Archive for October, 2011

Innovation or Invention?

Posted: October 30, 2011 by John Clarkin in Innovation, Technology

Hardly a week goes by without someone talking about innovation and innovative ways of solving problems.  There are Innovation Summits, Innovation blogs, and countless ad campaigns by companies who claim to be innovative.  But what does the word innovation mean?  Considering the recent death of Steve Jobs, widely recognized as one of the greatest innovators of our time, it might be worth exploring what innovation is and what it isn’t.

I think Webster’s dictionary has it wrong.  Look up the word “innovation” and the definition states “the introduction of something new; a new idea, method, or device.”  According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, one of the synonyms for innovation is “invention.”  There is an important difference between an invention and an innovation, a difference that is often overlooked.


Finding Your Right Space

Posted: October 23, 2011 by Bill Cunningham in Operations, Planning, Startup

If you are in business, you have to do it someplace! The someplace is usually a rented space for most of us who are not working out of our homes. If you are thinking about purchasing your space, then think long and hard – because now you will be running two businesses – your current operation and the business of being your own landlord.

Your space defines your company in many ways. Attention retailers! — Your marketing program includes your space. The look and feel of your store communicates what you do – with the aim of persuading consumers to enter your space, shop and buy!

Hello white-collar office workers! — Most of your people spend most of their time in this space, then the layout and appearance impacts productivity, employee retention and attracting new ones.

Dear Mr./Ms. Manufacturer! — Proper layout of the site can make or break your production process. Designing production systems requires as much artistic talent as well as science. Improper design creates unnecessary costs which reduces profits. Well designed systems enable companies and workers to do more with less and do it faster.

When looking for your first space or if you need to move from your current space, ask yourself some of these questions to decide what is the best space for your long-term success.


Plan, plan, and plan some more…

Posted: October 16, 2011 by Chuck Matthews in Marketing, Planning, Startup

“When have any of our plans actually worked?
We plan, we get there, all hell breaks loose.” 
Harry Potter, in the Deathly Hallows, Part II

This column continues our theme of the importance and value of planning in small, entrepreneurial and family ventures.  Over the last two installments on planning, among other points, we have seen that 1) business planning exists on a continuum from informal, unwritten, in your head to formally written; 2) new start-ups exist on a continuum from small business ventures that are not scalable beyond local operations to highly scalable ventures that seek to redefine and dominate markets and maximize return to investors; and 3) allows the entrepreneur to balance and blend all these relationships: opportunity, resources and team, including but not limited to seeking funding on a continuum from personal funds, friends, family, and founders and highly sophisticated term sheets from angel and venture capitalist investors.

Against this backdrop, we continue to illuminate a number of deceptively simple, challenging questions that we must ask, answer and update as conditions change over time.  But just like Harry Potter in The Deathly Hallows, we sometimes feel that our plans are not always in sync with what happens next.  Indeed, plans and planning are often more on the front lines of organized chaos than calm.

Back to our roots…

No business exists in a vacuum, but rather in a competitive business environment. Today we examine four additional touchstone questions that inform how we define our business and competition.  1) What is your reason for being in this business? 2) What is the primary function of your good or service: 3) What are three unique benefits of your product or service?  4) Who is your competition?


Rainy Days

Posted: October 2, 2011 by Bill Cunningham in Operations, Planning

It’s always good to save for a rainy day. What if the rainy day becomes a monsoon? Will you and your business be able to handle a tidal wave? Events surrounding your business can be as unpredictable as the weather. Let’s take a look at what you can do to keep your business warm, safe and dry!

Suppose your rainy day comes in the form of a competitor opening up across the street. What should you do? First of all, the time to think about something like that is now – you will usually be pretty anxious when it happens – and that is never a good time to put together a tactical plan to compete. Let’s say you are a local gourmet coffee shop and a large national chain coffee shop opens a block away. Here are some ideas that come to mind.

Make sure your existing customers know the value of your products and services.  Accentuate and emphasize the “character” of your business versus a “big company” franchise. Try to attract some attention to your shop with a new banner or sign – that might suggest your uniqueness and differentiation from that corporate coffee seller. “Try our STORE ROASTED COFFEE, the only one in town.” This may draw some traffic from your newly found competitor.

Suppose your rainy day comes in the form of you contracting a life threatening illness. You may be out of commission for a week, month or even longer. Can your business survive?