Life Changing Conversations for Entrepreneurs

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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Stay Honest Young Founder

Stay Honest Young Founder

A fresh young entrepreneur approached me with a new idea. He was planning to set up an outsource operation in India, and the impetus was a big first client, a Fortune 500 company that wanted to work with him. At some point in the conversation he brought up his key contact at the F500 company – and he asked me, should he reward this person with stock in his new company? Or form another company to give him hidden ownership? I was stunned, and said, “neither.” Not surprisingly I never heard from him again.

The current trial against Raj Rajaratnam for insider trading got me thinking about some of the things that winning company founders say. I realize that when we’re on the record and being interviewed, we all tend to say the right things because that’s what’s expected of us.

But I also think that for most of the founders interviewed in How They Did It, they really meant what they said, about the value of their own integrity, about having honest dealings in business as not only the right thing but the practical best solution. Take for example your style and method in managing employees. To be manipulative or subversive as a boss can serve the ends of the company. But in a day and age of many employers and vast job resources, and in an environment where millions of us blog and tweet constantly, what’s the practical impact of dishonesty or sharp practice? The negative impact can be immediate.

So it’s also interesting to note that in the federal case against Mr. Rajaratnam, while he is alleged to have turned a short term profit of $900,000 on the sale of Goldman shares, as the WSJ pointed out, had he bought on the publicly available news and held the shares, he’d have registered a $9.6 million gain to date. This also reminded me of Martha Stewart’s predicament years ago, when she sold shares of Imclone on alleged inside information, protecting a declining stock position. The reality was that a year or two down the road, had she simply held, she would have been up by even more.

Does honesty pay? Maybe not in a corrupted form of capitalism like Russia. But in the US, with the benefit of a superb legal system, let’s put it this way: while you may be tempted to cut corners, there’s plenty of evidence that playing by the rules does not disadvantage you.

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Get Inside the Mind of the Buyer: Podcast with Jill Konrath, author of Snap Selling

Get Inside the Mind of the Buyer: Podcast with Jill Konrath, author of Snap Selling

If I had to name the biggest mistake we make when selling, it’s that we do not get in the mind of the buyer. We tend to be so focused on what a cool product we have; all the bells and whistles; and we pay so little attention to what the buyer is thinking and feeling.

I recently had a great conversation with Jill Konrath, author of Snap Selling. Jill shared advice on how hungry entrepreneurs can catch the attention of potential buyers.  In today’s world, people are so busy that they go through email and voicemail as fast as possible to delete, delete, delete! So how do you catch someone’s attention, make them stop in their tracks and really consider your product/service?

You want the buyer to say “that’s interesting…tell me more.” Jill explains The Buyer’s Matrix and talks about the factors that decision-makers use to filter through these sales messages:

1. Is this relevant?
2. Is this a priority?
3. Does the sales person provide value?
4. Is it simple or complex?

This sounds simple. But do you really answer these questions from the buyer’s perspective before you get on the phone or send that email? If you did you may re-think your standard pitch for selling because most likely it’s getting deleted so fast it’ll make your head spin. Learn how you can get in the mindset of the buyer, how you can build a valuable email database, and how ultimately, you as the seller are more important than the product you are providing. Take a listen.

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Way to Go IBM

Way to Go IBM

In my youth I discounted companies like IBM as being capable of true innovation. I take it all back, or rather, the world has changed and the best companies have adapted mightily.

Here’s the proof. Engineered nanoparticles capable of targeting and destroying antibiotic-resistant bacteria is the stuff that sci-fi movies are made of. But IBM, who has been working on nanotechnology for decades, has recently begun applying this technology to the medical field. These biodegradable nanoparticles are 50,000 times smaller than the thickness of a human hair and are showing promise in their ability to fight against deadly bacteria, such as MRSA – which is responsible for taking thousands of lives each year.

This is testament to the power of the entrepreneurial spirit. IBM has identified a massive need and is taking great strides to meet that need with a viable solution coming out of left field. Not a drug – but a technology acting like a drug.

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Who Have You Interviewed Lately?

Who Have You Interviewed Lately?

Having the opportunity to author How They Did It allowed me to do something that I think most of us shy away from. I got to interview seriously accomplished people, and not be embarrassed about why I was asking them questions that were so obviously working to get at their secrets of success. I eagerly wanted to learn from them, and then get what I thought was the best of what they had to say on paper and in eBook form for you.

We all have interviewing experience, starting with being job applicants – and then at some point as the boss doing the interviewing. These employment settings are so well established that we know our roles intuitively. How to be on best behavior. How to be witty, provocative, dazzling – well you get the point – Shakespeare nailed it when he wrote “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players.”

But I think back to when I just entered the work force after graduating college, and I didn’t know anything, and what was perfect was that I knew I didn’t know anything. The problem came a couple years later. I got good at one thing – in my case I was trained as a sales professional by a computer graphics company. So I got cocky and maybe wasn’t as open to naively asking veterans in various industries about how they accomplished their own success.

Mike Domek & Jim O'Connor at the Four Seasons

Why is this important? Because lifelong learning is the way to success and accomplishment. And I don’t mean learning as in sitting in class. That makes me shudder.

I still have my greatest insights on all of the projects I’m working on – from just listening to the people around me, my family, friends, customers, staff – not to mention watching and absorbing advice from bona fide champions in business and professionals in other fields. You can’t believe the golden nuggets people will freely and generously drop in your lap – the billion dollar advice that flows from just being open to ask and then listen fully.

To learn more about how to ask and then interview – sign up for the newsletter and see a sample video interview (#6 in the newsletter series).

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Show Me Your Business Card

Show Me Your Business Card

Business cards are going to go away someday – but not just yet. Everyone still uses them. When most business cards end up stuffed away in a desk drawer, how do you set yourself apart from the crowd? Take a look at these four unique business cards for some ideas. (And to be clear: I admire and respect Paul, Sally, David and Phil as great business people but I don’t own any of their stock and I don’t work for them).

Paul Travis: Maximize Real-Estate

At first glance, Paul’s card looks like just about any other business card you might receive from day-to-day.

Logo. Tag Line. Name and information. But wait…there is more. A lot more. Paul has done a fantastic job of maximizing 3.5×2 inch real estate. The card flips open once to reveal more information on Paul and the company…

And unfold once more for information on how VIVIFY can help your brand and bottom line.

Sally Hogshead: The power of simplicity. And a killer tagline.

Sally has taken the complete opposite approach of Paul with her stripped down business card. She plays up the uniqueness of her last name with a witty tagline – which I won’t ruin for you. Sally says it best herself…

Actually I have to repeat this because I love her humor: A hogshead is a barrel that holds 62 gallons. So what’s your last name, smartass?

Phil Gerbyshak: Utilize Social Media

Phil’s card is more reminiscent of a trading card than a business card – but the interactivity contained in this tiny piece of paper is wonderful.

See that QR code in the lower right corner? Scan that with your smart phone and it automatically loads a browser with his business card, options to connect with him on social networks, and the ability to share his card with friends/colleagues on Twitter and Facebook. How hard is your card working for you?

David Zach:  Tell a story about who you are

David’s business card stands out for a couple of reasons – namely its size, use of image and its ability to tell a story. “I’ve developed this sort of brand identity with the graphics – as a futurist with a past, as it were. Almost all of my graphics are illustrations from the 1920s & 30s,” David told me. “The cards reflect the use of those graphics in my slide deck. I try to make my slides and handouts look like they’d been created in that era. With this comes a subtle attempt to provide some comfort by connecting the future with the past and suggesting the future isn’t just about change, but also about tradition and continuity.”

What a beautiful integrated approach that encompasses, the man, the mission and the business at hand.

How are you utilizing your business card real estate? I’d love to see how you are setting yourself apart from your competition. Send in your business card and we will post them on the website for everyone to vote on their favorite! Please email you entries to

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The Spouse, the House and the Job: Podcast with Simply Hired’s Founder Gautam Godhwani

The Spouse, the House and the Job: Podcast with Simply Hired’s Founder Gautam Godhwani

I had a great talk with Simply Hired co-founder and CEO Gautam Godhwani and I think everyone who’s ever had an entrepreneurial experience is going to love listening to this. What occurred to me from Gautam is both the serial nature of successful entrepreneurship and the sense that none of us do this alone. Not that every venture has to succeed, but there’s just this tendency among founders to keep thinking up new ideas and then execute on the best of those plans. In Gautam’s case, he, his brother and co-founders first launched @Web, which was acquired by Netscape/AOL. The founding team then went on to launch Simply Hired, now in its seventh year and profitable after $22 million invested by the team and VC firms.

Simply Hired, which aggregates five million job posts and operates in 21 countries, is perhaps the best example of the improving tools now available online to help employers and candidates find each other.  Let’s hear what you think –

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How Entrepreneurs Can Hit a Home Run on LinkedIn – Interview with JD Gershbein

How Entrepreneurs Can Hit a Home Run on LinkedIn – Interview with JD Gershbein

JD Gershbein, President of Owlish Communications and LinkedIn expert sat down with me to talk about how entrepreneurs can best use LinkedIn. It’s not just a matter of dutifully putting your name, rank and serial number on a profile. JD suggests using LI as a way for people to learn about you in a completely different sense than what they might see on your website or from a friend’s casual reference. Not only is LI highly searchable by Google, but it is a great way to brand yourself and generate referrals very specific to your expertise. Take a look/listen. This video will get you thinking of ways you can optimize your LinkedIn profile to bring you more business.

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The Balancing Act of Being an Entrepreneur

(Michael Tercha, Chicago Tribune / February 13, 2011)

I was brought back to my conversations with the founders in How They Did It when I read about a couple here in the US, Elza and Vivian Moses, ages 102 and 97 respectively, who’ve been married 80 years. That’s eighty years of marriage for this couple, starting from their wedding day in 1930, when Elza was 22 and his bride Vivian was 17. That’s an amazing accomplishment on so many levels of longevity, and brings up a point that a number of interviewers have been asking me since the book launched.

Do champion company founders tend to have strong marriages?

The answer is yes, but that’s not an unqualified, easy “yes”. I didn’t shy away from asking about work/life balance – but reaching great success is not always a pretty picture. Most of the champion entrepreneurs I interviewed have had what appears to be smooth sailing: one marriage over the course of many years. Based on comments from them I know that eight had at least one former marriage under their belt, and in some cases, multiple marriages.  Glen Tullman said it best – “Being an entrepreneur has everything to do with putting every second and every ounce of energy into building your business. No venture guy will ever invest in your business if you say your life is ‘in balance.’”

Most people tend to think that the external world – including work – impacts our relationships and either builds or hurts them. I think of it the other way around: if you are blessed with good personal relationships, everything flows out from that point and makes everything else easier and less important, including the circumstances of work.

The odds of Elza and Vivian living and being married that long are 1 in 7 million. Way to go –


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