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BobGilbreathDespite gains in the stock market and broader economy, it is still a buyers job market. Most companies receive scores of applicants for any job opening. Entrepreneurs are especially cheered in our community for creating new jobs and offering people a chance to grow quickly. But we should not pat ourselves on the back for giving people a job—rather, we must continue giving to our new hires if we wish to scale up success.

When I writing regularly here six months ago, we were a two-person company. Back then, my biggest challenge was finding our first paying customer. Today we have 14 employees, and my biggest challenge is figuring out how to make sure that the people we hire are performing at their peak as soon as possible.

The change in mentality comes when you realize that you can no longer do it all by yourself. At that moment, a founder can choose one of two paths with new hires: Either use a command and control, dictatorial method to maximize personal involvement, or provide your employees with what they need to make the right decisions for the business. I have always had success in my career by choosing the latter, and I have found that giving three specific things leads to remarkable results:

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Startup Right by Swinging for Singles

Posted: April 14, 2013 by Bob Gilbreath in Leadership, People, Planning, Startup

BobGilbreathIt is baseball season here in Cincinnati again, and whether you observe Opening Day as a religious holiday, or get surprised when fireworks explode in the afternoon downtown, one cannot help but join the spirit. We get to enjoy another 162 episodes of challenge and achievement. Of course we cannot help but re-awaken baseball metaphors to analyze and explain the challenges in the business world.

Entrepreneurship has a lot in common with baseball. In both a lone leader steps to the plate with intense pressure to succeed, a team is counting on you to get a hit, and even a 33% success rate is world-class. Unfortunately, too many rookie batters—and entrepreneurs—fail by swinging for the fences instead of legging out a single.

Startup founders get excited about billion-dollar stories such as Facebook, Google, Instagram and Groupon. These companies seemed to come out of nowhere with a killer idea, and we marvel at the fame and wealth that were created in the blink of an eye. The startup blogs and keynote speeches encourage young founders to “think big” and “change the world.” Such stories have pushed a thousand entrepreneurs to quit their day jobs or senior years to create “the next Google/Facebook/eBay.”

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Mastering the Favor Economy

Posted: February 24, 2013 by Bob Gilbreath in Ecosystem, People, Startup

BobGilbreathWhen people step away from a career to start a new venture, perhaps the biggest shock is learning how hard it is to get things done. You no longer have the power to compel others to join your meeting, buy your products or answer your emails. Humbled and alone, you soon understand that relying on the kindness of others is the only way to survive. Veteran entrepreneurs understand one must tap into a complex social system of trading favors.

Trading favors is one of the most important survival strategies in human history. Favors were a form of currency long before the first coin was ever minted. If your ancestor was lucky on a hunt for meat, he shared with his fellow tribesmen, knowing they would remember his gift when they were lucky next time. Some scientists believe our brains grew larger in order to  to keep track of frequent, complex trading exchanges among people.

Even while they are inventing the most breakthrough technologies, entrepreneurs must go back to these social rules to give their companies a shot at a future. Other people hold the key to information or access that could mean life or death for a new venture. With little money in the bank and the clock ticking mercilessly, the favor of an introduction to a potential investor, customer, advisor or new hire can mean everything.

Unfortunately no one teaches these soft skills in business school, and few people openly talk about their strategies for getting the returned phone call or opened door. I have learned a few lessons along nearly a decade of small business trials and tribulations, and I offer these Five Rules for the Favor Economy:

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The Curse of Free

Posted: November 4, 2012 by Bob Gilbreath in Marketing, Startup, Technology

There are few words in our everyday lives that are more exciting than “free.” We love a free ride, free sandwich or free beer. A free sample is often the easiest way for an entrepreneur to attract new customers. But I have learned the hard way that “free” is a dangerous marketing strategy that feels good but can hurt you in the end.

A few months into launching my new research tool for startups, the Minimum Viable Concept Test, I decided that it would be a good idea to provide some free research to potential clients who could become repeat customers. I figured that a free sample would impress them and lead to ongoing business. After all, each of my other, paying clients loved the output.

My free tests produced happy customers, but none of them converted into a paying account. This was a mistake that cost significant time and money, both of which are precious for a new business.

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