Topic: Entrepreneurship


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How to Avoid Vanity Metrics: Getting Under the Hood of Business

VanityMetrics

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Most organizations have analysts reviewing financial and operational information on a regular basis – the objective being to gain some kind of meaning from information, and to capture that meaning with a metric or metrics.  Analysts are generally providing descriptive information (telling us how we’ve done) or predictive information (telling us how we suspect we will do).

But many commonly used metrics don’t provide any actionable insight.  In other words, they’re just for show.  These are called vanity metrics.  Other times metrics don’t properly measure the underlying data, potentially resulting in what only appears to be a valid metric on the surface.  This is called an Isomorphism.

A metric is only as valuable as its ability to decipher underlying data.  When metrics are properly developed and implemented, they become meaningful because they capture the drivers that lead to the behaviors and decisions desired.

A great resource for understanding metrics is the book Lean Analytics.  Although geared to start-ups, the logic used is widely applicable to organizations large and small.  You will find much of this logic in the following paragraphs.  Read More »

The Story of Microsoft and the Three Men Who Made It

microsoft

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The story of Microsoft, considering its creation spawned 3 of the 60 richest men in the world today, is an important one to understand.  Bill Gates, Paul Allen, and Steve Ballmer have amassed incredible amounts of wealth from Microsoft.  This is the story of how.  Read More »

The Story of Les Schwab and His Pride in Performance

Schwab Close

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Business often comes down to a core set of principles.  And the story of Les Schwab is no exception.  Keeping things in their simplest form (Reductionism) is what allows us to arrive at a core set of principles, but this is often difficult to do. Reductionism is a key aspect of understanding anything.  If we apply this concept to business, it always comes down to people.  It really comes down to decisions, but decisions are made by people.  And what I love about the Les Schwab story is that he so clearly understood the importance of this.  He loved people.  And if you’re in business, it really helps to love people – no matter how weird, how exotic, how aloof, or how awkward.  Read More »

Three Mental Models of Successful Entrepreneurs

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Almost every aspect of business would be considered a soft science.  This means there are no strict rules for starting, managing, or growing a business.  It also means business is more art than science.

Without the predictive ability to determine success, it’s better to develop a system of thought.  And the best system of thought is a latticework of mental models.  Induction, or the prediction of unobserved events from knowledge of observed (similar) ones, is the result of a well constructed latticework.  And induction is the ability to go from specific concepts to a multidisciplinary understanding of the world.  This ability is critical in entrepreneurship.

There are three mental models that should constantly be on the forefront of every entrepreneur’s mind.  Read More »

There’s No Best Age to Start a Business: The Story of Sam Walton and Wal-Mart

Walton

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After graduating from the University of Missouri in 1940, Sam Walton took a job with J.C. Penney.  He was 22 years old.  He spent five years with J.C. Penney learning the retail industry.  In 1945, Walton became an entrepreneur and bought a Ben Franklin variety store in Arkansas for $25,000.  He was 27 years old.  Walton spent five years growing his Ben Franklin store.  But in 1950, after Walton’s landlord refused to renew the five year lease he had on the Ben Franklin store location, Walton had no choice but to sell the franchise.  He sold it for a fair price, and then had to start all over again.  Walton was now 32, and it was at this age when he opened his first Walton’s Five and Dime (again in Arkansas).  But it wasn’t until he was 44 years old that he opened the first Wal-Mart.  It was a very gradual progression.  So, does age really matter when starting a business?  I doubt it.  There is no best age to start a business, no perfect time – none of that.  And Sam Walton is the perfect example of this.  Read More »

How to Avoid a Bad Business: The Ravages of Commoditization

Busy

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Certain aspects of business can behave in fairly predictable ways.  One of the ways, which is more painful than funny, is the tendency of products or services to become commodities over time.  When this happens, it’s often five mental models that come together and drive everything towards commoditization.

First of all, Zipf’s Law (R.I.P. George Zipf) has been repeatedly observed in many different environments.  Zipf noticed that the most common word in the English language appeared 10 times more often than the tenth most common word.  He noticed it in other languages as well – he got excited.  What he really noticed was the phenomenon we now call “winner takes all.”  So in any market, this is at work.  Get to number one – it’s just better that way.  Read More »

But What If It Isn’t Cool?: The Story of Eric Ries and IMVU

IMVU

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Eric Ries, with a few others, started a company called IMVU in 2004.  As in IM (Instant Message) VU (view) – the novelty of the concept was the introduction of avatars to instant messaging.  He tells his story through the following five core principles of the Lean Startup Movement:

  1. Entrepreneurs are everywhere: in other words, the constraints to being an entrepreneur are minimal, if they exist at all.
  2. Entrepreneurship is management: or, a start-up requires a different set of management principles than a mature company does.
  3. Validated learning: One of Ries’ core concepts, basically stating that start-ups exist to learn how to build a sustainable business
  4. Build-Measure-Learn: a critical feedback loop that Ries developed – he advocates that all successful start-up processes should be geared to accelerate this feedback loop
  5. Innovation accounting: traditional accounting doesn’t properly measure what matters to him (and on this, I wholly agree with him), so he set up a different process to measure progress, set up milestones, and prioritize work.

Eric and his colleagues eventually grew IMVU to annual revenues of more than $50 million in 2011 (and some level of profitability, which he doesn’t disclose).  It’s important to note, however, that Ries is in no way shy about admitting the repeated mistakes that he and his team made at the outset.  You can read all about his adventure in The Lean Startup.  One of the more amusing issues was the unwillingness of test users to tell their friends about it.  After all, it was new to them, and they weren’t quite sure whether or not it was cool.  And as well all know, it’s totes obvi that you gotta protect your rep.

Of course, there is another way to look at what Eric did to create his organization.  Eric’s success can also be deciphered through mental models…   Read More »

Why Cute Ideas Die: The Execution Factory

Execution Factory

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There’s this myth that all you need in business is a good idea and you’re going to be rich.  I’ve never seen it work out that way.  Derek Sivers (formerly of CD Baby) made this a lot easier to understand when he explained his version of the difference between ideas and execution in this blog post.  He basically says the value isn’t in the idea itself, but in the execution of the idea.  And in my experience, he’s right.  Read More »