Internet Retailer regularly finds stories and information that impact our clients in B2C retailing.
The site is a bit thin on free data, but they do offer a relatively inexpensive guide to technology providers ($49) and some interesting profiles of top on-line or multi-channel retailers.
More about Internet Retailer…
My favorite business models right now are the ones that really focus on a limited set of operations, chosen for a unique aggregating of external resources. That may be hard to visualize, initially, but this article from the Washington Post describes the phenomenon very well, including how technology has made it all that much more effective and agile.
It is relatively well known that GE, under Jack Welch and otherwise, has institutionalized the practice of outsourcing those operations that are not core to their offering. This changes constantly, based partly on what services are available or the logistics of accessing them or many other factors.
With consumer products, the engaged opinion of consumers should always be part of the product life-cycle. The internet provides nearly infinite opportunity to facilitate opinions from as diverse a consumer base as you wish to contact. There is no longer an excuse not to test market a product, or atleast aspects of a prouct, before burning resources on manufacturing or procurement. I have yet to come upon an example where consumers were engaged for their opinions and it backfired entirely. You may not want to publicize all your internet opinions because, honestly, some people are just crazy. Some demographic groups have crazy opinions that only get more balkanized by the oppurtunity to bash something (mob mentality translates all too well to the internet).
Read the article…
HR is nor my specialty, but it is a crucial part of any growing business. I don’t like talking about how to retain people because, in my crusty opinion, if you hire well and are mindful of the culture of the company, people will stay. Problem employees are usually either bad hires (not neccesarily bad people) or great hires in bad situations.
I think you can learn half of everything you need to know about who to hire by reading Jim Collin’s Good to Great. Resume’s, as far as I’ve have seen, can help you weed out people who are clearly inappropriate for a position but, even in this task, I suggest caution. 60% of all people hired find their position based on some personal connection. Part of this is nepotism, but just as often it is really based on persoanl endorsement. I have worked for clients in market segments where I had no previous knowledge, by their definition, and where my resume would have led them to believe I could not be helpful…BUT I was. I get excited about learning new markets and I’m very good a figuring out what I don’t know…and then learning it. Even if I have a strong background in a business model or market segment, I follow many of the same processes to achieve a victory. Ultimately, people hire me because they believe I can bring them a victory (what ever shape that may take). My resume shows that I have had victories (√) but referals are what brings in new clients.
The most common mistake I see is when people try to hire expertise. Expertise is fine and all but we tend to want to hire expertise in an area where we don’t have expertise…which makes it a bit challenging to recognize. There are a number of tests that can now be given to potential new employees to see if they are a good match for a position…but they tend to rely on you already having someone successful in the position to compare to….and the test look more for personality traits than anything you would put on a resume. Industrial Engineers who administer these tests tell me that the reason for this is that the context of a position tends to overshadow the task-oriented aspect of most positions. Being a successfull salesperson in one company doesn’t mean you’ll be a successful employee in another. The impact of the sales program and the nature of the leadership and the personalities that end up in sales support, etc. end up being the driving factors that determine how well the salesperson performs. I have seen this play out far too many times.
My favorite story around this topic comes from a Packy Highland, Jr. I saw him speak to a crowd of entrepreneurs in a town not known for entrepreneurship. The average age in the audience was mid 50s. Packy was in his mid 20s. Packy was already a very successful entrepreneur growing his OnBase product. During Packy’s presentation he mentioned some statistics about the technical certifications of his staff that were very impressive. He talked about how important this stat was to the company’s success. During Q&A someone asked where he found all those highly trained people. Packy said, “We hire people, not certifications. Most of these people didn’t have these credentials when they arrived.”
When asked if he was nervous about training people that leave once they are more valuable he said, “If people are leaving because they don’t feel properly valued and appreciated, then we have bigger problems than employee retention.”
Most of our projects end up requiring us to manage a bunch of data. Usually that data includes the need for entry forms and reports. For our start-up clients, in particular, this is where the projects can get bogged down or the costs become troublesome. Luckily, it has never been easier to collect and manage data, even for the non-technical worker, even for little or no money.
This article from Network World offers an announcement that IBM has joined Oracle and others in offering free on-line app building tools that are aimed at enabling the non-technical user.
Customer lists, data that’s manipulated for an event, data that needs to be shared by a bunch of people…none of this belongs in a speadsheet on someone’s desktop. Wrong information is much worse than no information and sharing files always [ ALWAYS ] leads to version errors (Is this the latest version? Does this copy have those important changes in it?).
These tools make it easier and give your operation a professional boost. It’s worth spending a few minutes to learn the interface.
IBM alphaWorks tools site
No matter how much you don’t like monopolies, it is hard to question the wisdom of owning Microsoft Office…except that there are some prettty decent alternatives.
Internally, we have taken to using OpenOffice. With version 2.2 nearly all of the quirkiness that made it “not ready for your Mom” is gone and all of the functionality that we commonly rely on in that product from Redmond is there.
We test everything we can get our hands on, but the thing we are most excited about is Google Docs.
Not only can you build robust documents, but you can also collaborate on the documents with other users.
Documents are saved remotely and can be exported in a wide range of formats.
We are also very interested in the launch of Scrybe. Watch for details.
A basic website includes both Domain Registration and Hosting. Anymore, nearly everbody offers both in one form or another.
1&1: Very large, low-cost hosting, email and other services firm. Very scalable offerings and lots of extras to make it easy to get started. This is the host for this website. Click here for more information.
Disclosure: BizDevGuy is an affiliate of 1&1 so we make a few coins when we sign-up new clients. It isn’t enough, though, to make it worth sending our clients to the wrong place.
Guy Kawasaki is both an exceptional entrepreneur and an exceptional supporter of entrepreneurs. Rather than the hazing that much of the VC game feels like, Garage has put together some excellent resources for people looking to pitch them. This support includes both clear guidance on how to develop documents that they can easily parse and exacting detail on what sort of deals they are looking for.
I must say, however, that their approach is quintessentially West Coast. I have worked on both coasts (and some difficult years in the middle) and, for me, the differences in expectations and approaches are dramatically different.
I will post an East Coast comp soon.
Most BizDevGuy clients get introduced to BackPackIt, a very inexpensive collaboration utility that is free to our clients (unless they want to create their own pages.). As a central repository for to do lists, notes, files, graphics and a number of other collaboration tools, it does a lot of the heavy lifting while remaining simple to use. BackPackIt is a product of 37Signals, the makers of BaseCamp and other very inexpensive collaboration tools.
The interface is quite intuitive but not quite WYSIWYG, but for about $5/month you get a lot of functionality that continues to expand as the folks at 37signals keep getting smarter.
I found this post by Joe Colopy of Bronto Software titled, The Risk Takers at Phi Beta Kappa.
A favorite excert:
If you want to continue your habit of excellence after graduation, you will have to learn how to take risks—and to fail more often than you’re used to.
It can be difficult for people of exceptional academic accomplishment to transition to accomplishment in business. Quite often academic accomplishment occurs with well defined ends, goals, and requirements. Some corporate jobs are equally well-defined, but innovation and entrepreurship are not. When I am working with a new client, I always begin with a definition of goals and a healthy session about being open to changing them. IN my experience Entrepreneurs with do not have a full enough definition of a goal to make it easy to break it down into tasks and success metrics (so they know what they should spend their limited time on and if it is working) or they are so hell bent on a stated goal (with lots of limiting context) that they can’t maneuver into what will acttually work.
Entrepreneurship is more like experimentation than like studying for a test.