Tuesday, April 13, 2021



How Cameo Became a Star

The company, which connects celebrities with fans via paid videos, just reached unicorn status. Cameo is a great example of how a slow-burn strategy can catch fire and scorch unsuspecting competitors. 


Chicago is all abuzz about the new unicorn in town. Cameo, a 4-year-old startup that allows users to buy short, video shout-outs from celebrities, just completed a new $100 million round of financing at a valuation of more than a billion dollars. The list of new strategic and growth investors led by e.ventures reads like a tech Who's Who (Amazon, Google, SoftBank, etc.) and the newbies join an existing A-list VC roster headed by Kleiner Perkins, and Lightspeed Venture Partners.

The irony is that when the business was started a few years ago as two young guys trying to talk B- and C-list has-beens and never-wases (plus some new and old jocks) into making a few bucks recording videos on their phones for complete strangers, pretty much everyone thought it was a joke. Who would agree to do it? Who would care about the people doing it? And, of course, who would pay for it? While maybe everyone has their 15 minutes of fame, Cameo was chasing people who had burnt out long ago or missed their moment completely.

What no one realized in the beginning (when the entire Cameo team shared a modest glass-walled office at 1871, Chicago's premiere tech incubator) is that this is a near-perfect example of how new competitors can enter a market at the very bottom - and get ignored or ridiculed by all the existing players -- while slowly and steadily improving their offerings. Cameo moved continually upstream, grew its presence and share, and is now poised to pounce.

This is exactly what China did to sectors of the American steel industry. They started by producing and delivering cheap, dirty and low-grade rebar (those rusty stakes you see sticking out of concrete at every construction site with the little orange caps), which no one else in the U. S. wanted to produce because of the low margins and associated workplace pollution problems. And then, in just over a decade, the new entrants developed clean mini-mills and came to be a significant player in the production of most specialty steel in this country. Change China to Japan and you've got the same basic story with film and copying machines. If this process sounds somewhat familiar, it's the core concept behind Clay Christensen's theory of disruptive innovation. Start small and moderately priced in potentially large and under-appreciated markets, or in markets that were largely monopolized and taken for granted. Serve your customers most basic needs, innovate and iterate constantly, and move so quickly that the incumbents can't keep up with the pace.

Cameo never worried about the quality of the videos on their folks' phones -- although the quality and smarts of those phones exploded, which didn't hurt. Smooth, polished and slick was out. In fact, the more informal, the more ad hoc, the goofier some of the early offerings were, the more authentic and real they seemed to the end users in an age of fake, plastic and manufactured everything. In a way, everyone was in on the joke and the hokier the performance, the bigger the bang.

These days, some 1,300,000 videos later, there are more than 40,000 celebs and other personalities of all sizes, shapes, ages and histories competing every day on the Cameo site to make videos and make someone's occasion instantly memorable, for a fee. The talent sets the price for their own videos and Cameo takes a cut of each transaction. Last year's revenues look to have been around $100 million.

And, as sad as it is to say, the COVID-19 pandemic couldn't have come at a better time for Cameo since everyone who was anyone was stuck at home along with the rest of the world looking for something to do in the way of work.  At the same time, digital gifts are safe and easy to deliver. As the business and the transaction volumes took off, it turned out that these celebs could actually make some real money in their spare time. The company says that more than 150 of their best "creators" earned more than $100,000 each last year.

All good, you say, but who's really being disrupted? That's what the world doesn't really know yet about Cameo, even though Steven Galanis, the CEO, talks about it all the time. He says that Cameo isn't really about the videos -- those are mini-Trojan horses for the real score. It's about building a two-way marketplace between celebrities and their fans where just about anything - any task, any request - can be accommodated and bought or sold.

And who is really being disrupted and about to be blown up? Some of the worst people in the world -- talent agents, music label heads and managers. As Hunter Thompson used to say: "The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side."  

Once you (and millions of others) can use Cameo's channels to ask Snoop Dogg to do whatever, it won't take him too long to wonder why he needs any intermediary to take care of business. He's already killing it on Cameo, and now non-fungible tokens, NFTs, provide another whole channel for musicians and others to directly connect with fans. Snoop recently observed: "There is no platform or middleman filtering my message anymore." The fat cats in the entertainment business may not know it yet, but their days are numbered. Every day, it seems, the world turns upside down on someone who thought they were sitting on top of it.

Cameo is coming for all of them. The one thing we know for sure in the startup world is that the wolf climbing the hill is always hungrier than the wolf on top of the hill.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

BOOMER CAFE: What every boomer can see: Netflix is crushing it!


What every boomer can see: Netflix is crushing it!

One of many things the pandemic has changed in our lives is our television viewing habits. Baby boomers, like others, are cutting the cord to cable and satellite providers, and replacing them in record numbers with streaming services, mainly Netflix. Chicago entrepreneur Howard Tullman, who pulls no punches, writes for inc.com that by successfully rejecting the broadcast television model with which we grew up, Netflix is crushing the traditional broadcasters, because it is a quality product, and we will pay for that. He asks, how can we thank them?!

I’ve heard it said that TV ads are the penalty you pay for watching cheap and endless crap for free. Network television is effectively a tax on people who can’t afford something better – they have to watch this junk and the endless ads as well if they want any sort of entertainment. Network TV has become the shop window for every creepy and frightening ad for the perils of aging and dysfunction, the threat of every newly imagined and cleverly named disease, combined with incessant reruns of shows we hated from their debut. There’s also the traditional flood of car and beer ads — never mind that the average age of a new car buyer is likely to be an aging boomer.

Howard Tullman

If you’ve begun to painfully realize that the aggregate number of ads, as well as time consumed, in any 30-minute slot of prime-time television seems to grow every few months, join the club. Likewise, the bulk of cable programming is no better than the rubbish the big broadcast guys promote except that – as hard as this is to accomplish – the ads are even worse, more crudely made, and dumbed down as well. But at least they provide regular employment for broken down old jocks flogging Medicare supplements and hearing aids while otherwise unemployable or shameless actors pitch reverse mortgages and end-of-life term insurance.

This is precisely what “broadcasting” was always intended to be: a tool to reach the masses via one-size-fits-all, lowest common denominator offerings with the least objectionable material, so that you don’t change the channel. And all of it delivered through a framework to support the ads and advertisers that paid the bills. And the whole thing worked pretty well for all concerned except the viewers. None of us was really a loyal or grateful customer – we just didn’t have a better alternative.

When cable came along, it promised massive amounts of programming choices, but there was only one distributor– the dreaded cable company, selected by local government. This is why cable was always a grudge buy. There was no competition, you paid for a bunch of junk you didn’t want, and the cable company owned the local politicians and rate-setting authorities as well. Sweet deal, but not for us.

But now, if you’re willing and able to pay for the privilege, we have streaming solutions and a growing flow of podcasts (and a few well-done vodcasts) that – with the exception of Peacock, which seems like a glorified invitation to a digital root canal – represent a new attempt at narrowcasting. Smaller, more affluent, self-selecting and better identified audiences composed of folks who are actually anxious and interested in seeing the offered material and, of course, also willing to pay for it.

The entire initial premise of Netflix was that by trading your privacy and viewing preferences and choices for automated personalization you could have the system select and deliver higher-quality, more tailored, and more entertaining suggestions, recommendations, and content for you. The content was as good as anything else out there, and the discovery element was real and serious. But what has become more and more apparent is that millions of us were looking for and willing to pay for ad-free and uninterrupted entertainment.

One of the tactical errors that some of the erstwhile and flailing Netflix competitors have made is to offer a basic, less expensive service with traditional ads along with ad-free access at an upcharge, which seems to me to simply reinforce the depressing message and reality that these days only paupers, morons and cheapskates watch ad-riven network programming. If these competitive vendors had the courage of their convictions and believed in their own offerings, they’d go with a single price structure. Thinking that you can buy eyeballs and subscribers with bait-and-switch expiring offers or deep, short-term discounts (“Get 2 issues of XXX magazine for $2 and then we’ll charge you $50 for the next 6 months.”) hasn’t worked for the few survivors in the high-end magazine business. That pricing matrix is unlikely to be a solid, long-term strategy for streamers either.

But it’s going to be very interesting to see how long the new ad-free models can be sustained and whether their managers can resist the constant pressure from the market and their investors to further monetize their captive viewer eyeballs. This is the constant debate we hear every day about Twitter and others and it’s a nasty disease that no industry can withstand for too long.

But in the case of Netflix, the debate ignores a very critical data distinction. Netflix can sell actionable targeting data about its users – demographics, habits, tastes, interests, spending cycles — to advertisers without permitting them to show a single ad on Netflix itself, which would jeopardize the customers’ experiences.

You already know how this works. You look for something on Amazon or search for anything on Google and – surprise of surprises – suddenly half the other places you visit on the web are showing you ads relating to the products and services you recently researched. Targeting your travels on the internet is easy as pie. Amazon does this a lot better than Google because Amazon, unlike Google, knows your purchase behavior as well so they won’t waste your time or try your patience showing you ads for stuff you bought two days ago.

But Netflix never even has to let you know how the magic works. And even if you ask, much like Facebook, they will likely tell you that all the data they sell to third parties is anonymized so that while the ad targeters “know” your interests and preferences, you should feel comfortable that they don’t really know who you are.

So, the modest good news is that you’re unlikely to see ads on Netflix any time soon and, if their competition has any smarts at all, they’ll be careful not to put their toes in that ugly pool of sludge as well.


Howard is author and co-author of several books, including his newest, “You Can’t Win a Race With Your Mouth: And 299 Other Expert Tips from a Lifelong Entrepreneur.”

Thursday, April 08, 2021


 When I partnered with @BalloonPlatform as a Flight Template author, I knew this was going to completely transform the way we all collaborate. Flight Templates are built for every team in every industry. Pretty amazing what asking a couple questions can do.


Today, I’m excited to announce my partnership with @BalloonPlatform as one of their initial 25 Flight Template authors. Balloon is on a mission to eliminate groupthink from collaboration and amplify all voices in the workplace. Check out my templates here: getballoon.com/templates

 Today, I’m excited to announce my partnership with @BalloonPlatform as one of their initial 25 Flight Template authors. Balloon is on a mission to eliminate groupthink from collaboration and amplify all voices in the workplace. Check out my templates here: getballoon.com/templates

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Rand Paul is a dangerous fool

 Watching Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) debate science with Fauci during committee hearings is like watching Albert Einstein being disputed by his dry cleaner. Fauci is often reduced to making obvious points in a patient voice. Fauci deserves his Presidential Medal of Freedom just for his heroic forbearance.

Tuesday, April 06, 2021


The New Meaning of Slacker--And Why You Should Be One

Never mind those work-averse goofballs of the past. The gnarly interruptions in global supply chains recently have demonstrated the dangers of just in time everything. 




Any number of words in the English language have been redefined over the years and they've come to mean entirely different things. Some have come to be complimentary ("sick" or "ill"), some are disparaging (I dare not give a "ditzy" example), and others are now hateful and politically incorrect if misapplied, used in jest in the wrong company, or used by the "wrong" people.

Apparently, for example, you can be called a "thug" by our President if you attack the Capitol, but not by a sportscaster if you flagrantly attack another player on the basketball court and break his nose. It's a very slippery slope these days and a page right out of Alice in Wonderland where Humpty Dumpty tells Alice: "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less." 

Nonetheless, I propose that we start today to rehabilitate the word "slacker" and cut the poor noun some slack. I'm not really sure when calling someone a "slacker" became a term of derision. In the beginning, it was far more hilarious than hateful. Richard Linklater's 1990 film Slackers brought the definitive persona to the big screen. Kevin Smith's Clerks and Mallrats in the mid-90s added to the oeuvre. These were all basically amusing portraits of a bunch of young comedic doofuses living an alternative (and modestly attractive) lifestyle.

Their attitudes, approaches, and antics weren't necessarily admirable, but they didn't mean any evil by it. No harm, no foul. However, over some relatively short period of time, "slacker" morphed into a moniker that meant lazy, drug-addled, pierced, tattooed; slackers came to represent a lifestyle that threatened to corrupt our kids with their work-averse ethic, weed and wild ideas. They could live in Seattle or Portland, but not on our streets or in our suburbs. 

But, as we hopefully near the end of our national nightmare, one thing that the pandemic taught us for sure is that - in our businesses - having a little slack is a pretty good thing. That doesn't mean bailing on the whole work hard thing. It just means having a little space and breathing room, a margin of error for hiccups and mistakes, and a back-up plan for when things go sideways, or worse. Running everything up to (and sometimes beyond) the bleeding edge - managing your inventory and supplies on a "just in time" basis and not accepting pieces and parts a moment too soon - turns out to a very risky proposition when your supply chain chokes, your customers swarm, demand spikes, and your shelves are suddenly empty.

The economic pain from this global lack of foresight and preparation won't end when the pandemic does. Try to get a critical electronic part for your Lexus and the dealer will wish you well, give you a loaner, and pray that the parts eventually return to inventory this summer. Last week, the Jeep plant in Belvidere, Illinois, which employs 3,600 people, shut down along with four other impacted factories because of a shortage of semiconductor chips. Lots less steel these days, it's all about smarts.

So, my new definition of a slacker is someone who is smart and understands that the new 3 R's of business are reserves, redundancy and resilience.  A slacker builds and manages his or her business in a way that incorporates these necessities and creates the "slack" necessary to survive whatever the world may throw his or her way. Here are three rules for becoming the perfect slacker: 

(1)  Adequate reserves are a critical component of your business model.

It's clear that virtually no business had the necessary cash on hand or other reserves (including lines of credit and other liquid assets) to survive a once-in-a generation economic disruption like last year's, but the experience highlighted for all of us the extent to which far too many firms were underfunded, over-extended, over-expanding and otherwise skating far too close to the edge of financial ruin long before the virus hit. As Warren Buffett says: "Only when the tide goes out do you discover who's been swimming naked."

(2)  Redundancy is costly and unnecessarily duplicative -- until your base systems fail.

During the pandemic, almost every business in the U.S. and the government itself was at the mercy of outsourced and distant supply chains as well as victimized by a classic strategy that attempted to minimize the theoretical cost of holding excess inventory on site. We ignored the less likely but, in the event, far more costly prospect of completely interrupting production and manufacturing due to the unavailability of critical parts and components. Backups, onsite storage, alternative supply channels that aren't single-threaded, and business interruption insurance are all expensive undertakings. But modestly reduced margins are a reasonably fair tradeoff when the possible alternative is shutting down your operations entirely for lengthy periods of time.

(3)  Resilience means building businesses that can quickly measure, and then bend and adapt to, unforeseen stresses and circumstances without breaking.

For all the fashionable talk about agility and flexibility, the pandemic demonstrated just how brittle and hidebound so many businesses are and how painfully long it took them to react, adapt to, and respond to the new business conditions and constantly changing operating requirements that the rapidly spreading virus triggered. The tragically pathetic response by the Trump Administration (accompanied by the criminal and ongoing denial of the virus's severity) made things even worse.

Very few businesses have constructed circuit breakers, gutters, or other safeguards that effectively put a floor and some fail-safe curbs against the freefall debacles that we witnessed during the pandemic. Too many firms found that the metrics and measurements they had traditionally used in their accounting and management systems to respond to changes in their markets and circumstances were too slow and too narrow to capture the scale and speed of the shifts. It's too often the case that you only learn where the limits are once you've gone past them. Early warning systems, rapid response plans, and far faster decisions would have saved lots of lives and livelihoods last year.  

Finally, once things are rebuilt and again operating smoothly, implementing regular stress testing and failure drills are equally important and rarely done steps that will help protect your business. It's much like the need to periodically replace the batteries in your flashlight and smoke detectors.

These are another set of preventative costs that are easy to put off or avoid. It's just human nature - we're so happy to be back in business that we don't even want to think about any of the ugly alternatives. That's how they eventually come to bite you in the ass.

A word to the wise: it's only when they go wrong that machines remind you how powerful they are. Once you're up and running again, don't slack off.

Monday, March 29, 2021



In an Ever More Remote World, It Pays to Protect Your Data

We've all been busy coping with being cooped up and dodging a deadly pandemic to concern ourselves with mundane things like password security. But the threat is bigger today. 


We've been home for more than a year now and things are finally starting to look up, which is great news. Some of us gained new skills, some of us grew new appendages, some of us thought about all the things we were gonna do and didn't. And many of us dodged a different and very scary bullet that we probably didn't give five minutes of thought to the entire year: Being hacked and having our identities stolen. 

Amazingly, even though tens of millions of us worked from home and shared our devices (willingly or otherwise) with wives, kids, relatives, friends, neighbors, co-gamers and visitors, we didn't have the enormous wave of password and identity theft, ransomware, and related frauds that have been anticipated. Some 80% of data breaches are due to poor password security - we reuse the same, easy-to-guess password on multiple websites, and we rarely if ever change the passwords.

As the saying goes, the world's divided into folks who have been hacked and folks who don't know that they've been hacked. Current estimates are that more than 20 billion stolen logon credentials are presently floating around and being bought and sold on the Dark Web by cybercriminals.

Whatever your current status--confusion, indifference, ignorance or avoidance - now is exactly the right time to protect your passwords. Being forewarned is a great way to be forearmed and insulated from risks like these, but only if you heed the warnings. Get some password protection - get it organized and installed of all your devices (and those of your family members) - and do it now because it's no longer a question of if you'll be hit, it's just of question of when and how hard.

This isn't Chicken Little stuff -the Russians just pulled off a remarkable hack of FireEye, a supposedly top cyber security firm, to breach the Treasury Department and God knows what else.  Just ask anyone who's been a victim about the time, pain, cost and grief associated with having your devices compromised, your passwords stolen, and your credit and identity ripped off.  And remember that the most likely people to leave the doors open for the bad guys are you and those closest to you - your own family and your employees. It's not because they're bad people obviously, it's just that these kinds of things aren't top of mind for them or even in their heads. So, it's all on you.

And a word to the wise: be careful which data protection program you pick because you will be investing some amount of your scarce time in the set-up as well as entrusting your very sensitive information to a third party. Make sure your pick will be here for the long run with the team, talents, resources and tools to keep up with the continual threats and new technologies and provide the necessary support and infrastructure to grow with the market as well. You want a company that's a keeper.

More technology-based, early-stage businesses with a real product or service fail because they can't manage their growth than starve for lack of business and opportunities. You want a privacy and protection "partner" who's been around 5 or 10 years, has a demonstrated record of success with both consumers and enterprise customers, is highly rated in the app stores (where people put their money where their mouth is), and has grown steadily and consistently and reached a million or more current users.

Online reviews can be somewhat helpful guides especially in a world where there are constantly new entrants of uncertain and largely unknown backgrounds. Many of these aspiring players have unclear chops and modest financial resources and won't be here in a year or two. But I've been consistently under-impressed with most of the mainstream computer press articles which try to rank the major vendors. The rating sites like TrustPilot  and G2 Crowd are a much better bet.

I don't want to fall into the same advice trap although I believe that there's a clear winner in this particular race. What's more useful is to give you a short checklist - in addition to the concerns and issues I have mentioned above - to compare the various providers so that you can make a careful and informed choice. You won't find me talking about cost because (a) the costs are trivial and (b) just avoiding the financial risks to you, your family and your business is worth many multiples of whatever you end up paying. This isn't something that you try to do on the cheap. Decide who's the best and best-suited for your needs and go from there.

Here's my short list of critical criteria.

(1)   At least a million or more paid annual users. Trial is easy - forget it. Subscriptions are hard, sticky, and mean something serious.

(2)   Strong, positive user ratings, especially across all the app stores and, of course, the offering needs to be multi-platform.  

(3)   A solid balance sheet and firm financial backers. Startups come and go - you want to trust your security to a solid, well-funded organization that will be here for the long run. One that plans and advances development over decades. Think Google, not GameStop.

(4)   A technical solution based on Zero Knowledge (end-to-end encryption) so that no one - inside or outside the organization - knows anything about the data and information stored on their servers. Startups turn over - tech company employees are notorious for job hopping - and all it takes is one depressed or disgruntled employee to put your data at risk unless the provider is committed to, and consistently enforces, this type of vault security.

(5)   A demonstrated commitment to innovation, iteration and continuous improvement without which the world and the emergent technologies will quickly obsolete their products and programs.

(6)   And finally, independent, third-party security vetting and certifications (NCC Group, ISO, etc.) coupled with systematic public disclosure protocols for vulnerabilities and an ongoing program to encourage and regard bug discoveries.

Bottom line: you've been warned. The smart money always bets on prevention rather than cure. You don't want to be the next poster boy or girl for "too little, too late".

MAR 30, 2021




Loop North News
34 °Partly sunny

Howard Tullman
Six things to consider before you start a business now
It’s tempting, particularly for cashiered corporate warriors. But temptation isn’t enough. You need a compelling reason and a compelling product.

29-Mar-21 – As we emerge from the pandemic, I expect that a lot of newly unemployed, especially 40+ professionals, will be wondering what to do next.

There’s going to be no going back for millions of these people – unemployment was 6.2 percent in February vs. 3.5 percent the prior year – and sadly, the prospects of shifting to another employer in the same or adjacent industry sectors are looking pretty grim. The pandemic has provided ample cover and convenient excuses galore for cost cutting, workforce reductions, and compensation caps that will be with us long after the last vestiges of the virus.

Adobe Stock

A lot of the job shrinkage we’re seeing is structural and permanent and – in certain industries – long overdue. But, even in those spaces where rebuilding has begun, most of the available slots are going to be filled by younger, cheaper, and more technical talent.

No one is going to tell older applicants to their faces, but employers today are too often looking for youthful energy – and even inexperience – rather than lengthy employment histories, “experience,” and all the baggage that comes with it. They’d rather save some money, start from scratch, and “grow their own.” Older employees lecture; younger folks, ideally, listen and learn.

As a result, after getting kicked in the teeth a few too many times, the prospect of starting their own businesses will look pretty attractive to many of these WFH warriors. And it sure beats being turned down for jobs for another six months. No one – except their family members and maybe their financial advisors – can really tell them not to do it. And they’re pretty sick of hearing “no” all the time.

No one is going to tell older applicants to their faces, but employers today are too often looking for youthful energy – and even inexperience – rather than lengthy employment histories, “experience,” and all the baggage that comes with it. As a result, after getting kicked in the teeth a few too many times, the prospect of starting their own businesses will look pretty attractive to many of these WFH warriors.

Being an entrepreneur is great – I can attest to that. But don’t kid yourself; take a long look before you leap. Startups are hard and starting over is even harder – especially when you’ve accumulated a bunch of family obligations and other financial commitments. At a minimum, you’ve got to do a serious personal inventory and really ask yourself honestly whether you’ve got the stuff and the stomach for what this is going to take. And it goes without saying that if your idea is just another “me-too” business with nothing distinctive to set it apart, please don’t start.

Remember that for every breathless story bragging about some overnight startup success there are dozens of other wannapreneurs who are back on the bread line. They may have started, but they never upped. In any event, before you insist on heading down this very precarious path, here are a few important things to keep in mind. Believe me when I tell you that whatever you ultimately decide, you’ll thank me later.

1 Assume that your accumulated technical skills, training, and expertise – as opposed to your people skills – will be largely undervalued and useless.

As time passes and we rise in our organizations, our skill sets change. We possess and develop far more “soft” skills around things like management and organization and communication. We move further away from the day-to-day use and application of the “hard” skills we initially had. There may be exceptions with regard to specific areas of technical expertise, but even the best software engineers soon find themselves spending more time managing people than writing code.

In the world of tech in particular, there’s a fair amount of age/experience bias, which is to say that your prior skills may be thought to be outdated or worse, and the highly structured and peer-reviewed way you were taught may sound old fashioned in the frenzied, spaghetti-code startup world.

It’s not just an issue in the software industry. In my restaurant businesses, a persistent adage was that old bartenders tended to bring their bad habits with them. They’d rob you blind until you caught them and then they’d find another job somewhere else.

Adobe Stock

Sadly, when you’re on the street and outside of the context of your previous organizational responsibilities, many of these softer skills are hard to quantify and demonstrate.

Worse yet, in a very small new business, it’s not at all clear that there’s much value or opportunity to apply them. The best office manager in the world, who actually did a million different and important things for his or her business – and was in reality much more of a COO – still reads like an “office manager” on paper. One important idea here: try to bypass the resume process entirely by focusing on old connections, relationships, and people who actually know you and what you can do.

2 Forget the concept of the “highest and best use” of your time.

We’re all proud of our own talents and abilities and we’re taught over the years to optimally apply them and to maximize our impact. One eye is always on “the highest and best use” of our own time and energies to move the ball forward and toward the company’s ultimate goals. Well, you can pretty much forget that idea for a while. You’ll need to roll up your sleeves and get used to doing anything and everything that needs to get done regardless of whether you’re the best person to do it.

The best entrepreneurs say, “nothing is beyond me and nothing is beneath me,” and now’s your chance to live the dream. I don’t mean to make light of this process because, in taking out the trash or doing whatever it takes, you’re definitely modeling the behavior that you want your people to emulate. But that doesn’t make the garbage stink any less. Many of the old adages and reliable rules just don’t matter in the new world. You have to teach yourself to remember to forget some of the “tried and true.” Just focus on muddling through for starters.

3 Plan on working (at least for a while) with employees you would never have hired in your last position.

Beggars can’t be choosers and, as soon as you enter the real world and no longer have an HR department or a self-selecting stream of Type A players, you’ll quickly discover that you have to take whatever you can get in the way of initial employees and just hope for the best. Managers coming from traditional firms have no idea of just how commonly focused, closely aligned, and homogeneous their prior fellow employees were concerning values, goals, and career metrics, regardless of their apparent “diversity.”

Your new business – especially while you’re trying to create and cultivate a company culture – will be full of folks with different lifestyles, variable work ethics, and loads of attitudes. Your job is to make room for all of them. One critical tip here: the way to avoid constant heartaches and regular disappointment is to lower your expectations going in and hope to be surprised on the upside.

4 Patience is more than just a virtue, it’s a painkiller as well.

By the way, you’re going to need to practice being way more patient and forgiving than you’ve been for years and not just with your own kids. It can seem like no one but you is in a hurry and that the whole world – investors, vendors, partners, lenders, and, of course, your employees – is moving in slow motion. They don’t get it, but then again, they don’t have to because they don’t really understand or care about your constraints. Don’t get angry – they’re not out to get you, they’re just looking out for themselves, just like you always did.

Photo by Sylvain Sonnet

And, just to be clear, you’re not such a great bargain yourself. You need to get used to being the dumbest guy or gal in the room for a few months and just hope that all these other folks will give you a break.

If you’re foolish enough to try to open a restaurant, you better know something about standing in front of a hot stove or else you’ll discover that it’s the cooks who really control the business. If you’re an absentee landlord, like it or not, your newest “partner” is going to be the plumber when the pipes freeze or the potty overflows.

By and large, the people you’ll employ know what they’re doing and how to do their jobs (when they get around to it), but you’re also supposed to know their jobs, the way forward, how to tell the future, and how to find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. As you might imagine, it’s likely to take a little time for you to get there. Be patient.

5 Your job is not to educate or lecture your customers. It’s to satisfy them.

Customers are in a whole different category. I realize that the startup gospel establishes the customer as king and always correct, but as often as not, in the day-to-day trenches, that’s a crock. It’s a great idea and a wonderful ideal, but hard to live up to every day.

Customers come in all sizes and kinds – some are frazzled and scared, some are cranky, some are slick, some are too careful and choosy for words, and, especially these days, most of them are there for a simple reason – to get in, get what they need, and get out. They aren’t looking for an experience, they don’t care about your shtick even if you do, and they aren’t there to make your day.

Your job is to grin and bear it. Not to reform them. Not to patronize them or unctuously “explain” things to them. They are there – hopefully to buy – for their own reasons and they don’t really need your help. This isn’t quite the warm and fuzzy dream environment that you had in mind. Get used to it.

6 Don’t think money is going to solve your problems or make your new business a success.

Just as a lawyer representing himself has a fool for a client, it’s easy for a relatively affluent new entrepreneur to get in the habit of being the business’s banker, lender, and/or best investor as well as its CEO and chief salesperson by injecting too much of his or her own cash too often in order to make up for the business’s shortfalls in sales or to help cover fixed costs.

Investment dollars, regardless of where they come from, are worth a tiny fraction of the dollars generated by real sales of products or services in large part because investment is not an effective measure of progress, traction, or the likelihood of ultimate success. But when the dollars are coming out of the entrepreneur’s own pocket, it’s the worst and most costly kind of delusion. And, as an aside, hell on your family as well. Don’t despair, just think of this as an opportunity to learn all those things that money can’t buy.

Perseverance is fine, but this is a very slippery slope. You need to agree – with all of the interested stakeholders – from the very start that there’s a dollar limit you’re willing to commit.

Adobe Stock

Establish some concrete milestones and a realistic overall timeframe for your little venture and, if the dogs don’t start eating the dog food, and profitability is always just around the next bend, that you’ll be smart enough to call it a day and think about getting a day job no matter how hard that is to come by.

So go ahead and take your shot but understand that it’s going to be far more of a grind that you ever imagined and thankless as well for a very long time. And harder still when you’re no longer exactly limber and wet behind the ears. If you thought work was tough, working for yourself is a hundred times tougher and, since you’re working for plenty of other people as well, you’ll have “bosses” galore – all with plenty of opinions and expert advice.

There will be long days and even longer sleepless nights. And you’ll find that you’re too old to cry and that it hurts too much to laugh. Just sayin’.

You Can’t Win a Race With Your MouthHoward Tullman is General Managing Partner for G2T3V, LLC – Investors in Disruptive Innovators, and for Chicago High Tech Investors, LLC. He is also the author of You Can’t Win a Race With Your Mouth: And 299 Other Expert Tips from a Lifelong Entrepreneur.

By Howard Tullman | Loop North News | h@g2t3v.com

Total Pageviews


Blog Archive