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Live and learn (hopefully!) ...

Lute Olson was a very popular basketball coach at the University of Arizona.  He had many of his players move on to great careers in the NBA and other professional basketball leagues.  This quote is a good summary of his philosophy for sharing and teaching how to be a better player.  It works well for innovators and entrepreneurs, too ... let's do what we can as best as we can and learn and iterate and pivot as we go.  But, let's try hard to learn from what didn't go well, and not do the same thing again the next time around.

News Release Implementation Plan

Phase 1

  1. Outline base story
  2. Identify key individuals in the story
  3. Establish time frame for activities
  4. Identify target media

Phase 2

  1. Interview story makers
  2. Write a short story (3 pages) as a follow-up to requests for more information from the media or readers/viewers
  3. Write a focused news release(s)
  4. Send news release(s) to media

Phase 3

  1. Field inquiries from media regarding the release
  2. Track response to release
  3. Follow-up as needed

Phase 4

  1. Summarize activities ... package the story, news release(s), tracking info, results, suggestions for follow-up

Venture Hypothesis Outline

  1. Title slide or page ... venture concept name, team members, 3-word concept summary
  2. Opportunity ... the problem, market research and analysis, first customer(s) beachhead
  3. Solution and venture concept ... products and services, competitive advantage
  4. Business model ... how the venture will earn money (or self-sustain)
  5. Marketing and sales strategies ... how the venture will attract and retain customers, tactical marketing
  6. Product development and operations strategies ... how the venture will develop and deliver solutions to customers
  7. Team and organization ... the current team and what do they do, advisors, team members to be added
  8. Risks and variations ... downside and upside risks, timeline, and tolerances
  9. Financial model ... estimate of units sold, average selling price, revenue, expenses, and EBITDA for first 5 years; key assumptions; significant startup expenses
  10. Validation plan ... how the hypothesis will be validated
2.03

Red Flags ...

I have worked (in varying degrees, from light to heavy) with literally hundreds of new venture planning and startup teams, through my 20+ years at the University of Arizona, as a private consultant, and as a startup team member. 

I have a personal mental checklist that I use to evaluate the success probability of a new venture: can it move from the planning stage to a financially stable self-supporting business.  Some science here, some "gut feel", some "told you so" experience coming through ... but here are some of my "red flags": things startup team members say and what I really "hear".

They say: "We don't have any competition!"  ... I hear: "We haven't done our homework to see what else is really out there."

They say: "We the first to ever do this!" ... I hear: "So who cares?  If it's never been done before, maybe that's because there's really no need to do it."

They say: "Everyone is going to want one of our new gizmogadgets!" ... I hear: "Our family and close friends think our gizmogadget is really neat!"

They say: "We're going to build a much, much better gizmogadget and sell it for half as much as the competition!" ... I hear: "We have no idea how much it will really cost to make our gizmogadget or how much it will really cost to market it."

... and there are more!  Check back every now and then, and I'll update this post.

Scientific Method

So what do those scientists do to solve a problem?  They're usually pretty good at doing that.  The Scientific Method has been around for years, and is well refined.  Here 'tis ... we can apply it to most any problem. 
  1. Purpose ... what do you want to learn?
  2. Research ... find out as much as you can!
  3. Hypothesis ... try to predict the answer to the problem, an "educated guess" ... "If I (do something), then (this will occur)".
  4. Experiment ... design a test or procedure to confirm of disprove your hypothesis.
  5. Analysis ... record what happened during the experiment ... collect data.
  6. Conclusion ... review the data and check to see if your hypothesis was correct
  7. Iteration ... change what didn't work and test it again.

Financial Objectives

Here's a photo of a whiteboard from my old office at the University of Arizona that shows a representative example of setting some "financial objectives" for a business venture ...

Android Apps I've found most useful ...

OK, I admit it ... I'm an "Android Guy".  My tablets, my smartphone, even my Chromebooks all have Android apps.  I'm a (usually) happy camper.  Here are some of the apps I've found most useful ... no particular order ...

Google Keep (notes and lists), Memento (relational database), Squid (graphics and notes), Evernote (notes and articles filing, document scanning), File Commander (file management), Open Camera (photography), Google Drive (file storage and document scanning), Google Calendar (time management), HereWeGo (offline maps and navigation), Skype (video communications), Google Voice (text messaging, telephone), LinkedIn (personal networking), Gmail (email), LastPass (password management), Night Clock (soft night clock), ClockSync (time), OpenTable (dinner reservations), OurGroceries (shopping, to-do, packing lists), OfficeSuite (off-line word processing, spreadsheet, pdf), Google Slides (off-line presentations), Google Docs (on- and off-line word processing), Chambers Thesaurus (offline thesaurus), Chambers Dictionary (offline dictionary), Amazon Music (off- and on-line music), Speedtest (internet performance measurement), Easy Voice Recorder (audio recording), Google Photos (photography storage), Amazon Kindle (books and materials), Touch RPN (RPN calculator), Blogger (blogging), AP News (news), Google News (news), Amazon (shopping) ... [- Jim]

The Critical Success Factor

There are multiple factors that directly influence the health and wealth of any given business venture. These factors may be diverse and different depending on the nature of the business. The Critical Success Factor, however, is common to virtually all business ventures.

The Critical Success Factor: Earn a Profit Solving Customer Problems Better than the Competition. It is do, or die. A venture dies for one of three reasons: 1] It didn't earn a profit; 2] It didn't solve its customer's problems; 3] It wasn't better than the competitive alternatives.

Earn a Profit Solving Customer Problems Better than the Competition ... The Critical Success Factor for all business ventures.

Critical ... having the potential to become disastrous
Success ... attains prosperity
Factor ... a circumstance that contributes to an outcome

* Earn ... Teamwork!  A business employs a team of people working together to continually and profitably solve customer problems better than competing alternatives. Healthy, growing ventures follow a clear business model. An educated, experienced, collaborative, communicative team with key core competencies is paramount to success.

* Profit ... The monetary value captured by a business is appropriately called earnings. After all expenses are accounted, earnings become profit. Profit is a reward for doing a good job solving customer problems. A key source of growth funding for a business venture is earned profit. While the profit reward is "financial", the reward can and should have other elements, too. In a healthy venture culture it can actually be "fun" going to work and being part of the team, and their may well be some "fame" that results from delivering valued solutions to customers.

* Solving ... Solutions to customer problems are typically combinations of products, services, process, and methods. However, the world keeps changing as do customers and competitors. Solving customer problems, new and old, is a continuing process for sustaining a healthy venture.

* Customer ... Customers are the primary source of revenue for a business venture. Some business ventures may have only a few key customers, others may have many. A group of customers that share similar traits comprise a market segment. Many business ventures may serve multiple and varied market segments. A business venture exists to serve its customers.

* Problems ... Customer needs, wants, desires, and situations that can be adequately addressed  and resolved in a reasonable time and expense are good opportunities for a business venture.

* Better ... Continually improving value is critical to sustaining a competitive advantage. Scientists and engineers often think about innovative solutions in terms of the fit, form, function, features, and performance. The entrepreneur thinks in terms of the benefits customers will receive. Value is measured by comparing the benefits to the price. Value can be increased by delivering better benefits to customers, by lowering the price, or both. Customers decide what offers the better value. In the long run, the products, services, processes, and methods that deliver a better value win the business.  In short: Value = Benefits / Price

* Competition ... There are (almost) always competing solutions and ventures from other sources that are directly comparable to our solution. This competition includes indirect alternatives, substitutes, and replacements that could serve customer requirements. Best to assume we have competition, even if we don't yet know who or what. Competition is not always a bad thing ... competitors can help validate and build new markets, and sometimes competitors can become collaborative partners.

Potential Business Models

1. Design physical products/merchandise
2. Manufacture physical products/merchandise
3. Sell physical products/merchandise
4. Create information/content/data
5. Aggregate or distribute information/content/data
6. Provide personal or business service
7. Provide expert advice/consultation
8. Provide money/financing
9. Provide labor or human resources
10. Transport products/services
11. Provide infrastructure/telecommunications
12. Provide in-person or online marketplace for others to sell goods or services