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Life Changing Conversations for Entrepreneurs

Photogram iPhone App Launches: Interview with Founders Brian Hand & Bob Armour

Photogram iPhone App Launches: Interview with Founders Brian Hand & Bob Armour

Take a look at this fascinating interview with Photogram founders Brian Hand & Bob Armour.

If you have an iPhone, you can download the free app here.

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“Willis” Tower for Sale. Really?

“Willis” Tower for Sale. Really?

The owners of the “Willis” Tower in Chicago have announced plans to either recapitalize or sell the building formerly known as the Sears Tower, which for 25 years held the title of world’s tallest building.

For 36 years it was iconic and it was the Sears Tower, known worldwide. A marvel of construction, nine towers banded together to accommodate winds, with two of the nine towers reaching a height of 1,451 feet; 1,730 feet including antennas. Such is the genius of human ingenuity, and while unadorned, a thing of beauty in its own right.

“Willis” Tower? A virtually unknown name, and attached to a former icon, a total zero in the world. Why rename an icon? All done by a new owner for the sole purpose of luring an insurance broker into the building. “New owner” is even something of a misnomer, really we should say an investor. Investors buy and sell assets, which is great and wonderful – hey, I’m a capitalist – but when it comes to icons I wonder how far we should go with willful destruction of brand assets.

The investor is happy to take cash off the table, or leave entirely. No problem, do what works for you. But the name? We owned the Sears Tower name, and by we, I mean anyone and everyone in the region or anywhere else, who takes pride in place, or pride in great design, or architecture or just the accomplishments great people are capable of. And part of the accomplishment is that things get named. And they become known by their names.

So the investor sells, and what happens now? Another new name when the tenant eventually leaves, I guess.

Remember the sale of Marshall Field’s department stores to Macy’s? Field’s was a class act and an institution going back to the infamous Chicago Fire in 1871. Marshall Field vowed to rebuild on the same ground the day after the fire leveled the first store.  Macy’s? Please. The one thing the city insisted on was that the metal placard on the building’s façade could not be removed. So we’ll still have the sign even though along with a name change the quality of the former Field’s stores went down. This is not a tragedy on the same level of world-class icon, I’ll grant you. More a decision that also didn’t benefit Macy’s in the long or short run. I can just imagine some smart manager’s Powerpoint showing wonderful economies of scale from not having to support multiple brands.

And in my own business backyard we have exhibit A, American National Bank. My bankers throughout my formative years in business, a bank known as the bank for business, and run by an icon, Michael Tobin Sr., known as a banker’s banker, a guy whose word was his bond. Eventually, of course, the bank sold to a bigger bank, First Chicago, which in turn became part of what is now known as Chase Bank. But not before First Chicago squandered every last iota of brand recognition and brand power American National Bank had built up over years and thousands of relationships.

The funny part of the complete erasure of the American National Bank brand was a series of full page ads that someone in the marketing department at First Chicago bank decided to run in the Chicago Tribune. The headline read: “See? Nothing’s Changed.” The ad showed two banker’s business cards, identical except for the logo of ANB on one card and First Chicago on the other.

But everything had changed. First Chicago wanted nothing to do with many of ANB’s tried and true clients – they really only wanted to keep serving their big clients, not ANB’s middle market. So they lost the name and then proceeded to also lose the client base.

Brands matter, not just as a hood ornament, but because at great companies the brand is just the tip of the iceberg of a promise and commitment of something tangible and real.

I was just thinking about the Stonehenge site in the UK. It is grand, but I wonder if it couldn’t be, well, upgraded a bit? With investment, and a better name? What about Pepsihenge? Or Nikehenge? Wait – Bobhenge! I can pay them for it!

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Surepayroll Founder Troy Henikoff: How to Start, Grow & Sell for $115 million

Surepayroll Founder Troy Henikoff: How to Start, Grow & Sell for $115 million

Entrepreneurs, you have to see this video! Troy Henikoff, co-founder of SurePayroll, started out eleven years ago, figured out the right business to be in through trial and error, then started cranking on a very standard concept – processing payroll.  Troy and team turned the conventional approach to payroll upside down and the payoff finally came with the recent sale of SurePayroll for $115M to Paychex. Troy turned over active management to partner Michael Alter years ago, and with a passion for early stage companies, he went on to help a number of other companies while Michael kept growing the business.

My hat’s off to Troy not just for SurePayroll, but for launching the Excelerate program in Chicago, which is now nurturing ten startups that each won a beauty contest from hundreds of entrants, all seeking funding and help. Excelerate provides $25k funding, office space, legal, a large of amount of mentoring and coaching, as well as a good send-off into the world. The 2010 incubator class has raised $7.2 million in venture funding and hired 65 employees since its demo day.

Now I see on Facebook that Troy’s morning bicycle ride was…67 miles! And that 62 miles were at 30 mph. I guess Troy’s not slowing down?

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“Congratulations on Your Career, And We Don’t Care”: Jeff Leitner Video, Part II

“Congratulations on Your Career, And We Don’t Care”: Jeff Leitner Video, Part II

That’s what Jeff Leitner said to one individual and many captains of the industry who take part in his brainstorming sessions. Jeff, who is the founder of Insight Labs and Lead Strategist at Manifest Digital, requires brainstorming participants, usually highly accomplished people, to leave their egos at the door and put politics aside. Posturing is not allowed and Jeff says that the goal is to allow talented people to become the wunderkind they were at the beginning of their careers.

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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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