Owning and running a company is no small task. It’s a difficult, stressful, never-ending process that actually gets more complex as you find success. It’s hard enough for people who specifically studied business in school. And for those who didn’t study business, the challenge is even more daunting. When so many former business students fail, it must frequently feel overwhelming for students of other disciplines.
YPO member Yi Li isn’t afraid of a challenge. A lifelong lover of science, she braved a new country and different culture when she left China to pursue her PhD in physics on a full scholarship at Louisiana State University. As she studied energy storage, battery technology and management, and charge control, she realized she had the makings of a great alternative energy company.
Li wasn’t hindered by her lack of business experience–in fact, she started her solar power company in her apartment while she was still a student. Today, Li is the president and CEO of Renogy Solar, which manufactures and sells a wide range of solar-powered products. Renogy was certified by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council and earned a spot on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing private companies. The company has also won several bronze- and gold-level awards from the Golden Bridge Awards, and was included on the Fastest-Growing Women-Owned Company list released by the Women Presidents’ Organization.
Li didn’t have a business background, but she didn’t let that stop her from founding her own company. “I didn’t have any background or experience or education about running a business, or even financial experience or knowledge. I’d never thought about those difficulties,” she recalls. When she began, it certainly wasn’t all smooth sailing. “I definitely went through a lot of difficulties and challenges, but every time I saw challenges, I thought about my passion. I thought about my purpose.
If that’s my goal, forget about how I feel how difficult it is. Just try to find a solution,” she asserts. Li is also not afraid to admit what she doesn’t know. “If I see I lack knowledge [in a particular area], I’ll get a book or take online classes. I’m really a self-learner, so I learned all that stuff by myself,” she explains. Don’t let your own self-doubt get in the way of pursuing something great.
2. Don’t feel compelled to follow all the rules
While she acknowledges the difficulties inherent in starting a company without a business background, Li also believes there may be some benefit in not being tied to one philosophy. “You need to think outside the box,” she argues. “Don’t follow too many old-school type, book, education principles. Even if it’s a lot of good experience, it may not apply to you.” She encourages entrepreneurs to find their own path. “You can learn, but try to develop something that is unique to you,” she says.
Li believes she has a good example in Jack Ma of Alibaba. “He didn’t have all the necessary professional skills when he started the business–he was a teacher,” Li explains. “When he started the business, not everybody believed his dream. But he ignored all of the voices. If he decided to do something, he was very, very determined.” Ma and Li aren’t afraid to follow their instincts.
3. Be frugal
Li is very blunt about this: “You need to run a business frugally,” she emphasizes. The challenge, of course, is that talent can be expensive. Thankfully, she’s found a way to compensate for that. “My employees truly believe in what we’re doing,” she beams. “We’re still a startup, and we’re not paying as high compared to a lot of Fortune 500 companies,” she admits, but her company is about more than dollars and cents.
“I look for people who truly want to develop themselves, because they’re not here just for the paycheck. We instill a passion and a dream into our employees’ minds. That’s how I recruit people.”
4. Believe in it
Do what you love! It’s exactly what led Li down the path from science to entrepreneurship. “I truly want to be a scientist. I really love physics. What I studied was superconductivity and semiconductor materials. And one of my projects was related to alternative energy studies. So there I saw my passion taking form,” she fondly recalls. Whatever your calling, follow what brings you joy. “I truly believe you have to be a passionate person and do what you truly want to do,” Li states.
It doesn’t mean it will be easy. She explains, “You cannot just do this for money. You have to do this for love. Otherwise, you cannot deal with all of the obstacles you’ll face.” For Li, her mission is clear: “I really think a sustainable future is something we should all work for and fight for,” she says. Wherever your passion lies, pursue happiness.
On Fridays, Kevin explores industry trends, professional development, best practices, and other leadership topics with CEOs from around the world.
Start Your Own Business by Writing Business Plan. How to write a successful business plan for successful startups. Step By Step – How to write a business plan an effectively for starting your own business. Watch 11 Elements of Sample Business Plan – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i1b0_… TOP 10 TIPS Before Starting Your OWN BUSINESS : https://youtu.be/wxyGeUkPYFM Join our Young Entrepreneurs Forum – http://www.youngentrepreneursforum.com/#youngentrepreneursforum Do you need a business plan for successful startups in India, USA, UK & Canada. Starting an own business needs working plan which compiles some important details about product & company. Problem Solving Skills To Start a Small Business – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I9Ho3…#startsmallbusiness 9 Steps For Writing a Business Plan – Required Steps to Write a Business Plan for your company or service. Step 1 – Define your vision 1:16 Step 2 – Set your goals and objectives for the business 1:50 Step 3 – Define your Unique Selling Proposition 2:29 Step 4 – Know your market 3:02 Step 5 – Know your customer 3:57 Step 6 – Research the demand for your business 4:47 Step 7 – Set your marketing goals 5:52 Step 8 – Define your marketing strategy 6:38 Step 9 – Take Action! 7:20 These all Steps are very important while you are writing a business plan for starting your own business. Life of Riley by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/…) Source: http://incompetech.com/music/royalty-… Artist: http://incompetech.com/ You must have to focus on Idea, Product,Strategy,Team, Marketing and Profit while you are writing business plan for your successful stratups.
The jury is out on whether corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs will one day make the world a better place. But this much is pretty clear: They’re already benefiting the companies that have implemented them. And in some unexpected ways.
Specifically, CSR has become the weapon of choice for what is known as, in corporate speak, the three R’s: Investor Relations, Human Resources, and Public Relations.
But before we dive into details, a CSR mini-lesson is in order. First off, CSR isn’t an overnight sensation. Over the past couple of decades, companies have been embracing the idea that they need to do more than just make a profit for shareholders. Do-good efforts slowly evolved from passive and limited corporate philanthropy programs—giving to the United Way, for example—to broader and more active CSR programs. Those would take on major social issues like Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Women program, which in partnership with the International Finance Corporation (World Bank) has delivered $1.45 billion in loans to women-owned businesses in developing countries.
Now, they have evolved even more. Many companies are now incorporating impact-on-society considerations into core business activities. For example, Starbucks only uses “ethically-sourced coffee.” Programs like these are often focused on “sustainability.” In August, 181 CEOs of the country’s largest corporations signed a Business Roundtable statement committing to managing their companies not just for shareholders, but also for customers, employees, suppliers, and communities.
The idea behind all of these efforts is the well-worn slogan “doing well by doing good,” which means that being a positive force in the community will enhance a company’s reputation, which in theory will pay off in more sales, lower costs and over the long term, more money for shareholders.
Can you even measure something like this? Stephen Hahn-Griffiths, chief reputation officer of the Reputation Institute in Boston, says you can. He reels off a string of statistics, like “40% of the reputation of a company is related to corporate responsibility” and says his organization’s research proves that reputation is a leading indicator of stock market capitalization, or the total value of a company’s shares. In other words, he adds, “CSR has a multiplier effect” when it comes to a company’s value. But CSR can be risky. And take a little guts.
According to analysts, CVS’s 2014 decision to stop selling tobacco products cost it $2 billion a year in sales and caused the stock price to drop. (Investors took a $1.43 billion hit that year according to Martin Anderson of UNC Greensboro.) In 2010, Campbell Soup announced it was reducing the salt levels in many of its soups, a decision they reversed the following year when sales fell by 32%.
Meanwhile, in 2018, Dick’s Sporting Goods stopped selling assault rifles. On a panel at this year’s Aspen Ideas Festival, CEO Ed Stack said that decision cost them customers and employees. He notes that many of the customers who applauded the decision at the time seem to have forgotten, but those who were in opposition have not. “Love is fleeting,” he says. “But hate is forever.”
But many companies feel the do-gooder dividend outweighs the risks, both in relations with consumers and in day-to-day operations.
Brad McLane, who recruits high-level positions at RSR Partners, says, “Companies aren’t doing it just to say they have it. My clients are incorporating it into how they do business—what ingredients they use, where they source, how they design products.” Megan Kashner, clinical professor at the Kellogg School of Management’s Public-Private Interface agrees. She’s says that we’ve moved from “greenwashing programs that mimic CSR” to an era of “authentic CSR.” Greenwashing is the practice of making misleading claims that make a company appear more environmentally or socially conscious than it is, for example, when BP began touting itself as being environmentally conscious through a $200 million public relations campaign, only to have a string of environmental disasters—some of which, according to a government report, were caused by corporate cost-cutting to boost profits.
Simon Lowden, Pepsico chief sustainability officer, says, “It’s woven into how we operate as a business. For instance, we need to maintain our license to operate in water-stressed regions, so we’d better focus on being responsible stewards of water. It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s important to our business.”
CSR is particularly useful in human resources. Rebecca M. Henderson, holds the John and Natty McArthur Chair at Harvard and is finishing a book on this topic, Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire. She says: “CSR has a tremendous impact on the morale of employees. Authentic purpose, which may mean occasionally sacrificing profits, accesses a whole range of emotions difficult to get at otherwise, like trust and engagement.”
In other words, it gets through. And that is a good thing. It leads to higher levels of productivity and employee retention.
CSR can also be a big factor in recruiting, particularly for younger employees, says Eric Johnson, executive director of graduate career services at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. He says, “Social impact is a big piece of the recruiting process. Probably 50 percent of that initial conversation is about what the company is doing to make the world better.”
“Beer companies used to talk about fun and sports. Now they talk about their programs to save water in the world. Social impact can tip the scales. Is a student going to choose an $85,000-a-year job over a $125,000 job because of social impact? I doubt it. But my observation is that jobs heavy in social impact often pay up to 10 percent less than comparable jobs that don’t.”
Professor Kashner adds, “These newly minted MBAs care and they care about the type of work they’re going to be doing. Maybe previous generations drew a line between work and personal life and values, but those boundaries no longer exist.” Korn Ferry, the giant executive recruiting firm, recently surveyed the professionals in its network. “Company mission and values” was the No. 1 reason (33 percent ) they’d choose to work for one company over another.
CSR is increasingly part of the conversation with individual shareholders and investors, like the world’s largest investment firm, BlackRock, which manages $6.5 trillion dollars for its clients. In his last two annual letters, CEO Larry Fink has called on companies to do more and said that BlackRock will evaluate companies on more than just financial numbers. His 2018 letter said, “As divisions continue to deepen, companies must demonstrate their commitment to the countries, regions, and communities where they operate, particularly on issues central to the world’s future prosperity.” Many investment firms now have someone in charge of building portfolios around companies based on their performance on Environmental, Social and Governance or ESG. (Measuring which companies are woke is an industry in and of itself.)
One aggregator of ESG ratings, CSRhub.com, lists 634 data sources. They range from the very broad (for example, Alex’s Guide to Compassionate Shopping) to the very specific (for example, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety).
For public relations, CSR is both an offensive and a defensive weapon. CSR can be used to pre-empt the conversation in areas where companies have been criticized. Procter & Gamble’s “Ambition 2030 program is heavy on recycling and biodegradability.
But CSR can also be a useful defense. It not only builds up a stock of goodwill with the media and the public, but it generates good news that crowds out the bad. Large corporations are going to get a certain amount of press and awkward questions each day—better that press and those questions be about CSR than, say, worker safety or GMOs. For example, in 2018 when Johnson & Johnson was accused of knowingly selling baby powder with harmful levels of asbestos, Harvard professor Bill George wrote a stirring defense of the company, focusing not on the merits of the claim, but on J&J’s “Our Credo,” a commitment to integrity and customers written in 1943 (and likely the first CSR document ever produced.)
Still, not everyone is convinced. There are many who adhere to the late economist Milton Friedman’s argument that the sole purpose of the corporation is to make more money for shareholders, who can then choose for themselves whether or not they want to save the world.
Judith Samuelson, vice president of Aspen Institute and founder of their Business and Society Program, who’s worked with many of the companies currently leading the way in CSR, says, “The shareholder primacy viewpoint hasn’t gone away. And even if attitudes have changed, measures haven’t. Many executives, including CEO’s, are still paid in stock, and those who manage portfolios for institutional investors are still bonused on the value of those portfolios.”
Samuelson worries that “Companies may think these (current) programs are enough and not make fundamental change.” Kashner is more optimistic. She cites work that says large public companies are increasingly incorporating CSR metrics into executive compensation contracts.
Those who oppose CSR programs argue that trying to do two things at once, like making a profit and serving society, will destroy the effectiveness of companies.
Samuelson scoffs at this. “Of course companies can do more than one thing. Public companies have to manage multiple objectives all the time. No public company in the world would last a week if the only people they cared about were shareholders. What about customers? Employees?”
She believes that CSR really boils down to responsible decision making, doing what it takes for companies to succeed in the long term. Whatever, CSR is here to stay. It’s become part of the fabric of investing, company operations, and business school curricula.
It’s now being tracked and measured, and in business, what gets measured gets done.
Alex Edmans talks about the long-term impacts of social responsibility and challenges the idea that caring for society is at the expense of profit. Alex is a Professor of Finance at London Business School. Alex graduated top of his class from Oxford University and then worked for Morgan Stanley in investment banking (London) and fixed income sales and trading (NYC). After a PhD in Finance from MIT Sloan as a Fulbright Scholar, he joined Wharton, where he was granted tenure and won 14 teaching awards in six years. Alex’s research interests are in corporate finance, behavioural finance, CSR, and practical investment strategies. He has been awarded the Moskowitz Prize for Socially Responsible Investing and the FIR-PRI prize for Finance and Sustainability, and was named a Rising Star of Corporate Governance by Yale University. Alex co-led a session at the 2014 World Economic Forum in Davos, and runs a blog, “Access to Finance” (www.alexedmans.blogspot.com), that aims to make complex finance topics accessible to a general audience. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at http://ted.com/tedx
The bankers you work with may seem like great men and women, and they probably are truly nice people. They greet you by name, ask about your spouse and kids and appear to take a real interest in how well your enterprise is doing. Their financial products may be meeting your needs to a T.
But how strongly do you feel about your relationship with your bank? How do you think they’ll cooperate with you when the stuff hits the fan — which it most certainly will at some point? That’s the real test.
Here’s a true-life example: I’ve been working with an entrepreneur who finds himself in a down cycle. The company’s business plan is sound, the management team is experienced, and the product remains viable, so the problem isn’t terminal. But it may be awhile before the company’s prospects brighten.
The company works with a popular bank, which is starting to get nervous about its loans and is considering adding demanding conditions or even calling the loans.
The entrepreneur, however, feels a sense of loyalty to the bank, which has worked with him for several years. I have counseled him to consider other options. The reality is that bankers seven states away that he’s never met, not his local team — are the ones making the decisions.
He’s holding fast– and that’s a big mistake.
The entrepreneur has the opportunity to move to a smaller, regional bank. That bank’s rates may be slightly higher, but they’re more interested in a relationship.
And there’s certainly value in being in the room with the actual decision-makers — for both sides. Yes, your financials are going to be the primary determinant in lending decisions, but the human element can sway an on-the-fence lender to your team. Meantime, you’ll be able to tell a lot about the banker by meeting in person. Sometimes, it’s okay to trust your gut.
Loyalty only takes you so far
I get why entrepreneurs are loyal to bankers that have brought them success, but passing up the opportunity for a better financial situation is a kin to resting on your laurels.
As an entrepreneur, your best chances for success are by finding every possible edge you can. Incremental gains add up nicely over time, you should be taking advantage of them.
As for your spurned banker — they will get over it. Yes, that’s cynical, but that’s the way the business world works, especially with the larger banks. Remember also that your financial needs are a living, changing thing. What worked for you at one point may not be the most appropriate thing for you now.
The most successful entrepreneurs and companies are never satisfied with the status quo. Neither should you.
Are you struggling in your business? Does each month feel like it’s a mad dash to figure out who’s going to get paid? I want to teach you what I do to turn around businesses to make them profitable again. Are you an entrepreneur? Get free weekly video training here: http://www.danmartell.com/newsletter + Join me on FB: http://FB.com/DanMartell + Connect w/ me live: http://periscope.tv/danmartell + Tweet me: http://twitter.com/danmartell + Instagram awesomeness: http://instagram.com/danmartell I’m the guy that gets the call when a business is in trouble… … when a business is on the verge of bankruptcy. Friends call me. Banks call me. If I’m lucky, the entrepreneur calls me before it’s too late. The truth is, it’s always challenging for me to see another entrepreneur failing… … especially when they have major debt owed, personal guarantees and their biggest dreams hanging in the air as collateral. It’s even more heartbreaking when kids are involved. It crushes me inside. That being said, the game plan to turn things around is ALWAYS the same. The #1 thing it takes is uncomfortable discussions, honest assessments and quick decisions. Hard? You have no idea. However, staring at the light waiting for the train to hit you isn’t the right move either. Recently I was able to take a company losing tens of thousands each month, to profitable in 14 days. In this week’s video I provide a step by step process for getting you off the tracks, and pulling a sharp 180 regardless of the challenges you’re facing. When it comes to the steps and process they go like this: 1) Get clarity on the numbers (scary as hell, but necessary) 2) Test the business model 3) Cut deep but not the bone 4) Focus on the customers 5) Write the rules 6) Build it back up The truth is, this strategy is something most companies should use to evaluate their real success. Too many times I’ve had founders tell me their business is doing “GREAT” only to ask a few questions and have them realize they’re way below the market norm. Stop being romantic about your business and get serious about how you’re measuring your progress. Leave a comment below with your business, industry and top question you have about your business model or challenges and I’ll be sure to provide some insights to help you evaluate your progress! Dan “saving businesses daily” Martell Don’t forget to share this entrepreneurial advice with your friends, so they can learn too: https://youtu.be/JyfE6jzcOGI ===================== ABOUT DAN MARTELL ===================== “You can only keep what you give away.” That’s the mantra that’s shaped Dan Martell from a struggling 20-something business owner in the Canadian Maritimes (which is waaay out east) to a successful startup founder who’s raised more than $3 million in venture funding and exited not one… not two… but three tech businesses: Clarity.fm, Spheric and Flowtown. You can only keep what you give away. That philosophy has led Dan to invest in 33+ early stage startups such as Udemy, Intercom, Unbounce and Foodspotting. It’s also helped him shape the future of Hootsuite as an advisor to the social media tour de force. An activator, a tech geek, an adrenaline junkie and, yes, a romantic (ask his wife Renee), Dan has recently turned his attention to teaching startups a fundamental, little-discussed lesson that directly impacts their growth: how to scale. You’ll find not only incredible insights in every moment of every talk Dan gives – but also highly actionable takeaways that will propel your business forward. Because Dan gives freely of all that he knows. After all, you can only keep what you give away. Get free training videos, invites to private events, and cutting edge business strategies: http://www.danmartell.com/newsletter
Ray Reddy has raised millions of dollars in startup funds, sold a company to Google and is taking on the local business gauntlet in an innovative new way. Yet, he chose to exit Google and Silicon Valley to launch his latest venture.
In his exclusive interview on the DealMakers Podcast, Ray Reddy shared the pros and cons of the valley and his fundraising strategies.
The Art of Business
Always curious, Ray wondered if business was like math and science. He attended the University of Waterloo to study computer science, then a Masters of Business and Entrepreneurship and Technology.
He says he learned some good foundational principles, how to approach complicated problems, and how to learn quickly. Yet, when entering the business world he found that very little of what he learned had any practical knowledge of applicability. He says “it’s much more about common sense and experience than it is about definitive approaches and how to solve some of these problems.”
After school he went straight into corporate strategy at BlackBerry, doing M&A and venture investments. Yet, he has always not only had a lifelong craving for learning, but a passion for building something and building something that he found had a purpose.
What Google Gets about M&A
The mobile phone was starting to consume other portable electronics. It quickly began to absorb portable navigation, portable GPS, handheld units, and portable media players. Yet, no one seemed to be addressing it. Ray Reddy decided to go solve it himself and built a team of people to go after it.
That startup became PushLife.
Prior to the iPhone, they focused on building an experience that made it very easy for people to move content back and forth between their phone and their computers, specifically music. It took normal phones, and it gave them an iPod-like experience on Android, BlackBerry, and Nokia. PushLife ended up licensing software to major carriers.
It was so successful it was acquired by Google. After the acquisition, he was at Google for four years. First in the Canadian Google office in Waterloo. Then out in Mountain View at Google‘s headquarters.
He ended up running the mobile commerce team for one of their products. Then towards the end, Ray was actually part of the launch team for Google Shopping Express, which was their same-day delivery effort in retail.
The difference with companies like Google, according to Ray, is that they do hundreds of acquisitions a year. They really turn it into a mass production factory. It’s very organized. There are no games. They are very straight-up. From Ray‘s perspective, it doesn’t feel like anyone is trying to overly optimize a negotiation. It makes a lot of sense because the transaction is the beginning of the relationship.
Ray‘s opinion is that Google‘s M&A process is designed in a way to get a group of people that are energized and that deliver a lot of value over the upcoming years. Contrast that with some other acquisition approaches and the result is quite different.
Eventually, Ray found a big new problem to solve. He ultimately concluded that structurally, a big company wasn’t set up to solve this problem, even with all the resources a company like Google has.
Toronto vs. The Valley
Ray moved his founding team to Toronto. Not that the Valley isn’t a really interesting place. He says “On one hand, it is the capital of technology worldwide, but I think there’s also some really weird dynamics there.” The biggest one being that you’ve got a very high concentration of very wealthy people, and they’re all early adopters.
He points to the collapse of the entire on-demand space, everything from on-demand valets to cleaning services several years ago, and a massive false-positive from the Valley.
Because when you have places like Palo Alto where average household incomes are north of $2 million, you can fool yourself into thinking that there are enough people who will pay a big premium for convenience.
As Ray states, “the types of investors living in the Valley are not at all sensitive to paying a $10 delivery fee for having a $10 item brought to them.“ That doesn’t seem weird to them. When you look across average neighborhoods and cities in North America, that’s not necessarily true. You lose sight of that in the Valley. You lose sight of the average person.
Ray says “So, if you’re trying to build a mass market consumer product, you just have to be very careful of false-positives that can come from something working in the Valley“
Then the team went and looked at the reality of building talent there, and hiring, and cost, and a lot of those other things. They decided to move to Toronto instead.
Ray’s latest startup is Ritual which is a social ordering app that taps into networks of co-workers and colleagues for fast and easy pick-up and pay at a wide variety of local restaurants and coffee shops.
He has already raised $120 million in capital. Greylock led the Series A out of the Valley. Insight did the Series B out of New York. Georgian Partners led the C round out of Toronto.
Rather than waiting until funds are imminently needed to close a round, he says “I think about it differently which is you should always be talking to investors. Always having an ongoing conversation with investors.”
He’s always talking to the next stage of investors and trying to build that relationship. Fundraising comes down to trust, and do they trust your judgment? Do they trust that you can do what you say you’re going to do?
For Ritual, it’s never been about the investor that gives the highest valuation. It has been about who do you want to work with and who do you want to build this company with and spend time with.
He’s had a relationship with each one of those investors for about 9 to 12 months before the round. When it came time for fundraising, it was a no-brainer each time.
Today Ritual has a team of about 300 people globally.
Listen in to the full podcast episode to find out more, including:
The process of selling your company to Google
Benefits of launching in cities outside of Silicon Valley
Ways to build relationships with investors
Success factors behind marketplaces
Retention as the critical factor for ultimate success in business
Alejandro Cremades is a serial entrepreneur and author of best-seller The Art of Startup Fundraising, a book that offers a step-by-step guide to today‘s way of raising money for entrepreneurs.
Anthony Martin, 36, has created financial freedom for himself that many people can only dream of.
He generates $1 million in annual revenue at Choice Mutual, a one-man insurance agency he founded, by selling a very specialized niche product: final expense insurance. It covers burial expenses, so someone’s family doesn’t have to pay the costs, with a payout that is typically in the range of $10,000 to $30,000.
Six years ago, Martin’s life was very different. Working as a manager at an insurance agency in Roseville, Calif., Martin wished he had more control over how things were done. He eventually realized what he really wanted was to be his own boss. In 2013, he took a leap of faith and started the agency from his home.
Martin is one of a fast-growing cohort of entrepreneurs who are breaking $1 million in non-employer businesses, the government’s term for those that have no full-time employees except the owners.
The number of nonemployer firms that generate $1 million to $2.49 million in revenue rose to 36,161 in 2016, up 1.6 percent from 35,584 in 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That number is up 35.2% from 26,744 in 2011.
So how did Martin grow his agency to $1 million? Recently, he shared his strategies with me. Many of his approaches are instructive for anyone who is selling a consumer product or service online.
Here’s how he pulled it off.
Focus on an area you already know well. It’s easiest to get a running start in a new business if you have already worked in the same industry. By the time he went into business, Martin had already racked up years of experience selling final expense insurance, so there was no need to get a crash course. It was easy for him to explain his product to customers because of that. “I have a very thorough understanding of all of the options out there,” he says.
Find an efficient way to attract customers. Although Martin knew his product well, he didn’t have experience in marketing, so he sought outside help. He hired a company called SellTermLife.com to build a website for him that would rank well in Google and help him get leads, through a customized marketing plan. He put up the website in June 2016.
Even with expert assistance, it was slow going at first. “It took me six months before I got a single lead from Google,” he says. Nonetheless, Martin kept showing up at his desk every day to build up his website. “You’re really going for a long-term play,” he says.
It took stamina to stay committed during those early months. The battle to get market share wasn’t the only one he was waging. For entrepreneurs, he believes, the real fight is to keep showing up for your business, even when it would be easy to slack off. “The majority of the fighting you’re doing is completely against yourself,” he says.
After Martin got his first lead, his momentum accelerated. Two months after that, he started getting daily leads through his site—and now it brings in many more. “It feeds me a never-ending flow of ready-to-buy customers,” says Martin.
Offer top-quality content. In working on his marketing plan,Martin had learned from the team at SellTermLife.com that it was important to publish high-quality, informative content to attract people to his site. As readers clicked on practical articles he wrote on topics such as state-regulated life insurance, life insurance for 89-year-olds and buying insurance for your parents, the site gradually built a strong organic rank in Google.
Here again, sticking with a niche subject he knew served Martin well. “You cannot find another website that sells this type of insurance that has anywhere near the level of in-depth, accurate information about this product,” says Martin.
Creating robust content took a serious investment of time, given that Martin did not have a writer on retainer. Every day during the week and for five to eight hours on the weekends, he’d create articles that address commonly-asked questions about final expense insurance. The articles attracted people who were already seriously interested in his product and also helped him to “own” certain search-term keywords, including “long-tail” phrases—such as questions customers might type into a search engine.
To figure out which keywords mattered most, Martin researched which ones were most commonly used, relying on tools such as Google’s keyword planner and SEM Rush. He also tapped his own knowledge of the field. “After selling this type of insurance for so long, I know the words people use,” says Martin.
Automate your leads. Martin’s site enables people to “request to apply” for the insurance by filling out a form. By the time a prospect has filled out the form, Martin knows he or she is serious.
To avoid losing track of these leads, Martin set up his site so the leads automatically go to his customer relationship management (CRM) system. Once it feeds him their contact information, he reaches out by phone, prioritizing the newest leads. “The person who has submitted a lead most recently is always the best person to call,” he says.
Thanks to this system, Martin never has to chase anyone down to get them to listen to a sales presentation. “I’m in a really unique situation in the world of selling insurance,” says Martin. “I actually don’t really sell anymore. For all intents and purposes, I’m more of a cashier. I just take orders.”
Embrace remote work. Many insurance agents spend a good part of their day driving to and from appointments with customers. Not Martin.
When customers decide to buy, Martin guides them by phone through a remote application process that the insurance companies have put in place. Sometimes customers sign documents using a program such as DocuSign. Other times, they use a voice signature on the phone.
Working virtually in this way helps Martin make the most of his time every day. “I’ve never met a person face to face to process the deals,” he says. “It’s all done remotely.”
Stay focused. Some of Martin’s contacts have recommended that he sell Medicare supplements or cancer plans. He always says no. “The reason I’m really successful in this space is I have been hyper-focused at being the most expert authority you can imagine on this type of insurance,” says Martin. When he gets an inquiry from someone who wants to buy insurance outside of his niche, he refers the prospect to a trusted industry colleague.
Martin does not look for reciprocal referrals, finding that leads that arrive this way are generally not as inclined to buy as the prospects who come in through his own website. “Right now if I had to choose between serving a customer who has said ‘I’m ready to apply. Please sign me up,” or a referral who has a question, I’m not going to make as much money from a referral,” he says. “That’s why I tell people ‘Don’t refer people to me.’ I allocate my working hours to people who are ready to sign up.”
One thing that helps Martin attract business is having a large number of positive online reviews. He requests reviews from customers automatically using TrustPilot’s automated system.
Keep overhead low Martin started out working from home in Roseville, Calif., but when his website traffic started to increase dramatically in March 2017 and he saw the business’s full growth potential, he realized there would be tax advantages to locating to Nevada, which has no state income tax. Licensing costs were also lower. He rented an office there for $2,500 a month.
Having the space is important because soon, Martin believes, he’ll need to hire other agents. “I have so much web traffic and so many leads that if I want to continue to monetize a lot of what is possible, I will have to hire agents to process those deals as well,” he says.
In the meantime, Martin keeps the rest of his overhead to about $500 a month. That covers his errors & omissions insurance, licensing fees and CRM subscription.
Protect your most precious resource. In a one-person business, where you have no one to back you up, staying healthy is essential.
Although Martin works long hours as he grows his business, he always finds time to work out. Rising at 4:30 a.m. every morning, he goes to a gym where he can do strength training and play basketball. Then he heads home for breakfast and starts making phone calls from his office around 7:30 a.m.
On the weekends, Martin and his wife, Christelle, love to enjoy the outdoors with their German Shepherds, Bear, and his new adopted sibling, eight-week-old Olive. “I could definitely sleep more,” Martin says—but his life is too full of good things at the moment to spend much time hitting the snooze button.
From the embers of World War I emerged a new kind of organization, led by entrepreneurs, committed to ensuring the free flow of goods across the world’s war-ravaged borders.
The International Chamber of Commerce, whose mission is to streamline global business, is one of last vestiges of the League of Nations, founded in 1920 by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson to peacefully settle international disputes. By 1923, following the League’s lead, the ICC had established international courts to arbitrate business disputes, and in the aftermath of WW II, it represented global business interests at the Bretton Woods conference, which established the current monetary order.
“If goods are able to move across borders without the need to be accompanied by troops,” says John Denton, the ICC’s current secretary general, “there is a higher probability of peace and prosperity.” The Paris-based group, which represents 45 million businesses in more than 130 countries and brands itself the world’s largest business organization, is now making its boldest play in a generation.
With global borders hardening once again, this time behind border walls, broken unions and looming trade wars, Denton signed an agreement with the Singapore-based blockchain startup Perlin Net Group to explore how the technology, made popular by bitcoin for its ability to move value without banks, could help the ICC continue its mission to facilitate the free flow of goods.
“We can trace back the ICC interventions that made a big impact on the global economy in the 20th century,” says Denton, who was a fellow at the Australian Institute of International Affairs before being appointed secretary general of the ICC last year. “We think this might be one which we can look back on in 100 years and say the ICC shifted blockchain in a way that enabled the private sector to function more effectively in a sustainable way and actually create more opportunities for people.”
According to the terms of the agreement, part of which was shown to Forbes, the ICC and Perlin will create a new group, the ICC Blockchain/DLT Alliance, a reference to distributed ledger technology similar to the blockchain that powers bitcoin. The companies are exploring how Perlin’s blockchain platform, which has yet to publicly launch, could be used to shine a light on obscure supply chains and simplify cross-border trade finance.
As part of the agreement, the ICC will help Perlin recruit members to its nascent blockchain alliance, specifically by making introductions to the organization’s massive member pool, which in addition to most national chambers of commerce includes direct membership from companies like Amazon, Coca Cola, Fedex, McDonalds and PayPal. Also, as part of the agreement, Perlin will join the ICC as an official technology partner, offering free access to its blockchain platform during the early stages of the project.
Denton shared his plans with the ICC Banking Commission at its annual event in Beijing earlier this week, and the agreement, which was signed on March 20, will be formally announced at an ICC event in Singapore later today.
Unlike some early blockchain consortia, the ICC Blockchain/DLT Alliance already had projects under way when it was announced. According to the agreement, the ICC and Perlin will share the results of their first blockchain proof of concept, a collaboration with the fabric giant Asia Pacific Rayon (APR), in May at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit.
For that project, called “Follow Our Fibre,” APR is logging data in the blockchain at every level of its supply chain, from the trees that are harvested to the chemical treatments that turn them into the silk-like rayon substance through to the massive spools that are later sold to clothing producers.
“Globally, there is a dynamic shift in the textiles and fashion sectors calling for a more traceable and transparent supply chain,” says Cherie Tan, vice president of communications and sustainability at APR. “Follow Our Fibre will enable us to leverage powerful blockchain functionality to drive greater efficiencies.”
Other proofs of concept in the works that stand to benefit from the ICC partnership include a project with Mfused, a cannabis processor in Washington State that is using Perlin’s tech to prove the origin of its plants by recording every level of its supply chain, from when they are planted to when the cannabis is inhaled, in a shared, distributed ledger; a project with an unnamed tuna processor in Latin America; and a developing project in Africa to trace the origin of cobalt, which has a long history of being mined by unethical supply chain participants.
Assuming enough supply chains are unified on the Perlin blockchain, businesses could log digital representations of the commodities, called tokens, on the platform. This will enable the counterparties to trade directly, with bills of lading required to move freight and letters of credit, which are typically handled by banks, all tracked directly on the shared ledger.
“An interesting economic model is we could effectively launch governance around this,” says Denton. “If we’re able to tokenize this we could insert ourselves as the trusted intermediary, and there would probably be an admin charge, but not much.” A 2018 report by the ICC, the World Bank and others found that 90% of the world’s trade finance was being provided by 13 banks, something Denton thinks is evidence of a need to decentralize.
Perlin’s blockchain, like ethereum’s, is being designed to let users track and move all kinds of value and write distributed applications (dapps) that don’t rely on centralized processors. Also like ethereum, Perlin will have a native cryptocurrency, called perls, which are expected to be minted over the coming three months or so, depending on regulatory considerations.
While supply chain management is increasingly seen as ripe for disruption by blockchain, models like Perlin’s, which rely on tokens, have had difficulty gaining traction as regulators clamp down on what is required of such tokens. By contrast, models using permissioned blockchains, such as what IBM is doing with a number of industry-specific consortia, and what R3 and Hyperledger are doing more generally, are seeing broader interest.
Perlin founder Dorjee Sun positions the nascent ICC network as similar to competing consortia but for small and medium-size businesses. “This is a massive democratization effort of DLT, because now any company of the 45 million ICC members can give the benefits of DLT a try,” says Sun. “Not just massive companies that can afford IBM’s services.”
Many entrepreneurs seem to struggle with following what they are passionate about, versus creating startups just for the money.
Mohit Aron went with passion, co-founded a company that successfully completed an IPO with a valuation of more than $6 billion today, and has raised more than $400 million for a second venture which has already surpassed the billion dollar valuation.
After getting his Ph.D. from Rice University in Houston, Mohit made the move to the Valley. After a stint at Google where he was one of the early employees, he has gone on to create highly impactful ventures that have become a large part of the DNA of our tech today.
In a recent appearance on the DealMakers podcast, he shared his take on following your gut, when to go solo (and not), why you should sleep more, how to incubate a winning startup idea and the algorithm for hiring great leaders (listen to the full podcast episode here).
Google, Hyper-Convergence & Taking Time to Think
Mohit was one of Google’s early tech guys and received, as a result, Google shares at $2 per share. He was responsible for managing a team that had the goal of innovating in the file storage space. Selling those shares gave him financial freedom, and refusing just to stay comfortable he ventured out into building companies from the ground up himself.
Mohit takes a very different approach to cultivate startup ideas than most. Rather than jumping on the first idea, running with it and then getting an office, he has taken the time to build the architecture of those ideas and really get clarity before diving in.
For Nutanix, which became one of the early unicorns, hitting a $6 billion valuation and going public, he first rented office space just to develop and crystallize the idea.
Again, avoiding the seductiveness of getting too comfortable, he began working on his next venture, Cohesity, even before his previous company went public. There he repeated the brainstorming process before creating a new tech success, which raised $15 million in Series A funding from Sequoia in just two days.
Cohesity, a modern data management company, empowers enterprises to back up, manage, store and derive insights from their data and apps, has now raised more than $400 million, including $250 million from its latest Series D round. Investors in the company include Accel, Sequoia, Battery, Cisco Investments, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Google Ventures, Foundation Capital, Trinity Ventures, Qualcomm Ventures, and the SoftBank Vision Fund to name a few.
The Algorithm for Hiring Great Leaders
Cohesity just celebrated hitting 1,000 employees. Mohit has found huge respect for the recruiting process and putting teams of great leaders in place.
He went into Nutanix with cofounders and then went solo on his second venture, a move he only recommends after you’ve had the experience of launching a startup with others.
Still, he admits it was a steep learning curve, especially when it came to hiring. Most notably there is a big difference in hiring technical and business staff. Today, he says if he started a new venture he would raise $1 million, and use the first $300k of that to use an executive recruiter to source three great executives.
Mohit says he learned the hard way on how to hire leaders. Now he uses a three-tiered process that starts with a comprehensive checklist. This outlines who you want from a resume perspective, the type of leader you need for this stage in your company, and the experience they should have. Maybe you want the person coming from a startup. Maybe you want a person who has done zero to $200 billion in revenue before. Then you have a list of candidates that meet your pre-interview checklist.
Then you go through an interview looking for specific things and asking specific questions. One thing you look for in an interview is that this leader is a great people-person and is a great culture fit. Once the person meets at least 80% of the checklist you have formed for the interview, then comes the post-interview checklist.
The post-interview checklist is all about references. Specifically from either people who reported to that leader or people who’ve been peers of that leader, because those are the one who tells you the truth. They will tell you any red flags.
Go with Your Gut
Mohit warns that “when you hire the wrong person, especially when that person is a wrong leader, that sets the company back at least six months if not more. The damage done is immense.”
He believes the body has a way to tell you if something bad is about to happen, and strongly recommends people listen to their gut. If everything else is pointing in one way, but your gut is saying something else, he says listen to your gut. Don’t hire the leader, and go with your gut and look for the next one. Conversely, sometimes the gut says that this is a great hire, and that’s where, as long as they’ve sort of met the checklists and there’s not a huge red flag there, then go with the gut.
Look at their enthusiasm. Look at the person’s willingness to learn. Those bets can be very rewarding.
What Do You Do With All That Wealth?
Mohit no longer does companies for money. He does it for passion. Along the way, he says it ’s also very gratifying to give back. That starts with what you’ve learned. He says “knowledge is free. Knowledge should not be for sale. So, I freely distribute to anyone who comes to me for advice on how to do companies.”
He gives lectures to share this information. The other part of giving is just financially. He’s given to charitable organizations. He and his wife have a structure set up that when they pass away, a bulk of their wealth is actually going to go into a charity.
As a company, his firm gives to a local foundation in San Jose that takes care of providing jobs to young people. He’s also given to Rice University and the Institute of Technology in Delhi which he attended.
He says “life is about giving, and I think giving brings you pleasure. Unlike what people believe, accumulation isn’t always very pleasing, but giving can be very fulfilling.”
Diesel Peltz, 25, son of hedge fund billionaire Nelson Peltz, is on a mission to cure FOMO (fear of missing out) with Twenty, an app that encourages offline interactions in the real world. Launched on Tuesday, Twenty, formerly known as InSite, seeks to relieve users sense of FOMO by alerting them to the location of their friends, who have to varying degrees disclosed their location, in hopes that offline plans to meet up, or “Hangouts” can be set.
“Our service is fundamentally about what you can share in the analog world,” Peltz told Forbes. “We tell people when they sign up to only add the people you actually want to hang out with in real life.”
For now, the company and its flagship app, have no way to monetize its services.
“The one KPI that we’ve optimized for is the number of real-life experiences,” Peltz said. In the last month, the number of IRL experiences initiated on Twenty has risen to 25,000, “over half” of users signed up in the past month continue to use the platform one month out.
Serial entrepreneur and co-founder Mark French adds that the value proposition for partnering and investing companies like Live Nation, Roc Nation, and talent agency Endeavor (formerly WME/IMG) is that the app will drive transactions, which Twenty hopes to monetize through purchases on the platform within six months.
By taking interaction offline and into the real world, Peltz and French hope to move users away from, “overutilization of social media”.
Elements of the social networking app may feel familiar, the location updates of Foursquare, friends and sharing aspects of Facebook, Instagram, and one could argue the immediacy of Twitter, but Peltz and backers of the project including Khaled Mohamed Khaled, more popularly known as DJ Khaled, argue that this is something different.
“I told my team two years ago, tech that helps people spend time together in real life is going to be the next big thing,” Khaled said in a company-issued statement.
It is ironic and perhaps unlikely that a solution to the endless scroll of social media would come via yet another mobile app, but those backing the product believe it can be a solution.
Arianna Huffington, co-founder of Thrive Global, a health and wellness startup and Huffington Post editor-in-chief along with former model and Casamigos Tequila founder Rande Gerber will join the board at Twenty once it is formed.
In the four years since Peltz dropped out of NYU and founded the company, he has taken his time to bring the company’s first product to market beta testing the app on college campuses including the University of Florida, the University of Wisconsin and Tulane University. Neither founder has felt the pressure to monetize.
Help from dad may have relieved the pressure.
The company completed two undisclosed funding rounds, the first led by Nelson Peltz, and market manager Ron Conway and his seed fund SV Angel. Dad still seems to be lending a hand in the last round of funding which added restaurant developer Tao Group, which is owned by Madison Square Garden, where Nelson Peltz is a board member. Nelson Peltz’ net worth stands at $1.6 billion, the investor started his career in food distribution and founded Trian Fund Management in 2005, which currently has $11 billion AUM.
Peltz says that the app doesn’t solve for users looking to experience JOMO (the joy of missing out) and acknowledges that the market is saturated with tools to share what you’ve already done.
“You construct your friend network for specific purposes, most people have a bloated network of people they don’t actually interact with,” said Peltz. Barring being ghosted, Peltz recommends only adding friend’s whose company you enjoy.
What do effective teamwork and Russian literature have in common? Why is successful teamwork so much like a happy marriage? How can you make teamwork more effective? Let’s start with this premise: Happy teams are all alike; every unhappy team is unhappy in its own way. Have you heard of the Anna Karenina principle? It’s derived from the famous first sentence of Leo Tolstoy’s seminal novel: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way…………