6 Ways To Transform Startup Constraints Into Benefits

photo: © www.StefanoBorghi.comMost entrepreneur that fail are quick to offer a litany of constraints that caused their demise – not enough money, time, customers, or support from the right players. Ironically, as a startup investor and mentor, I have seen too many failures caused by just the opposite – too much money spent too soon, taking time to get product perfection, and assuming customers will wait.

In reality, resource constraints should be seen by startups a competitive advantage, by forcing them to develop new markets, and to think differently and act differently than existing players. The result, called resourcefulness, allows entrepreneurs to create opportunities in the face of scarcity. It allows them turn resource constraints into stunning new businesses.

In this context, constraints might more reasonably be seen as beautiful by entrepreneurs, just as they are described in the classic book, “A Beautiful Constraint,” by renowned marketing consultants Adam Morgan and Mark Barden. I like the way the authors outline how to see and turn constraints from punitive to liberators of new possibilities and opportunities, as follows:

  1. Look for ways to improve productivity. Every startup needs to think hard daily about what problem or challenge is holding back progress, what really matters today, and what entirely new possibilities exist. How many times have you actually made up work to keep an idle person busy? Startups funded by rich uncles rarely think about productivity.
  1. Rethink or reframe the challenge. Constraints are the best motivators for finding new approaches to solving a problem, building a product, or crafting an effective marketing campaign. Perhaps success itself needs to be redefined or reframed. Every entrepreneur needs to avoid locked-in ways of thinking. Let your constraints drive innovation.
  1. Find the benefit in subtraction. Isn’t it amazing how often all the necessary work gets done, even when resources are removed or the budget is reduced in an ongoing project? The benefit of working harder and more efficiently is success despite constraints. Subtraction leads to simplicity, better usability, and easier education of your customers.
  1. Find new ways to augment. The fastest way to grow your business is to find partners who can amplify or sell what you already have, and you can sell what they have. That’s a win-win relationship, which almost always takes less time and money than building something new. Adding priced services is another way to augment a product business.
  1. Create new kinds of solutions. Using the solution technology that you already have, in new ways, takes fewer resources than inventing or sourcing new technologies. That’s why computer makers offer desktops, laptops, notepads, and now even smartphones. Without constraints at the forefront, computers tend to get complex and more expensive.
  1. Build entirely new business models and systems. Pricing constraints and the need to attract consumers drove the invention by startups of the freemium model, subscription model, razor-blade model, and others. Today we see whole new ecosystems and opportunities driven by environmental constraints, safety concerns, and social issues.

Some entrepreneurs never get past the victim stage for constraints. They see every constraint as an inhibitor to their ability to realize their ambition, and an excuse for not persevering. Others proceed to the neutralizing stage, which means they tackle problems as they are encountered, and get some satisfaction by finding a way around each one. It’s still a hard road to success.

The smarter entrepreneurs jump quickly to the transformer stage, where constraints are proactively or responsively used to prompt wholly different and potentially breakthrough new approaches and solutions. They even impose constraints on themselves and their team to stimulate better thinking and new possibilities. Then they size the potential in the constraint.

We live in a world of over-abundance of choices, yet seemingly ever-increasing constraints, driven by a scarcity of time, expertise, and money. How entrepreneurs respond to these will become a larger and larger determinant of startup growth, competitive position, and success. What is your resource constraint mindset and action plan today?

Marty Zwilling

Startup Professionals Musings

6 Ways To Test Your New Venture Sustainability Early

new-venture-innovationHow do you convince investors that your business model will really work, before you have a revenue stream that exceeds your expenses? Even if you are bootstrapping your business, and you are the only investor, you should be asking yourself the same question. Too many founders have learned that passion and free beta products do not imply a sustainable business.

Proof of any business model starts with a finished product or solution, sold to a new customer for full price, with high satisfaction for the value received. Of course, that has be a repeatable event, with enough revenue to sustain the business. The conundrum is that once you have really proven the business model, you no longer need the investor money you asked for to start the business.

So what should an entrepreneur do to convince themselves, as well as potential investors, that they have a viable business model before it is totally proven? Here are some basic principles from my own experience that will improve your odds and keep you on the right track:

  1. Recognize that you are not the market. No matter how passionate you are about your solution, it doesn’t mean that if you build it, they will come. Don’t skip the market research, input from influencers, analysis of competitors, and the simple act of really listening to potential customers via social media, before quantifying your opportunity.
  1. Start selling it before you build it. Marketing is everything these days. On the average, it takes as long to build marketing momentum as it does to build the solution. If you wait to begin marketing until your product is final, you will find it very expensive to pivot to meet real world input, or the whole opportunity may have moved on without you.
  1. Plan for a real revenue model. The free model, with a loose intent to monetize later, made popular during the tech bubble, doesn’t work anymore. No matter how good your cause, it takes real money to sustain a business. Decide early where and when money will come from, set some milestones and metrics, and work to a plan, or be caught short.
  1. Word of mouth is not adequate for marketing and sales. Even though the Internet is pervasive and free, you should not assume that a website is all you need for sales and marketing. To get the visibility and distribution you need will likely require one or two levels of partner relationships and a real model for marketing, events and promotions.
  1. Customer support is more than handling exceptions. Customers expect to be delighted in all phases of the product life cycle — understanding features, pricing alternatives, returns and problem resolution. A detailed process, with empowered employees and adequate budget, are mandatory to any viable business model.
  1. Everyone must be part of the sales process. Don’t assume that only customer-facing employees need to understand sales, and that these people can be hired and trained at the last minute. Everyone on your team must maintain the mindset that customers are the key to your business model, rather than technology or accounting.

I’m not suggesting that all these business model elements need to be perfect before you ask for funding or open doors for business. As an active angel investor, I do expect founders to be able to communicate a plan to implement all key business model elements, just as I expect them to understand and plan for all the elements of their technology and their solution.

In my experience, every great product is not a great business, and every great business model involves far more than a great product. Your challenge is to present a total business solution to the right customer set to build your credibility and momentum. Without these, your dreams and your business model may never get the fuel they need, and will burn out quickly.

Marty Zwilling

Startup Professionals Musings

7 Ways To Stay Motivated At Work During Challenging Times

With most of the world on strict lockdown and no prospect of returning to the office any time soon, 2021 is playing out like much of last year so far, and people all over the country are understandably frustrated and tired. With uncertainty around the future and remote working continuing for most, staying motivated at work is crucial for us to maintain positive momentum and mindset this year.

For 2021, a recent study by YouGov shows changing careers is still within the top 5 resolutions for Britons, particularly within the 18-24 age group, and more employees are looking to climb the career ladder this year. As we’ve settled into new work, flexible schedules, and working remotely, managing work-life balance may be slightly more straightforward, but staying motivated may be challenging.

Here are seven ways to help boost your motivation at work all year round, according to Workspace Specialists Instant Offices:

1. Prioritize Mental Health

Now more than ever, mental health needs to come first. Uncertainty from the pandemic and additional stresses make it even more difficult for us to focus. On the one hand, you might be throwing yourself into work to avoid having to address other issues, leading to burnout, or you’re completely detached from work because of stress from COVID, lockdown, and other elements. Now is the time to put yourself first to flourish this year.

2. Practice Gratitude

With all the uncertainty and stress from the pandemic, it’s very easy to become despondent, making it even more challenging to be motivated for work. Being thankful for what you have can lift your spirits. Dr. Robert Emmons, an expert on the science of gratitude, has found that those who practice gratitude at work have better relationships with themselves and others, allowing them to work better.

3. Find Career Support

More content is available online than ever before due to most people offering services, classes, and expertise online during the lockdown. Take charge of your career track this year by finding a mentor willing to share their insights and experience. In addition to guiding you on career growth and decision making, their constructive feedback can help you expand your skillset. Fortune 500 companies understand the value of mentorship – 71% offer formal mentoring programs to their employees.

4. Stay Busy

Around 40% of UK employees admit to being bored at work, and more than half think their existing skills are being wasted. Boredom at work is a significant source of stress and can lead to depression and disinterest. Ensure you take regular breaks during long tasks, even when working from home, but if you’re in a quiet period, keep yourself busy by learning a new skill that can bolster your career.

5. Upskill Yourself

Increase your value at work by learning a new skill. If you’re working from home and have more time on your hands, taking an online course or reading up on something you’re interested in can only benefit you and your career. During lockdown in the UK, 24% tried to learn a new language, while 19% brushed up on IT and digital skills.

6. Use Holiday Time

Having small breaks throughout the year instead of saving all of your holidays for the end of the year can really benefit your mental health in the long run. Even if you’re working from home, taking some time away from your devices, emails and workstations can be very refreshing. You don’t need to venture far from home for a holiday either. If restrictions allow it, go for a walk or simply get outside to restimulate your mental space.

7. Ask for an Increase

As of August 2020, 37% of Britons think they deserve to be paid more for their jobs, according to YouGov. A poll of 5,000 people showed 68% hadn’t received a pay rise or promotion in the last year, leading to unhappiness at work. If you’re committed to your job but need more to keep you motivated, it’s definitely time to stop stalling and ask for a raise.

Nobody knows what 2021 will bring but taking charge of our happiness one step at a time will help contribute to a better work-life ahead for the new year.



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7 Simple Ways to Save on Labor Costs

Labor costs a lot of money. The single best thing you can do for your startup’s bottom line in 2021 is to reduce your labor expenses.

Experts say the total cost employing someone is 1.25-1.4 times the employee’s base salary. Due to the economic hit caused COVID-19 pandemic, many companies can no longer afford those costs. 

The good news is, cutting labor costs doesn’t necessarily mean you need to get rid of employees. In fact, doing so now could jeopardize your company’s place in the economic recovery. 

How can you spend less on labor without shooting your operations in the foot? Here’s how:

1. Avoid Employee Turnover 

A great deal of resources are required to hire and train a new employee. Every time a business replaces an employee, it costs the company roughly nine months’ of that employee’s salary. 

The higher on the organizational ladder turnover occurs, the more expensive it is. Finding a new CFO may take a year or more. Between those search costs and the challenges of onboarding a new executive, it isn’t uncommon for top-tier roles to cost twice their salary to replace. 

Reducing turnover is about making sure your company culture is as strong as it can be. Check in with your team: Is flexibility what they want most? Growth opportunities? More robust health or vacation benefits? Whatever it is, it’s almost certainly cheaper than backfilling even one or two roles on the team. 

2. Consider Contractors

Not every job needs to be done by a full-time employee, especially if you’re trying to save on labor costs. Consider using freelance workers to handle easily outsourced tasks, such as content development, graphic design, and accounting. 

If you’re struggling to find a specialized contractor, expand your search area. Global payroll services can help you work with talent abroad that you may struggle to source domestically. 

You might also consider converting full-time roles to part-time or seasonal ones. Depending on your economic situation, doing so may be your only option for keeping your employees without losing your business. And the truth is, most employees would rather their hours be reduced than lose their jobs altogether. 

3. Automate All That You Can

Automation technology has advanced significantly in recent years. Although some tools come with steep upfront and implementation costs, all but boutique solutions will be cheaper than someone’s salary. 

Automation tools reduce how much time team members need to spend on mundane tasks. For example, grammatical checkers like Grammarly can do minor editing work for your content development team. 

What if you can’t find a pre-built automation for a certain task? Conditional systems like If This Then That can string together actions. When a new client signs, for example, IFTT can hook your document storage and communication tools so that the account team receives a Slack as soon as their contract is uploaded. 

You don’t have to break the bank to automate most office tasks. You just have to find affordable tools that free up your team for human-required work.

4. Cross-Train Employees

At too many companies, employees are pigeonholed into their role and their role only. Ensuring everyone understands how the roles around them operate increases both efficiency and organizational resiliency. 

Look to external-facing functions first. Every member of the team should be able to provide customer service, for example. Make sure you have your bases covered with clients and partners before you worry about whether everyone can write a blog post. 

As you cross-train employees, remember that the point isn’t to make everyone an expert on everything. Your goal should be to fill gaps and to ensure you don’t have to pay a staffing firm when something unexpected happens. 

5. Consider Approving Overtime 

It’s true: Overtime work costs 150% as much as normal labor. But letting your existing team members work a few extra hours each week is likely to be cheaper than hiring a whole new employee.

Compare not just those costs, but the potential culture implications of overtime. Some team members might be glad to sign up for extra hours. Others, however, may see the expectation that they work more than a full-time amount of hours as unfair. 

When in doubt, ask your team. The best solution might be a mixed one, with some team members working overtime and others receiving extra support from interns or part-timers.

6. Review Benefits Options

At least once a year, you should evaluate your company’s benefits. Not only do you need to stay competitive with employers in your area, but you might be able to find better deals.

Health insurance is a key one. The average annual family health insurance premium is more than $ 20,000. If you have 10 employees and can shave even 5% from that amount, you may save your company five figures per year. 

Another important one is PTO. To stretch your labor budget, consider taking one or two paid holidays off the calendar. Most employees would prefer to spend an extra day at the office than to make less money. 

7. Offer Voluntary Layoffs

Has your company reached a point where cutting down your workforce is the only answer? Instead of letting employees go willy nilly, ask which ones might be interested in an incentive to end their employment.

Say you have multiple workers in their 60s. One or more of them might be interested in early retirement if you’re willing to pad their 401(k) account. Parents might be willing to stay at home with young kids instead of paying for childcare.

Again, ask your team. Don’t force people out if you can avoid it, but do have a judgment-free conversation about who might be willing to duck out early. 

Sure, employees are expensive, but they’re also vital to a company’s success. Find ways to save on labor costs that don’t stress out the wider team. You don’t want to create a culture in which people don’t feel secure. Nothing keeps your labor costs low like retaining your best employees.

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5 ways startup marketing has changed in the past 5 years

Rapid technological development has ‘fast-forwarded’ the way marketing has developed over the past 5 years. In just one year, digital transformation is far ahead where everyone thought it would be before COVID-19. This has forged the need for businesses to quickly and decisively adapt their marketing strategies at the speed of changing technologies, markets, and…

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UK looking at ways to protect itself against Brazilian COVID variant, says PM Johnson – Yahoo Finance

UK looking at ways to protect itself against Brazilian COVID variant, says PM Johnson  Yahoo Finance
“nigeria startups when:7d” – Google News

6 Ways Chutzpah And Confidence Can Make Your Startup

self-confident-entrepreneurBased on my experience as a business advisor, I’m convinced that most startup investors invest in the entrepreneur, as much as a solution or product. In that context, I’ve long realized that some players seem to command real attention, even if their proposal sounds far-fetched or very risky. The attribute most often mentioned in this regard is supreme self-confidence or chutzpah.

Examples of this today would obviously include Elon Musk, and Steve Jobs a few years ago. In a new book, “The Unstoppable Startup,” by Uri Adoni, a widely respected venture capitalist from Israel, I was pleased to see real specifics on how you can successfully demonstrate the right level of confidence and boldness, without stepping over the line into arrogance and insolence.

The book author’s background and experience is with entrepreneurs and startups in and from Israel, but I believe the key rules he outlines, which I am paraphrasing here, are equally applicable and important to aspiring entrepreneurs and startups everywhere:

  1. Challenge status quo and currently accepted reality. The attitude of taking nothing for granted, of disbelieving the conventional wisdom, of challenging the way things are done, is essential for a winning entrepreneur. Of course, this passion must be backed up by documented evidence and logical arguments, not just loud talking and arm waving.

    While “personal” computers are taken for granted today, I can easily remember my early days in IBM when no one could conceive of a computer outside of business. Only people like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates had the chutzpah to propose a computer for every home.

  2. Dominate or create the market category you seek. I often hear the argument that this opportunity is so large, that even a tiny percentage will be a good business. Without the self-confidence, secret sauce, and a plan to become the dominant player over time, investors know too well that you will likely be overrun by competitors or lost in the crowd.

  3. Innovate to meet future demands you foresee. Investors are most impressed with entrepreneurs who are part futurists and part prophets, with insights to see “around the corner,” and innovation and production plans to get there first, even in a today’s rapidly changing market. They readily admit to challenges, but display confidence to proceed.

    When Elon Musk talks about us becoming a multi-planet species, or alleviating earth travel congestion with a network of tunnels, people now listen, especially when he can show that SpaceX and The Boring Company are already demonstrating results.

  4. Convince people the market needs what you have. Steve Jobs is known for asserting, “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” Chutzpah is often required to create and expand markets, especially in cultures that are stifled by acquiescence and authority. You have to overcome existing players, and the human resistance to change.

  5. Bend the conventional rules of what is possible. Most of us have an innate sense of what is physically possible, and what is considered “good business practice.” Disruptive innovations challenge one or both of these assumptions, and it takes real self-confidence to bend these rules with credibility and integrity. Solicit experts to support your assertions.

    Another approach is to seed your team with “divergent thinkers.” These are people with the uncanny ability to think “outside the box,” and come up with free-flowing ideas, as opposed to their convergent-thinking counterparts who think in a linear fashion.

  6. Show, don’t tell people what your product can do. If you can provide living proof of what your product can do, with a proof of concept (POC) or minimum viable product (MVP), people can’t help but believe you. Entrepreneurs with the right level of self-confidence are always ready to back up their talking with action and results.

How potential partners, investors, and customers see you is critical to their ultimate support and acceptance of your proposal and your solution. They have to believe in your confidence, as well as your ability to deliver. The principles outlined here, carefully embodied in chutzpah, will put you in an elite category of entrepreneurs. Then all you have to do is to demonstrate results.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 01/06/2021 ***

Startup Professionals Musings

6 Ways To Calibrate Your Fit To The Right New Venture

right-new-ventureBeing an entrepreneur seems to be one of the most popular lifestyle aspirations these days. According to most definitions, anyone who starts a business is an entrepreneur, but most people don’t realize there are many startup types out there, and picking the wrong one can be just as disastrous as being stuck in a cubicle at work, or doing things with no interest and no skills.

In my view, this mismatch of motivation to your business model is the primary reason that 90 percent of startups ultimately fail, and a shockingly high 80 percent of employees are dissatisfied at work. Thus it behooves every entrepreneur to pick the startup model that best matches their real motivation. Here are six considerations to get you started on the right startup:

  1. Invented a solution to a painful existing problem. You have proven that you can create an innovative product, but creating a business is a whole new challenge. The old adage of “if we build it, they will come” doesn’t work anymore. Every business needs marketing, distribution, a positive revenue model and intellectual property to survive. You won’t be a successful and happy entrepreneur if you aren’t motivated to build a business.
  1. Aspire to be in control of your own domain. There are many business types that don’t assume any new invention or service, such as franchising, multi-level marketing (MLM) or freelancing. These do require business management and execution skills, as well as the discipline to manage yourself. Just don’t look for an investor to fund your efforts here, since investors will likely be tougher bosses than corporate managers.
  1. Looking for a path to dramatically increase your income. This is a tough one, since most of the overnight startup successes I know took six years or more. Franchises and consulting businesses have an earlier and higher success rate, but typically have a lower return. With new products and services, you can hit the jackpot, but many struggle or fail.
  1. Trying to fulfill family or peer expectations. Don’t try to be an entrepreneur just to prove something to a loved one, friend or sibling. There are no business types that work well here, except maybe an existing family business that is already successful. If you must proceed, at least pick something you love, or a social cause to benefit society.
  1. Seeking a new career challenge to follow an existing success. If you have a comfortable position from a previous success, and are not looking to retire, a great business is to share your expertise and experience through consulting. Another great learning opportunity and win-win deal is to co-founder a new high-tech startup team.
  1. Fulfill your legacy and responsibility to society. Environmental startups and non-profit businesses are just as challenging as the next disruptive technology startup, and just as likely to change the world. Leaving a personal legacy is a great motivator to switch to entrepreneurial work, if you have that passion and determination.

No matter which of the entrepreneur business models you choose, don’t expect the work to be easier than a corporate job. In fact, most successful entrepreneurs would argue just the opposite. Success in any entrepreneur role requires a serious commitment, determination and learning from setbacks. Switching business models is not usually a shortcut to success and happiness.

I often recommend to aspiring entrepreneurs that they first take a job with another startup in the same realm as the one they envision to get some practical insight into the challenges, make contacts and learn more about their own motivations. Then take the big step of starting your own business, with fewer surprises, some good connections and likely more accumulated savings.

Overall, it is important to remember that happiness breeds success more often than success breeds happiness. Every aspiring entrepreneur should play to their strengths and interests, rather than listen to all the well-meaning advice you will hear from friends and experts. The exciting part about being an entrepreneur is that you can tailor the role to match your real motivations.

Marty Zwilling

Startup Professionals Musings

[Varo Money in The Penny Hoarder] How to Save Money: 6 Step-by-Step Ways to Save Big Every Month

Take a moment. Think about being your best self — living your best life. What do you really want to do with your life? Raise a happy family? Travel the world? Buy a nice house? Start your own business?

Read more here.

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