Author Archives: Robert Jordan

How Did You Name Your Company? Podcast with Brannon Cashion, President of Addison Whitney

How Did You Name Your Company? Podcast with Brannon Cashion, President of Addison Whitney

Brannon Cashion, President of Addison Whitney

The recent post on naming a company, “Got 5 Letters?” got me thinking about the naming process a bit more. So I interviewed Brannon Cashion, president of Addison Whitney, a well-known corporate naming firm. If you don’t have $50k to hire Brannon, take a listen to learn some pointers from an expert. Some of this is common sense, for example, don’t name a company something if you can’t own the domain name as well! A bit less obvious – research translations into other common languages. Are you making up a name that actually means something in Spanish, French, Chinese? Something bad?  What was the story about a Chevy car, was it the Nova? Means “doesn’t go” in Spanish?

Brannon’s a good guy – here’s some free pointers for you.

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Yes, But Are You Less Lonely? Jeff Leitner Video, Part I.

Yes, But Are You Less Lonely? Jeff Leitner Video, Part I.

Have you ever had the experience of meeting someone in business who has a profound impact on you? Someone who gets to the core of what’s going on. Jeff Leitner, founder of Insight Labs and Lead Strategist at Manifest Digital, is that kind of rare person, and I had an opportunity to interview Jeff on his brainstorming work.

Jeff did not disappoint. As soon as we started talking about innovation, he said his number one criteria for the value of something new is, does it make us less lonely?

I had to think about that for a minute, because I hadn’t heard that before.

My first thought was the cell phone, because I’d say it’s an example of a technology that helps bring us closer together. Then I thought of email, which at the birth of the Internet was referred to as the killer app. Because it sped up communication, I’d say email could help make us less lonely and more connected. What do you think of Jeff’s idea? Is it a good benchmark for innovation?

Take a look at Jeff and I’m anxious to hear your thoughts –

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Howard Tullman’s Advice to New Grads – Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy Graduation Address

Howard Tullman's Advice to New Grads - Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy Graduation Address

Howard Tullman, President and CEO of Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy recently gave new grads a few important pieces of advice:

(1) Don’t mistake a clear view for short distance. It’s great to know exactly what you want (of course that will change a million times in your career) and it’s great to strive aggressively every day toward that goal, but it’s equally important to understand that good things don’t happen overnight. They are the product of a process. Try, fail, pick yourself up, try again. So, by all means, dream big, but start small and scale.

(2) Focus is everything. You can do anything you want, but you can’t do everything. And here’s what I have learned after half a century of doing this: “Saying “no” is much harder than saying “yes”, and it’s the things that you chose not to do that will make you a success.” Saying “yes” is a very popular thing to do, but good management and strong leadership isn’t a popularity contest. All the easy questions can be answered and all the simple choices can be made by others, the hard choices always end up on your desk or in your lap.

(3) And remember, as you have all heard me say many times: “you get what you work for, not what you wish for.”  Hope is not a strategy for success. The really good news about that is that you’re better prepared to outsmart AND outwork 99% of all the people out there who are just sitting around waiting for the world to make a place for them. We’re not good waiters here at Flashpoint – we’re great workers and in the end what always matters is the work.

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Success Traits of Champion Entrepreneurs: Not Jaded, Just Curious

Louis CK had a riff a couple years ago about the first airplane flight offering high speed Wifi on board the flight. That’s complete connectivity at 30,000 feet above the planet. He joked about his young fellow passenger getting upset when the in-flight wifi went down – “How quickly the world owes him something he knew existed only 10 seconds ago. The joke, which is not a joke, is that’s what our culture has become – spoiled, instant gratification, entitled to the point where an amazing advance in technology can be dismissed out of hand.

I was going to cheer on Intel with some happy headline today, because the NY Times reported that they announced new 3D chips that will work faster while requiring less power. What struck me was that Intel’s current chip making technology using a photolithographic process, can produce features down to just 32 nanometers. The human red blood cell is 7,500 nanometers in width, and at 2.5 nanometers we’re talking about a single strand of DNA. Just think about this for a second: what if Intel gets down to 22 nanometer manufacturing this year  – is that incredible, or what?

One of the biggest things I took away from talking with champion entrepreneurs is their lack of cynicism. They are not a jaded crowd. Jim Dolan said it best, “I still hear people in all walks of life talk about the problems they have, but no one seems to be listening. If they did, they’d hear business opportunities.” We live in a cynical world, and yet if you want to be successful – and I don’t mean popular for a moment, I mean real success – you have to drop the prevailing cynicism if you are going to really tackle a need in the world, figure out a solution, and be the winner you want to be. Being jaded just doesn’t work. The attitude from champions can be described in one word: curiosity. Be curious about the world around us, not just accepting things as the way they are. Promote your own sense of curiosity, and when you see things around you that don’t work – think about how you could make them work better. That’s how champions start with very little, and build from there.


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Got 5 Letters? What Makes a Good Company Name

Got 5 Letters? What Makes a Good Company Name

Are you in the process of naming your company, or a new product? If you are, here is something to think about:

Years ago I heard a talk by the great venture capitalist Michael Moritz who shared a nifty chart comparing winning companies, all with names like IBM, ATT, Apple, Palm, 3Com, and BMW. These companies had one commonality — they all had names with less than 5 letters. Conversely, he had an extensive list of companies with very long names. Despite having been funded with billions of dollars, none of these companies were well-known.

This makes sense – things are just easier to remember when they are short and sweet. I suppose uniqueness counts, but we’ve all heard about share of mind. How many laundry detergent brand names do you know? Brands of soap? Not many. We have too much on our minds to make room for all the names floating around out there. So when you are trying to sell your latest greatest invention, you are attempting to get into a scarce overflowing bucket – the human mind.

The other day I saw a new electric fast recharger pump called Epyon, from a company of the same name, Epyon Power. Will Epyon make it? I dunno. But clearly someone over there values a short name. I wonder what the naming gurus were thinking when they proposed Epyon?

The length of name is of course not the only determinant of whether or not a company will succeed, but I would say it does carry some weight. What companies do you know that made it big keeping to a short name? Or maybe you know some who defied this rule and made it work anyway (Mercedes-Benz, Goldman Sachs, Prudential Financial, Bristol-Myers Squibb)…

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Master Influence and You Become the Champion Entrepreneur You Dream Of

Master Influence and You Become the Champion Entrepreneur You Dream Of

I love learning about human nature. When I hear about research that reveals more about how you and I act and react, I just find it fascinating. And more to the point I think I become a better entrepreneur by understanding more about what motivates or demotivates us.

One time I was in a health club reading the New York Times, and there was a story reporting an experiment on a college campus. Participants had to show up at a certain time and take a survey. What the participants didn’t know was that they would be intercepted en route, engaged in conversation and asked to help someone juggling too many items. They would be asked to hold either a cup of water or a cup of hot coffee. Then they would go on their way to the survey and take a test measuring their emotional response to a situation. Here’s the thing: the participants who held the cup of coffee, just for a few seconds, consistently responded to the questions with WARMER emotional choices than the participants who unwittingly held the cup of water. Is that cool, or what? Or hot…

Entrepreneurs dream up their product/service, they put sweat and tears into creating it from scratch, and then put it out to the world. But how do some companies succeed at getting consumers to adopt their product and in some cases, change behavior, while others fail miserably? I think it starts with figuring out the vital behaviors of your customer.

The book Influencer: The Power to Change Anything reported this case: There’s a consistent stat that around 3000 people drown in public swimming pools every year….under the supervision of a lifeguard! How could this happen? It turns out that when you examine the activities of a lifeguard they typically:

– greeting members
– adjusting swim lanes
– picking up kickboards
– testing pool chemicals

So someone came up with something they called “10/10 scanning.” It means this:

-every 10 seconds the lifeguard has to scan her area of the pool
-the lifeguard has to be at the person going under within 10 seconds

Take a guess what the result was? Deaths dropped by TWO THIRDS!

Think about your customer. What are the vital behaviors they engage in? Now think about your own winning ways. What are the few things that are vital to your success?

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How Linear Are You?

How Linear Are You?

My whole career I’ve been around startups. When I started my first company, the entrepreneurial path was not common – the corporate route was far more common among college and B-school grads, and most all of my friends went into traditional corporate roles.

The problem for the entrepreneur (and I fell into this trap) is this: even though my mindset was all about creating new things, I still thought of career in a very linear sense — put in my time, work really hard, hit a home run. Eventually. The key thing there was working hard. But what has become obvious is that the concept of nose-to-the-grindstone, which comes out of generations and generations of humans toiling in the fields or more recently toiling in factories, no longer applies. The old model was repetitive action to produce a predictable result. Then new reality is that most of us do not get paid for our physical labor – we get paid to think, and the more insightful the thinking, the better.

At a Seth Godin seminar I attended, Seth told us the story of an engineer at Google who tried something new one day – he inserted a line of code that boldfaced the search word within an adwords ad (the same word as a searcher typed in). He didn’t tell anyone, and if it hadn’t worked it would’ve been just a little failed experiment. The result of that one little test? A 400% increase in clickthrough. That translated into, what, $50 billion more in valuation for Google? Sure, hard work led up to that experiment, but still. It was a flash of insight, not just a repetitive rote motion.

This is now playing out in real time in our own lives. Microsoft suffered an agonizing 20 year span of execution, iteration and reiteration, to get Windows right. But Facebook? Using agile development, improvements are rapid, even daily. And founder Mark Zuckerberg isn’t exactly thinking about 401K retirement funds.

Where’s the home run in your career? The end-run strategy that does not have to take 20 years to accomplish?

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David Becker, Founder of First Internet Bank Video Interview

David Becker, Founder of First Internet Bank Video Interview

I was so pleased that David Becker agreed to be interviewed in How They Did It: Billion Dollar Insights from the Heart of America. David is, I believe, most famous for launching the first purely Internet-based bank, appropriately named First Internet Bank. Dave has had home runs with multiple companies including re:Member Data Services, VIFI, OneBridge, DyKnow, and RICS. One more reason why he’s an amazing entrepreneur is that he continues to launch and acquire companies. RICS, for example, was an acquisition made while Dave was laid up in a hospital bed due to a motorcycle accident. Boredom set in, or as Dave says, it was the nightmare scenario presented in the movie “Groundhog Day”, someone doomed to repeat the same day over and over and over.

So what did Dave do in the hospital? He negotiated the purchase of Retail Inventory Control Systems (RICS) and turned it around from an enterprise sale into a SaaS offering for small retailers. And it’s working – much faster expansion than the slow growth business experienced by the previous team.

We had to learn more, so we visited Dave recently at his headquarters in Indiana to ask more questions on camera. Dave continues to fascinate and inspire – take a look!

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To Patent or Not to Patent?

In a recent BusinessWeek article (Hard Choices), Elon Musk talks about his decision to patent NOTHING having to do with SpaceX. Why? Because, as he put it, “Our competition is the Chinese and Russian governments, against whom patents are unenforceable and can simply be used as a recipe. It’s much better for our technology to be trade secrets.”

This reminded me of something that Chris Moffitt had talked about when I interviewed him for How They Did It. He never patented anything for Rubicon (RBCN) – preferring instead to sink deep teeth into his employees, scientists and engineers. The problem with patenting in Moffitt’s case was that most of his industry was in Japan and China – where they would be perfectly happy stealing it.

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There’s Corruption, and Then There’s Corruption

There’s Corruption, and Then There’s Corruption

Illinois or Russia, hmm, there’s the dilemma – which is more corrupt?

I was thinking about this after Larry Robert Olson interviewed me for KABL radio in San Francisco. I had to get in a gentle tweak, because I’ll admit it – How They Did It is a straight up talk about the power of the Heartland.

I love San Francisco, and California, but I had to point out to Larry on air that not all great technology originates from Silicon Valley. If it did, then how do you explain Dane Miller quietly building Biomet in tiny Warsaw, Indiana – achieving 30,000% growth over 25 years? Better than Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway performance over the same 25 years by far (sorry Warren, I love you, but you only hit 19,600%, and that’s just not gonna do). And the miracles of the valley, like eBay? They only returned a lousy 1,000x early investors’ money (I heard Benchmark got back $5B on a $5M investment). Dane Miller’s first investor, a family in Indiana, invested $500k and that turned into $2.5B. That’s with a “B” like billion. Hoosiers. Go figure.

But I can’t exactly crow about everything in my home state of Illinois. The Land of Lincoln is in the worst fiscal shape of any state in the Union. I don’t need to prove the case. Just take a look at the Illinois is Broke website, which explains in excruciating detail what’s going on. What makes this worse is the state of Illinois government, which from all appearances is corrupt, venal and unlikely to change in the near future. The only reaction thus far to massive debt has been to raise taxes, and I’m not sure how that’s going to make the state more appealing for companies to choose to locate in Illinois.

Then I saw Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s Feb 7 report on Russia, in which even President Dmitry Medvedev admits his country is steeped in corruption. BusinessWeek continued: “the nation is the world’s most corrupt major economy, according to Transparency International’s 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index.” That’s all a given. But here’s the astounding thing. President Medvedev says he wants Russian entrepreneurs to lead the way, to create new transformational technologies as powerful as Apple. Huh? How do you match utter corruption with the creative and free expression of entrepreneurship? If you knew as an entrepreneur, that with your slightest success, thugs would come knocking on your door, asking for their piece, how do you proceed?

Illinois may be bad, but I’m pretty sure that before Archipelago’s IPO, or Morningstar’s, or Groupon’s upcoming IPO – no one from Illinois state government showed up with their hand out. So I’ll take Illinois over Russia –  not as corrupt. Good job Illinois!

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