Saturday, December 25, 2004

Value of a goal

Being that I am from Utah, and doing business in Utah, I have watched with interest the Franklin Covey company. They have certainly had a rough couple of years. Many have rumored that they would file bankruptcy this year. Which would be a shame. Sometimes I think a company just takes a few wrong turns. As I have read the FC message boards often people are criticle of the business and its decisions. I would venture to say that many of those people would have taken the same road. One of the most notable bad decisions (at least in my book) was its early rejection to hand held pda's. I think the company both feared this new technology and its possible ramifications to their product, but also were convinced that this would be a short lived phase. This was a grave decision. All though I have not done all the homework on this, I belive that they had first shot from Palm to take their product worldwide, and FC walk away from it.

I have never recieved any formal training from the FC group, some think its God's gift to business, others think its drivel. However, I think they core goals of this company are good ones, and I think the management, though maybe a bit misguided, has the customer in mind. I think FC is a little greedy right now. You can only do that for so long before it bits you in the backside (and that goes for any business.) I wonder in retrospect if Steven Covey would have made the decision to merge with Hyrum Smith.

I do think that it is very valuable that Franklin Covey has been able to stay to its core values (or habits.) This is admirable. But apparently not profitable.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Angel Investors

In doing some research yesterday I found the following link. Very interesting group who has funded some great projects.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Customer Service

Here is a blog by Paul Allen regarding customer service and my response.

"Customers Help Define Business Model
I am fascinated by IT Conversations. This is an audio service using podcasting to deliver up to 140 megabytes of audio "conversations" daily with IT experts. The founder has a very useful service and apparently a large number of users.
Now he is asking for his customers to help him find a business model that will keep the service alive.
Using a Wiki, he posts his ideas about his business model (part advertising, part subscription or micropayment) and then asks for feedback. What he gets is hundreds (or at least dozens) of ideas freely contributed by his users--some of them avid users.
I love the idea of providing a free service which is widely adopted and then engaging your interested users in helping you create a sustainable business model. In this case, this approach is being taken by a highly technical company founder who has technical users (they've already embraced podcasting) and is capable of setting up a Wiki for feedback. Some of us can't set up a Wiki, but we can easily create a Yahoo Group or Google Group and email our best customers so that they can talk to each other and to us about what they want most.
At a private web site was created for hundreds of our top site administrators. One of our engineers visited the site every day. I visited it often. We received hundreds of excellent suggestions from our best customers, and in one case, one administrator created a spreadsheet of the top 100 enhancements they wanted on The value we received from our best customers was incredible. They loved our engineer because he truly cared about their opinions. He personally fixed problems they found and coded enhancements directly from their suggestions, without going through any product management layers. I loved this Rapid Development approach that brought the engineers and customers together onto the same team.
I think most companies don't really care about their customers very much, don't ask them questions, don't engage them in discussions, and don't create opportunities for them to discuss among themselves what should be done next.
Does you company have a way to continually be engaged with your customers? Do you personally? If so, tell me about it. If not, why not?"


My Response.

"As a major player in the homebuilding boom in the west, we have had to re-evaluate our position on customer service. Being that our market is limited to those who are 55 years or better, we are compelled to focus on what our specific market will respond to. I have found the following things helpful in our quest for 100% customer service and satisfaction.

- Focus Groups - I am a huge fan of these. If run correctly, they can have a huge impact on what my marketing plan will or will not include for the next year.

- Surveys - I am grateful the automobile industry has had a huge re-focus on surveys the last few years. Again, if properly administered, a survey can net powerful, unadulterated results for a company.

- Ask Questions - I have found that so often that retail companies seem to be afraid of their customers. I think this is ridicules. If you are afraid of what your customers are going to say about you and your business, then you either need to change your product or get out of business. I don't think your business ego can get in the way of serving your customers.

Let me offer a practical example. As I mentioned before we have a specific market of those who are 55 or better. The trend in the homebuilding industry is to focus on the internet for the bulk of marketing. However, often I hear that those in my market are not "computer literate" or that they are going to be turned off by not focusing on traditional marketing. However, after several focus groups and a gaggle of surveys we discovered that those in my market are not only hip to technology, but often value a company based on it. Rarely did we find someone who did not want information via the internet. So my challenge as marketing director was to develop a website that was attractive to the eyes of those 55+ rather than my 27 year old eyes. Again, enter the focus group. I feel confident now that we have a site that is not only functional but is also attractive to our market. At the end of the day, it will equal sales on the board.

I know the solutions that I have offered are simple, but I just don’t believe that customer service and satisfaction needs to be a complex matter.

Anyway, I hope that helps-"

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The Christmas Spirit?

Is life getting harder and harder? Is poverty more common? Do we live in harder times? Last year I was struck by how many people around me were in some sort of financial difficulty. But this year the stories have been many and heart breaking. Frankly, hard times are hard times, everyone goes through them, but when kids (especially little kids) are involved my heart just aches.

Although I think there are some things on the flip side that need to be considered. One of which is the stories that I hear are nothing compared to the horror that is going on elsewhere in the world. My fat self-indulged American mind cannot comprehend the misery and lifestyle these people are going through. Starvation, War, Rape and so many other atrocities. The stories I hear of the people in my hometown who are struggling are not even close in comparison to the reality these people and kids face everyday.

Additionally, one of my favorite quotes which is taken from 7 habits for highly effective people goes "The Lord words from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature." (Ezra Taft Benson) I cannot count the many stories I have heard of people who had nothing as a child or lived a terrible existence growing up were able to perserver by either taking themselves out of the slums or with the help of God having those slums taken out of them. Walter Wattles, a forgotten financial compass of the early 1900's speaks of not dwelling on the hardships of others, because what you dwell on, you soon own, and what you own you are.

So yeah, I'll happily give the change in my pocket to help... But does it help?

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Interesting blog by Paul Allen (Utah's Paul Allen)

Infobase Ventures Mentoring Services
Yesterday I met with another passionate entrepreneur trying to get her business off the ground. With more than 500 daily readers of my blog, and with my other writing and speaking opportunities, I am getting more requests for mentoring from entrepreneurs than I can handle.
So I'm raising the bar.
One of my friends raised the bar by charging a high monthly retainer if someone really wants his help. That way, he gets paid for his time, and the entrepreneur really listens to his advice--because it's not free.
I don't want to charge for my services (yet), because I hate taking money from entrepreneurs who don't have any, so here's how I'm going to raise the bar:
Before I take time to meet with you in person or on the phone to discuss your business idea, here is what I require:
You must be using and have at least 10 connections and 2 endorsements. That way there is a good chance that I will know someone who knows you. It will be easier for us to gain mutual trust this way.
If you have a management team or key employees, each of them must be on with at least 5 connections.
You must have an advisory board of 3 or more successful business people (preferrably 6-10) who believe in you and are willing to meet with you monthly or bi-monthly to dispense advice and help you with your challenges.
If your company is at revenue stage, you must be using Quickbooks Online Edition so that I can review your financials with you as needed. This costs only $19.95 per month and gives 3 users access to your data. I need to see the real picture and not just hear about the big ideas.
I need to see a simple cap table (showing the ownership of your company, including options and warrants)
You must know your company's SIC code and have a list of any publicly traded competitors that you might have. I want you to be familiar with SEC reports and gaining competitive intelligence. Too often entrepreneurs have an idea, think they are the only one doing it, and they are unaware that there are large well-funded competitiors doing the same thing. This doesn't mean you can't succeed by being faster and smarter than the larger company (in business, often large=slow), but I don't want you to be unaware of your competition.
If you do have publicly traded competitors, you must have a My Yahoo portfolio listing all their stock symbols, so you can stay current with their news and financial status.
For your privately held competitors, I need to know the Alexa rankings of their web sites and how many employees they have. (The best way to get this info is to download the Alexa toolbar.)
You must have set up Google Alerts so that whenever any of your competitors are in the news, you will hear about it and know what they are all up to. I want to see a complete list of your Google Alerts keywords.
Finally: don't dare ask me for advice or help if you haven't read Guy Kawasaki's Art of the Start. I think it's the best book ever written on startups. I expect you to have marked up every passage that struck you as important, and I expect you to have followed his formula for startups, including the MAT approach, the 10/20/30 rule for Powerpoints, and the bottoms-up business model and forecast.
I don't need to read a business plan, but if you have a 1-2 page executive summary that's okay, but certainly not required.
Okay, I got that off my chest. I really, really, really like helping energetic entrepreneurs, young or old, that are willing to learn constantly, and will not give up until their dream comes true. But before you ask me for personal time, please take these 10 steps, and then let's talk.