Just What the Shark Tank Ordered: Market Yourself

ENT 630: Wk 5-Reactions to It’s a Jungle in There

Every time I’ve ever watched the show, Shark Tank, I’ve actually watched no less than four episodes in a row. Curse you CNBC Prime! Stop luring me in with your savvy investors, entrepreneurial sob stories, and brilliant business ideas. In spite of the manufactured drama, I have learned a lot of helpful tips for entrepreneurs and investors by watching this campy show.

One of the questions the “Sharks” ask entrepreneurs quite frequently is, “are you doing THIS (insert business venture) full time?”. Typically, they ask this question to measure the entrepreneur’s commitment to the company, level of comfort with risk, and generally to see if the person is “all in.” I’ve even seen Kevin O’Leary turn down adorable kids with thriving businesses because school takes up too much of their time and he would rather invest in an entrepreneur, founder, or CEO who can devote all of their waking hours to the business.

This concept of investors only investing in the company if they believe in the entrepreneur behind the company is not unique. We all might roll our eyes at Kevin O’Leary, but Schussler in his book, It’s a Jungle in There, echoes this same exact sentiment in chapter 15: Marketing Yourself to Market Your Product. He says, investors often ask him, “How invested are you in your idea?” (p. 110) Schussler says it’s easy to say “I’m invested 100%”, but when you show them, you are invested by your actions they can’t help but be convinced. Not everyone has to turn their home into a rainforest café prototype or spend millions of dollars mocking up restaurant concepts in a Minneapolis warehouse. There are easy, no-brainer things you can do to show how serious and dedicated you are to your ideas when meeting with investors. Schussler has strong ideas about sending the right message to investors through:

  1. Physical appearance- wear a suit
  2. Hand Shakes– know the right balance
  3. Body Language- act interested; nod your head up and down, etc.
  4. & Business Cards- convey your concept through the item you leave behind

Don’t forget, not all meetings are scheduled. You might meet an investor at a party, on an airplane, or in the elevator. Always be ready to impress. Make an impression by making the person laugh or tell a story. Stories stick with people and leave an impression. And finally, if you are at a point in your entrepreneurial journey that you can quit your day job, you are approximately 50%* more likely to make a deal on Shark Tank if you are “all-in.”

*success odds calculated purely from my “expertise” in binge-watching Shark Tank. Not statistically valid.

No Back Stock! – A Lesson in Sales & Marketing

ENT 630- Wk 4-reactions to It’s a Jungle in There

My first Human Resources role was with Target. I was a store side Executive Team Leader of HR. Store side, meant I also had retail responsibilities beyond managing schedules, payroll, benefits, etc. I had to know the business of the store: sales actuals vs. forecast, merchandising, front end, softlines, hardlines, and logistics. I very distinctly remember walking the floor with a visiting District Team Leader (DTL), he said, “show me the back room”. Our entourage of corporate visitors and store leaders pushed through the doors of the back room. I remember our DTL taking a handheld scanner from a stock room clerk and climbing a ladder. What we didn’t know is that he had noticed an item was empty from the shelves while walking the floor and had quickly looked up the back stock location on the hand held. As he climbed down the ladder with the items in hand, he said, “our guests can’t buy things from the backroom”.

He was right, from that day forward, when I was in charge I added “outs” to my personal check list and could be heard over the walkie-talkie coaching our mid-day replenishment team.

More importantly, our DTL’s words still ring in my ears from an entrepreneurial standpoint. When I read chapter twelve of Schussler’s book, the title reminded me of my DTL’s words. The chapter title is: “Marketing: Customers Won’t Buy What They Don’t Know Exists”.

In a large retail chain, it was as simple as keeping items pushed to the floor. We couldn’t make sales from an empty shelf. For an entrepreneur, the process is more complicated. For an entrepreneur, we must market twice without the power of the big red bulls eye behind us. Schussler had to market his ideas to investors long before he worried about direct marketing to customers. And there is a lesson here: entrepreneurs have to empty out the proverbial backroom and put everything they have out there for their investors and customers.

Holding back can mean missing a sale. The back room doesn’t clean itself out, just like ideas and products don’t market themselves. It’s worth writing a formal marketing plan around how you want to get your name out to the customer. Customers can’t buy what you are selling unless they know your product and/or company exists.

Big Picture Thinkers and the Details

ENT 630: Wk 3- Entrepreneurs run the risk of micro-managing if they focus too much on the details.

Like most entrepreneurs I consider myself a big picture thinker. In fact, I used to say things like, “don’t bother me with details”. In Steven Shussler’s book, It’s a Jungle in There, he says, “the truly successful entrepreneur has to have what has been called the ‘helicopter view’: the ability to gain enough mental altitude to see the big picture while retaining the ability to descend, hover, and see the details, too” (p.61). This is a very descriptive analogy for the flexibility needed to both dream up a concept and execute the vision. I agree with this balance between the big picture and detailed execution. And also, I have seen leaders who “crash their helicopter” when hovering too low. While this section of the book is talking about “Product”, for many of us the product of our labor is knowledge or service through consulting. While Shussler is speaking of product, my mind jumps ahead to the section on people.

Well intentioned business owners and leaders can run the risk of stifling their teams by micromanaging day-to-day work. Should we set high expectations? Yes. Should we all pick up trash if we see it in our work environment? Yes. Should we write detailed work instructions and plan-o-grams for every project? No!

I strongly believe that as a leader, it’s my job to both liberate the means and define the ends of a project and let my team fill in the details. Their path to success is dependent on their ability to use their unique blend of strengths in accomplishing the goal. As I mature as a leader, I have grown to see that my desire to be delightfully oblivious to details (once trusted to someone else) is not because I don’t care. Rather, I care deeply and I do have an ability to “hover low” and see every single step. My team members neither grow nor develop if I “hover”.

While I agree that an entrepreneur needs to be aware and attentive to the details of their business, that awareness should be controlled as to not impede or micro-manage the work of others. There is a strong business case for a strengths based approach.

To the entrepreneur who is still managing their business alone: it is your job to worry about the micro and the macro. For the small business owners and entrepreneurs with teammates or direct reports: it’s your job to learn the strengths of your team and give up a little control of the details if you want your team to be engaged and successful.


“As we look into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.”– Bill Gates

 

 

Superman in a Barrel

ENT (630): Wk 2: What are you willing to risk for your ideas?

In his book, “It’s a Jungle in There”, Steven Schussler, serial entrepreneur and founder of the Rainforest Café, speaks candidly about his tolerance for risk.  On a scale of 1 to 10 he’s a 15 on his propensity toward high risk ventures.  As a young man he was repeatedly turned down for jobs in his desired field of radio and TV advertising. Steven decided to dress as superman and have himself delivered in a barrel to his “would-be-boss’s” office. The picture he paints is quite hilarious and you should read it for yourself. Spoiler alert: he gets the job.

While vivid and funny, this scenario brings up big questions for an entrepreneur. We ask ourselves: what am I willing to risk for this venture? For this idea? For a chance at success? For the answers, we must search our souls (and/or study our own cognitive bias) and decide what we are comfortable with.

For the bigger question of: how do I begin to analyze this risk? The good news is, there are resources to guide you. Well respected analysts publish articles on risk, business strategies, and entrepreneurial endeavors on a regular basis.

The word risk implies a certain amount of assumption. However, not all assumptions are healthy or accurate. Four great risk assumption “don’ts” are outlined by Scott D. Anthony for HBR. Here are the big four flawed assumptions and how they relate to Steven Schussler’s Superman approach:

  1. Assuming that taking action is the biggest risk. – Steven had more to gain from donning the superman suit than to stay in his dead-end job and keep getting turned down in interviews.
  2. Believing that good entrepreneurs seek out risk. – Steven didn’t try to find the hardest path possible. He tried many traditional avenues like sending out his resume, calling stations, and interviewing for positions before pulling his superman stunt.
  3. Celebrating failure to encourage risk taking. – Steven never celebrated an uncalculated failure because he didn’t take one. He did his homework on his “would-be-boss”, had interviewed with the man several times before, and knew he had a sense of humor.
  4. Thinking that rewarding success will boost risk-taking. – This assumption doesn’t fit Steven’s superman scenario, but it does fit a later anecdote in the book where Steven starts a side business and is fired for calling in sick to his day job. His risk taking was boosted by his failure rather than his success.

Avoiding these common four assumptions is a great starting place for gauging entrepreneurial risk.  Combine these “don’ts” with extensive research and an awareness of your own cognitive biases and you will be well on your way to setting realistic expectations for the risk you will assume in your next venture.

The Detour is Over

Several years ago, an opportunity to further my education presented itself. I was all in. An opportunity through my employer, in cooperation with a local school with an amazing reputation? Yes, why not!? Between 2013 and 2014 I completed my Graduate Certificate in Healthcare Innovation Management. After the joyful day when I shook the hands of leaders from both organizations, I told myself, “this is it for now, I’m tired. I’m done for a while”.

Not too long after that joyful day, I was also promoted to a position with much more responsibility. I saw people around me going back to school, but I told myself it wasn’t right for me. I thought about going back to school quite a bit, but the timing and the programs never felt right, until now.

I’m back; the detour is over. Western Carolina offers such a great opportunity that seems to fit my personality and my needs. I have high hopes in the Masters of Entrepreneurship program. I am determined to fit the work around my already full schedule, I have hopes that other members of this program support one another, and I am ready to finish what I started back in 2013.

 

Strengths at Work

Disclaimer: This is not a paid product endorsement. I simply use this approach in my work and want to share.

You can tell by my blog title that I’m strengths obsessed. I have a deep belief in the potential of every individual.  People are happiest and most productive when they can do the things that energize them (strengths) vs. the things that drain them (weaknesses).  My love of coaching and helping others find their bliss is evident in the way I approach my work and in the way I lead my teams.

So I have to share with you the work of one of the best companies leading this movement: TMBC (The Marcus Buckingham Company). It’s one thing to believe in the potential of people, it’s another thing entirely to use evidence based research to back up the claim that concentrating on strengths leads to performance and engagement. Well, TMBC, does exactly that. They can prove that operating out of ones strengths at least once a day has a direct positive impact on both productivity and engagement. You can learn more on your own by following this link.

Meeting Marcus Buckingham
Meeting Marcus Buckingham: co-founder of “Strengths Finder”, Founder of TMBC/StandOut, and thought leader on strengths based work.