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When was the last time you changed how you communicate to your team and to your customers? The way you deliver your message is key to maximizing its impact, or even reaching the intended audience. Don’t count on people reading your Annual Report for breaking news. Your team needs to hear from you on a regular basis, on a channel they can relate to easily and quickly.

Thus, top business leaders now deliver requests to their team via text messages, and even expect updates from top national leaders via Twitter. As a business advisor, I still find owners and entrepreneurs who have never sent a business text message, written a blog, or produced a small video to update their constituents, or highlight a key message.

If you know someone in this category (including yourself), here are some key principles, from my own experience, that you can help me pass along for the benefit all of us:

  1. Every message must be keyed to your expected receiver. The limited channels for delivering a message have exploded in recent years, with social media, the Internet, and smartphones. Your team and customers will judge you by how timely and effectively you deliver the message. For example, I find that millennials rarely read emails or policies.

  2. Use professional wording and tone in all business messages. Even with the new channels, don’t forget that business is not casual for your constituents. Skip any urge to use abbreviations, slang, or emoticons. Make the context clear, and keep the content on point. People still expect separation between business and personal relationships.

  3. Build a communication culture of engagement and participation. The days of command and control are gone, and you can’t depend on your title and the management hierarchy to amplify and relay the message. For example, messages are better delivered these days via informal weekly “town hall” meetings, rather than official CEO updates.

  4. Minimize the use of meetings to communicate. Employees already spend up to 70 percent of their day in meetings, so meetings should be minimized and reserved for two-way decision-making opportunities, rather than delivering a message. With modern tools, you can deliver messages in a much more palatable format, without lost productivity.

  5. Use every message as an opportunity to highlight people. Everyone listens to messages where they expect to see and hear team members get recognized and rewarded. Even if you have bad news to deliver, try to couch it in the context of some positives and extraordinary effort. Always talk to the people, rather than about them.

  6. Remember, your actions speak louder than your words. It’s more important than ever that you be visible and approachable. Your team wants to feel comfortable that your actions are consistent with your message, and you are empathetic to their needs and feelings. Even customers these days expect to see and hear you online and in public.

  7. Pack each message with focused value to the recipients. People lose interest quickly receiving generic or irrelevant messages. Make sure every message you deliver is factual and valuable to your audience, and delivered in a compact and relatable fashion. Don’t try to pack multiple important messages into a single communication.

  8. Always communicate as a person, rather than a business entity. Real engagement depends on your team’s understanding of your commitment to them and what the business goals mean to you. Business names and brands are important from a marketing and consistency standpoint, but insiders, and even customers, want to be part of a family.

  9. Follow-up your message delivery with a question opportunity. By asking people for a personal perspective, or questions, you show inclusiveness and concern for people. In addition, their feedback and questions give you important information for follow-up and future actions. Overall, this is important to maintain engagement and relationships.

New communication tools have made great leaps forward in utility and potential impact, just like products. In addition, modern business leaders have raised the bar on employee and customer expectations. Just as you regularly update your products and processes, you need to enhance your communication style and tools to maximize your leadership. Your success depends on it.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 06/11/2019 ***

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Entrepreneurs are usually highly creative and innovative, but many innovative people are not entrepreneurs. Since it takes a team of people to build a great company, the challenge is to find that small percentage of innovative people, and then nurture the tendency, rather than stifle it.

A few years ago I read a classic book “The Rudolph Factor,” by Cyndi Laurin and Craig Morningstar, which is all about finding the bright lights that can drive innovation in your business. The story most specifically targets big companies, like Boeing, but the concepts are just as applicable to a startup with one or more employees.

The core message is that real innovation and competitive advantage are more people-based than product or process-based. Every good entrepreneur needs a people-centric focus to ferret out creativity and innovation in his team, and to build a sustainable competitive advantage.

The authors observe that people who behave as mentors tend to have an uncanny ability to recognize and nurture people who have innate capabilities along these lines. Here are six of the characteristics they and you should look for:

  1. Problem solvers. Innovators are naturally creative and love new challenges. Some may appear a bit eccentric to people around them. They generally promote unconventional ways to solve problems and have an easier time than most at identifying the root cause of a problem.
  1. Passionate and inquisitive. These team members are passionate about their work and light up when talking about their role or a particular project they are working on. They often ask “Why?” even when it is not the most popular question to be asked.
  1. Challenge the status quo. They believe that questioning is of value and benefit to the organization. This is also how they discover what they need in order to solve a problem, so they aren’t rocking the boat just for the sake of rocking the boat.
  1. Connect the dots. Innovators have the ability to quickly synthesize many variables to solve problems or make improvements. To others, it may appear as if their ideas come out of the blue or that there is no rhyme or reason behind their thinking.
  1. See the big picture. They tend to be natural systems thinkers and see the whole forest rather than a single tree … or just the bark on the tree. They may express frustration if people around them are having conversations about the bark, rather than the forest.
  1. Collaborative and action oriented. They are not loners, and have the ability and confidence to turn their ideas into action. They act on their ideas, sometimes without knowing how they will accomplish them. The “how” is always revealed in time.

Your challenge is to go forth with this new awareness and thinking, to find and mentor those bright lights that will drive innovation and competitive advantage. The next step after finding innovators is to integrate them into your team. A key aspect is establishing a team-based culture that is a safe environment to share and execute ideas.

In fact, this safe and nurturing environment has to extend beyond a single team to the highest levels of the organization. It should embody a style of leadership that is essentially a commitment to the success of the people around you. That opens the door for anyone in the organization to lead from where they are, rather than waiting for management to “do something.”

Innovation is at the very heart of every successful startup. Everyone wins when you look at things very differently and wonder “why”, not “why not.” What better way to extend this power than to surround yourself with more highly creative people? Then you can make the world a place of possibilities, as well as probabilities.

Marty Zwilling

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Have you noticed that more companies beg you to participate in their business today? It started with an email survey on your last stay at their hotel, but now includes requests for online product reviews, to social media input on the design of future products. They do it because engaged customers become loyal advocates and buyers. Welcome to the “Participation Age” of marketing.

Some say it’s happening today because it’s new, and technology makes it possible. Others say it stems from Intrinsic Motivation Theory, which asserts that people have always been motivated by a desire to join, share, take part, connect, and engage, and find that experience rewarding. In any case, your business needs it today to rise above the crowd and edge out competitors.

If you want all the specifics, you must follow the new wave of marketing experts, like Daina Middleton, and her classic book “Marketing in the Participation Age.” I’m most intrigued by one aspect that I believe relates to every business - the move from a hunter-based metaphor to a gardening metaphor – nurturing what we have planted, based on the following five rules:

  1. Embrace test-and-learn values. That means constantly trying new marketing elements, understanding quickly what works, and immediately scaling, then moving on to the next alternative. Nurturing marketers reserve a minimum of 10 percent of their marketing budgets for testing and learning. It’s a dynamic customer environment out there.
  1. Innovate; don’t perfect. The nurture approach leverages from the best of the moment, quickly adding value before someone else does it first. The concept of continual innovation is crucial, because the best may not last long. Pick something that is good enough and embrace the flaw as an opportunity to learn. Adapt quickly and move on.
  1. Act quickly and motivate others, including participants, to act on your behalf. Motivate people, including your customers, to do something to improve your marketing today. Inspire your organization to act quickly and create an environment that rewards moving quickly. Estimate and act; because if you don’t, your competitors will.
  1. Mix and blend; don’t invent. Partner with others to create unique solutions that might benefit your brand, product, or solution. Choose an agency partner who is pushing the envelope and remember to consider technology, media, and creative opportunities. Look for elegant blends of all three, not an elegant single media solution.
  1. Embrace risks and champion failures. Prepare to learn from mistakes and accept that failures are inevitable in finding success. Partner with agencies that are willing to put skin in the game and get paid only if they deliver results. It often takes several failures to find opportunities that yield the best results.

In the current world of escalating change and information overload, marketing is not a luxury, and participative marketing can be the key to success, even for very technical solutions. We often see a mediocre product with effective marketing outperform a good product with little or poor marketing. Big marketing budgets alone and single blockbuster campaigns don’t assure results.

The message is simple. Ask your customers and partners for ideas, try them all, measure results, and scale up the ones that work. The participants, not the marketers, are in control, and they are demanding a relationship, not just a marketing message. If they don’t find value in the relationship, they move on. The choices and opportunities are theirs.

The situation is not unlike the attraction of current major social media sites, like Facebook, successful multiplayer game sites, like Activision, and today’s real world sports and politics. Gen-Y members were born participants, and they are a major force in every business domain. People thrive on continually learning, feeling empowered, and providing input to the world they live in.

So if you are a startup, or even a mature business, you need to nurture these intrinsic desires and develop more meaningful customer relationships that yield greater revenues. Marketing is no longer a one-way conversation. Does your marketing include listening as well as talking?

Marty Zwilling

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Having a breakthrough idea or technology alone does not assure business success. “If we build it, they will come” may have worked as a movie theme for Kevin Costner, but as an investor, I tell entrepreneurs a great solution is not enough. Successful businesses require innovative people, who have built an abundance of innovation capital, to win support and resources for their ideas.

Professional investors are adept at looking for innovation capital, beyond the passionate pitch. Of course, the best evidence is you have done it before, and succeeded more often than you failed. That’s why Elon Musk, and a few others you could name, don’t have any trouble getting investor attention – they have the reputation and networks to successfully commercialize creative ideas.

I saw this message illustrated well in a new book, “Innovation Capital,” by Jeff Dyer, Nathan Furr, and Curtis Lefrandt, who all have excellent credentials in the real world of business, as well as the academic world, through their innovation consultancy and access to key business leaders. I like their summary of five key components of innovation capital that we should strive to maximize:

  1. Human capital: forward thinking, problem solving, persuasion. A key skill everyone looks for is your ability to engage in mental time travel to envision opportunities before others do. Then you need creative problem solving to come up with a solution, and the ability to persuade others of the viability and value, and to join you on the journey.

    You can enhance your human capital by constantly updating yourself on new trends, social movements, and new technologies, to get a sense of where things are headed. Commit time to thinking deeply about the future, focus on problem solving by first principles, and practice continuous learning in areas where you desire expertise.

  2. Social capital: influencers, leaders, investor relationships. Successful business innovators excel at networking, through both strong and weak social ties, to get the resources and support they need. They nurture connections to other innovators and entrepreneurs, financial benefactors, organizational leaders, and potential customers.

    Remember that in business, sometimes who you know is more important than what you know. You can always use more social connections, but to be effective, think through your networking objectives first, and categorize the contacts you already have. Use social media channels, as well as conferences, to develop and maintain relationships.

  3. Reputation capital: visible track record for innovation. What counts most here is that you have been a founder, rather than a contributor. You may have founded a new process, or built a reputation for innovation by taking on challenging and visible assignments, or by associating with prestigious individuals and getting their support.

    Reputation doesn’t come without favorable exposure. Many business owners I know are obsessed with countering any negative information, but don’t work on getting positive visibility and endorsements. They don’t highlight their scrappiness - their dogged spirit that allows them to get a lot done with a few resources – a great innovation reputation.

  4. Impression amplifiers: actions to get attention and credibility. Most impression amplifiers fall within one of these seven major categories: broadcasting, signaling, storytelling, materializing, committing, comparing, and creating scarcity. Successful innovators use these effectively for the power to influence the behavior of others.

    To amplify your impressions and win support for your ideas, you need to focus on a fundamental human need and make it personal. Elon Musk does this masterfully when he talks about SpaceX going to Mars to assure the future of mankind, and learn about the origins of life. Then he commits that he intends to be among the first to move to Mars.

  5. Innovation leadership: vision, inspiration, attracting talent. Investors and others look for evidence of the virtuous cycle of innovation leadership – a lofty vision attracts better talent, producing better products and memorable customer experiences, attracting key customers, building a stronger brand, which attracts the best talent. The cycle repeats.

    Jeff Weiner of LinkedIn has always talked about the company vision to connect everyone on the planet and to “create economic opportunity for the global workforce of three billion people.” As you create an innovative product, put an equal effort into a compelling vision.

It’s time for all you entrepreneurs and business professionals to take stock of your own situation and decide if you have the innovation capital to win the support you need from bosses, colleagues, partners, and investors, for your next breakthrough idea or invention. If not, now you know the places to start. We need you, and I’m convinced we all win when you win.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 06/07/2019 ***

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Every startup wants to be a predictable success, yet so few ever achieve this enviable position. In reality, getting there is not a random walk, and requires an understanding of the stages that every business must navigate and the organizational characteristics necessary at each stage.

Les McKeown, in his book from a while back, “Predictable Success” outlines these stages and characteristics for any business. He points out, for example, that every business should anticipate the early struggle stage, a possible fun stage, and probably a turbulent whitewater phase, before they can hope for the predictable success stage.

This predictable success stage is defined as a point where you can set and consistently achieve your goals and objectives with a consistent, predictable degree of success. Unlike previous stages, where you may not know how or why you have survived, you now know why you are successful, and can use that information to sustain growth in the long term.

His studies show that companies at this stage show five key characteristics, which I believe every startup should strive to achieve from the very beginning:

  1. Decision making. The ability to readily make and consistently implement decisions. You need a sense of flow – decisions are made without the decision-making process placing a burden on the organization, or the leader. Decision making is delegated and decentralized, freeing management to concentrate on what they can do best, rather than micromanaging others.
  1. Goal setting. The ability to readily set and consistently achieve goals, and really being in control. It has to happen seamlessly, as part of the day-to-day operation of the business, not as the resource-sucking, do-it-at-the-last-minute event that it is in so many organizations. Goals are hit more than missed, and people are willing to take timely, corrective action.
  1. Alignment. Structure, process and people are in harmony. Otherwise, a lot of time and energy is expended by people because they have to manipulate the organization’s processes and/or structure in order to get things done. There is just the right amount of process and structure to efficiently get the job done.
  1. Accountability. Employees become self-accountable, in addition to being externally accountable to others. When empowered to make decisions of genuine import about their own jobs and responsibilities, and given the resources and freedom required, each employee personally buys in to the overall success.
  1. Ownership. Employees take personal responsibility for their actions and outcomes. This results is everyone pulling together, rather than by the manager group constantly “pushing.” There is a deep sense of co-dependency, where managers are dependent on their teams for delivering, and employees are dependent on managers for guidance.

As challenging as it may seem to achieve these characteristics in your business, the bigger challenge is to retain them for the long haul. Many businesses slowly slide into a treadmill stage, where they become over-systematized, or on toward the big rut where creativity disappears (“the way we have always done thing”), on into the death rattle, where the market moves faster than the company.

As a startup, you need to walk before you can run. That means starting early to practice and implement the techniques that will lead to predictable success. Remember that the lynchpin of the entire framework comes down to your own personal ownership and self-accountability. There is no room here for excuses or half-way efforts.

Marty Zwilling

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If you are a business professional or owner today, success is more and more about relationships. People relationships are the key to career growth, more than results, and customer relationships build brands, rather than the other way around. In this era of communication overload with many misleading messages, we have learned to count first on the people we know well, even virtually.

In fact, I believe that for all of us, relationships are our most important asset. Yet I find in my business advisory activities that busy entrepreneurs and professionals, especially the introverts like me, find it hard to spend the necessary time networking and nurturing the relationships they need to get ahead. The result is slow growth, frustration, and exhaustion, rather than success.

I recently saw some real insight on the barriers to building relationships, and how to get around them, in a new book, “Success Is in Your Sphere,” by Zvi Band. He has a proven track record, despite being an introvert himself, of building and managing relationship-oriented businesses and tools, and is now a well-recognized speaker and writer on this subject.

Here is a summary of the barriers we both still see all too often in the business world, with some thoughts on how to overcome them:

  1. Many fear human limits in number of relationships. It’s true, we all have limits on the number of relationships we can manage. According to studies, intimate relationships are limited to about five, but most people can easily handle 50 to 150 or more professional ones, if they work at it. That’s more than enough to put you ahead of your competition.

    In fact, you can get far beyond that number if you take advantage of the tools, process, and technology out there today, such as social media, text messaging, email, customer relationship systems (CRM), and discipline yourself to prioritize relationship building.

  2. Most let existing relationships decay over time. That’s a natural human reaction to accepting new relationships, as required by normal daily activities. The challenge is to continually refresh important old ones, and to proactively add key new ones on a regular basis. Busy business professionals often tell me they are too busy to allow networking.

    I recommend setting aside some time each week for networking, including phone calls to key advisors, lunches, emailing follow-up to contacts, and regular attendance at business and industry events, to reconnect to old relationships, as well as build new ones.

  3. Our social and relationship needs change as we age. The general trend shows an increase in relationship network size during adolescence and young adulthood, but a “continuous decrease” afterward. Many business professionals also feel more confident about their own knowledge and abilities over time, so tend to rely on fewer relationships.

    Don’t forget that the world of business and technology is changing rapidly around you, so the ability to change and keep up is becoming more and more the key to your success. Top business executives, including Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, are always proactively seeking new relationships in areas that are relevant to their business interests.

  4. Good relationships are harder to decipher than ever. First of all, the age of the Internet makes every relationship search a global affair, with thousands of candidates. The good news is the wealth of alternatives; the bad news is the time and effort required to select the right relationship, and then keep it going. Sorting it all out is the challenge.

    Fortunately we have Facebook, Skype, and other social media, with video, voice, and easy travel to help you build and maintain connections, anywhere in the world. Smart professionals use these facilities to hone their perspective, and get the help they need.

  5. Short-term thinking overwhelms long-term value. As humans, we are instinctively wired to prefer short-term gains to long-term benefits. Some of your best potential relationships may take years to bear fruit, which poses a challenge when we’re predisposed to urgent issues rather than long-term strategies and future opportunities.

    My advice in business is to adopt a portfolio strategy for relationships, as you would as an investor in stocks or startups, with the understanding that there will be winners and losers over time, as the world changes. Don’t just invest in the passion of the moment.

The message here is that relationships are your key business asset, and not just an ancillary pleasure or burden. Keep them high on your priority list, and work every one with key tools and discipline. When leveraged properly, relationships can be your most effective sustainable competitive advantage in growing your business or your career. Make the investment today.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 06/03/2019 ***

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If every entrepreneur could predict the future, starting the right new business would be easy. Since my experience and interests have been primarily with technology, I’ve been watching those trends for a long time, and I see rapid change, but predicting impact is a challenge. Recently I’ve changed my focus a bit to people demographics, and I find the implications a bit more concrete.

In fact, I was impressed with the classic book, “Upside: Profiting from the Profound Demographic Shifts Ahead,” by Kenneth Gronbach, which is full of specific facts on demographic changes over the past few years, and what they mean for some of the major business segments out there today. Gronbach is well-known for his generational research and keen forecasting of societal trends.

First, a quick summary of the major U.S. demographic generations out there today, ranked from large to small:

  • Generation Y (Millennials) – 86.6 million, born 1985-2004, biggest business opportunity
  • Generation X (Generation Me) – 82.9 million, born 1965-1984, growing with immigration
  • Baby Boomers (no other name) – 78 million, born 1945-1964, major workforce element
  • Generation Z (Post-millennials) – 40.9 million, born 2005-2024, yet to be defined
  • Silent Generation (Lucky Few) – 28.6 million, born 1925-1944, slowing down rapidly

Outside these societal generations, the people counters are also seeing other major shifts and trends that will have a marked impact on our economy and business, including the following.

  1. Healthcare: An oncoming tidal wave. There is a Baby Boomer and Silent Generation tsunami headed straight for our healthcare system, so opportunities there are endless. That means that starting soon, our doctors, hospitals, eldercare, hospice and even death care systems are going to face unprecedented demand. Technology won’t solve this one.
  1. Autos for drivers: Waning market demand. American’s long love affair with owning and driving a car is over. A recent survey shows that 45 percent of Generation Y, the largest generation ever, consciously seek out alternatives to driving. Here technology is stepping up to the plate with driverless vehicles, resulting in big opportunities all around.
  1. Housing: A shortage looms. In the next ten years, 86 million Gen Y’ers will be moving out of their parents’ homes to start their own families. With 330 million people in the U.S. already, we’ll be at least 25 million homes short, based on the 155 million housing units that exist today. That’s good news for all business segments and the economy.
  1. Shipping and delivery: Strained to the limits. The building of new houses, communities, and infrastructure – as well as the new demand for retail that delivers – will strain trucking and shipping to its limits. As Boomers migrate to the Sunbelt, and everyone orders more online, I can hardly wait for drones to use the sky to help out.
  1. Education: More students and different classes. Everyone is predicting a rise in massive open online courses (MOOC), that will drive the need for new course content, architecture, and delivery approaches. In addition, children from Gen Y will spark a comeback in public school enrollment, and keep traditional colleges in business.
  1. Immigration: Continuing on the rise. Despite recent controversy, we are becoming more and more a nation of immigrants. The Asian population is expected to double by 2050, and Latinos are projected to jump from 17 to 25 percent in the same time frame. These cultures bring a whole new set of needs in food, entertainment, and lifestyle.
  1. Women: On the move. Women professionals are definitely increasing their ranks. There are 60 women to every 40 men in college, and they are entering the world of work in force. They are also moving into more critical leadership positions in both the public and private sector. That brings new business opportunities in fashion, home care, and leisure.

These shifts are independent of technology innovations, but certainly will drive the application of key product developments. Every entrepreneur needs to understand that people and populations drive business opportunities, as well as society. Thus I recommend the study of demographics in determining what business you start, where you start it, as well as how to scale it. Your success may depend on it.

Marty Zwilling

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By definition, most entrepreneurs are thought leaders. They have the ability to recognize a market need, the skills to design and implement a solution, and the drive to start a business from that solution. It all comes from within themselves. A business leader does the same thing and more, through the people around them. Most entrepreneurs are not both.

In reality, a successful startup can be built by a thought leader, but growing a successful business requires a business leader. That’s why venture capital investors often replace startup CEOs as a condition of their scale-up investment. That’s why so many startups plateau after gaining some initial traction, and are run over or acquired by their competition.

Much has been written on this subject, including the classic integration and update of two famous business books by Steve Farber (former partner of Tom Peters), “The Radical Leap Re-Energized”. I like Farber’s highlights of the traits of radical and profound leaders (extreme leaders) as follows:

  1. Cultivate love. Successful leaders model the intensity and energy that it takes to stay ahead competitively and meet ever more ambitious goals. They do this because they love what they do. As they continue to pursue their passion, they remain focused on the contribution made to others and to the surrounding community.
  1. Generate energy. Ask yourself this question – Do I generate more energy when I walk into a room, or when I walk out of it? Do your actions create positive energy for those around you, or are you an “energy vampire,” sucking the life out of your workplace? Hopefully you are the former, and not the latter.
  1. Inspire audacity. This is a bold and blatant disregard for normal constraints. Thinking and acting, “outside the box.” Audacity inspires people to do something really significant and meaningful. It enables them to change the business, the world, and themselves, for the better.
  1. Provide proof. How do we prove to ourselves (and to others) that we are really exercising extreme leadership? The simple answer is “Do What You Say You Will Do” (DWYSYWD). The best leaders achieve their own success by raising the self-esteem of followers. They build credibility by looking for ways to respond to the needs and interests of others.

In this extreme leadership model, leaders aren’t afraid to take risks, make mistakes in front of employees, or actively solicit team feedback. Farber asserts that most of us, at some level, have the innate ability to become a business leader. Getting fully in tune with who you are, and then following your heart, goes a long way towards helping you discover the leader you can become.

Many entrepreneurs who are great thought leaders are unwilling to listen and network. They can’t imagine that their vision for the business can be improved, or even implemented by others. They don’t hire people until it’s too late, because no one else can do the job up to their standards, or with their commitment. At best, they hire “helpers” rather than help, and are too busy to train the helpers.

Obviously some people who call themselves business leaders are only posing. They wear the label and assert the title without putting their own skin in the game. The best leaders approach the act of leadership as an extreme sport, and they love the fear and exhilaration that naturally comes with the territory.

Business leadership is not a solo act. Real leaders accept the job of recruiting, cultivating, and developing other leaders as priority one, as well leading on the thought side. Learning to be both a thought leader and a business leader can make you great. Elon Musk has long been a thought leader, but more recently has shown promise on the business leader side. Where are you along the spectrum?

Marty Zwilling

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If your startup is looking for an angel investor, it makes sense to present your plan to flocks of angels, and assume that at least one will swoop down and scoop you up. Or does it? Actually numbers and locations are just the beginning. The challenge is to find the right angel for you, and for your situation. Here are some basic principles:

  • Angels invest in people, more often than they invest in ideas. That means they need to know you, or someone they trust who does know you (warm introduction). For credibility, they need to know you BEFORE you are asking for money.
  • Angel investors are people too. Investors expect you to understand their motivation, respect their time, and show your integrity in all actions. They probably won’t respond well to high pressure sales tactics, information overload, or bribes.
  • Angels like to “touch and feel” their investments, so they are generally only interested in local opportunities. It won’t help your case or your workload to do an email blast and follow-up with 250,000 members around the world.

But now to answer one of the most common questions I get “How do I find angel investors?” With today’s access to the Internet, and Google searches, it really isn’t that hard. Here are the largest flocks:

  1. Gust (formerly AngelSoft). This is perhaps the most widely-used source of information on angel investor groups across the world, run by the “Father of Angel Investing in New York,” David Rose. This software platform is used by many local angel organizations for managing deal flow.

    Gust claims to have facilitated over $1 billion of investments in 650,000 startups to date, via connection through their platform to over 80,000 angel investors in 190 countries. As an entrepreneur, you simply use their investor search engine to find appropriate investors for your business according to location, industry interest, and other relevant criteria.

  1. AngelList. This is another very popular website for raising equity or debt investments for startups. It was founded back in 2010 by Naval Ravikant and Babak Nivi of Venture Hacks, which is also a great place to visit for startup advice.

    AngelList has featured over 3 million businesses for potential investors in a format that is, effectively, a social network for entrepreneurs and angels. They claim to have already raised over $560 million for 1400 startups, primarily in the US and Europe. In addition, they serve as a jobs available site for 24,000 startups.

  1. Keiretsu Forum. This one claims to be the world’s largest single angel investor network, with 3000 accredited investor members throughout 53 chapters on 3 continents. Since its founding in 2000, its members have invested over $800 million dollars in over 800 companies in technology, consumer products, healthcare/life sciences, real estate and other segments with high growth potential.

    The Founding Chapter is in Silicon Valley, California, (naturally). A caveat is that this is a for-profit organization, so fees to present may be significant.

  1. USA Angel Investment Network. This group claims to be the largest angel investment community in the world. They have already raised $300 million for startups in the US and across the world. A caveat is that this network doesn’t offer a personal touch, as it only facilitates the exchange of contact information, so the matchmaking is left up to you.

    The reach is very broad, with a network has 30 branches extending to 80 different countries. They have over 1,000,000 registered members with over 200,000 investors and 650,000 entrepreneurs.

  1. Angel Capital Association (ACA). The ACA is the angel industry alliance, which now includes a directory to more than 275 angel groups and 14,000 individual angels across North America. ACA member angel groups represent a wealth of accredited investors and are funding approximately 800 new companies each year, and managing an ongoing portfolio of more than 5,000 companies throughout North America.

Of course, there are many more angel investors, often called “super angels,” that have a large following and large reach, so they don’t need any of these organizations to be found. Examples of some leaders in this space include Ron Conway, Mike Maples, Jr., and the founder of 500 Startups, Dave McClure. Connecting with one of these would be a real coup for your startup.

My real message is that the best angel you can find is a local high net-worth individual, with whom you or your advisors have an established prior relationship. So get out there and network, and you can be one of the lucky ones who is touched by an angel without having to go through hell first. If none of these will touch your startup, maybe it’s time to look again, in the mirror.

Marty Zwilling

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Much has been written recently about the requirement to focus today on the total customer experience, as a competitive edge or even for survival. Traditionally, you just worried about the quality of the sales transaction (price, speed, service), but the “customer experience” now includes ease of pre-sale shopping, post-sale support, with a connected relationship throughout.

The challenge I hear from savvy business owners and entrepreneurs operating on a shoestring is that providing a superior customer experience costs money. They are rightfully looking for some new business models and improvements in operational efficiency to provide them with a win-win connected strategy, where the customer becomes their advocate, while growth and profits soar.

I had some ideas on how to do this, but I was pleased with the insights to a connected strategy that were pulled together in a new book, “Connected Strategy,” by Nicolaj Siggelkow and Christian Terwiesch, professors at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. They highlight several key pathways for turning customer transactions into connected relationships:

  1. Recognize and respond quickly to customer desires. In terms of the customer experience, your challenge today is to minimize all friction from the moment a customer desires a product or service, to the moment he receives it. You want that customer to be delighted by the overall experience, rather than remember the many steps and the pain.

    Amazon does this by being the “go-to” place for almost anything, showing you options you like by knowing you and your past purchases, quickly listing comparable items by price and features, allowing you to order with only one keystroke, and delivering the item to your door very quickly, potentially (in the future) even before you ordered it.

    Uber and Lyft make hailing a ride an instant process, which you can see and track with no effort, and pay for without struggling with your credit card or cash. Alexa can order pizza or play your favorite song, just like an assistant, rather than a business transaction.

  2. Delight customers with personally tailored options. This business model recognizes that customers might not know exactly what they want, or they may not know exactly where to go to get what they need. Many, like me, would prefer that someone else do the shopping for them, and present them with the best choices currently available.

    Expedia and Travelocity do this by checking all the ways you can get from one city to another, with current prices, including connections to rental cars and hotels when you get there. Netflix suggests comedies based on your unique previous choices, and Blue Apron will deliver you a meal-kit based on your interest in health, fun, or variety.

  3. Provide useful prompting to prevent future pain. In many cases, customers would be delighted to be coached on upcoming needs, such as time to reorder medication or printer ink, before the crisis, with the option of getting the solution with a single click. This can save them grief, as well as reduce your own marketing and sales costs.

    The latest Apple Watch utilizes this strategy by continually monitoring your heart rhythm, as well as other fitness indicators, with coaching to you on maintaining your health. This obviously helps Apple sell their watch at a premium, as well as assuring loyal customers.

  4. Anticipate and meet customer needs not yet realized. Automatic execution of business transactions in anticipation of a customer need is still not common, but it’s easy to see the potential with the sensors on so many devices now being connected to the Internet (IoT). Soon your refrigerator may order more milk or bread when stock is low.

    Amazon already has a patent to automatically ship you other items of interest, without prompting, based on your prior order and usage patterns (returns are free and simple). The latest wave of medical alert sensors for seniors, like Medical Alert™, will automatically call an ambulance for you after a fall without even pressing a button.

A key point you should take from these insights is that connections and relationships these days don’t necessarily require more people and cost to your business. Current generations of customers are perfectly happy with virtual relationships, and new low-cost learning technology is setting a new bar at predicting customer desires and needs.

Thus, with a connected strategy and smart software, you can indeed improve your customer’s experience, and reduce your costs at the same time. That’s a win-win we can all live with.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 05/28/2019 ***

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