is without options except to ask the government for concessions. The new tax service, meanwhile, continues to grow. Now, it operates thousands of taxis and has spread across many cities of India. This reminded me of a parable I used in a training program.

The coal merchant

There once lived a coal merchant who had a shop in a village. Every day, the coal merchant would purchase coal from his suppliers at Rs100 and sell at Rs150, making a profit of Rs50. He wanted to grow and was impatient to increase his profits.

One day, an old friend stopped at his shop and made him an extraordinary offer: ‘I will sell you coal at Rs50’, he said.

Unable to conceal his excitement, the merchant asked him ‘How will you do it? The market rate is Rs100, why are you selling at Rs50?’

The friend looked around to make sure that no one was listening, he bent closer to the merchant and whispered in his ears: ‘this coal is very low quality but your customers wouldn’t know. They are little black rocks after all’

After seeing his friend off and tempted at the additional profit that he could generate, the merchant turned to his father.

‘The objective of business is to make profit, isn’t it?’ he asked his father.

‘Sure’ his father answered.

‘…and to grow your business, you need to make more and more profit’ he said further.

‘Yes’ said the father.

‘My friend is going to supply me coal at half the price. It is low quality coal but it will double our profit’ said the son, ‘I am confused. Is it dishonesty to try and increase your profit? We are not here to do charity either, are we?’

‘No, you are right, we are not here to do charity. We run business and profit is our right. But, What is the customers right?’ asked his father.

‘To get coal’ said the son.

‘Not just that. It is to get the benefit of the coal. They pay so that they can burn this coal and use that energy to make their lunch’ said the father, ‘right now, you are extracting the price for the coal and delivering the benefit of the coal to the customer. If you buy the bad quality coal, you are still extracting the price but are you delivering the benefit? Will the customer, after buying the bad quality coal, get the energy that they paid for?’

‘That is dis-honesty son. Seeking to exert your right and ignoring the customer’s right. Seeking to create profits without delivering the benefits.'

The lesson from the story is simple. There is no right to profit greater than the obligation to provide value.

Companies must never forget that their customers are under no obligation to part with a greater amount of their spending, just so they can show up on the Fortune 500. Their growth must be with the customers, not despite them. The Mumbai taxi service is a case in point.

Add value

This could appear to be a fight between large corporate structures and small mom-and-pop structures. Seeing it like that is a fallacy.

Looking at the retail sector in India, the biggest organised retail chains have had to face defeat at the hands of small neighbourhood retailers in numerous cases. The reason: convenience and personalised service. The neighbourhood retailer knows you by name even though he ensures that you never have to travel to his shop. His delivery person comes every day to your house, sometimes even for small (unviable) orders. The retailer celebrates festivals with you, congratulates you on your achievements, and participates in your sorrow, makes small talk with you about the upcoming cricket match and gives you credit (without filling up a form!). Clearly, there is a relationship that is more valuable to the customer than the lower price or choice that a supermarket offers.

The only fight here is to create value for the customer, in some way, whatever way. Bigger is not better. Focussed is better. There is always some value that you can add. Where there is a will to create value, there are many ways, and not all require you to be a large corporation willing to make million dollar investments.  

Large corporations and entrepreneurs, all want to grow and increase their profits. However, trying to increase profits without increasing value delivered to the customers is not only unfair, it is just bad business.

Venugopal Gupta is the founder of The Business Parables, a firm that helps organisations communicate goals and outcomes using the power of short stories. You can follow him on Twitter @venugopal_gupta.

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Via Kenneth Mikkelsen, Pascale Mousset, malek
Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Nice stories. Always keep 'adding value' in mind when running a business. It will pay off in the end.

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Why Some Startups Die: The Case Of Earbits

Why Some Startups Die: The Case Of Earbits | Competitive Edge |
So many of America’s biggest ideas come from startups, but they’re brought to us by understaffed, underfunded, and oftentimes underqualified individuals who nevertheless want to change the world. Unfortunately, reality is often the enemy of startup culture.

It might seem strange that so many of America’s biggest ideas come from startups; they’re brought to us by understaffed, underfunded, and oftentimes underqualified individuals who nevertheless want to change the world.

Unfortunately, reality is often the enemy of startup culture. While we regularly hear about startups being bought by monolithic corporations, many more fade into obscurity. Lesser-known startups like Earbits, which you’ll hear more about in a bit, along with more famous cases like Aereo and MoneyParking, have helped to create a sort of business singularity: a thrilling glimpse into the uncharted future where all bets are off.

Of course, carrying out the postmortem after the dust settles from the latest startup implosion – where those involved attempt to diagnose the problem and make sure it doesn’t happen again – is far from an exact science.

Sometimes There’s A Second Chance

One startup that caught my eye recently was Earbits, a music streaming service from Los Angeles. I wondered from the start whether they had what it took to compete with the likes of Pandora, Spotify, and Beats –until I realized it was meant for a different purpose.

Earbits has, as CEO Joey Flores puts it, “seen [their] share of ups and downs.” He met future Earbits co-founder Yotam Rosenbaum in 2005, though the company wouldn’t be officially founded until 2010. After securing funding to the tune of $1.7 million from Y Combinator and other investors, it seemed like the future was looking bright. With some much-needed funding finally coming their way, Earbits could concentrate on establishing their brand, building their websites, and deploying their mobile apps.

But then, by June of 2014, they’d run out of money. Sometimes it really is that simple.

Earbits’ financial standing forced Flores and his inner circle to prepare for the end. Says Flores: “We shut down and our mobile apps. It was probably the most miserable event of my life.” The death of Earbits took only three days.

I asked Mr. Flores why his company ran out of money, to which he answered: “The truth is that just wasn’t enough to pursue this vision properly. We definitely made some mistakes, including taking on too many products – web, iPhone, Android – and more. But I don’t think those mistakes are why we ran out of money. I think not having enough money is why we ran out of money.”

Indeed, Earbits likely bit off just a bit more than it could chew. For my part, I was rather surprised to find that they’d invested in an app for the Roku – a platform that even the venerable Spotify doesn’t seem to take seriously; their app is in desperate need of a visual refresh and lacks some of the more important features of the service. The Earbits app, on the other hand, is rather well polished.

After what I’ll call “excessive ambition” brought them to the brink of ruination, the company received an 11th hour pardon: “The next day, we received a call from a strategic partner with an offer to breathe life back into the company. Within 48 hours of the shutdown, the sites were back on and we were discussing plans to open a new office and start staffing up. One of our investors labeled us ‘the startup that wouldn’t die,’ and another said, ‘Wow. I’ll file this one under ‘You can’t make this stuff up.’”

What makes the Earbits story interesting is that this isn’t just another Spotify clone trying and failing to distinguish themselves from a crowded field of competitors; Mr. Flores himself wrote a lengthy essay about the “flavor of the month syndrome” that plagues music startups. Instead, the idea for Earbits came about after Mr. Flores and Mr. Rosenbaum spent $20,000 marketing an album of their own.

In an interview with The Startup Foundry, Mr. Flores said: “We realized that for all the buzz about how easy it is to be a musician in the age of the Internet, all of the services out there either help you sell products to fans you don’t really have, or claim to help you get fans but they really just rely on you to spam Twitter.”

Instead, Earbits positioned itself as a service to help users discover and connect in a meaningful way with great unsigned artists – something that Earbits’ closest competitors struggle with. It’s a streaming service where the focus is very much on the human element.

But sometimes, no matter how great the idea might be, the money just runs out.

Not Yours To Sell
The Earbits business model is not unusual: they’re one of countless other ventures that make their living distributing something that somebody else created. The music industry has become a bit of a lightning rod for questions about ownership and fair use, but such questions seem to appear just about everywhere these days, as was the case with Aereo.

The company set out to change the way people watch TV, and instead found themselves in startup purgatory. Aereo’s plan was to provide quarter-sized antennas to their customers, which would have provided access to over-the-air TV broadcasts. This is no different from buying any one of the dozens of over-the-air TV antennas currently available from most electronics retailers.

That fact was lost on the Supreme Court. If you’ve followed Aereo’s well-publicized court case, you may have come across some choice comments from the Justices, like this one from Sonia Sotomayor: “It’s not logical to me that you can make these millions of copies and essentially sell them to the public.”

Justice Sotomayor’s comment would be on-point if this was 1999 and she was talking about Napster. In fact, she and the other justices continually referenced non-existent technologies like “Netflick” and “iDrop in the Cloud” throughout the oral arguments phase of the hearing. One might say that mild ignorance is what sunk the good ship Aereo.

Aereo is now hard at work reinventing themselves as an online cable provider – a course of action, ironically, made possible by the court’s ruling. For the time being, though, Aereo and its grand vision of the future is dead in the water.

This has been a familiar story lately. A number of other startups faced difficulties recently when they came up against questions of fair use. One such company is MoneyParking, which set out to help commuters find parking spots in San Francisco – and pay for the privilege. MoneyParking users usually pay anywhere from $5 to $15 for information about an available spot.

It didn’t take long for the San Francisco attorney’s office to order the company to cease its operations, citing local laws that forbid residents from buying or selling public facilities. The company resisted at first, but eventually relented and put their service on indefinite hiatus. On their blog, the MoneyParking team indicated that they were looking for legal ways to get their app up and running again.

It would be easy to learn the wrong lessons from the stories of these three companies. A timid entrepreneur watching for the fallout might decide that inventing something outright is the safer bet than selling access to an existing product. But then we might not have Netflix. Or Amazon. Or hundreds of other companies that have irrevocably changed our lives.

Businessmen As Martyrs?

Things are finally looking up for Joey Flores and Earbits, though the real test for the company, having come so close to ruination, is whether they’ve learned from the experience.

In the short time I was able to speak with him, Mr. Flores seemed exceedingly confident, saying that the company was in full rebound mode after their brush with death in June. Now that they’ve secured additional funding, he says they’re already “discussing plans to open a new office and start staffing up.” One has to hope that they’re taking things more slowly this time; “living within your means” is pretty definitely one of the major tenets of building a company.

Regrettably, for Mr. Flores and others like him, there seems to be no silver bullet when it comes to predicting the success or failure of a startup, which probably accounts for the fact that roughly 80% of new businesses fail within the first year and a half.

So the graveyard of failed startups only continues to grow. But how does one categorize these failures? To begin with, startups seem to come in two varieties: those that seek to capitalize on an emerging trend and fail because they were late to the party, and those who want to change something for the better and fail because they’re ahead of their time. You can decide for yourself which category Earbits, Aereo, and MoneyParking fall into.

What the future holds for these three companies is anything but certain, but it’s become clear for the average consumer that startup culture has become almost as thrilling and potentially disappointing to watch as it must be to take part in.

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Richard Branson's 5 Steps for Startup Success

Richard Branson's 5 Steps for Startup Success | Competitive Edge |
The billionaire entrepreneur’s basic rules to get a business off to a strong start.

No matter where you start, or what products and services you provide, Virgin Group founder and CEO Richard Branson has five basic rules for any successful entrepreneur:

Related: I Admit It. I Have No Idea What I'm Doing. (And That's a Good Thing.)

  1. Be financially savvy. As you raise capital, think about what you really need. While a swank office can be nice, the money could be better spent on new hires or technology.
  2. Choose a dynamic name. Convey what you're selling and help customers keep you at the top of their minds.
  3. Sell memorable merchandise. Be a source for products that are unique and that won’t be replicated elsewhere. Put your stamp on everything you do. 
  4. Make waves. Learn your industry inside-out and find ways to set yourself apart from the competition.
  5. Follow through. Keep in touch with you customers and build lasting relationships with them through attentive, personalized service.

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Via Luis Costa
Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Good advice from a master in business.

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Delivering World-Class Service on a Startup Budget

Delivering World-Class Service on a Startup Budget | Competitive Edge |
Top-notch customer service doesn't need to be costly. Here are three ways new ventures can provide amazing service without breaking the bank.

The late Maya Angelou once said “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did but people will never forget how you made them feel.” This is as true in business as it is in life: Outstanding service can help a company stand out and be remembered in a crowded marketplace.

Unfortunately, many startup founders believe that great customer service can’t be delivered until their company has reached sufficient scale. While it’s true that customer service can’t be streamlined and automated to the same extent as some other business operations, even the leanest of startup teams can create a wonderful experience if they have the right mindset.

Here are three ways your company can provide world-class service on a startup budget:

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This Harvard Startup Wants to Help You Navigate Life's Most Challenging Events

This Harvard Startup Wants to Help You Navigate Life's Most Challenging Events | Competitive Edge |

Why waste time reinventing the wheel when you could learn life lessons an easier way?
Phil Strazzulla, a newly-conferred Harvard MBA, was an undergraduate at New York University when he spent one miserable summer working for a big bank. At the time, he wrote himself a note as a reminder of what he didn't like about the position.

Then, the financial crisis happened.

"I was about to sign this offer and found this note," Strazzulla said. "That 10-minute exercise literally changed my life."

Strazzulla narrowly avoided making the same mistake twice, and started thinking about how he could help others do the same.

To read the full article, click on the title or image.

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Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Great initiative and excellent idea for a startup. Ideas for startups sometimes hide in small events. Look for value, then do something with it.

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Is Work Killing You? In China, Workers Die at Their Desks

Is Work Killing You? In China, Workers Die at Their Desks | Competitive Edge |
Chinese banking regulator Li Jianhua literally worked himself to death. After 26 years of “always putting the cause of the party and the people” first, his employer said this month, the 48-year-old official died rushing to finish a report before the sun came up.

China is facing an epidemic of overwork, to hear the state-controlled press and Chinese social media tell it. About 600,000 Chinese a year die from working too hard, according to the China Youth Daily. China Radio International in April reported a toll of 1,600 every day.

To read the full article, click on the title or image.

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Via Official AndreasCY
Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Dedication to 'work' is very different in countries such as Korea, China,  Japan... However, a balance is necessary. Dead workers aren't helpful anymore for the company!

I have personally seen in the education system how some Asian kids are brought up in a very different culture, very demanding...

They get great results, but apparently, they pay a huge price.

Official AndreasCY's curator insight, June 30, 2014 12:18 AM

About 600,000 Chinese a year die from working too hard, according to the China Youth Daily newspaper.

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Traits of Truly Agile Businesses

Traits of Truly Agile Businesses | Competitive Edge |

Many organizations, in pursuit of growth, understand the need to be agile in every aspect of their business—from faster decision making to more flexible operations to collaborative ventures. Yet, there is often a gap between that awareness and cohesive action. The Accenture study on agility explores the common characteristics of agile businesses.

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Via Kenneth Mikkelsen, Gary Bamford, David Hain, Ivan Berlocher
Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Agile explained.

Claude Emond's curator insight, October 24, 2014 8:30 PM

Leadership diversity is one of the key factors

Miguel Paul Trijaud Calderón's curator insight, December 23, 2014 4:52 PM

Agile, a cool business model 

The Agile Monks's curator insight, January 14, 3:12 PM

The challenge in getting diverse leadership is that too many companies are afraid to hire creative thinkers who have different ideas on how to express their art, than the existing leaders. To much of the same gets you just the same and less over time. Companies need to hire people with a variety of insights and approaches, including ones that are challenging to the existing patterns and approaches. Additionally, they need to create, mentor and support the concept of Self-Organizing Leaders and empower people and their teams through Radical Honesty. Check out more information here in the future as we The Agile Monks talk about Agile, Lean, Honesty, having a Code/Creed to operate under, and show how Radical Honestly get you AGILE and successful far faster than the just practicing agile concepts.

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Start Up Culture Everywhere

Start Up Culture Everywhere | Competitive Edge |

Six things you can do to increase innovation and productivty even where you work.

When I was at SXSW in 2014 people from varied kinds of businesses (marketing, healthcare, education) were throwing out terms like Scrum, Design Thinking and Failing Fast more than the famous southby SWAG.

These same terms popped up again a few weeks later when I was at a meeting with Hyatt’s digital marketing team in Chicago. Hyatt’s digital team is tasked with driving cultural change throughout the corporation and explained they were accomplishing this with Design Thinking, Failing Fast and Social Is a Behavior.

These terms describe how some businesses are responding to the escalating pace of innovation in a digital marketplace. It seems that digital technologies, like mobile communications, the interactive web and big data, are underpinning organizational change in many businesses. It’s interesting that in some cases digital teams are reaching outside the walls of the marketing department to lead this change.

This makes a weird kind of sense. Digital teams are early adopters of online tools that help them collaborate and communicate in a fast paced and complex environment. They also work in a field that changes so rapidly that daily focused learning is a priority. These are skills have inadvertently equipped them to lead organizational change. Will we soon start seeing Chief Marketing Officers setting business organizational strategy? Maybe.

It follows that analyzing some of the cultural and work processes underpinning how digital teams structure themselves and their work may provide valuable insight for any organization striving to gain a competative edge by nurturing an innovative culture.

So to that end here are 6 things any organization can learn from digital teams.

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Via Matthew Quetton, Gebeyehu B. Amha
Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Catching up with some 'Start Up' culture and terminology...

Matthew Quetton's curator insight, June 18, 2014 10:54 AM
Great article by my friend Jill Thomas cataloguing the various approaches to iterative thinking. As a past product designer, entrepreneur, and growth advisor, I can attest to how important this way of thinking is in today's fast moving world. You don't know until you try, and you have to be open to what you experience when you do. Go for it people!
Michael Binzer's curator insight, June 18, 2014 12:56 PM

Tips for increasing innovation - something for communities that focus on startups on a practical level

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How to take criticism well

How to take criticism well | Competitive Edge |

No one likes getting criticism. But it can be a chance to show off a rare skill: taking negative feedback well.

It is a skill that requires practice, humility and a sizable dose of self-awareness. But the ability to learn from criticism fuels creativity at work, studies show, and helps the free flow of valuable communication.

Tempering an emotional response can be hard, especially "if you're genuinely surprised and you're getting that flood of adrenaline and panic," says Douglas Stone, a lecturer at Harvard Law School and co-author of "Thanks for the Feedback."

Learn more:

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Via Gust MEES
Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Criticism is hard. Taking it well and turning it around in a positive will create respect. The article has some good examples and ideas.

David Hain's curator insight, June 29, 2014 2:28 AM

Feedback is the DNA of development. Learn how to ask for it and take it.  Oh...and the more you give, the more you get!

Eliane Fierro's curator insight, July 1, 2014 12:20 AM

Embrace criticism!

Philip Powel Smith's curator insight, July 29, 2014 8:04 AM

Criticism is always a difficult pro-active action that educators have to give. Criticism without ridicule and shame is what students need to hear and an explanation of how to make the changes to be better learners and communicators.

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How Underdogs Can Win

How Underdogs Can Win | Competitive Edge |

When Vivek Ranadivé decided to coach his daughter Anjali’s basketball team, he settled on two principles. The first was that he would never raise his voice. This was National Junior Basketball—the Little League of basketball. The team was made up mostly of twelve-year-olds, and twelve-year-olds, he knew from experience, did not respond well to shouting. He would conduct business on the basketball court, he decided, the same way he conducted business at his software firm. He would speak calmly and softly, and convince the girls of the wisdom of his approach with appeals to reason and common sense.

The second principle was more important. Ranadivé was puzzled by the way Americans played basketball. He is from Mumbai. He grew up with cricket and soccer. He would never forget the first time he saw a basketball game. He thought it was mindless. Team A would score and then immediately retreat to its own end of the court. Team B would inbound the ball and dribble it into Team A’s end, where Team A was patiently waiting. Then the process would reverse itself. A basketball court was ninety-four feet long. But most of the time a team defended only about twenty-four feet of that, conceding the other seventy feet. Occasionally, teams would play a full-court press—that is, they would contest their opponent’s attempt to advance the ball up the court. But they would do it for only a few minutes at a time. It was as if there were a kind of conspiracy in the basketball world about the way the game ought to be played, and Ranadivé thought that that conspiracy had the effect of widening the gap between good teams and weak teams. Good teams, after all, had players who were tall and could dribble and shoot well; they could crisply execute their carefully prepared plays in their opponent’s end. Why, then, did weak teams play in a way that made it easy for good teams to do the very things that made them so good?

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Via Richard Platt
Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Yes, long story, but really interesting. Change the way the game is played, or the business is done, and you increase your chances of winning.

Richard Platt's curator insight, June 21, 2014 7:13 PM

A lengthy but worthwhile read from Malcom Gladwell - Bottom Line: Don't play by the other guys' rules and you can win 63.5% of the time, this is based on you and your firm's capability not necessarily the effort, and only in specific areas of your opponent's blind spots

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The Inbound Growth Hacking Bible

The Inbound Growth Hacking Bible | Competitive Edge |

As a term, growth hacking has been around since 2010, when Sean Ellis of Dropbox fame bemoaned the fact that he cannot easily find a suitable successor when he moves on from a project since there was no way to succinctly formulate the requirements of the job. However, as a practice, growth hacking has been around for much longer than that, usually performed by creative marketers or business owners who were dedicated to growth beyond anything else and who had the skills and daring to think outside of what generally constitutes out of the box thinking, so yeah, out of the out of the box thinking. If, somehow, this isn’t enough of an explanation of what growth hacking actually entails, how it is different from marketing, and what are the skills that you need to become a successful growth hacker, do read on.

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Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Growth Hacking explained.

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17 Unique Business Models Shaking Up the Marketplace

17 Unique Business Models Shaking Up the Marketplace | Competitive Edge |

These companies are rethinking revenue streams and creating value for parties on both sides of the transaction.

There are 23 million small businesses in America, and 543,000 more are started every month. So if you've got a business idea and you want to stand out from the crowd and succeed, you better have a unique value proposition, diverse revenue streams and loads of creativity. To inspire you, we've rounded up 17 unique businesses that have proven their model works. From retail apps to fashion upstarts, these companies are rethinking revenue and creating compelling value for parties on both sides of the transaction.

To read the full article, click on the title or image.

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Via Herve Perret, Edouard Estour
Marc Kneepkens's insight:

An explosion of creativity is happening all over the world. Great startups are setting the pace. New business models are there to be copied to other ideas.

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