Designer. Disruptor. Startup Mentor. Digital Innovator.

Author: jeanneleez

How to Hack Company Growth Like a Superhero

Global Selling 101 - ibuildcompanies.com by Jeanne Heydecker

I was discussing the fact that at my last real job, I had grown the company from 129 employees to 455. This is essentially true since I was in charge of the India operations, but it took a lot of work from a lot of dedicated employees making change and creating a culture that made the work matter.


That entire year was really more focused on our first internal startup, iPlaceConnect.com, that failed miserably. We outsourced our programming (which is never advisable for an e-commerce company) and they did a terrible job. We were months overdue, the CEO was calling me daily asking when it would go live, and I was walking up and down the stairs trying to get the product completed. Eventually they banned me from their office and put a different client coordinator in place, Utkarsh, nice guy, who followed up and we finally got something usable to launch.

I had operational staff and marketing staff, all made up of people who had never done anything like marketing or operations before. We created a process manual, did a lot of training while we waited for the software to launch. We were ready. As soon as we launched, we started seeing issues in the process, where each part of the resume had to be individually copied and pasted into a database. Soon after we launched, we also realized that if we had five orders in one day, the tech shut down, sometimes for two or three days. It also meant every single person, operations, marketing, even me, were inputting data to fulfill the service of those five orders. We weren’t making money and clients were overall pretty happy with what they got, but we failed miserably and shut it down after 18 months. It was a terrible product and a lot of people worked very hard to make it happen. A couple people cried when I announced the closure. They didn’t want to go back to sourcing. But back they went.

Our attrition was terrible – about 6% a month. We were hiring people on an ad hoc basis, e.g., whenever the COO felt we needed people, he’d head in to Talent Acquisition and say, “Get me 25 new recruiters by next Monday.” The only people available were people who were unemployed, as India has extensive notice periods, typically 60 to 90 days. I reviewed the process they were using and had my son create some cooler, better written emails that created a “voice” that was young, fresh, hip and friendly.


We were bursting at the seams in our old office and we needed to build out a bigger space to for 400 employees per shift. We also added in some great benefits (valet parking, spa, gym coupons, concierge service) and built out an amazing office space. The colours were selected to keep our night shift employees energetic and put in full spectrum lights. Columns were wrapped in backpainted glass to make every space a place to put up ideas or keep track of team progress. When a prospect would talk to our sales team and say, “We don’t want to work with a sweat shop”, we would reply, “Have you seen the photos on our web site? I guarantee our offices in India are better than yours.” By the time we moved in August, we had already doubled in size and needed another space. Luckily, we were able to build out an annex for 200 more employees per shift on the same floor the next year.

I had also started to create and deliver the first of four different leadership development programs. Our management team was just awful. I’m not being unkind. Our Sourcing Manager, once she finished the program, remarked, “I learned so much from this program. I never realized how much I did not know about managing people.” She was in charge of maybe 45 people altogether on the sourcing team. At the same time the CEO was working away trying to get the COO and Operations management to fix poor performing accounts because if you can fix what you’re doing poorly, have conversations with clients about what they could be doing better, ultimately you reinforce the relationship and the clients start to see you as a partner and not as a low cost poorly made substitute.

We changed the internal messaging to our people. We said to them we are better than our clients because we see the industry at the 30,000 foot level. We’ve watched all sorts of business models from different staffing firms and we evaluated what the more successful companies were doing. We began gathering data on what worked for different business models and what strategies they put in place to increase their revenues. We now began to see our business change from merely transactional to more like partnerships. Our clients got bigger. We dropped a lot of smaller clients and started going after big fish. We spoke their language. We understood their competencies and had solutions to many of their pain points.

For example, a very large international consulting firm needed U.S. citizens or green card holders who were fluent in Brazilian Portuguese. Everyone was stumped. The client was asking us how to find them and my people all looked like deer in the headlights. I asked some simple questions:

Where would people with Brazilian Portuguese fluency get that skill? In Brazil, right? So let’s research Brazil. What are the top ten cities in Brazil? Top universities? What else should we learn and add to our search strings? Chances are, if you lived there at one point, or were educated there, there is a distinct possibility that you are a Brazilian Portuguese speaker. By creating connections, thinking differently about where these people would be or had been online or IRL made my sourcers into treasure hunters. And they started finding plenty of treasure. Our clients added more sourcers and recruiters. At this point, some of our clients had become so big, there were no trained managers to manage them so one of our managers decided to have points of contact. This decision caused a ripple effect that disrupted our company in such a profound way, that there was no turning back.


The point of contact deal turned into a complete restructuring of the company that we called Launchpad. It borrowed from MLM schemes, it borrowed from gamification…bottom line, it took management out of the picture. As a Point of Contact (now called a Captain), you needed to increase the number of sourcers or recruiters on retainer to seven, crossing the green line, and you were automatically promoted to Team Lead. You split your team in two, selected two people to be Captains and you earned a star. Once the team split again, you would earn your second star and be automatically promoted to Manager. Eventually we also added weekly strategies to improve performance for clients and those with perfect scores every week could increase their salaries five times in one year. Even without a promotion.

Launchpad became a game changer. In addition to the Leadership Development Program, we also had iMakeaDifference, an innovation initiative that we hoped would bring in more innovation, but the salary component to Launchpad was a direct result of an idea submission to iMakeaDifference. While the end results were very different from the initial ideas, several people were involved in the discussions. From nearly every department.


I was now in charge of talent acquisition and professional development, which included the leadership development program. We needed experienced people to run these projects, and they were already there. Maybe they weren’t confident enough to speak their mind or had been burned so many times in the past that they just didn’t care anymore. What I did is meet with the person heading Talent Acquisition and simply asked her, “If you had all the money in the world and the resources you needed, how would you change hiring at iPlace?” Oh. My. God. That woman had been in that position for longer than I’d been in the company and her words came out in torrents… “candidate experience”, “hiring managers never show up”, “asking the wrong questions”, “inconsistencies from candidate to candidate”. She did not hold back. We had to seriously fix this.

Together, we created a completely new process, and spoke directly to the hiring managers and selected only two to do interviews. I got  commitments from each of them that they will always be on time. I developed a set of interview questions and a rubric explaining how to score each response. I ensured we hired every first Monday of the month, so we could schedule experienced sourcers and recruiters who had notice periods to deal with. And a terrific Welcome Kit that made people excited to start. The welcome kit lowered our dropout rate down to 2% and people now came prepared with their documents.

So when I left, we had 455 employees and I truly believe that many dedicated employees made the difference.

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What is 360 Marketing and Why You’re Failing at It

What is 360 Marketing and Why Most Fail at It - ibuildcompanies.com by Jeanne Heydecker

Like “Social Media Expert”, “360 Marketing” gets bandied about like marketing’s prettiest girl at the dance, but she ain’t that pretty when her makeup’s all smeared, her dress is torn, and she’s as drunk as a sailor.

This is what happens when your integrated marketing program really isn’t one. In a previous post, I discussed the importance of branding, and the essence of that branding has to carry over to everything else you do in your marketing efforts.

When I was first training foreign teams on effective social media campaigns focused on Americans, they had the mistaken impression that swearing was necessary in all posts. (Probably my fault – I am typically the only American they know personally and I used to swear like a trucker when I first moved East. I’m better now.) When you are spreading the “voice” of your brand across all sorts of media, everyone developing that media needs to match that voice consistently, otherwise subliminal feelings of mistrust start to develop in the receiver.

For example, when most Americans buy their new Dell laptop and try to figure out how to configure their Wi-Fi connection, they call tech support. With all the pressure to buy American these days in the States, reaching a call center in Mumbai or Sao Paulo, with people speaking a distinctly different English, it will immediately put most Americans in a bad mood, affecting their overall impression with the brand.

Another example would be putting your twitter feed into the hands of an intern, who uses it for her personal tweets at the same time. No one wants to know what she had for lunch or about that hunky new guy she saw at the coffee shop yesterday and how much she hopes he’ll call. If I’m following your company’s tweets, I won’t mind hearing about the hunky new guy working in tech support (with a pic, please!) IF the brand has that “voice”. If you’re a law firm, that would still not be appropriate.

But brands have personalities, just like people, and bringing that personality across everything (including your 404 page) can significantly increase engagement. Facebook pages, Linkedin company pages and groups can be places to crowdsource ideas, test marketing promotions, get feedback on your products. Engage, engage, engage, people. Ask lots of open-ended questions (ones that can’t be answered yes or no), like, “How would you deal with (insert situation of frustration here that could possibly be associated with your product)?” Use polls as well, like “Would you rather get a 10% off coupon on your next beverage, or a free beverage after you purchase 10?” Making your fans feel included, as a part of your brand, will go far. Expand on this by building promotions that refer friends or ask them to vote on other fan’s contributions on your page. It could be as simple as a caption contest. Another example of this is to make a contest for a new tagline or product name and having people vote for the best. Have badges for frequent contributor stories. Have people vote for best story of the year – depending on the brand, it could be the craziest thing that ever happened to you while drinking that tasty beverage, or voting on the weirdest story they’ve read in your newspaper.

Now, for those companies that are much more formal (see: law firms, banks), your “voice” will of course be different, more formal, announcing court wins and new clients, but you can also offer free legal advice (with your disclaimer), post profiles of your newest staff members and their practice groups, etc.

The Kicker – Why Companies Fail

360 marketing also includes print, TV, radio, billboards (or hoardings as they’re called here in Asia). Your interaction with the press and industry analysts also needs to use the same “voice”. When working out your messaging, it should stay consistent regardless of the source, with minor tweaks to fit said source.

Many companies outsource this because they’re not sure what to do or how to do it and they have no idea how to measure success. Using multiple companies will give you a headache – they need to be integrated as well, so go back to your branding guidelines and ensure all companies you use are using your unique “voice” across all media. Sometimes it helps to put all your work in a room and look at it. If something doesn’t match, it will immediately stand out. Time for a redo.

Many companies are afraid to engage themselves because they’re nervous a staffer will “go rogue” and embarrass the company, or a disgruntled customer will flame mail your social media endeavors. I actually welcome the flamers. For every one that complains, there are ten more out there that won’t and you can bet your last dollar they’ll tell a friend how badly you treated them, losing you more potential customers. By actively engaging in your authentic voice and over delivering beyond their expectations, you build a fan for life, who will share how you corrected their problem.

For the staffer, it may have been a drunken late night tweet they thought was going to their personal account. A quick apology, maybe retraining or re-assignment for the bad tweeter, and you’re good to go. Most bad social media encounters are quickly forgotten (well, except for some very memorable exceptions) as you continue forward. Even a little bad press can get you visitors to your web site, where they may still be converted to customers. As long as you continue to speak in your authentic voice, make a sincere apology, and engage with the people who are upset, you’ll win more than you’ll lose.

It’s these challenges in life that make it fun to get up in the morning. 360 marketing really is da bomb. :- )

Do you want to outsource this type of work so that you can focus on higher level activities? Subscribe today to learn more about building your business and receive a free PDF “Process Plan for Creating Your Own Innovation Program”. Feel free to email us to learn more about how we can help you grow your business.
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Why HR is Critical to Employee Morale, Productivity, and Innovation

Why HR is Critical to Employee Morale, Productivity, and Innovation - ibuildcompanies by Jeanne Heydecker

In a company I worked with in India, we had a town meeting in the office and the CEO updated everyone on the status on the growth and successes of the group of companies we all worked for and congratulated everyone on the great job we’d done moving them forward that year. He did a great job, then opened the floor for questions or issues. Everything seemed to center on the HR person, who frankly, had been pretty useless during my tenure there. She was one of those people who did exactly what the CEO asked and nothing more.

People complained about pretty simple things like when sending emails telling us to register ourselves for our health insurance by a certain deadline, she would never put links to the site in the emails or ways to remember your password. She was also chastised for never answering her emails. She was also put to task for never following up on requests – one woman had been waiting nine months for a decision on her transportation issue.

Another gent questioned why training was not available for all staff. She replied that the training room could only hold ten people and he replied that he worked in a team of six, and that certain people were getting trained on preference, which was a mistake. She had no answer for it because it was definitely a political issue and she couldn’t respond honestly. Everyone knew this. It was obvious.

Lots of people complained about never having formal appraisals with their department head. Very true, I never had an appraisal in all four years I’d worked there. She muttered something about talking to your department heads, but she, as the head of HR, was personally responsible for ensuring this activity takes place.

Other people complained about the Employee of the Month program, a simple recognition with an emailed Powerpoint certificate (that you have to print out yourself) with no public email or ceremony that was useless. I agree. It was so obviously political. The people that got them were never the ones bringing in 70% of the sales revenue, or the person who built four trade show booths in the span of six weeks, because they were the ones who were not the friends of HR and not political. They were focused on getting their jobs done well. It was a joke to all the employees.

Another person brought up the birthday parties, saying they were a waste of their time that could be better spent working instead of sitting in a windowless room drinking soda and eating sweets, just staring at each other. Most people went, because they felt they had to go, but spent their time focused on their cellphones.

Someone else brought up the issue of holiday parties (with mandatory attendance) that were announced then cancelled at the last minute. People had to make individual arrangements to travel to these parties, including their family members, etc., causing not only additional personal time canceling their travel, but caused a feeling that the company didn’t really care about them.

HR is supposed to not only enforce the policies of the company, and recruit new staff, but they need to establish a positive working environment for people to get their jobs done effectively. They should be enabling hiring managers and providing the training and tools required for managers to bring out the best in their teams. Most companies don’t understand how vital a role HR is in moving a company forward. They are not only required, but they should be instrumental in providing a work environment that allows staff members to do the best work possible, meeting deadlines, while keeping under budget.

There is a lot of work to do, and HR professionals need to start doing their jobs and advocating for the people they work for: the company AND the staff. The company is nothing without its employees, and companies that don’t care about them, get that feeling reciprocated. It develops into a strictly transactional relationship where you only get what you demand from each employee and they leave exactly at closing time, investing no more in the company than the company invests in them.

At another company in India, from the CEO down, they focused on being fair and treating all employees equally. Senior management was genuinely liked by the rest of of the team because we were open and honest with them, enforcing an open door policy for folks to share their ideas and suggestions for improving processes, or making sales. When senior management advocates for all employees, demanding respect for everyone and the services they individually contribute to the company, employees feel a part of something and genuinely want to come to work, be productive, and feel good at the end of the day, having taken pride in a job well done. This happens through genuine and authentic care about your employees. You can’t fake this. You can quickly see the difference when you visit different organizations.

HR requires support from senior management in order to be effective. That said, HR needs to understand its value and market that value upward. HR needs to report on their activities regularly and identify programs that cut costs, increase productivity and innovation, and create a work environment where employees actually look forward to coming to work. HR should also review their online reputation on web sites such as glassdoor.com where employees can post reviews, salaries and other information anonymously. They should take to heart any negative comments and attempt to fix them. They should respond to all reviews, good and bad. One good thing for HR to do is to set up a Google Alert with their company name and its C-Level employee names, just to monitor what people may be saying across the internet. They can research, plan, and negotiate interesting benefits and other perks such as work-from-home policies. (We had a 24-hour massage center in one company I worked with, plus a concierge service to pick up your dry cleaning, pay your bills, etc., along with a financial advisor on-call to help you manage your bonuses and other incentives. This enabled us to decrease our monthly night shift resignations from 6% a month to less than .01%.)

HR shouldn’t be seen just as a service that hires people and plans parties. They have a serious job to do. They need to focus on getting a seat in the boardroom because what they do affects every person in the company, how much they look forward to coming to work, how productive they are, how innovative they will be, and how long they will stay. Happy employees will also tell their friends about their job and can act as advocates by recommending their friends to become new employees.

Finding the best quality people requires putting in the work to create the best quality work environment for them to find meaning and feel proud to tell people they work at your company. Only then is HR’s job complete.

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Fixing Broken Teams

Women in the Workforce- ibuildcompanies by Jeanne Heydecker

I used to work for a large dotcom that wanted to increase their market share in the U.S. All of their revenues came off banner advertising on their site, 90% of which came from North America. Since the company was located in Kolkata, they had only Indian staff – I was their first foreigner to work in India full-time.

The team I was to lead had nearly 50 staff members, none of whom had any direction on what they were responsible for accomplishing. True, they were in separate teams devoted to SEO, reciprocal links, micro-sites, blogs, affiliates, etc., but beyond that, the only vague expectation was to grow traffic. They had plenty of staff to make each of these facets of internet marketing work, but the site was still declining month over month. I was going to have to fix what was broken and provide some structure to the team.

#1: Understand Your Chess Pieces

I use this rule of thumb a lot. Understanding what strengths and weaknesses each team member brings to play will help you understand what “chess pieces” are missing. The first thing I did was get copies of their personnel files and interviewed each person individually. I wanted to know what their skill sets were, what their interests were, and where they saw themselves in five years. This was important because understanding what skills were available enabled me to identify the skills that were missing from the team. Knowing what their aspirations were, provided me with an idea of how eager they would be for mentoring and training if their skills did not meet their personal goals.

#2: Understand Stakeholder Goals/Founder’s Exit Strategy

Second, I spent a lot of time with the CEO to get an idea of what his ultimate goal was and this took time to get this information from him. He was not used to being confronted by his employees and put on the spot as to what he really wanted to achieve, but it was important for me to know, in order to put plans in place to achieve that goal. One caveat: sometimes what they say they want turns out not to be what they want once achieved. Perhaps they said they wanted to be acquired by a larger firm and when the term sheets slides across the table, suddenly they realize that they like what they do and want to continue doing it. Other times, they want someone to sell part of the company to for some quick cash to buy a boat (really), and they do, then realize working with their new partners are a nightmare, so they end up selling the entire company and leave altogether.

Once you and your CEO and other stakeholders, perhaps a board of directors or investors have had these talks, it’s time to work with the stakeholders to develop a long term strategic plan that creates the road map to get there. Then the organization can put measurable goals into place for each department. In marketing, once we understood the road map, we were able to set in place a set of goals for each team and defined each one meticulously. We also developed individual and team incentives to put in place as well that were based on overall performance.

I then starting the painful process of restructuring the teams. Some people were easily identifiable as bad leaders but had brilliant skill sets, others were just completely useless, and others had tremendous abilities that by politics, gender, or simple lack of self-marketing, were completely under-utilized. It was time to let many of them find jobs that were more suitable. On the day, each person being fired was sent to HR. As soon as that started, the cell phones were buzzing all across the room and tensions were high. I brought each person who was staying into my office one by one and described what was happening and why I wanted them to stay. Some were kept in their current position, but I described why they were selected over the other individuals, focusing on their personal strengths and skills. Some people were upset to find out that their friends were leaving, but I countered this with the fact that this was a business decision. I personally liked some of the people I let go, but there was no place for them within the new team structure. Most understood. Others were promoted from the ranks to be Team Leaders, while some were demoted from Team Leader and assigned to different teams. These were the most challenging. I focused on sharing constructive criticism and helped them understand where they had failed and suggested ways for them to address their weaknesses as leaders. We were now a team of 25.

Some staff I could not let go, due to the politics of the company. These were going to have to be handled differently. One had been the head of the group before me, and his political skills were sharp. Unfortunately for him, he had stolen a lot of the team’s ideas and passed them off as his own to the CEO, which had caused a lot of the team to not like him. (I found him to be shady and unreliable as well – lots of excuses and blame placed on his team, rather than accepting his responsibility as their leader.) I did not respect him and the feelings were definitely mutual. I took away his entire team and put him in charge of public relations by himself. Now he was fully accountable for any PR work done for the company, exposing him and his lack of skills. This was enough to make him leave a couple of months later.

“Be the change you want to see in this world.”

Mahatma Gandhi

#3: Address Cultural Differences

I work like a boss. I expect everyone to. The way Americans work is very different from the way Asians work, but there was a new leader in town – an American one, and we were going to have to work in an American style because I had no other experience working in diverse cultures. I had to respect their work culture but slowly change it to a more professional, innovative, and proactive culture. Another thing I want to stress is that I role modeled the proper, professional behaviors I expected from my team members. I came in on time. I expected my team in on time. We had a “latecomings” jar that you paid into for being late and was used for treats for the team. This jar was also used for meetings. Anyone five minutes late had to pay and was also not allowed to attend the meeting. (The very first meeting I had was scheduled for 2:00 PM. Some people showed up at 2:45. Seriously.) I set deadlines and followed up. If I was going to miss a deadline, I informed my staff as soon as I knew and gave them time to adjust, and I expected that as well from them. They learned how to write reports and meeting minutes, and began to open up in planning meetings. I used a nerf ball to brainstorm. I threw it to someone and said, “Say the first thing that comes into your head, then throw the ball to another person”. People laughed and found it fun to put crazy comments on the white board and after a while we no longer needed the nerf ball and the ideas were becoming better and more innovative. They learned that failure was okay. That as long as you shared the failure (what didn’t work), you could teach the rest of the team what NOT to do. Others shared their methods to increase the success of other team members. This team was starting to become the rockstar team I knew they could be.

Others team members proved more difficult. I had identified one woman, who seemed to have an amazing skill set and I felt she could easily have taken over for me once I left because she had excellent strategy and project management skills. Her single, quite fatal flaw was her attitude. She was the office gossip, which could have been fine, but she manipulated people, engaged in rumors that worked directly against any team building, within our group and setting us against other groups in the company that we relied on to reach our goals. While I was not in a position to fire her, as I learned more and more about her destructive activities, I spoke to her directly about it and told her how damaging it was, but she continued. At this point, I had to become “The Boss from Hell” to finally get her to quit. It soon became clear to my team that being professional, making your goals, working as a team were going to be instrumental in our success.

#4: You Are Not the Rockstar – It’s Your Team

I consistently stressed that it was OUR success. In meetings with the CEO, I indicated to him different successes we’d achieved and mentioned the team members responsible. I publicly congratulated staff for performing well and also publicly stated in front of the team when people were underperforming. In team meetings, we’d go over the numbers, and when someone wasn’t on track, I’d ask everyone on the team to come up with ideas to help him/her. We were in it together.

The incentive plan we put in place provided both individual and team bonuses. For example, each linker had to come up with 130 high quality reciprocal links (based on very clear parameters to describe “high quality”). They were allowed to choose the section of the site to work on based on a list the Team Leader and I had agreed were the focus for that particular month. The highest performer last month got to pick first and so on. If you made your quota, you’d receive a bonus. If the entire team made their quota, they received an additional bonus. We kept a white board with the names of all linkers in their space that the Team Leader updated daily, those on track in green, those not in red. If someone was going to cause the team to miss their team bonus, peer pressure and support sprang into action to ensure they made their money.

Using a coaching or mentoring approach worked really well with the team. Within months we had achieved beyond our expectations and numbers were rising. We reached ComScore’s 8th fastest rising site in 2007, and was the 3rd fastest site in 2008.

One of the other attributes I brought to the team was fostering innovation. I was always looking for the next big idea, and my door was always open for people who wanted to discuss something they’d read about or thought of that might be interesting to test. We tested lots of things, from widgets, crowdsourcing, and APIs. Most were extremely successful, while we had a few failures. The team seemed to really value that I pushed their ideas up the chain and ensured that they continued to own their projects. It gave the individuals a real sense of pride, that they’d been able to contribute in a substantial way. While we couldn’t compensate them for this, it seemed this was enough for most to keep coming up with ideas for us to try.

I firmly believe that my management style is different than the typical Asian boss. I like getting mixed up in the nitty gritty, working with my staff, not just telling them what to do. But I am also a stern task master – I expect follow through, excellence, and groundbreaking work. There were times when I had to tell someone, “You’re an awesome designer. This isn’t your best work. I know you can do better,” or, “Is this really the best you can do?” People went back, did it again, and really surprised me.

I loved that team. We did some great work there and I’m proud of what we accomplished. One of my biggest regrets was leaving that company. I should have stayed, but visa issues were not handled correctly forcing me to take another job. I wonder sometimes, what we could have achieved if we’d stayed together for just one more year… That job was my first in India, back in 2007 and it’s been twelve years since I last met many of my team, but many have kept in touch. I miss them a lot. I’ve watched them grow and move into higher level positions, some started their own companies, and others moved to other countries. We keep in touch and get together whenever we’re in the same city. Like I always said to them, “Some day, I might be applying for a job from you,” and I meant it. 🙂

Do you want to outsource this type of work so that you can focus on higher level activities? Subscribe today to learn more about building your business and receive a free PDF “Process Plan for Creating Your Own Innovation Program”. Feel free to email us to learn more about how we can help you grow your business.
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Bootstrap or Venture Capital? Pros and Cons to Consider

Always Be Mentoring - ibuildcompanies by Jeanne Heydecker

Whenever I am introduced to someone who calls themselves an entrepreneur, they get a cold, dead stare as my response. (You know who you are…) As someone who has devoted most of their career to working in startups, I’ve never heard a successful founder call themselves one, even when others would describe them as a serial entrepreneur. Many people aspire to be one, but whenever I ask them why, I typically get an answer having to do with money, and not on solving a user problem or changing the world. If all you want is to get rich, invest in a franchise where someone else has already done the heavy lifting and done that for you. You’re not an entrepreneur.

I don’t have as much respect for founders who immediately go for VC funding as I do for those who have bootstrapped their way to success, but both avenues are useful for certain ideas. Especially for first-time founders with a great idea and no experience, it may prove better to involve venture capitalists from the start where their experience and networks can be a great adjunct to, or even more important than, the investment itself. But when someone wants to give you a few million and tells you to “focus on the eyeballs and worry about the money later”, we need to talk. Now, before you sign away everything you will be spending the next few years of your life building.

The majority of startups have no investment other than the owner’s bank account and his/her friends and family. There is absolutely no reason to get external investment unless you don’t have this kind of cash laying around (and even if you do). There are ways to start a business while working full time for someone else, especially with the technology available today.

Bootstrapping your own business gives you absolute power over your business. You can ask for advice, but ultimately you and you alone make the final decisions over where you take your company. Once you take investment, you chip away at not only your percentage of ownership, but also control of that vision. Your investors may pressure you to take the company in a different direction than you see, or may push for quick expansion you’re not ready for, drastically increasing your burn rate to a point that you’re forced to seek additional funding, further eroding your stake and influence in your own business. Now, they may be right. That change in strategy may be good for the business in the long term, but it may no longer be what you love.

I have worked at a LOT of startups. I love them. I love the energy, the joy of building something, the flexibility, the agility of startups. By far the most challenging, but also the most rewarding was working for bootstrapped startups. These are my reasons:

1. You need to exercise financial discipline from day one. Your staff need to get paid, so revenue is priority one. Cash flow concerns need to be addressed. It requires you to solve the monetization issue before you move forward. Not everyone gets to be Twitter and even Twitter acknowledges this issue.

2. When you have no money, you need to be more creative. This goes for your marketing, staffing, office space, etc. You won’t see Aeron chairs in these offices. You’re lucky if you have a real desk. You may also be cleaning the offices yourself and taking out the trash as well. Your marketing budget needs to be carefully managed. It’s a lot easier with today’s technology to compete against large multinationals than ever before with a small budget. You still have to create ways to get noticed amidst all the static.

3. You quickly learn to be an autodidact. Because you don’t have the specialist staff to handle all aspects of your company, you end up wearing many hats. Some of these may be experiences that can take you in a different direction in your personal career path.

4. You learn patience and flexibility. Organic growth takes time. There are certainly ways to improve your growth rates, through media relations, social media, industry influencers, etc., but it can be very frustrating. What worked last month to bump up traffic or revenues doesn’t work this month. There is always the law of diminishing returns. Learning how to resist temptation to achieve short term gains is a valuable skill as an entrepreneur. Flexibility is a great skill to hone, especially if you need to pivot to a different strategy.

That said, other entrepreneurs feel safe and protected using other people’s money. They don’t care about losing control or having a smaller stake as they feel that there’s going to be plenty of cash on the back end for everyone to share. They like being able to call up their investors for advice. It really depends on your personality type and whether you feel confident enough in your ability to go it on your own.

Either way, make a decision about what would work best for you, plan, and then jump in with both feet. It’s a rush. 🙂

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Why I Love Startups

Why I Love Startups

Having spent the past 25+ years taking startups to the next level, strategy and marketing-wise, here’s my take on what they are and why startups are great. I love building things. I will not live forever, but perhaps something I’ve built will live on beyond me. While many startups are well run by experienced serial entrepreneurs who have learned the hard way how to build companies, most startups have a reputation for the following:

  • smoke & mirrors (no product ready to ship yet)
  • R&D’s undelivered promises (the tech doesn’t work yet)
  • deadlines not met (postponed launches, cancelled press tours, nothing to show at a conference, etc.)
  • constantly shifting product specifications (developers can’t always simply add a feature — it may require a complete do-over)
  • salaries paid on ad hoc schedule (if you’re funded, your burn rate could be out of control; if you’re bootstrapped, cash flow can cause huge issues for payroll)
  • inexperienced leadership (no financial management, no growth strategy, no monetization experience)
  • job role roulette (yesterday, you were making collections calls, today, you’re running marketing, tomorrow, you’re in charge of customer service)
  • frat office culture (boys acting like children, sexual harassment, partying long into the night, you name it…)

These are some of the many reasons why many of the more brilliant talent out there aren’t interested in working for startups. These companies give startups a bad name, and you can figure out which are worth your while by asking about these situations (other than the salary issue, but you can ask about how they are funded and how long they have until the next series of funding, how often the product requirements change, or anticipated product launch dates) during your interview process. If you identify any of these issues, you may want to look a little closer at the organization before accepting their offer.

The company can be any size, but generally under 150 people. Maybe funded, maybe bootstrapped, usually runs lean, doesn’t have a lot of processes and a (mostly) flat hierarchy. I saw a lot of changing business models, which is VERY difficult for established companies to do with their entrenched staff and systems (particularly if there is a labor union involved). Changing company divisions from cost centers to their own P&Ls dramatically changes the way a company does business. Reorganizing a sales department’s income structure, incentivizing new business over old, to improve a sales funnel — that will significantly change an older business to a startup structure.

One company that definitely wasn’t a startup brought me in to work “under the radar” and I was told by my boss, “It will be easier for you to be forgiven than ever get permission here.” I worked as a (mostly) lone wolf, with no support except my boss and the Board, and implemented significant change that was certainly not liked by the staff and their union, but propelled the organization into the top recognized in their industry, winning many awards. (I didn’t win any friends, for sure, but I did win a Webby Award for the effort.) Without my experience in startups, I couldn’t have accomplished what I did there.

Startups have their place and a lot of people can’t work there. Startup staff need to be able to take up the slack, sometimes bullying their way through projects to make things happen. They may have to take out the trash, feed the fish and water the plants. When I co-founded a company, the founder and I always argued over whose turn it was to clean the bathrooms and do the vacuuming. Once we brought on other staff, we all shared the cleaning of the office. Leaders need to be able to lead by example as well as present their mission effectively and build solid teams that understand their targets and goals. Let the brilliant people do what they were hired for and get out of their way.

The startup mentality is hard to implement in larger companies because of the cultural attitudes of middle management. People don’t like to take risks, especially those that may affect their career. They have a fear of the unknown. People are incentivized to make things complex in order to create value for their work — a good example would be the endless amounts of paperwork to be reimbursed for your travel expenses. (I’ve given up on that one.) Many owners want to call all the shots and don’t give their executives any authority but all the responsibility. Executives need to be able to assemble a decent team, eliminate waste (in staff and processes), and implement decisions on the fly according to changing business conditions. In one company that I worked for, that meant eliminating half the staff. In another, working nights to be in constant contact with my clients on the other side of the planet. Without the freedom to make these difficult changes would have meant failure, not just for me, but for the company. Excellence comes from providing talented staff with the right tools at the right time for the right purpose, and providing measurable incentives for measurable deliverables.

During the tech bubble I saw a lot of inflated salaries, offices and arrogance (if I ever hear “focus on the eyeballs and the money will come” again, I’ll have to kill that person.). The burn rate at some of these dotcoms was sheer greed and ego. These “kids” had an idea and a presentation and no idea how to make money. I was typically hired for my experience and then had to listen to these kids tell me that, “one year of dotcom experience was worth five years working in brick and mortar companies, and to do it their way (no offense).” But I love revenue. I wanted to focus on making money. They didn’t.

They were only successful because of one thing. What I saw was lucky timing — in an emerging market early with first mover advantage. What I also saw was exit strategies — IPOs & buyouts were the preferred methods because actual earning of revenues was work and took waaaay too much time.

Bitter? Not really… well, except when I meet the rich ba**ard at a function and learn he’s still rich, and I’m still working on it. :-/

But I love a good startup with a good idea, especially one that does good for the community at large. I love the potential of growing a business. I’ll always take the “road not taken” because that will always be the more interesting path on which to tread. But tread lightly if you take this path; be fleet of foot, flexible, and ready to make a move at a moment’s notice. It is important to your success.

“The world is moving so fast these days that the man who says it can’t be done is generally interrupted by someone doing it.” — Harry Emerson Fosdick

Be the disruptor, not the disrupted.

Do you want to outsource this type of work so that you can focus on higher level activities? Subscribe today to learn more about building your business and receive a free PDF “Process Plan for Creating Your Own Innovation Program”. Feel free to email us to learn more about how we can help you grow your business.
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How to Hire the Best Talent and Repel the Worst

"How to Hire the Best Talent and Repel the Worst" - buildcompanies.com by Jeanne Heydecker

Talent acquisition is vital for every company. Without employees, a business cannot exist. Without talented employees, a business cannot grow.

#1: Great Job Opening Descriptions

You need to sell the opportunity and your company. Your job opening descriptions should sell the job. They are NOT job descriptions. Why would someone want to work in that position in your company? What kind of impact will that job have? What’s the team like? What is your company’s reputation? Is it attractive to potential candidates?

#2: Timely and Excellent HR Telephone Interviews

HR should review every entry first thing every day, and again anything else that came in just after lunch. Shortlist and make the calls same day. Seriously. Discipline yourself. The “Black Hole of HR” that every candidate complains about starts right here.

#3: Positive Candidate Experience at Your Office

Develop a series of standard questions and a rubric that helps the interviewer score the interview and use the same interviewer for all interviews for the same job. This should typically be the hiring manager who will be managing, mentoring and monitoring their work in the company. Review the interview questions and the rubric with the interviewer prior to ensure he/she understands how to use them properly.

#4: Be On Time

Offer them a drink or snack, especially if you interviewer is running late. Offer them a tour of the office, maybe meet the team. Ensure the interview room is clean and temperature comfortable. Keep on schedule as much as possible. Follow up with a one-page candidate experience feedback form with open questions.

#5: Timely Email and Telephone Updates Prior to Offer/Refusal

As soon as the interviews are finished for the day, meet with the interviewer to shortlist possible candidates and the definite “no’s”. By end of shift, send out emails thanking them all for visiting your organization and tell the shortlisted candidates you should hear soon and let the “no’s” know as nicely as possible.

#6: Excellent Offers and Empathetic Refusals

Develop email templates that are on brand that you use to send to candidates that you have called, negotiated the offer and they have accepted. You want an introduction email that details all the items you agreed about (Title, salary, start date, etc.) along with attachments of any employment contracts you need signed. We also recommend a Welcome Kit that introduces the company, its leaders, perhaps a welcome letter from the CEO, a documents checklist, a first day induction schedule, a list of special programs you might have like team sports, corporate social responsibility programs, and a list of cool benefits your company offers.

Emails to people who didn’t get selected should be empathetic and positive even though you’re telling them that this job isn’t right for them. Find a way to write that in way where the candidate still continues to feel smart. valued and important and always encourage them to continue to apply and recommend their friends (if appropriate).

#7: Fabulous Talent Acquisition Strategies

If you are still just using newspaper ads or job portals, you’re missing a lot of opportunity to meet potential new hires. Most Careers sections of web sites are completely out of date that is embarrassing. Keep it updated and maximize your section with videos from your HR team on how to ace an interview at the company, videos of people doing the jobs you’re hiring for, posting photos of events and more. Use your imagination. You can do a lot with that section of your web site.

#8: Don’t Forget Social Media

You should be posting jobs on your corporate social media pages. You have a corporate page on LinkedIn and Facebook, right? Right? Use them, especially Facebook, as an insider’s view of the company. Identify one person or a team that posts photos, films events, adds albums of special event photos and films from hired professionals, report on the impact of your CSR programs and your sports tournaments – the list goes on. Invite the public to come with you to clean that riverbank or visit the veterinary service to help. People who are like-minded will be ideal and open to possibly joining a company that shares their values.

On- and offline networking is still a very good way to identify potential applicants, especially if you’re looking for high level employees. Local business networking events, speakers at local seminars and other business programs are an excellent way to meet great candidates and attract high profile employees.

#9: Creative On-boarding Techniques

Beyond the welcome kit mentioned above, plan out the first week of your newbie’s schedule. Assign a mentor who helps them figure out the schedule, has lunch with them each day, introduces them to other folks in the company. HR should be sure IT does their work quickly, getting their email set up, ID badge ready on day one, along with a gift bag of branded office supplies (note pad, mousepad, branded pens and pencils, staplers, etc.)

#10: Candidate Experience Feedback

After the interview process, getting candidates to complete a quick form can be skewed by candidates wanting to only say positive things about the company in order to get the job. After a week has gone by, it would be great for HR to sit down with the new hire to get a more honest opinion of what could be improved.

A great HR team continuously innovates, updates, upgrades, tries new methods and keeps focusing on finding the best talent possible. Be creative, focus on your candidates, and the best will bring their friends.

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Expanding Your Market Opportunities

Adding Client Lifetime Value (LTV) to Your Bottom Line - ibuildcompanies.com by Jeanne Heydecker

When determining your financing and Go-to-Market (GTM) strategy, understanding what the opportunities in your market are will impact them in a significant way. Investors want a big piece of the pie. If your market is defined as the entire US consumer market, that’s a big market. If you state you are confident you can achieve 5% market share within two years, that’s not thinking nearly big enough for most investors. They want to see 55% and your GTM strategy should illustrate that.

Business-to-Consumer (B2C) marketing is much more expensive than Business-to-Business (B2B) due to the heavy use of traditional print advertising, outdoor advertising, television commercials and infomercials. Because it relies on a lot of intangibles and difficult to measure data, understanding the Return on Investment (ROI) can be a real challenge to sort out. Was it the billboard across from that high traffic shopping mall, the bus wraps, or the TV commercial (or a mixture of all of them) that convinced that one consumer to buy? What about your different marketing personas within consumers? Teenagers will react most likely to social media and Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs), while seniors may take advantage of that coupon you added to your print advertising. Testing different options in different quarters could help you establish what mix works best for you with each target persona.

B2B is much easier to measure because there is much less off-line marketing required to drive qualified leads. Sure, an industry trade show and print advertising in industry magazines can be a challenge to measure as well, but most of your marketing can be focused more online and be more measurable. Your web site and email campaigns can do most of the heavy lifting in getting opportunities to pitch potential clients.

Reach out to a marketing expert who has experience in launching companies in your industry. They’ll know what it will cost to get you there and understand the pitfalls, the suppliers, the players, and future trends that may threaten your business, as well as consumer habits, challenges, price thresholds and more. That in-depth experience will more than pay for itself. Let’s say you can’t find someone with specific industry expertise. Find someone who at least has experience launching and growing small startups. Ensure they know how to get the research done internally.

Market opportunity is up to you and your budget. Limit your targets at first to those that show the most promise, to see whether or not your product or service meets market demand. Once you’ve proven viability, produced a bit of revenue, you will have options on where to go next in scaling your company.

What are you doing to scale and diversify your markets? Any tips, tricks or suggestions you’d like to share?

Do you want to outsource this type of work so that you can focus on higher level activities? Subscribe today to learn more about building your business and receive a free PDF “Process Plan for Creating Your Own Innovation Program”. Feel free to email us to learn more about how we can help you grow your business.
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ibuildcompanies.com Offers Free Download on the Hierarchy of Competence

"Four Ways to Build Out an Effective Board of Directors" ibuildcompanies.com by Jeanne Heydecker
Download your free PDF: "Hierarchy of Competence" - By Jeanne Heydecker - ibuildcompanies.com

ibuildcompanies.com is pleased to release a free downloadable PDF for anyone interested in the hierarchy of competence. Most people consider themselves above average; when you ask them how they would rate themselves as, say a driver or a parent. However, there is bell curve to the skills and logic would say that most people are simply average, some being very much above average, and very much below average. The same thing applies to companies. This white paper helps you assess what your company is doing wrong and how to fix your service business for operational excellence and increased profits. Nobody wants to work for an average company. “A” players only want to work with other “A” players because they challenge each other and get better.

“Operational strategy is different from your overall business strategy. Business strategy usually is a higher level view – where the company is going, what industries you plan to serve, what products or services you plan to launch, increasing revenues, countering threats, minimizing risks and how best to grow your organization,” said Jeanne Heydecker, Founder and CEO of ibuildcompanies.com. “Operational strategy focuses on how you operate internally – the process you use to improve your products or service delivery, and ultimately grow through incremental improvements in processes, procedures, oversight and monitoring, data collection, etc. This typically leads to increased customer delight and loyalty, and increased market share and revenues.

What affects employees the most is service delivery. To do their jobs well, forward thinking organizations should use a four-prong approach to solving this critical issue. We call this methodology the Hierarchy of Competence.”

To get your own copy of the “Hierarchy of Competence”, please email us and we’ll send you our ten-page white paper in PDF format or you can  download it here immediately.

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The Value of Quality Brand Management

What is 360 Marketing and Why Most Fail at It - ibuildcompanies.com by Jeanne Heydecker

“Hello. My name is Jeanne and I am a brandoholic.”

I have suffered from this affliction since a very young age as my grandfather used to redesign company logos for fun and send them to companies with an invoice. Sometimes they actually paid for them. I used to watch him create these new logos from a pad of paper, pencils and tracing paper. It was like magic to watch him create new imagery and I was hooked.

During college studying design, I became a fanatic about typography and calligraphy, carefully kerning and re-inking type to suit the brief. I loved improving on bad work. Since then I have become the “Brand Nazi” for many companies.

Why Companies Pick Bad Logos

Typically the Marketing Head or a CxO decides that there is a need to upgrade their branding. No one asks why it needs a change and there should be significant and measurable reasons to do so. Perhaps you’ve expanded beyond your current industry and need a brand that encompasses all the new lines of your business. Perhaps your company has outgrown a dated design and need something more in keeping with the times. Perhaps there is a complete renaming of your organization due to a merger or acquisition. Sometimes the trigger is simply moving to a new office and since you have to update the stationery anyway… Once the decision is made, what usually happens is that a few companies or designers are interviewed and their portfolios reviewed. Based on the taste of those reviewing the portfolios, they pick a designer based on what they liked. This is the wrong way to go about it on so many levels.

What is the purpose of branding? To create an instant emotional recall in a consumer that equates with the values of your company. Who’s opinion really matters? Potential customers.

When I was working with a slightly crazy CEO who did not understand the nuances of design, he made a good point. He wanted to show our top three designs to his best customers for their opinions and they picked a solid logo. Although it wasn’t my favorite, it was exactly what our clients felt when seeing it — one said, “It shows that you examine bits and bytes and the one dot in a different color is the one piece that could win us our case. We want that level of detail from a computer forensics firm.” Done. He was right. Let your customers have a say. If your branding is not translating to potential customers, the logo has failed.

Maintaining Brand Guidelines Across the Company

Most organizations do not create a formal set of branding guidelines and templates, but it is in your best interest to get this professionally done. Every client-facing document should reflect positively on your brand. Companies pay a fortune to create and defend their brand. The smaller the company, the worse the overall branding will typically be. A bad logo, used inconsistently, in numerous sizes and colors, different fonts for different documents, and poorly designed documents and forms will make your company look sloppy and unprofessional, so spend a few bucks to get something done well.

Have your designer create a Branding Guidelines document. Developing a formal set of branding guidelines will show employees how to use your logo appropriately and what is and what is not acceptable use. Make this document available to all employees. As part of their on-boarding at your company, introduce this document and processes for using the brand. Their computers should have limited options for fonts and have all of your templates loaded up. Some companies have intranets or online storage where the latest versions of these documents are stored. This is ideal if your documents get updated regularly. Ensure that you have internal audits of documents to ensure adoption of all templates by all employees. For important documents, have them cleared by your Marketing department to ensure adherence to the brand guidelines.

I’ve seen newsletters go out to clients in COMIC SANS. All professional designers are completely offended by that typeface and IT MUST DIE.

Expanding Your Branding

Your brand is everything that comes in contact with an employee, a client, a prospect, the press and more. Your brand should extend to how you design your work environment, using brand colors to reinforce your branding. When I worked for a telecom group of companies, we had several companies occupying different floors of the same building. Each floor reflected the brand of the company within through paint color and other finish choices. Uniforms and other cool stuff for employees (like hoodies, travel mugs or sports team uniforms) should reflect the brand.

Writing sales and marketing materials, social media updates, and for your web site should all have a consistent “voice”. This can be accomplished by ensuring all staff are following a particular editorial standard (I’m personally a fan of the Chicago Manual of Style; others have their own preferences.). This voice should be intuitive and closely match the look and feel of your brand. For example, a large law firm’s brand will be typically be sober in colors, in traditional serif fonts, and may perhaps even be engraved or embossed. These all indicate traditional values. Their office space is probably deeply carpeted, with expensive furniture and bookcases. They probably have a formal dress code and well written processes. Another example may be a small IP-specialty law firm that specializes in working with VCs and other institutional financial organizations in the tech sector. They may have an entirely different logo indicating a technology forward, futuristic sensibility. Their office may match more closely with their tech clients and wear more casual business attire at the office. Their web sites and communications could feature similar tones of voice, but consistent branding should create enough difference in their tone for the viewer to understand their organizations clearly.

The Brand Experience

Branding should incorporate and instill company culture, which means that the experiences an employee, client, prospect or journalist has with your company is also part of the brand. How the receptionist greets you, the way you are managed through the interview and hiring process, the on-boarding process, the exit protocols, all are part of the brand experience. How your web site traffic flows through your web site (or doesn’t) is another extension of your brand experience. How your customer service representatives conduct business on the phone is part of your brand experience. Every communication is part of the brand experience, even those you have no control over.

Protecting Your Brand

With the proliferation of social media options, your clients, past employees, even your vendors can voice their opinion on interacting with your company (and your brand). You have no control over what they may say, but you have full control over how you respond. While some companies are loathe to respond at all citing legal concerns, others secretly hire internet marketing companies to help remove these negative comments online by burying them deep in search results. Others address them head on trying to defend themselves in the heat of the moment. Sometimes a rogue employee goes off without understanding they are representing the company online. All these are methods which are not effective and some could blow up into viral nightmares.

To protect your brand, the best methodology is authenticity. Take time to listen, own up to your responsibility, and explain the decisions made. A new story will go viral in another minute or two and hopefully, this will be forgotten.

Branding is a critical component to any organization and if you equate brand with your corporate culture, it should all match and create the same emotions in your employees, which will ultimately do the same for your customers, partners and the world at large.

How do you manage your brand? What areas do you think are the most vital for developing, extending and establishing your brand? Are war stories to share? Please leave them in the comments below. Cheers. 🙂

Do you want to outsource this type of work so that you can focus on higher level activities? Subscribe today to learn more about building your business and receive a free PDF “Process Plan for Creating Your Own Innovation Program”. Feel free to email us to learn more about how we can help you grow your business.
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