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  • Aspire » Uncategorized

    19 Nov
    Light Bulb

    Photo by Serge Saint via Flickr

    In case you didn’t know it, it’s Global Entrepreneurship Week…a chance to celebrate and learn about new business and business growth.

    Question:  What does a “lighting company”, a “pet focused drug company”, and a “large double-hooked plastic handle” all have in common?

    Answer:  They are all successful businesses started by Kansas City based entrepreneurs.   The first is a small service business, the second a biopharmaceutical company, and the third an innovative product manufactured in the USA; each uniquely different from the other, all of them started by Kansas City entrepreneurs.

    Why should you care?

    Last week the ACA club in Kansas City held a panel discussion. The topic was “Funding Options for Entrepreneurs”.  The panel was comprised of 2 bank executives and an angel investor.   It was a great introduction for this week’s 2013 installment of Global Entrepreneurship Week, which this year is expected to include approx. 35,000 events happening simultaneously in 125 different counties.

    With new businesses funding is often an issue.  Even if one personally has the financial capital to fund the venture, you can usually go farther and faster if you have access to more money.  That said, however…money doesn’t grow on trees and there are some things you have to think about if you’d like to get more funding.

    Without getting into too many specifics these are a few of the highlights worth noting if you are looking for success in seeking funding:

    • Do you have a vision for your company?
    • Have you created a business plan?
    • Is your business scalable for growth?
    • Lenders/Investors look for passion.  They want to know the borrowers are all in.
    • Lenders are going to want between 10-25% investment (skin in the game) by the borrower.
    • Is your idea or product unique? Does it have a market?  Have you tested it?
    • Both SBA Loans and conventional loans have their place.
    • Know your options; taking on debt is almost always better than giving up equity.

    Back to the Question…

    The other common thread of the three businesses in the initial question was that each panel member was asked to share an example of one business that stood out in recent memory that they wanted to share as a success story.  The answers were not over thought, just pure off the cuff responses of companies that had been memorable for them.  What was interesting is that the business each panelist referenced was completely different, but from a collective viewpoint they represented a large cross sectional slice of businesses in our economy.  Think about it, which one do you most identify with?

    So what made them notable?

    The Service Business….The small lighting company took out an SBA loan to fund a plan a growth.  It has resulted in an increase of sales from $100,000 to $300,000; a 200% increase!  They have a plan and they are executing it.  What 200% growth looks like will vary, with this company, in addition to more customers; it meant adding a 2nd service vehicle.  And of course…their future looks “bright”!   ;-)

    The biopharmaceutical company…In 2010 the founder created this company with a goal to become a leading provider of therapeutics developed and approved specifically for use in pets, by using compounds already licensed for humans.  Think of it as repurposing drugs.  In just 3 years they have went from ZERO to the NASDAQ.  This past June Aratana Therapeutics, Inc. had their IPO and PETX now trades around $20/share after an initial offering at $6.

    The invention, the double hooked handle was created through some out of the box thinking, or more appropriately “out of the bag” thinking.  After tweaking a prototype for several years, it’s inventor placed a model to his banker’s desk explaining the problem and how his invention was going to solve it.  The problem was a challenge we are all familiar with; not having enough fingers and hands to carrying multiple plastic grocery/shopping bags at the same time.  Today you can find the Mighty Handle in stores not only across the metro but around the country.  Best of all it is made in the USA!

    OK…Now it’s Your Turn!

    This week we encourage you to get out and take in at least one or two of the activities going on around the Metro or wherever you live.  KC Source Link has an excellent listing of the events.  Almost all of them are free so get out and make the most of it!   You never know what you might learn.   As always please feel free to add any thoughts you have in the space below.

    Chris Steinlage Kansas City Business Coach

    14 Oct
    photo from State Library of New South Wales via Flickr

    photo from the State Library of New South Wales via Flickr

    Great customer service isn’t as simple as just being nice to everyone (although that’s not a bad start).

    Commerce Bancorp (not the one here in Kansas City, the one founded out in New Jersey) was established by Vernon Hill in 1973 and went from 1 branch to 470 branches by 2008.  Even more importantly, they had a deposit base that grew 30% per year between 1996 and 2001 (vs. an industry average of 5% growth).  They were extremely successful…and they broke almost all of the rules in terms of how ‘conventional banking’ was done.

    Hill’s strategy was to flip the banking model on its head.  Be great at service and convenience and choose to be bad at more traditional banking things like offering the lowest rates on deposits and fewer products overall.  He believed (correctly as it turned out) that there were a lot of banking customers who were fed up with short hours, bad service and rude tellers…if you could get those right, people would talk and you would grow.

    But in order to deliver that great service and those convenient hours, you can’t also do what the other banks do.  You can’t pay for highly experienced financial professionals as tellers – they’re too expensive and they often don’t like working with the public.  You can’t afford to pay out the best rates of deposit and maintain longer hours.

    That’s where the first truth of Uncommon Service comes into play as documented by Frances Frei and Anne Morriss in their recent book Uncommon Service. They wrote the book after working with lots of companies around the world and observing that despite the need and the value for great customer service; very few companies actually get it right.

    Truth #1- You can’t be good at everything

    Just as we saw with Commerce Bancorp, if you really want to stand out, if you want to be great, then you also have to choose where you want to be great…and just as importantly where you don’t want to be great. The real magic comes in knowing what your customers value most and value least when you make those choices.

    If you try to be great at everything, you will either be crazy expensive or you will end up being mediocre across the board (much more likely outcome).

    Question: What are you choosing to be bad at in your company?

    Truth #2 – Someone has to pay for it

    Excellent service comes with a price – as we learned in Truth #1, part of that price is choosing what to be excellent in (and what not to be excellent in)…there’s an opportunity cost.  Beyond that, you will drive more expense as you offer more/better services – and there has to be a way to pay for that if your model is going to be sustainable.

    The good news is that payment can come from several places – you can charge extra for it, you can offer service in a way that reduces costs (think online FAQ or ordering vs. phone calls) or you can develop self-service options that customers love (think ATMs at banks, online boarding pass printing, etc.).

    Question: Where are you spending the most on customer service? What could you do to reduce that cost?

    Truth #3 – It’s not your employees’ fault

    Are there times when your customer service is great…but it’s not consistent?  Do you have some employees who get it and do a fantastic job…but for some reason others can’t seem to pull it off?  In either case – whether it’s occasional greatness or excellence from a few ‘super hero’ employees, it’s your customer service model that’s that’s the problem, not your employees.

    If you ever find yourself thinking “well they just need to try harder” after a service failure, then you’re on the wrong path. When you build in the right system and training that enables every employee to get it right, then you’re onto something.

    Question: What’s the most complex part of your service? How could you streamline or simplify that so it reduces issues and can be more repeatable?

    Truth #4 – You must manage your customers

    Customers play a huge role in the overall outcome of the service.  It only takes one really indecisive customer to hold up a line for a long time at McDonald’s.  To make it even more challenging, your customers can have just as much impact on your service capabilities as your employees, but you have no direct control over them.

    The customer isn’t always right – especially if they aren’t the right customer for you. Figure out who you work best with, design your service around those customers, educate them on how things work and then incent the right kind of customer behavior.

    Question: When’s the last time you heard directly from customers on what they don’t like about your service? Go to the source to figure out the real issues.

    It’s all about the design

    Great customer service is critical to long term success…and it doesn’t happen by accident and you can’t just rely on a handful of superstar employees to take care of it for you.  Consistent excellent service happens when you design a service model that meets your customer’s most important priorities, is affordable and can be run by all of your employees. Add in a great culture and you’ve got a lot of people talking about you…in a great way!

    How do you stack up against the 4 Truths of Uncommon Service? We’d love to hear your thoughts – share them in the comments below.

    Shawn Kinkade   Kansas City Business Coach

    23 Sep

    Today I’d like to share a guest post by SusanaB, Chief UI Consultant for FluidUI.  Her world is all about developing better interactions and her post is an interesting perspective on how a UX designer takes into account how people think and work.

    Susana does some cool stuff – here’s a quick rundown from her:

    We create intuitive user interfaces for web, mobile and software. Our user-friendly clients include Sprint, Hallmark and emfluence. Give us a holler at 816.561.2315.

    Seductive Interactions

    SlideShare’s “Seductive Interactions: An Art & Science” is an engaging presentation on design strategy. Of the 175 clicks I found click 85, most valuable – its title: What Do We Know About People?

    they listed my ux take

    We’re curious

    Don’t list features and functions, let users discover them

    We’re also afraid of change

    Forecast changes and promote upcoming redesigns

    We seek patterns

    Be predictable, have consistency in menu, headers, colors, etc.

    We like to order and organize things

    Sort options, customize pages, Flickr Organizr

    We’re intensely self centered

    Tell a friend, favorites, iLike, StumbleUpon

    We’re lazy

    175 click slides are manageable w/a jump feature

    We’re visual thinkers and learners

    Thus SlideShare and demo video popularity

    We like to be the hero of the story

    We promote our thoughts and actions (blog, tweet) more than others

    We don’t like to make choices, but we like choice

    We are entice by Chrome’s market growth, but we just can’t leave FireFox

    We like to be in control (and to be guided)

    Allowing users to choose when to upgrade and provide demos

    We find novelty and surprise interesting

    New features and functions keep us coming back for more

    and so on

    We can generalize about people/users, but should always seek their feedback and act on it

    Thanks for reading my hero story. Here is the Seductive Interactions show, for more novelty and surprises.

    Thanks for the thoughts Susana

    Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach

    22 Aug


    If you’re like most entrepreneurs, there are plenty of days you don’t feel much like a leader, but as a business owner, that’s a major part of your job description, a huge driver for success…or failure. Are you focused on being a great leader?

    Leadership is needed in all kinds of places, it’s not just about business owners, it’s a universal requirement – it’s something everyone will step up to at some point in their life. Some feel they are called to lead in areas of high visibility while others may lead in areas where their leadership almost goes almost unnoticed but is important just the same. Teachers (or even our role as parents) are examples of unnoticed leaders, but effective leadership in those roles is profoundly important to the development of a child. 

    As a business owner what your business really needs is effective leadership from you!

    Read More…

    15 Dec

    hats  photo by striatic

    One of my favorite guiding principles / quotes is:

    All things in moderation, including moderation.” (attributed to Mark Twain, but I can’t verify that).

    This idea is one that keeps you centered – balanced across all of the different aspects of your life.  Let’s face it, as a business owner you wear a lot of hats – both in the business and out of the business.  You are the leader, the face of the business, probably the guy emptying the trash can…and on top of that, you’re a spouse, maybe a parent, a member of your church, a neighbor, a friend and possibly lots of other things.  If you let one of the roles you play become too dominant, all of the other roles will suffer.

    Think about a workaholic that you know – maybe it’s an entrepreneur, maybe it’s a corporate hard charger trying to get up the ladder.  In either case, you might admire their capacity for hard work and possibly you admire their results or their success, but it’s unlikely that you envy their life overall, they aren’t in balance (and it’s not sustainable in the long run.).

    This idea of having and embracing clear cut roles in your life is important when you start thinking about your planning for next year.

    Read More…