Screen Shot 2012-02-06 at 10.52.49 AM

Judging The Stevie Awards

Hollywoods’s awards season is upon us, from The Golden Globes and the SAG Awards to the Oscars. While these awards honor and celebrate film and television, businesses vie for a different kind of award this time of year: The Stevie Awards. Companies large and small, from startups to multi-nationals compete in more than 90 categories for the honor and public recognition of their accomplishments for sales, customer service, and innovation.

The company I work for, Litle & Co., has been honored with three Stevie Awards in years past. This year The Stevies (as they’re more casually known) asked me to chair the final judging committee for Best New Product or Service. Nearly 50 Finalists made the cut in this one category, spanning a broad range of industries.

One of my duties in chairing this committee has been to recruit other judges. I aimed for a well-rounded, diverse group of judges who’d bring a variety of perspectives and expertise to the committee. I’m very proud to have brought together the following friends and associates, and am truly grateful for their participation. The judges for the 2012 Stevie Awards for Sales & Customer Service Best New Product and Service category are as follows:

 

The gala dinner and awards will be held at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas on February 27th. I’ll be there and can’t wait to meet the finalists and the winners as well as other judges. See you there!

 

*Disclaimer: Litle & Co. is a customer of a couple of the Finalists, two of which I personally use in my day-to-day job, so I’ve recused myself from judging those specific companies or subcategories.

 

From Intent to Expression

Arab Spring. An intertwined Europe. A watchful eye in Asia. And, socio-political discord in America. These all are elements of a perfect storm. They are tidings of a sea-change occurring across the planet that has more to do with empowerment of the individual and disenfranchisement from traditional pillars of power—political, social, and commercial.

They are centered on the power of the web, the Internet, to create bonds of unity that surpass echelons of establishment. For those attending the Web 2.0 Expo (#w2e), there’s nothing extraordinary about anything that’s going on around us. Over the last decade, we’ve been drivers of dialogue focused on the increasing “power” of the individual, of the disintermediation of traditional approaches and avenues to accomplishing things in less time and with thinking and resources that move faster.

In my presentation, “From Intent to Expression”, I spoke about how the payments landscape in the Web 2.0 world is changing, rapidly. What started more than a decade ago with e-commerce and then with the advent of solutions such as PayPal is now a systemic advance disabling traditional purveyors of payments and commerce. The web has, to a large extent, democratized the human voice across the political and the economic condition.

Today’s headlines are complete with rising discussions of indifference toward the norm. This comes at a time when the convergence of human commercial and media consumption has been fueled by digital enablement, giving further rise to innovations that strip away the skins of convention. Convergence is being met equally by disruption never experienced before in commercial enterprise. The time, and importance of, knowing one’s consumer has never been so great. And, at a time when dissatisfaction with the traditional firmaments of finance is overwhelmingly profound, the spoils stand to go with those bridge builders who have both the empathy and the energy to create consumer solutions that match, even exceed, the needs of their lives—emotionally, socially, commercially and financially.

The crux of my discussion is this: those spoils will go most to those who know their digital consumers best (despite having never seen their face, except by way of avatar). To those who know their consumers’ preferences and payments the best. To those, ultimately, who leverage the richness of the digital age to surround their customers through payments—the actual expressions of consumption, need and want. All of this is rooted in data. Data that I and my colleagues believe is the root of a new era we are calling payments intelligence. The cause and meaning of payments intelligence will become increasingly pronounced in the months and the years to come.

Here is a link to my presentation. I invite anyone to share feedback and observations.

(Reposted, originally from the Litle & Co. Official Blog.)

Point Counterpoint: Entrepreneurship

There are a lot of gainfully employed people out there who are considering the entrepreneurial path. I meet them all the time. Some are nascent entrepreneurs who have the idea but they lack the courage to just do it. They point to many things as reasons, excuses, rationalizations, what have you. Oftentimes these folks are listening to their gut – which is a good thing. They’re afraid of something, and they don’t quite know what it is. Having been on both sides of the equation, I thought I’d present my own version of Point Counterpoint based on some of the things I’ve heard wannabe entrepreneurs say to me. But first, a little history to create some context.

After futzing around in sales for a bit, I jumped into the high tech industry in the mid 1990’s and worked in a wide range of roles for Fortune 500 companies like DEC, GE Capital, Bell Atlantic, among others up until late 1998 when I joined a Cambridge, MA based dot com. That variety of work in the high tech and Internet industries provided me with incredibly valuable exposure, experience, and skills. It also fanned the flames of an entrepreneurial spirit that I think I’ve had all my life. After surviving several rounds of layoffs at the dot-com, my day came on January 4, 2001. The next morning, I woke up and told myself I was done being “an employee” and decided to start my own company, using the skills, experience, passion, gusto, and entrepreneurial energy that was now almost uncontainable. Hindsight being 20/20 of course, I started that company for a mix of the right and wrong reasons. The second company, CitySquares, I started for all the right reasons. I don’t need to walk you through my next 10 years, so I’ll jump ahead.

On January 4, 2011 (10 years to the day), I became “an employee” once again, not at a company of my own founding, but as Litle & Co.‘s new Vice President of Marketing. It’s been six months in this new role; at a successful, profitable, 200 person company, with a 12 person Marketing team, and I can say with both pride and joy that I’m very happy.

Having a solid decade of hard-nosed, scrappy, sometimes bloody, mostly enjoyable, and relatively fruitful entrepreneurial experience has given me an entirely new perspective and approach to being “an employee.” The kind of professional maturity, growth, and development that being an entrepreneur provides simply can’t be gained with any schooling or, I believe, traditional employment.

Point 1: I just can’t work my ass off, put in long days, week after week, month after month, year after year, all while putting up with someone else’s bullshit, stupidity, and politics with no real upside and payout at the end. So, being an entrepreneur puts me closer to the end-game, puts me in the drivers seat, and because I’m in charge, my success or failure is almost entirely up to me.

Counterpoint: That sounds really nice, and I said the same thing 10 years ago. The reality is that while, yes, you do end up in the drivers seat, you are in charge, your success or failure is almost entirely up to you, you still need others to get there. Unless your Tim Ferris, you’re going to need some partners (of some form), some staff, legal and financial services, and if you have half a brain you’ll leverage an advisory board. You might even need capital, and hence you’ll end up with interested shareholders, perhaps a board of directors. So yeah, now you’re the one creating the bullshit, the stupidity, and politicking. While you’re the one in charge of your success or failure, you’re also the one in charge of everyone else’s success or failure too. How’s that for pressure? How’s that for long days, weeks, months, years? The likelihood of “success” is no greater or lesser because you are in charge, if anything you just created more obstacles for yourself. It really boils down to one thing: how you define your success. Success means different things to different people, I’ve opined on this quite a bit here on this blog. So think about what you really expect out of this move you want to make, and sit on it for a while.

Point 2: I’ve got a killer product and I don’t want my employer to have a piece of it – it’s my idea, so I’m going to start my own company.

Counterpoint: Really? The only way is by yourself? I’m glad Christopher Columbus didn’t say that, or Neil Armstrong. Even Leonardo DaVinci had help from the Catholic Church. So OK, you’re the genius with the killer product, but you need to do product stuff right? Cool, and congrats on that title by the way, it’ll come in handy when the going gets tough, or when real business matters need attention – cuz you’re pretty much off the hook. Oftentimes you hear the “product entrepreneur” say, “I just need a partner, someone who can help me raise the money, move some product (aka ‘sell’ the product) while I build it.” There is nothing more annoying to me. If you’re an entrepreneur, you need to do that stuff too, jerk! So, because you’re the nerd with the new gadget you get to scurry off into a corner somewhere while everyone else protects you from the bad people who want to make money off it? How dare they! Maybe you should go start a non-profit then, or build it and give it to a third world country – all so you can sleep better at night and keep your moral high-ground. Face facts Wozniak, you need to get some skin in the game too. Being an entrepreneur is about making business decisions, not product decisions. You don’t get to bake your cake and eat it too, while others sell the cakes, clean the bakery, and stock the shelves. You need to develop some real business skills, skills that will pay off for you in the end. If you don’t develop those business skills, everyone else will figure out a way to take your toy from you while you’re picking your nose. Trust me on this, those bad people who want to take your toy and get rich, they got skills – they’re trickier than you are. You might be a genius, but they’re snakes. Smarten up, and think twice before you hit the streets with your fancy new toy. In fact, given all this, if you really don’t have the chops, really don’t have what it takes, maybe you wanna reconsider talking to your employer about it – but talk to a lawyer first (you know, the bad people who do law stuff).

Point 3: I have big dreams, man. I wanna live this life, I wanna go places and see things, but I wanna do it in style – like on my own yacht, with my friends. You know, I wanna be a pimp!

Counterpoint 3: Playa please! I can’t even respond to you without wanting to punch your mouth. Ya know what – you’re right. Go out there, baller, get that money. I’ll be right here when that album you were gonna drop falls through the cracks, or when your steroids website costs more to build than it ever generates in cashflow, or that “super connected” club promoter ends up being shady and stops returning your calls. Yes, lightning does strike and some people in this world (out of 6 billion) do get rich quick. But if you get struck by lightning, it ain’t gonna make you rich, it might make you a bit brighter though… we can only hope.

Point 4: I just can’t work for someone else. I need to work at my own pace, in my way, with my style.

Counterpoint 4: You must be a millenial. I bet you went to a Charter school too. Hey, I mean that with respect – you are indeed one of god’s special creatures. This world is going to be a much better place once those baby boomers and gen-x’rs are outta the way. I honestly don’t know what to tell you, Moonbeam. I think you have some really really hard lessons ahead of you, and you’re going to find out that mommy and daddy learned the hard way too. They tried to protect you, they really did, but they were kidding themselves and actually doing you quite the disservice. Where’s Tiger Mom? Can you spend a couple days with her? I think she’s onto something. No one appreciates the beauty with which you see the world, and no one quite understands that the world can be a better place if they’d only _____. I think you should lead the way. The fact of the matter here is that no matter what I tell you, no matter what anyone tells you, you are a special creature that needs to experience real pain and suffering before you will listen to anyone. Sorry, that was advice.

Point 5: Life is short, I don’t want to spend it working in a cubicle, or on a construction site.

Counterpoint 5: See above. Also, what’s wrong with work? You know, that’s just a part of life right? You realize that Julius Caesar worked hard, right? You realize that Bill Gates still works his ass off right? You know those special ops guys who killed Bin Laden, Team 6? Yeah, those guys work their effing asses off. Are you better than them? If you don’t want to work, drop out of society and backpack around the world. Or better yet, find something you’re truly passionate about, and find a way to make a living doing it. It’s simple. Now stop whining and get back to work.

I’ll stop there. I hope I’ve made my point. Entrepreneurship is really effing hard, and when people go into business for themselves (be it their own bakery, their own manufacturing company, their own high tech company, ad agency, whatever) – it’s work, it’s hard work. Entrepreneurship is no yellow brick road, Dorothy. It can be, yes, it has the potential to yield wonderful results. You really need to consider the reasons for becoming an entrepreneur. That’s what needs assessment, not how you’ll do it, but why you’re doing it.

Am I better off now than I was when I started? Oh hell yeah. Did I fulfill the dream I had when I started? Oh hell no. But that dream changed with time. I started down the entrepreneurial path when I was 25. I’m 35 now – I’m a different person, with different values, different perspectives, different dreams and goals.

After 10 years of entrepreneurship, personally speaking, I’m a much happier and healthier person, no doubt, and I’m a better member of society. Professionally speaking, I feel like I’m just getting started.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Ten Conference and Networking Tips

The Kelsey Group, or should I say BIA/Kelsey, held their annual Marketplaces conference this week in sunny San Diego. A heck of a show it was. So good that I probably was only able to sit in a handful of sessions. I say that because when I first started going to Kelsey shows in 2005 I was a newbie to the local scene, a newbie to local search conferences, and I probably sat in on 90% of the sessions, and soaked up information like a dry sponge. And that was the intent – to learn as much as possible, and then learn more. While my desire to learn at these shows hasn’t changed, my priorities have – it’s all about networking now and prospecting and establishing business relationships, of all types.

My colleague, Todd, and I had back-to-back-to-back meetings from even before the preconference started on Monday morning. By the time I left the hotel late Wednesday night, it wasn’t without three more impromptu meetings that kept me busy and well fed right up until I had to leave for the airport at 7pm. Here I am, 1:30 the next day, 60 minutes away from a follow-up meeting.

I wonder sometimes how some businesses in my industry (vertical? space?) are even able to stick around or grow without attending shows like these. These shows are sort of like annual or biannual checkpoints for many companies; are you still in it? are you thriving? surviving? ready to grow? growing? ready to do that deal you put-off last time around? changing models?

Since I started attending these shows almost five years ago now, I’ve seen many companies come and go. It’s exciting to grow alongside other companies, competitive or complementary or otherwise – it really is something to have those brothers and sisters to grow up with. It’s also sad and disheartening to see some of them vanish, never to be heard of again – to reminisce with others about those brands, faces, names, stories.

Perhaps the one point that really stands out for me though is how clear it is to me that these kinds of conferences and trade shows are so vital for me as an entrepreneur, and for CitySquares as a business. Some thoughts I’d like to share while they’re still fresh:

  1. Never judge a book by its cover. It’s so easy to dismiss a company because their slides may have seemed boring, or overly complicated, or the speaker wasn’t charismatic enough, or was even too charming. It’s easy to dismiss a company because their booth wasn’t fancy enough, or because someone was shy or anxious and didn’t have a drink at the mixer. I’ve been surprised so many times. Be bold, be brave – talk to everyone – but don’t be too aggressive about it. Just be there. Being there is the first step. Before you know it you’re deeply engrossed in a conversation and discovering common denominators.
  2. Don’t go to bed. I mean this. You didn’t spend your or your company’s money to go to bed when the best stuff happens. The best time to meet people, to learn, and to establish relationships and prospect for deals is during the hours following each day’s show. Whether in the bar, the restaurant, in the lobby, in the hallways, or outside the hotel at dinner and bar meetings – that’s when it happens. Simply put, be available. Don’t drink? No problem – but be there. You can make up the sleep on the plane or when you get back to your hometown. This way you’ll really be taking advantage of all the networking opportunities.
  3. Be real, be curious, be yourself. Don’t know about a topic being discussed, ask the panelists questions when the mic goes around. If the mic doesn’t make its way to you, stick around after the panel and track down the people you want to talk with. They’re at the show for the same reasons you are!
  4. Have business cards. I know it’s a no-brainer, but there is nothing worse then meeting someone and not getting their business card, or vice versa. Bring three times as many business cards as you think you’ll need. I can assure you that if you’re doing all of the above, you’ll use them. You may even need to run up to your hotel room to get more cards.
  5. Ask for time. If you meet someone you’d like to get to know better, or learn more about their business or talk about some ideas you have for working together, just ask them to meet with you. This is so easy – whether its an early breakfast meeting the following day, a chat in the hallway at a table, outside in the sun, at the bar that evening, over lunch or dinner, or even out in town – just ask them for their time. You’d be surprised. I’ve never been turned down. Sometimes you meet with someone and you find there’s just not a fit. OK – now you know! Time wasted? Absolutely not! More often than not though, there’s a synergy somewhere – but don’t force it either.
  6. Follow up. LinkedIn is the best way to follow-up. If you’re not on LinkedIn – get with the program! Really though. When you gather up all those cards every day, before you finally close your laptop at the end of the night, set them down, search LinkedIn for each person and write a personal message to them – remind them who you are and add some context to the message. A lot of names and faces get mixed up, business cards are just the reminder. Mention the topic you were discussing, be it business or even something casual that was discussed. It’s hard to remember who everyone is, but when you add context it jogs the memory and make it a lot easier for the recipient to accept your request. Follow up again a few days later with an email or a phone call.
  7. Go to the sponsored parties and events. Most evenings after the day’s events, there are company sponsored parties and gatherings. Go to them! If you find out its exclusive, and invitation only, just find out who’s doing the inviting and ask if you can attend – its rare that you’ll get turned down. Again, that’s what these events are for and the more people that show up, the better off that company looks – they want a good turnout! They want to be sold out and want people talking about it.
  8. Relax. This is especially important because no one wants to talk business 100% of the time. Be yourself, talk about where you’re from, learn about where others are from, talk sports, schools, family, hobbies. You’d be surprised when you do – often times you’ll find that you have a lot in common, and what was at first perhaps an awkward introduction turns into laughter, common interests or connections.
  9. Keep it simple. You’re wearing a name tag. People will look at it. After shaking someone’s hand and introductions the first question will be “so what does [your company name] do?” Don’t go into a 10-minute monologue about your special patent-pending technology that’s going to change the game and disrupt the whole business. First, no one likes to hear that their business is threatened by yours, and two, no one likes a bore. Be able to explain in less than 3-4 sentences what you’re business does – specifically what problem it’s working to solve. But don’t be secretive either. No one likes a spy or stealth company being sly.
  10. Know the right people. This is huge. Get to know a few people who run the conference, or who seem to know the right people, the folks at the booths, and others. If you see someone talking to someone you’d like to speak with, just ask for an introduction! They’ll be flattered you asked them. Knowing the right people does not mean shadowing people, tagging alongside them like a pet dog though either.

I hope these 10 points ring true for you, or inspire you to get out there more. And if you have any tips you’d like to add to this list, I’d love to hear from you, as would my readers.

Enhanced by Zemanta