85 and Counting: Golden Circle – A Differentiator?

In the modern world of business, it is useless to be a creative, original thinker unless you can also sell what you create. – David Ogilvy

Just a quick thought provoking video that one of my business partners sent me…

Is there a common thread amongst the best of the best? Apple is a computer company… IBM is a computer computer company… they all have the same resources and access to talent. Why is one wildly successful? Why did people follow MLK?

Filmed in 2009, Simon Sinek gives a Ted Talk that is really interesting and relative… almost gives a new perspective on how (why) to run a business, how (why) to connect with customers…

Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action TED


“Sell to people who believe what you believe” and “if you do they will take your cause and make it their own, for themselves, not for you”…

What did you get out of it?

 

Have a creative and productive day,
Brandon Larson
conceive.create.repeat

86 and Counting: Insight from Dave Berkus

“Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.” Chinese Proverb

Today I snuck out for a long lunch to attend a talk given by Dave Berkus on the “Secrets to Becoming a Successful Entrepreneur”. This event was hosted by SCORE, a non-profit that gives free expert business counseling. I’ve reached out to SCORE mentors in the past with great success and thought this talk would be in alignment with my journey. Couldn’t have planned the timing any better really.

Of course… there are no “secrets” to becoming successful. If that were the case, anyone could just listen in on the “secrets” and like magic have success! At the very least… it is a catchy marketing technique for a presentation with some good outlines to get started.

Dave, a man with an extraordinary history, captivated the audience with his stories and tips. There were a few take-aways that made the trip worth it for me and I felt the information overall would be great to share here. Without further delay… some notes from Dave’s talk. The notes are pretty high level so further research should be done on topics of interest.

Dave began by explaining that there are 5 categories of attention for growing a great company: Money, Time, Relationships, Process, and Context. All of these really work in harmony with each other, as you’ll see below.

Money:

  • Be sure to never run out of it! Sounds simple, but is often overlooked. There is a lot of planning needed to ensure you don’t. Be sure to track money well!
  • Demand Pull vs Cost Push – when you go out and buy customers or spend lots of money to obtain customers (like buying up all the google adwords or SEO keywords) you are pushing costs to get them. Dave said that this usually leads to lower returns and doesn’t know of a company yet that makes as much as they could via Cost Push. Demand Pull on the other hand is putting money to gain customers in many smaller niches, finding the seedling customer/clients that will grow your company with greater reward. With Cost Push there is little loyalty as the just stumbled across you online (etc). With Demand Pull you are forming the relationships with your customers such that they will tell others about you and are more likely to give you repeat business.
  • Always know your cost to get a customer. It will vary on what approach you take.
  • Never use short term borrowing to pay long term debt
  • Growth always requires more cash
  • Discipline yourself to know cash forecasts – track payroll, recurring charges about 13 weeks out – 90 day planning.
  • Remember the A-M-D for making money
  • Accumulate – product lines and breadth of service
  • Marketing – have experts and maintain diligent use of resources
  • Distribution – find ways to add new channels while reinforcing relationships

Time:

  • There is never enough
  • Focus on what is important to the business – use Vision Statements to guide what you spend time on
  • Think of the costs of quality early. Cost isn’t always money. A quality mistake can set you back months or years. My grandpa used to say “There is never enough time to do it right the first time, but there is always time to do it a second time”
  • Manage your time like you would your money and avoid “Time Bankruptcy”

Relationships:

  • Always have Board Members or an Advisory Board. A good start is 5-6 people comprised of you, an outside investor, a senior internal person, another investor, and anyone that fills the gaps in your knowledge. You have to be honest with yourself and what you lack – then fix the situation! Dave says that Board Members typically get 1% of your business (in stock options) over a 4 year period and you’ll want to meet with them about once a month for 2-4 hours.
  • It’s CRAZY not to take advantage or people who can and want to help you. Even in the Board Member example – you are getting expert advice and aid for little to nothing in terms of the value they can provide.
  • Leverage your contacts correctly and ALWAYS follow through. If you are connected with someone else through a contact – meet them at the very least. They may not work out, but you followed through and that earns you respect and grows your relationships.
  • Personal note: I used to think I could take over the world myself. I tried many things and failed repeatedly. Once I realized that I could leverage my partners, my friends, my mentors, etc – my knowledge base grew exponentially today I’m almost always able to find what I need to move forward. Always look for A-players though. They are very hard to find, but will make your life so easy.

Process:

  • This is the plan you use to get from here to there (safely).
  • It’s the only way you can actually get more time. Compress the process – you save time. Learn from others on how to compress the process.
  • Always look for the bottleneck in your process. It could be a “what” a “where” or even a “who”.
  • Can your process be a competitive advantage? Is this a differentiator between you and a competitor?
  • Sales Process (three simple questions to keep in mind)
  • Why buy IT? You need a concise answer to this. Why is IT needed?
  • Why buy MINE? Convince why you are better than the rest, again be concise. This will work better if you hit pressure points such as saving time or money. Would you buy 15 minute abs or 6 min abs?
  • Why buy NOW? What is the sense of urgency.

Dave believes that the days of the elevator pitch are over. You need to be able to give your pitch in a few sentences. Your Company Mission and Vision (concise), followed by the three points in the Sales Process. – Pitch done. Get to know that process!

Context:

  • All of these categories have to be taken in the context in which you are working.
  • Where is the market? Are you rowing against the current? Are you too soon or too late?
  • Context helps with Pricing Strategy – “Where there is Mystery there is Margin”. Think about it… that’s a pretty good one.

 Lastly, Dave covered some of his “Berkonomics”. Here are a few take-aways:

  • Be flexible, be coachable. If you can’t dodge the bullets that will come, you’ll likely drop dead. Ego has little place on the road to success.
  • Vision is everything! – what you want to do must be very clear and actionable. For Snapden, we want to be the first nationally branded photo booth company and recognized supplier. Short, sweet, to the point and really helps guide decisions.
  • These days… Fewer Words have Greater Effect
  • Roadmap to a Plan: Mission –> Vision –> Strategy –> Tactics. (It’s actually as simple as that… mostly… sort of…)
  • Market knowledge comes FIRST.
  • Always aim to greatly exceed customer expectations
  • Surround yourself with great talent (A-players)
  • You guide the culture, but the first few hires set the culture
  • Reward as well as you can (offer equity or profit sharing if you can’t afford extra pay)
  • Everyone will have opinions and some will change your mind, but at the end of the day, you’ll have to do it your own way.

And one last take-away – which I found particularly interesting in its simplicity:

Five Risks to Address to Increase Valuation:

1. Product (in use > prototype)
2. Market (established market with proven niche or claims is best)
3. Management (proven history with the right people, team, and experts goes far)
4. Financials (having the documentation to show you’ll at least break even is favorable)
5. Competition (clearly know and be able to state what you do better – concisely)

————————————————–

If you’d like to learn more, I’m sure Mr. Berkus wouldn’t oppose you purchasing one of his books found here.

Have a creative and productive day,
Brandon Larson
conceive.create.repeat

 

87 and Counting: The Importance of Listening

“Effective listeners remember that “words have no meaning – people have meaning.” The assignment of meaning to a term is an internal process; meaning comes from inside us. And although our experiences, knowledge and attitudes differ, we often misinterpret each others’ messages while under the illusion that a common understanding has been achieved.” – Larry Barker

Today I participated in a test-run of a workshop on Active Listening. I was requested to attend to provide feedback on the overall flow and content of the learning module before it is released across the company. The idea was to compact key information on active/effective listening into a 20-30min block that can be spread around. It really got me thinking about how important the ability to really listen is, especially to the entrepreneur or leader aiming to create successful teams, networks, and relationships.

You’ve been there, well all have… “listening” to someone while your thoughts wander, or planning your response, waiting for them to shut it so you can speak about yourself or make your point. We’ve all fidgeted, gotten distracted, looked away, or played with the phone! Why is this? We know how to talk. We know how to hear. Those are easy. We can spend time, practice, and become good at talking with a purpose, or communicating. So why is listening such a big deal?

It appears that when we think about listening, we tend to assume it is basically the same as hearing, giving the impression that effective listening is instinctive. It is not and this line of thinking does nothing more than create all sorts of unnecessary problems: misunderstandings, hurt feelings, confused instructions, loss of important information, embarrassment, and frustration.

Effective listening is active listening. Listening is a learned skill that requires energy and discipline. When you really listen, you take in information from a speaker (be it in a meeting, in an auditorium, or across the table from you at lunch), without judgment, acknowledging the speaker with the goal of inviting more conversation/communication, while providing limited but encouraging input to help carry the speakers idea to the next point. I’ve heard it takes two to tango – seems that’s a great analogy for communication. You need both the speaker and the listener and the quality of the communication is dependent on the performance of those involved!

“The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.” – Ralph Nichols

Why is this just as good a skill to have for the entrepreneur or leader? Much of your life is filled with verbal communication. Good listening skills allow the other person to feel acknowledged and appreciated which tends to create an environment of trust, a sense of belonging, and a more positive interaction. If you create this environment for others, they are likely to more openly suggest ideas and share thoughts. You also earn respect. What leader or game changer or organizer or mentor or entrepreneur would not want this?

Of course there is another side of the coin – the other part of the tango. Effective listening involves not only tuning in to others, but tuning in to ourselves. Listening carefully to what we say and how we say it can teach us an immense amount about ourselves and also allow us to connect with others more effectively.

I’ve seen a model I like that classifies four categories/styles of listeners. There is the Director, Thinker, Relator, and Socializer. (read more about that here)

When communicating with a group of listeners you can often use subtle cues to keep them all interested and speak in ways that find their ears.  For meetings or public speaking situations, I always research my audience, prepare my speaking points to hit the four styles, and then I trust my gut to allow me to flow in and out of the agenda while staying on track. It does take practice though. The way that I personally hit the four styles is by presenting a quick to the point statement, then present the detailed information on that statement, then present an analogy of the statement (fun, funny, or personal), and finally a quick summary with a slight rewording. I may have said my point 3-4 ways, but this helps ensure that what I said was heard and understood.

It seems that good communication really starts with good listening.

 Are you a good listener? If you don’t know – try this assessment and find areas with opportunity to improve.

“Man’s inability to communicate is a result of his failure to listen effectively.”
– Carl Rogers

Have a creative and productive day,
Brandon Larson
conceive.create.repeat

89 and Counting: Breakthrough Weekend

“The diamond cannot be polished without friction, nor the man perfected without trials.” Chinese Proverb

Well I still count today as Day 89, but only because I have not had the pleasure of going to sleep yet… although my dog seems very content curled in a ball under my desk snoring loudly.

This weekend my two Snapden business partners, Kalvis and Rob, flew into town for our 90 day look ahead strategy and planning meeting. We all live in different cities, meet everything 3 months, and somehow work very well together in building, developing, and growing our business. Believe it or not, but it is actually very hard to find people who have the fire and drive to go through the real trials and tribulations of starting a business from nothing more than an idea. Sometimes you have to look outside your local area… sometimes across country. It’s taken a while to perfect our system of operating across the great divide, but these days we are a well oiled machine. It goes to show you that opportunity really does exist everywhere if you are open to it.

It’s always a treat to get together in person because we tend to have wildly inspiring and productive planning meetings. In the earlier phases of this endeavor, it was all about brainstorming strategies, designing our products, and really getting completely no holds creative for the typical 48 hour period. We eat, sleep, and breath business development all weekend, learning from and teach each other and making decisions, not just creating ideas. Action is the name of the game!

This time it was as exciting as always. My living room was rearranged, large sheets of paper plastered the walls, and the hum of laptops and scribbling on pads of paper mixed with the sounds of the light rain falling on the roof.  We passed two HUGE milestones in the last few weeks (details to be released soon) and our meeting focused squarely on the executable plan and strategy to really makes moves over the next 90 days. This is going to get very exciting. This will also be very demanding! It’s hard work chasing dreams, but it sure is fun.

“Find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Confucius

Planning Abounds
Planning Abounds – three guys in a room planning the future

 

Have a creative and productive day,
Brandon Larson
conceive.create.repeat

92 and Counting: Planning

“Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Chinese Proverb

I wrote a bit about “Why 100 days” here, but have had a few “well if you are going to do it, why delay, just quit now!” conversations and thought I would add a little more about why plans are so important. Really – as sexy as spontaneity seems, it’s not always the wise thing to do.

Let’s start small. If you were going to go camping, would you just jump in the car and go or would you at least pack a tent and sleeping bag first? Would you check the weather to see what weather gear you might need? If going to a National Park to camp would you drive there without checking their reservations first?

Let’s take this a little further. If you were going to do something you cared about, something that might involve some financial risk, let’s say – build a large scale radio controlled model airplane or create an art project… do you just go to the store and buy random supplies and start hours after you had the thought or do you put some planning and research into it?

From my personal observations – anything that involves risk and is something one truly cares about, the likelihood of planning goes up. As planning goes up, potential for success also increases. It makes me think of the following quote:

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

I couldn’t agree more. It’s the act of planning that gets you on the path to success, not always the plan.

Over the next 100 days I am focusing on growing myself and my ventures such that the transition is smooth – a great challenge that I am excited about. During this period of time I am reading books, working on my side projects (we’ll get into these soon), making new contacts, and getting into new habits which will help myself as I venture out on my own.

Coincidentally, I’m currently re-reading the book: The Art of the Start: The Time-Tested, Battle-Hardened Guide for Anyone Starting Anything by Guy Kawasaki. (Get it. Read it.)

I’ve got a white board in my room. Stuff goes on the white board. The white boards gets 10 mins of my attention a day. Some stuff moves around, some stuff stays the same. Stuff gets added, stuff gets erased. Either way, the whiteboard (and my smartphone to an extent) is the keeper of my plans and reminds me to stay on track.

To keep this short and sweet – to me, planning is a no-brainer. It has to be done to some extent. My extent: 100 days. Don’t get me wrong – spontaneity can be fun, but it has a time and place. Right now is the time and place to plan and plot.

What are your thoughts on planning? Can you really be successful with just blind ambition?

 

Have a creative and productive day,
Brandon Larson
conceive.create.repeat

93 and Counting: Contests Top Off the Creative Fuel Tank

“Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort.”              – Franklin D. Roosevelt

I love online contests – especially the ones where you have to use your brain vs just building someones email list. I’ve won GoPro cameras, trips, surfboards, concert tickets, DVDs, and lots more by submitting creative content to online contests that interest me. I’ve got a pretty good formula for submissions – maybe I’ll share it sometime :-p

But holy mother of all contests. I’ve been obsessed with this Facebook contest from the energy drink company Red Bull. Seems they are one of the beta businesses to get the new Timeline layout. They are being really creative with it and also diabolical in terms of how you solve the puzzle.

The cool thing – I just became the first person in the US to solve it – so I think I won a snowboard or something.

Check out their facebook page for details – you can still play for other prizes.
https://www.facebook.com/redbull 

Red Bull Timewarp

The point of this post:
Be sure to have a creative outlet that you can tap into regularly.

UPDATE:

Thanks Red Bull!

 

“The best way to get a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.” – Linus Pauling

Have a creative and productive day,
Brandon Larson
conceive.create.repeat

94 and Counting: Find Focus

Writing a blog is not a trivial thing. It’s only been 5 days and it has fully hit me. My goal is to update every 2-3 days. At day 4, there is no excuse, I need to do better. This got me thinking about focus.

My favorite quote is from the late Randy Pausch. Read about him here. It not only sums up focus in the most simple way, but it also has great time management implications (a topic for another day).

Focus on the things that matter, and not on the things that don’t.

Pretty straight forward, right? Well only if you know what matters. What matters to you, what matters in your life, what matters to your happiness… You really have to step back, take a deep breath, and think very introspectively, almost selfishly, about you and your life and the things you are passionate about or have meaning. What did you find?

Don’t worry if the answers didn’t come to you right away – it can take years to figure out what makes you tick. It’s a level of self awareness that can be difficult to obtain. Some people never figure it out. Don’t worry – just be true to yourself and your convictions and you will find it. Once you do, apply the quote. Let it help with your decision making. Simpler words have yet to wield this much power in guiding passion. If it is in-line with what matters  to you – focus on it, exert energy on it, overcome barriers and hurdles (fears?) but you have to pursue it. If it does not fall into this category – it’s a lower priority. Don’t be shy from keeping a focus list either – sometimes writing down what matters is the best reminder.

Over the last few days (delaying my updates) I’ve had laser focus on the things that matter. I’ve been tending to the irons in the fire (more on these projects soon) and working hard to create and grow a business. I’ve been spending time with my wife, who is leaving for Italy in two weeks. I’ve had less sleep than usual, but with a sense of happy exhaustion – I don’t think I could have more joy in my sense of focus at the moment.

Oh… and to conclude, this blog matters to me so it is now consciously on my focus list now! Lesson learned!

What’s your focus? and are you being true to it?

96 and Counting: Why be an Entrepreneur?

Entrepreneurship is the last refuge of the trouble making individual.
– Natalie Clifford Barney

What they say…

The dictionary defines an entrepreneur as a person who organizes and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk or a person who is willing to help launch a new venture or enterprise and accept full responsibility for the outcome.

Building on that… what about Entrepreneurship? I like the definition here:

Entrepreneurship is more than simply “starting a business.”  The definition of entrepreneurship is a process through which individuals identify opportunities, allocate resources, and create value.  This creation of value is often through the identification of unmet needs or through the identification of opportunities for change.

Entrepreneurs see “problems” as “opportunities,” then take action to identify the solutions to those problems and the customers who will pay to have those problems solved.

Entrepreneurial success is simply a function of the ability of an entrepreneur to see these opportunities in the marketplace, initiate change (or take advantage of change) and create value through solutions.

 

What I say…

In January of 2011, I turned 30. I knew it would be a good year. My mother sent me a card that revealed that her and my father (no surprise – they both own small businesses), had great vision, direction, realization, and motivation in their 30th year. For whatever reason I felt this as well. I felt a great clarity in my thinking and knew that 2011 would be the year to make entrepreneurial moves.

When I graduated from college, I was 25 and I had ambitions of starting my own venture(s), but the distractions of life after college and the fast approaching first student loan payment guided me to a great job at a Fortune 50 company in California. I was very excited. I had convinced myself that I could be IN-trepreneurial (entrepreneurship with-IN the company). It worked for 5 years as I sought out and involved myself in as many aspects of business and engineering as I could. I even found myself working on a small R&D team operating on the rogue outskirts of company policy, developing technologies that I once dreamed of as a young boy reading Popular Mechanics. It was exciting, but there was an itch I couldn’t scratch.

There was a creative and idea rich side of me that was painfully trying to be heard, but the constraints of a large organization made change difficult. In my 30th year I began diverting my efforts outward. I began networking, I began finding like minded people, I began starting projects and vetting ideas, I began building small teams to work on these projects with me. I began the aggressive pursuit of information. I dedicated a year to this. I felt like an entrepreneur and it felt great!

In my 30th year, I built a foundation for myself. In my 31st year – I will stop chasing my dream – I will catch my dream. I’m giving myself a hard deadline of 100 days from March 14th, 2012 to catch a dream. On June 21st, 2012 – I will leave a stable six figure salary job to completely focus on my entrepreneurial endeavors.

Without risk – there is no room for opportunity.

97 and Counting: The Man on the Journey

“I’m sick of chasing my dreams, I’m just gonna ask them where they’re going and hook up with them later” – Mitch Hedberg (comedian)

Some Background…

Hi – I’m Brandon… I was born in Alaska, raised in Louisiana. I currently live in California.

When I was a kid I remember being asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. For some time the answer was either 1) a dinosaur or 2) that I wanted to “build things”. One sad winter day I realized one of those two things wasn’t going to happen; since then I’ve focused on the life shaping strong desire to “build things”. As I went through high school this manifested into a passion for learning and a love for all things science. After high school, I studied physics at a liberal arts college (Centenary College of Louisiana), then onto mechanical engineering (Washington University in St. Louis) – a logical route to “build things”.

I also learned that the desire to “build things” has many meanings. From age 16 to now (31), I have helped build interest in education working as a demonstration designer for a few science centers; I have helped build an understanding of the sciences as a 6th grade science teacher; I have helped build confidence and skill as a lacrosse coach; I have helped build leadership as a mentor. Today I’m still helping to build things as a design engineer with a leading aerospace company. I still prioritize “building things” and take every opportunity to meet people, travel, read, educate and expose myself to new opportunities whenever they arise.

What drives me…

There is something inside of me that really burns hot when I solve a difficult problem, when I have 100 ideas, when I make connections in my mind that seem new and fresh, when I feel creative, when I produce something that others enjoy, when I figure out a way to do something better, when I add value to something, when I am inspired, when I help inspire others, when I meet fascinating people, when I risk it and succeed. All of these and more light a fire in my soul and give my life purpose. These are the unquenchable fires that draw me to venturing out on my own. When I feel constrained and limited in carrying out these passions, I feel caged and deprived of the oxygen that fuels the fire. Entrepreneurship is the answer.

Want to know more?

Follow this blog. I’d love to get to know each other over the next 100 days.

You can also try me on:
Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/ConcvCre8Repeat

Brandon Larson - Conceive.Create.Repeat.

Dinosaur Desires

98 and Counting: Aren’t You Scared?

I’ve had quit a few emails the last two days, mostly along the lines of “go get em!”, “congrats!” or “wow you have huge balls”… wait can I say that?

I have also had a few asking why I would do something so risky – leave a good job, “in this economy”, to go exploring without a sure thing! Scary, right?

Well. No.

To me…
Risk = Opportunity
Failure = Opportunity
Obstacles = Opportunity

There is always… ALWAYS a positive side to every experience and if you know how to find it, you rarely have to worry about outcomes that might seem scary. Let’s face it, it is a lot more fun to be happy vs. sad, right? Worry is like a rocking chair; it gives you something to do but it doesn’t get you anywhere.

For me, I do not see fear. I see the opportunity to submerse myself in the kind of environment that makes me feel alive. There is something inside of me that really burns hot when I solve a difficult problem, when I have 100 ideas, when I make connections in my mind that seem new and fresh, when I feel creative, when I produce something that others enjoy, when I figure out a better way to do something, when I add value to something, when I am inspired, when I help inspire others, when I meet fascinating people, when I risk it and succeed. All of these and more light a fire in my soul and give my life purpose. They are unquenchable fires that draw me to venturing out on my own. When I am constrained or limited in carrying out these passions, I feel deprived of the oxygen that fuels my fire. Entrepreneurship is the answer.

So no… I’m not scared. I say bring it on! And over the course of this journey, I will share more about my projects and what I have learned. Stay tuned!

Lastly – Do you have something that breathes life into you?