Build It Right

December 31st, 2009 by admin

Just as a house has a foundation, so does a company. The foundation of yours will be built at the beginning, through actions and words. What you do, from day one, will have a profound effect on the direction the culture takes. How you communicate—from mission statements to your casual conversations—will as well. You need both to build your culture, but you also need to build it right. Make sure that what you say and do on the outside is rooted in ethics and moral business principles inside.

If you build a foundation for a one-story rambler, it’s hard to then build a three-story English Tudor estate, so establish your foundations with forethought. When WordPerfect was a new startup company, its executives built a rewards system into their culture. As a perk, they would give all their employees all of the soda and popsicles they could possibly consume. When employees had been with the company a certain length of time, they qualified for even greater rewards. After a series of successful years, WordPerfect actually sent the entire company to Hawaii together—with spouses and partners!

As you can imagine, people loved that aspect of the WordPerfect culture and a high sense of company loyalty ensued. However, not long after, the company ran into financial difficulties that required a little belt tightening. The free soda and popsicles disappeared. The trips to Hawaii were replaced with free movie tickets.

Many employees who had enjoyed WordPerfect’s culture for so long did not like the sudden change. The changes in the company’s fiscal policies were easy to make—management simply cut out the perks it couldn’t afford. But changing the cultural expectations of the employees was far more difficult. The employees had bought into a culture of free soda pop and popsicles, and those perks were at the heart of why many were there. When this aspect of the culture disappeared, loyalty to WordPerfect diminished.

The past several years, I’ve had occasion to work very closely with Google. A stroll through its campus reveals the company’s perks policy: employees and visitors enjoy free Naked Juice (usually five dollars a drink), unlimited candy (dental hygienists everywhere love this aspect of the Google culture), as well as free breakfast, lunch, and dinner made by chefs flown in from exotic locations. I wonder what is going to happen to the Naked Juice and flying chefs the first quarter Google misses its number?

Don’t get me wrong. We stock our fridge and shelves with lunches and snacks. I love rewards systems. But our perks come from Costco. Whatever perks you provide, you want to make sure employees are buying into the goals of the company, not just the goodies. If employees are invested in their work and the planned outcomes, they’ll understand if a time comes when everyone needs to tighten their belts. They will feel involved and appreciated not because of gifts and food, but because they understand their contribution to the company culture and they feel vested in the success that grows out of that culture.

Writing and living a mission statement can sometimes help with this aspect of instilling your culture into your company. Writing mission statements was the big hype of the early ’90s. Everyone had a mission statement, including me. Companies displayed theirs someplace conspicuous, proud to be motivating their employees and serving their customers. Even so, no matter how great the words, those statements need to be backed up by what your company actually does. Mission statements are only hype if nobody internalizes them. You and your team must internalize them by following them. Words are nothing without actions.

Action establishes culture. Unfortunately, inaction does as well. If you don’t provide the leadership to create your culture, someone else will. If you don’t act, the culture will define itself based on the dominant personalities of those on your team. Greatness needs direction. Writing down and sharing goals is a good place to start, but you must take the lead and establish your culture through your daily actions and interactions.

Porter’s Points – Build it Right

  • Your cultural foundation is established early and pretty much stays put, unless you get hit with an earthquake. Make sure your foundation is built on the traditions, values, and ethical practices you choose. You might be able to  build a buzz with popsicles, but you wouldn’t build a house that way.
  • Words are a tool to reinforce your actions. Don’t think that writing a mission statement makes a culture. It can help, but don’t write what you’re not willing to live. Once you write it, live it, and help others do the same.
  • Include a rewards system as part of your culture, but be careful of creating expectations that can’t be sustained through lean times. Also remember that rewards are no substitute for a solid, leadership-centered culture.

You Own The Culture

December 29th, 2009 by admin

One of my favorite authors is Stephen R. Covey. In a book he writes with A. Roger Merrill, First Things First, he teaches that all humans are born with an innate drive to fulfill four basic needs:

  • To live
  • To love
  • To learn
  • To leave a legacy

You must understand and address those needs as part of building your business. Each one will contribute to the culture you develop, as well as to the way your company accepts your leadership. For those of us who have peeled the layers back, it is evident that “leaving a legacy”—mattering—should be the primary focus. Make a difference. Do something that impacts more than just self. Establish worthy aspirations. Establish a culture that allows people to matter.

Not many years ago, I attended Ray Noorda’s funeral. Ray was the man who took Novell, a failing startup with 17 employees, and transformed it into to a computer giant. Novell eventually employed more than twelve thousand people and transformed an entire valley in Utah into a veritable techno-hub. Ray is known in the technology industry as the “father of network computing.” This is a fair assessment, but he was much more than this. He generated thousands of high-paying technology jobs, spawned numerous small businesses, and—of most consequence to me— set a leadership model that enabled young leaders to emerge. As one of those, I have tried, in many ways, to emulate his leadership style.

Ray was a multimillionaire who drove a pickup truck, lived in the same modest home until he died, and was often seen wandering into someone else’s meetings to sample the snacks. As heads turned to see who was moseying in late, Ray would pleasantly say, “Hi, folks. Got anything good to eat here?” He was down-to-earth and his values were real. “Make a real contribution” was not just a mantra for Ray. He mattered, and established
a culture that allowed others to matter as well.

Ray created stories. He did not establish the culture at Novell by lecturing or mandating but rather by making a point to drop by offices after hours and on Saturdays to visit with whoever was in. He would park himself on our desks to see how we were doing, talk shop, and inspire us. Stories that originated with him started in one cubicle would circulate like wildfire. He gave us all the impression that we could add to the Novell culture, and that it belonged to all of us. He took time to educate and inspire us personally through both his interactions and his stories. We learned from him how to behave, what we stood for, and what was expected of us.

Ray’s legacy ranges from larger-than-life examples of business fervor to amusing situational anecdotes. I was present for one of my favorite stories, which took place between Ray and my mentor, Dr. Peter Horne. Dr. Horne had flown in from London for a meeting with Ray and others, and things got started with some small talk. Ray casually mentioned his love for skiing, adding the aside, “But only on Tuesdays.” Dr. Horne, with his proper English accent, asked “Why only on Tuesdays?” Ray responded, “Because Tuesdays are Senior Citizen Day, and I ski for half price.”

Without fanfare or self-aggrandizement, Ray set the tone of the meeting, establishing the fiscally conservative nature of Novell and laying the foundation for a strong and productive relationship between Novell and Dr. Horne for years to come. This was Ray’s way: understated but clear, light but appropriate. I love and appreciate everything that I learned from him.

At Ray’s funeral, the speakers gave outstanding eulogies, attempting to sum up several of his key beliefs. Ray wove these into the very fabric of Novell and, of course, his own life. Following are the characteristics I made note of during the service:

  • Believe and trust in people.
  • We all have a responsibility in life. Be faithful to it.
  • Customers first, employees second, shareholders third.
  • Be unassuming.
  • Listen, especially with your heart.
  • Practice integrity.
  • Be loyal.
  • Be true to your own core beliefs, but recognize the need to compromise within parameters that don’t violate those beliefs.
  • Respect the individual, not the title.
  • Marriage is ordained of God, and is your first priority in life.
  • Practice fiscal responsibility.
  • Take care of your health.
  • Willingly forgive others’ mistakes and shortcomings.
  • Retain your dignity, no matter the circumstances.
  • Give something back.

Ray never put together a PowerPoint on these principles. He didn’t make posters or require us to attend “Company Culture” development workshops. He simply lived and shared what mattered most to him and expected us to internalize similar principles. Ray knew the culture he wanted, and he owned his responsibility to create it.

In owning your company culture, remember that your culture has to work for you. Each company is different, and what might be appropriate for a marketing company could be outrageously unsuitable for an accounting firm. Your culture is about the way your office is laid out, the perks and fun things you do together, and the values you embrace.

Whatever your culture, communicate it. You must be the one to start your own legacy and stand up for what you want to see happen. As an entrepreneur, you have the freedom to pick and choose and develop whatever you want your culture to be. Don’t succumb to laziness or insecurity and simply live and let live. Your culture is your Holy Grail, and you have the power to pursue it and make it your own.

Porter’s Points – You Own the Culture

  • People don’t learn company culture from lectures and meetings. You create your culture by what you do. Map out how you want your company to act, and start acting that way yourself.
  • Everybody wants, somehow, to matter. Show your team that they matter to you and to the company’s objectives. You must balance your administrative duties with your need to lead.
  • How do you want to be remembered? You determine that memory by your every action.

Porter’s Preface: The Holy Grail

December 24th, 2009 by admin

As explained in chapter 16 of Bootstrap Business, the culture of your business is as important as the legendary Holy Grail, and it’s up to you – the business owner – to create it!

Countless crusaders spent their lives in search of the Holy Grail, a mythical object of deeply spiritual significance. What came of their quest? Did they ever find the Grail? Well, no, but their lives changed, and they left a legacy—some good, some bad. Long after deals are done, contracts are completed, and companies are closed, you and your team will be bound together by the experiences you shared. For good or ill, you will remember what you learned and how it felt.

Your company culture is your Holy Grail. Establish it right from the start. Rich alluded to the function of your culture in the last chapter, but understanding why and how you are to establish your culture warrants its own space. You build your culture because it is your responsibility. You must, for the long-term success of your endeavor, establish a durable, viable culture. As you commemorate the great actions of the past, you help create a vibrant legacy that wins loyalty to your company and enhances the effectiveness of your work.

As it goes in life, so it goes in business: the most infectious method of teaching and passing on your culture is by example. You must create the culture within your company because if you do not, someone else will. That someone else could be anyone, right down to the depressing engineer whose daily complaints bring everyone down.

Influential leaders have not been influential by accident. Leaders leave legacies built on their actions and the stories that grow out of those actions. Gandhi walked across India, millions followed, and their boycott of salt brought the British government to its knees. Winston Churchill ordered that theaters remain open despite Nazi bombing. George Washington galloped into a firestorm of lead, emerging with his cape riddled with bullet holes and his person unharmed. Mother Teresa labored in Calcutta and other poverty stricken areas to minimize suffering with love and care until her own death. Great acts of leadership do not happen by accident.

While your culture is your responsibility, you have additional resources at your disposal. If your company has been around for a while, you have already created part of your legacy. Past successes fuel future achievements. If, on the other hand, you are just starting out, there are plenty of names and faces to look to. Decide on values, rules, and attitudes. Make sure you enter the business world with a boom and hire employees who match. That’s the way the masters do it, and that’s the way that Rich does it. He doesn’t just do it, though—he has fun with it!

The Lay Of The Land

December 22nd, 2009 by admin

I once worked for a large company that was engaged in some serious internal warfare. Someone had decided to house the sales team next to the engineering team. The engineers, listening in on sales calls with customers, insisted that the sales team was nothing but a bunch of liars. The software wouldn’t do what sales said it would. The engineers knew it because they had written the software. But the sales team retorted that the engineers were out of touch and needed to write the software that the customer wanted instead of their regular “useless junk.”

The contention between the two teams caused a rift that hindered the entire company’s ability to ride the wave we were on. The company eventually failed. There were multiple reasons, but one key reason would have been incredibly easy to fix: office layout. The engineering team never should have been sitting next to the sales team in the first place. Maybe the sales reps were lying, or maybe they were just stretching the truth; either way, the engineers would have been better equipped to deal with back-end troubleshooting than with up-front sales tactics.

One system that has succeeded for me is to structure the office layout in terms of the flow of the business. In the example above, a better solution would have been to place the product management team between sales and engineering, playing the buffer role and helping maintain the balance between customer demands and engineering realities. The technical support team should sit as a branch of the engineering team, yet be accessible to sales. The engineers work best when kept away from all distractions. In our office, we find it helps to place engineers in the back of the building, close to food and drink. We make life comfortable for them; as a result, they are more productive. Your admin, of course, should be your first line of defense between the world and your company. Anyone wanting to talk to you or anyone else should go through the admin to get there.

Maybe it’s trivial, but I have one last note concerning the layout and structure of your office. Make certain your teams have the most up-to-date and comfortable gear possible. If this is out of the realm of the probable, then give them the best of what you’ve got. This small act instills respect and helps them value the company.

One of the best immediate supervisors I ever worked with was a dynamic man named Rob Allred. Rob managed a team of about twenty-five employees, all housed in an open office environment consisting of one large, cement room. Most of the team was using tattered, uncomfortable rolling chairs. One afternoon, a shipment of brand new chairs arrived. Everyone clamored noisily to claim their prize. Even Rob joined the crowd to make sure he got one. Every man for himself!

I watched as everyone set up their chairs and tried them out. I noticed Rob sit down on his chair, settle in, and give it a bit of a test drive. All of a sudden, he got this concerned look on his face. He got up and proceeded to go to each of his employees and check out their new chair. He went around the room, finally discovering a team member, Robyn, who had not shared in the spoils. Without hesitation, Rob grabbed his catch and wheeled it over to Robyn, exchanging it for her old clunker. Because of these types of acts, Rob was deeply trusted and appreciated. No matter the situation, his team knew he had their best interests at heart.

Porter’s Points – The Lay of the Land

  • The physical location of each employee matters. Eavesdropping happens; don’t let it stop your company’s progress. Separate engineering from sales and use other teams as buffers. Even encourage your admin to float around a little to keep the peace.
  • Admins do not belong in the back offices. Put your admin up front for an effective first impression. Engineers, however, do. Put them in the back and let them work.
  • As far as possible, ensure your team has comfortable, up-to-date equipment. Whether chairs or computers, make a big deal out of it. Little things make office work exciting; executive attention to little things builds unity and trust.

The Power Of Team

December 17th, 2009 by admin

Once you’ve built your team using the right questions, an exacting interview process, the testing phase, and immersion in company culture, get out of their way and let them do their work. Micromanaging does not equate to leadership. If you are going to oversee every detail, save yourself the time and energy it takes to hire employees and just do the job yourself. You go for that eighty-hour work-week. One of the greatest values you will get out of building the right team is the added strength they bring in having what you don’t have. They will find solutions you may have missed. They will help you succeed. And, from time to time, they will save your bacon!

While at Mitsubishi Electric, I managed a highly effective team that was working on winning a significant deal. We had labored long hours for several weeks (including several sleepless nights). The CEO of our target company was a guy by the name of Peter V., a tough, hard-nosed businessman. I flew to the target company’s headquarters and won the contract—a great payoff for my team and their hard, smart work. On the return flight home, I composed an email to send to my team and the executive management of Mitsubishi.

The email outlined our cost structure in detail, delineated how things would work going forward, and showed a great margin—in short, it opened wide the deal’s kimono. It just so happened that many of the Mitsubishi executive team members were named Peter. So I began adding the Peters from my address book one after the other. Upon landing and getting a connection, I let the email fly. At 5:00 a.m. the next morning, my well-deserved snooze was disturbed by Peter M., a member of the Mitsubishi executive team who had received the email.

“Rich, congratulations on getting the deal! By the way, who is Peter V.?”

I mumbled through sleepy eyes and hazy thoughts, “He’s the CEO of the company who awarded us the deal. Why?”

Peter M., “Do you realize that you copied him on the email outlining our exact margins, costs, how well we came out, and how you just gave him a good, all-around spanking?”

All of a sudden, my kimono was hanging wide open. In a panic, I bypassed the shower, breakfast, and family, and broke land speed records to get to the office. I waited dejectedly, slumped in my chair, anticipating my team’s arrival.

As they filtered in, they were intrigued by my disheveled appearance and began asking questions. After giving them an update on our precarious situation, my admin called an emergency meeting. Here’s how it looked that fateful morning.

We had a room called the “War Room,” so designated because it was the place my team met to do all the heavy lifting. I stood in front of my colleagues and explained what had happened. It felt like there was no recovery possible. I couldn’t muster a single idea. The team began brain-storming. Shawn, an incredible executive admin, put a call in to Peter V.’s executive admin to test the waters.

“Hello, Sarah, this is Shawn. How are you today? Rich was hoping to have a conversation with Peter. What is his status?”

Sarah responded: “He is on a flight right now to Las Vegas.” Good sign!

Shawn continued: “How is he at checking his email?”

“He’s religious. The second he touches down he’ll go to the hotel and check his email before anything else.”

“What time will he land?”

“I think he lands about twelve-thirty our time, so it should be at about one o’clock that he’ll get his emails.”

Shawn got off the phone and reported: four hours until Peter V. was able to check his email. One of the members of the team, Dave, said, “I’m really good friends with Jim, the IT guy at Peter V.’s company. I could call him and tell him that there is an inappropriate email that has gone through, and see if he’ll erase it. It’s risky, but better than doing nothing.”

The team sat musing, and tried to expand on the new idea. “Well, what emotions are involved in this? What needs to happen to get the response we want?”

Everyone started naming emotions: fear, frustration, greed. Someone suggested confusion—if we could simply create enough confusion.

Finally, someone suggested that I send 100 emails with the same title but nothing in it so it looked like spam.

“Whoa, that might work—and while we’re at it, let’s add a little fear!” I chirped.

We finally decided that everyone in the office would send 200 emails to all of their contacts in the target company with meaningless titles and bits of information. We ended up dumping something like 5,000 emails to the target company in a matter of one minute. It wasn’t two minutes before Jim called Dave and asked: “We just got 5,000 emails, what’s going on?” Dave responded, “Whatever you do, delete every email you got from us in the last 24 hours. If you don’t, a virus will mail itself to every address in your company’s database.” Jim did just that!

Nightmare solved. Bacon saved. Lesson learned.

Surround yourself with people you trust and let them use their skills.

Porter’s Points – The Power of Team

  • Trust and empower your team to make decisions and take actions for the good of your company. Give them problems and let them come to you with solutions, always looking to make them stretch a little more than last time.
  • Do not punish mistakes that are made in an attempt to contribute. Take ten minutes to cool down if something blows up, then go back and make it a learning experience and not a tirade.
  • In times of crisis, let your team save you. If you haven’t empowered them before, though, they may have trouble treading water themselves. The power of team comes as you regularly involve the players, so give them practice.

10 Coolest Entrepreneurs

December 15th, 2009 by admin

‘They’re the best and the brightest.  The hip and the happenin’.  The bold and the brave.’

Rich was recently recognized by Utah Valley Business Q magazine as one of the ten coolest entrepreneurs in Utah Valley!  With the incredible amount of entrepreneurs and small business start-ups here in the Valley, this was a really fun recognition to receive.  You go cool cat!

Here is a quick sampling of the article:

‘Rich Christiansen is the definition of entrepreneur.  The tried-and-true businessman has founded 28 companies – eight of which had been multimillion dollar successes.  He even co-wrote a go-to guide for entrepreneurs called “Bootstrap Business” and founded an uber-successful company (CastleWave) simply to test the principles in the book.  We know, right?’

Check out the full question & answer article in the Winter 2009 issue of BusinessQ: http://utahvalleybusinessq.com/winter2009/cover.html.

Congrats, Rich!

The Most Important Hire

December 15th, 2009 by admin

Your administrative assistant is the most important person you will hire (which you may have figured out from chapter 14). I make this statement with confidence, as the result of trial and error. Your admin, to be effective, must be in the position to peer into the inner workings of both your head and your bank account. As a result, he or she will see you in a different light from your other employees. Your admin should consciously and unconsciously represent you and your company to the world. He or she witnesses firsthand your fears, weaknesses, concerns, strengths, opportunities, and hopes. If your admin has bought into the vision and is naturally confident, he or she can and will carry a good portion of your load, diverting or deflecting lesser challenges. Your admin will literally make the difference between success and failure.

Have you ever called your doctor’s office only to be answered by a grumpy receptionist? What about the time you walked into an office and the first person you met was rude and indifferent to you? Now think about the time you encountered a cheerful, competent, intelligent individual sitting in that “first-impression chair.” How did you feel in each situation? How do you want people in consumer, vendor, and trust relationships to feel when they come to your office?

The other day I went to the dry cleaners to drop off some of my shirts. As I walked in, the lady working the front desk growled, “You’re bringing me all those shirts?” I replied, “Isn’t that what gives you a job?” She responded with a blank stare and confessed that she was tired and just looking forward to a light day. The woman didn’t equate her work with the success of the business; rather, she justw anted to put in her hours, get paid, and go home. If I were the owner of this business, I would have been mortified to know my first-impression employee was discouraging customers from bringing in large bundles of business.

Porter’s Points – The Most Important Hire

  • Define your company culture before interviewing for your most important hire. Your admin, more than any other employee, has to fit. Consider having one of your trusted relationships, such as your spouse or mentor, interview the candidates as well.
  • Conduct real-time, surprise skill tests with all finalists: how do they handle phone calls? Upset customers? Can they write intelligent and purposeful letters?
  • Don’t rely just on looks. She may have polished nails and shoes or he might have walked right out of Men’s Health, but being easy on the eyes does not guarantee that either one can handle your company with confidence. Appearance is part of the first impression, but your admin tackles behind-the-scenes work, too.
  • Your admin must be an office-politics agnostic. No pot-stirrers at the front desk, please.

Quick To Fire

December 10th, 2009 by admin

What happens when you are certain that someone is the right hire, but thirty days later, it just isn’t working out? Don’t let that month stretch into months—or years. If the new hire is not fitting into your culture and doesn’t opt out voluntarily, something needs to be done.

A cultural misfit might be someone who gossips, makes other employees feel uncomfortable, acts or peaks inappropriately, or unsuitably represents the company. Maybe the new hire has proven he or she cannot be trusted. Maybe you just aren’t getting the level of contribution that you were hoping for. Maybe they really aren’t up to the task at hand. The list can go on and on.

What now? Act quickly. You know, they know, and everyone else in the organization knows that the fit is not right—for anyone. Don’t beat around the bush. Go through the necessary steps (whatever you deem them to be), but go through them as quickly as possible. If you wait too long, the bad egg will begin to really smell, negatively affecting the rest of your team as well. Why does it affect the rest of the team?

Everybody knows who does and does not carry their weight. The team all knows who fits in and who does not. If they see someone acting contrary to the goals of your company, they will either begin to feel alienated or they will take that person’s actions an excuse to offer less than their best. Which of these options would you prefer? I’ll take neither. Set the right tone. Do the hard thing with kindness, respect, and courtesy, but do it. Between the two of us, Ron and I have hired hundreds of individuals. Some have worked and some haven’t, but ultimately, rotten apples seldom turn delicious.

Just remember before you fire that certain States are “Right to Work” States. The labor laws in some are tougher than others. It is important to understand the laws of the State where you are doing business—yet another reason you need that savvy attorney as the second most important person in your life.

Also, take caution not to let the rumors fly. It is especially important in a burgeoning company to gather the troops around and communicate any changes that are occurring. The following style of speech has worked well for me:

“Today we made a difficult change in the organization. We had to let John go. We appreciated John’s contribution; however, our needs were no longer compatible. We wish him well. These situations are always difficult, but are necessary at times. This was one of those times. If any of you have any specific questions or concerns, feel free to come and talk with me privately.”

But don’t just leave it at that. Turn the direction of the conversation to your next goal and what you are attempting to accomplish. Leave your team with a positive feeling about their contribution and what you hope to do together. This meeting should last twenty minutes or less. Remember, ninety-five percent of the time, everyone else knows what is going on before you do. They might even be glad to see John go, but don’t let those feelings fester. Turn your team back to your goals and start things rolling ahead again.

Now, lest I be misunderstood, let me add a few words about diversity. I not only appreciate but actually seek out diversity. Conflict can be creative. I have no need or desire for a “yesman” organization. I detest the “good ol’ boy” clubs I saw time and time again in the corporate world, teams staffed and managed by less competent individuals who happened to get along with the right people and offered no diverse opinion, input, skills, or attributes. I detest politically-correct employees who take measured steps to posture themselves and look good around the right people but offer no diverse thinking. Look for diversity, but apply the same principles outlined above.

Porter’s Points – Quick to Fire

  • Trust your intuition as concerns come up. Be ever vigilant of the workplace atmosphere; if things head south, get to the bottom of the problem and fire if you have to.
  • Be courteous but act quickly. It’s best to know things like labor laws and company expectations up front so that you can move swiftly through the firing process without causing too much damage.
  • As soon as you release someone from the company, pull the team together and publicly announce it. This isn’t time to paint a bullseye on the ex-employee; it’s the time to be positive and focus on your company goals to get productivity back on track.

Slow To Hire

December 8th, 2009 by admin

I mentioned a favorite saying of mine in the last chapter: “Slow to hire, quick to fire.” This is truer than ever when you see your killer team in light of your company culture. The culture of your company is all about the people you hire. Your first hires will help you firmly plant the roots of the culture you want to nurture.

These initial hires should be generalists. You have your specialists in your accountant and attorney; from there, you need to hire switch-hitters. These generalists must carry with them “can do!” and “how can I contribute?” attitudes. The last thing you want is to hire a person who can or will wear only one hat. To avoid singlehatters, you need to carefully go through the hiring process, considering everything from the cover letter to final references before you sign on the dotted line.

Not only does your team mold your culture, but you can use your culture to mold your team. (See chapter 16, “The Holy Grail,” for details on creating your company culture. In this section, I will focus on the hiring side of that endeavor.) One of the side benefits of getting your culture somewhat established prior to the hiring phase is that interviewees will see it and sense it. You will better discern whether or not the interviewee will fit into your culture. Hire people who will choose to jump in with both feet. These people will embrace your vision and help you quickly and effectively move your enterprise forward.

In July 2004, I was interviewing for a creative ad copywriter for one of my companies. These ads would be seen by millions of people each month. I needed someone with solid writing skills and the ability to create imaginative and pertinent advertisements. I looked through about one hundred and fifty resumes. About one hundred and forty-nine of the cover letters looked something like this:

To Whom It May Concern:
I am writing this email in response to the job order for
creative ad copywriter. I am very interested in the position
and I have attached my resume. If you would like additional
information about me, I am registered with the Department
of Workforce Services. If you would like to contact me,
you may do so via email or phone. I appreciate your time.
Sincerely,
Applicant

The hundred-and-fiftieth resume really stood out. Here’s the cover letter it came with:

Dear Rich:
Do you need a writer who can create charismatic, creative,
captivating, and compelling ad copy? Are you missing
some zing-da-ba-ding in your current ads? Do you just
need a little dash of this, or a pinch of that, to make
your copy more palatable? Well, consider me your word
chef! I can slice, dice, and spice the ad in a way that will
make your mouth water and taste buds anticipate. I have
included my past engagements as chef extraordinaire, but I
am looking for ways to bring home the bacon, while never
really leaving the kitchen. That is why I was drawn like a
magnet to your enticing placing with Workforce Services.
I love to write, read, research, and analyze, and I believe
these are skills that are really gifts. I was born with it, and
it has been sharpened and honed over time. I have not only
the ability to tap into my creative side, but also am quite
left-brained in my attention to detail and my organizational
abilities. I can work alone or with others, and I never run
with scissors. I’m a great person to work with because I am
funny and personable, but I can also be very professional
and prudent. I would look forward to an interview with
your company, partially because my curiosity is piqued,
but also because it sounds like a great opportunity. Even
if this email reaches you too late and finds you have filled
the position, please keep me in mind for future positions in
any of your catering needs.
With spice,
Marta Wells

Who do you suppose got my attention—and the job? Watch for applicants who stand out! You’ll always need an interview, of course, but the first contact can tell you a lot about a person, the way they think, and the attitude they will bring. Make sure that this all lines up with your culture, and don’t be afraid of a little spice!

Consider building quirks into your culture, just left or right of established norms. Killer teams need creativity. Creativity can sometimes get pretty quirky. In the hiring process, do not be afraid to mention these quirks in an interview. You might say something like this:

“We are a nimble, dynamic team. Our culture is not for everyone. We embrace accountability and expect all of our team members to do the same. It may be a bit out of the ordinary, but we display everyone’s prioritized objectives on the whiteboard. We conduct regular ‘face the whiteboard’ sessions where everyone reports on the status of their objectives. We all answer to the team as a whole. If that kind of accountability bothers you, this is not the company for you.”

Also, share a story or two in the interview process that has helped define the company. This fun and revealing practice might highlight some successful but intense negotiation or a silly snafu that you had to escape. See how the candidate responds and comments. Making bold statements and telling stories weeds out the people who want to sit in a cubicle and offer only the “status quo.” It also gives positive signals to the
person who is the right fit.

Recently, Ron and I went through the process of hiring a new engineer. A talented fellow applied, and our interview team explained the prevailing mentality we needed in whoever filled the position. For this special object, failure was not an option. We knew we had to see this project through to the end, even if it meant extreme days and nights. Accordingly, we wanted to hire someone who could jump on board with both feet. There wasn’t time to dilly-dally.

This applicant’s response to our need was something along the lines of: “At this stage in my career, all I really want is to work from home. I want to start whenever I get up, go work in the garden when I want, and then get back to the project later in the day.” Not a bad aspiration—plenty of people want a little freedom— and perhaps it will fit somebody’s culture somewhere, but not ours and not now. We all opted out. We went on to hire someone who had the attitude we needed. As for our other applicant, we heard he found the right fit and is contentedly programming software from a lawn swing tucked away in the corner of his secret garden.

Take time to compile a list of interview questions that will reveal the attributes that you want and need to know. Ask every candidate the same questions so you have a level playing field. Keep notes on the answers in case you have to choose between two or three really good candidates. Take time to find the candidate that fits the culture. Be slow to hire—always!

Porter’s Points – Slow to Hire

  • Employees make your culture as much as culture makes your employees. Before you start faxing out tax forms and contracts, consider the following:
  1. Make the finances fit. Reducing your workload so you can hang around the water cooler more often is not a valid reason to shop around for additional employees.
  2. Consider whether or not you can outsource the job.
  3. Take as many applications as possible for the position. Screen them by phone before inviting people in for a formal interview.
  4. Interview finalists back-to-back to be able to make good comparisons.
  5. Call the references and check out candidates’ backgrounds
  • Culture is crucial to your company. Once you have done your homework, don’t settle for anything less than the best.
  1. Listen to your gut. You can make a culture outside of the norm.
  2. Know what type of culture you want before you hire.
  3. Don’t be afraid to add a little spice to the ingredients of your office recipe.
  4. Hiring may not really last ‘til death do you part, but treat it that way.
  5. Doing it right up front beats back-end cleanup.

The Three Most Important People In Your Life

December 3rd, 2009 by admin

If you’re married (or in some other significant relationship), sharing the following list with your spouse or significant other is often all he or she needs to launch into a horrific harangue. Stay with me, though, as I explain who I consider to be the three most important people in starting a new business. In order of priority, these three very important people are:

  1. Your accountant
  2. Your attorney
  3. Your spouse (or significant other)

My wife has no problem voicing her feelings about coming in third. She fervently proclaims that neither my accountant nor my attorney has ever had to wonder if they were going to live without health insurance or income, or whether they would not see me for weeks on end as I started a new venture. And I agree with her! Your spouse or significant other is actually the first relationship you have to consider when deciding to start a business. Without her or his support, your venture will crumble from the beginning.

However, I order my VIP list this way for several reasons. First, I do it for the fun of forcing a reaction from my wife. (She knows to expect a little bit of this by now, and it enriches our relationship.) My teasing her aside, I cannot overstate how much you need this same support, which brings me to my second reason. Her or his support won’t just magically happen, so you need to open a dialogue about the role of your significant other in your venture. Finally, I use this order to stress how vital it is to ensure that you have the right accountant and the right attorney in your corner as you strive to push your endeavor through its formative rounds.

The reality is that having a spouse or significant other who is willing to embark on this adventure with you is, without question, the most important variable in being a successful entrepreneur. I worked with an individual who had an incredibly gifted business mind and a deep understanding of technology. He was very intelligent, with amazing intuition and market sense. To top it all off, he possessed the rare ability to clearly articulate his knowledge and communicate with engineers.

My first impression of this man was he had the potential to be one of the most amazing entrepreneurs I’d ever come across. We actually embarked upon a short-lived partnership, aiming high and beaming broadly. Why short-lived, then? His wife kept him from ever giving it a healthy go.

She required him to keep his working hours between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.; anything after 5 seemed to violate the terms of an unwritten prenuptial agreement. Furthermore, his wife—a delightful woman, by the way—mandated a certain level of financial security. She could not stomach the thought (much less the reality) of going without a paycheck for more than a week. She didn’t want to sign up for the risks and rewards associated with entrepreneurship; as a result, he could not, either. His home situation simply did not enable him to consider being an early-stage entrepreneur.

As he did to me, Dr. Peter Horne frequently reminds his protégés of this imperative: “You can replace anything in your life except your family, your health, and your trust relationships.” To this end, it is vital that you analyze your home situation and assess your significant other’s ability to live the entrepreneurial life. In more ways than one, the spouse or significant other of an entrepreneur could be the more difficult role to manage.

During the nurturing stages of the business, your spouse is often relegated to living with a lack of clarity about financial circumstances. To add insult to injury, in this stage spouses tend to live life looking at a control panel that is just beyond their reach. Often, unless they are actively involved in the venture, they share all of the risks with none of the decision-making power.

If your significant other does not have the temperament for this lifestyle, there is no shame in following a different path. As badly as you may want it, don’t do it. You can use your entrepreneurial spirit in some other way—really tackle your corporate work in innovative ways, pick up a hobby, or bootstrap a small business on the side instead of taking the complete plunge.

It is better to come to this realization during the idea stage. Do what you must to secure this trust relationship; don’t go so far down the road that you are faced with a no-win decision. Perhaps, with time, you two can be on the same page. Until you are, trying the waters will always lead to failure on at least one of the two fronts, if not both. We paraphrase this wisdom from the Gospel of Mark: “What therefore God hath joined together, let no venture put asunder.”

Now that you’re convinced that number three on my list should be number one, let’s go back to one and two. Through the years I have tested numerous accountants and many, many attorneys. The reality is that finding the right attorney and accountant is not as easy as it sounds. From my experience, many accountants and attorneys are more eager to tell you “how it can’t or shouldn’t be done” rather than “how it could be done.” You need professionals who can find creative solutions.

There are so many laws and variations of those laws governing how to set up a business that it is crucial to engage an accountant and attorney who are on top of the latest ways to get things done. Many attorneys and accountants are familiar with one or two ways of doing things and hesitate to take the time and effort to figure out different ways of setting up your business. Find an accountant and an attorney who are willing to be creative and uncover personalized solutions that are right for you and your venture.

In all of this, however, I do not promote illegal or unethical activities. Worse than an uncreative lawyer or accountant is a liar—and whether that liar is one of them or you, dishonesty is no way to build a business.

One of my favorite anecdotes exemplifies the necessary honesty-and-creativity-oriented mindset for an accountant. In the early days of his company, an assertive CEO was hiring a financial controller. He invited a candidate into his office and a short interview ensued. The CEO asked the applicant, “So, you know numbers pretty good?” The would-be controller responded in the affirmative. The CEO shot back, “What’s two plus two?” The candidate paused, looked the CEO in the eye, and quipped, “What would you like it to be?” The CEO hired him on the spot.

One key reason the right attorney and accountant are so important in the early stage of your bootstrap adventure is cash flow. You must understand the implications of the tax structure you are setting up. You must understand the ramifications of tax laws and why cash accounting may be more appropriate than accrual-based accounting. You must protect your asset, your intellectual property, your good name, and your reputation.

Savvy and intelligent accountants and attorneys are critical. The right attorney can be used as a hammer in difficult circumstances. Consider what course you might be forced to take at the butt-end of a deal involving unscrupulous customers, partners, or employees. Could you use a tenacious and assertive attorney? Unequivocally, the answer is yes.

Don’t guess! If you are uncertain about where you stand in these relationships, do some digging. Talk openly to your loved ones, make plans and promises, and do your research on the people you hire to handle your affairs. This foundation builds your successful team. If your spouse or significant other is on board and if you have a clever, assertive attorney and a creative, energetic accountant, you’re well on your way to success. I cannot count the times along my entrepreneurial trail one of these three people has saved me from charging over a cliff. It really is as simple as that.

Porter’s Points – The Three Most Important People in Your Life

  • Do not attempt to replace your family or your trust relationships with your entrepreneurial dream. Find alternate ways to build your dream and test the waters if you need to. People and circumstances may change with time
  • Look for an accountant and attorney with a “can-do” attitude. If one of these two crucial people gets annoyed when you ask “Is there a better way?” then you know you need a better fit.
  • Listen to and for the truth when you talk to these three most important people. It may hurt a little at times. You need someone willing to dream, but you don’t want to be fed peaches and cream when what you really need is spinach and broccoli.
  • Seek to surround yourself with young, hungry individuals, as opposed to stodgy, set-in-their ways corporate counsel.

Porter’s Preface: Building A Killer Team

December 1st, 2009 by admin

Today Ron introduces chatper 15 in Bootstrap Business by explaining the necessity of building a killer team.

When you consider all the activities associated with building a great team, what do you think of first? Where you are going to post the position? What about creating a detailed job description? Determining salary and title? Before you even consider filling your office with employees, there are three other people who need your primary attention. In this chapter, Rich will tell you who those people are.

As you build your killer team, make sure you are particularly deliberate with your first few hires. Prioritizing relationships, creating appropriate culture, knowing who to hire when, and keeping your employees technologically equipped and informed helps keep your team killer.

Rich and I had a close call when we were working on our team for a recent venture. While interviewing for an administrative assistant, one of our appointments committed a hit-and-run in our parking lot. When the police came, we discovered that she was a convicted felon. We consider our administrative assistant one of our most important hires. Needless to say, committing a hit-and-run was not one of our mandatory job qualifications!

In this chapter Rich will also give critical insight on the power of the team, and how to structure an effective organization. No individual can do as well as an effective team.

It is important to have a solid grasp on the concepts in this chapter. They are the foundational principles upon which you will build your business. You can’t build your team unless you have a good foundation, a killer foundation. Rich knows that as well as or better than anyone else I know.