May 272010

Book Short: There is No Blueprint to $1B

Book Short: There is No Blueprint to $1B

Blueprint to a Billion: 7 Essentials to Achieve Exponential Growth, by David Thomson (book, Kindle) sounds more formulaic than it is. It’s not a bad book, but you have to dig a little bit for the non-obvious nuggets (yes, I get that growing your company to $1B in sales requires having a great value proposition in a high growth market!). The author looked for commonalities among the 387 American companies that have gone public since 1980 with less than $1B in revenues when they went public and had more than $1B in revenue (and were still in existence) at the time of the book’s writing in 2005.

Thompson classifies the blueprint into “7 Essentials,” which blueprint companies do well on across the board. The 7 Essentials are:

- Create and sustain a breakthrough value proposition

- Exploit a high growth market segment

- Marquee/lighthouse customers shape the revenue powerhouse

- Leverage big brother alliances for breaking into new markets

- Become the masters of exponential returns

- The management team: inside-outside leadership

- The Board: comprised of essentials experts

As I said above, there were some nuggets within this framework that made the entire read worthwhile. For example, crafting a Board that isn’t just management and investors but also includes industry experts like customers or alliance partners is critical. That matches our experience at Return Path over the years (not that we’re exactly closing in on $1B in revenues – yet) with having outside industry CEOs sit on our Board. Our Board has always been an extension of our management and strategy team, but we have specifically gotten some of our most valuable contributions and thought-provoking dialog from the non-management and non-investor directors.

Another critical item that I thought was interesting was this concept of not just marquee customers (yes, everyone wants big brand names as clients), but that they also need to be lighthouse customers. They need to help you attract other large customers to your solution – either actively by helping you evangelize your business, or at least passively by lending their name and case study to your cause.

The book is more of a retrospective analysis than a playbook, and some of its examples are a bit dated (marveling at Yahoo’s success seems a bit awkward today), and the author notes as well that many of the “blueprint” companies faltered after hitting the $1B mark. But it was a good read all-in. What I’d like to see next is a more microscopic view of the Milestones to $100 Million!

May 202010

Call Me

Call Me

A fine song by Blondie from 1980 and from the soundtrack of the movie American Gigolo.  And also something that reminded me about the importance of not relying too much on email this past month. 

 I had surgery on my left wrist in early March to hopefully fix a nagging tendonitis problem.  And while I could still write and type post-op, I got sore pretty quickly every day, so I tried to keep those activities to a minimum.  As you might imaging, I do an awful lot of email and IM in my line of work.  So what was my short response to a huge number of emails and IMs for a few weeks?  “Call me.”

 My communications, especially with remote employees, not only didn’t suffer while I couldn’t type a lot – they were stronger than ever.  Even short, two-minute phone conversations – the remote equivalent of someone sticking their head in my office – are preferable to IM or email in many cases.  There’s nothing like the sound of someone’s voice to add real texture to a dialog and to avoid misunderstandings.

Filed under: Business, Management

May 102010

Yiddish for Business

Yiddish for Business

 

Contrary to popular belief, Yiddish isn’t “Jewish slang” (I hear that a lot).  According to Wikipedia, Yiddish is a basically a High Germanic language with Hebrew influence of Ashkenazi Jewish origin, spoken throughout the world. It developed as a fusion of German dialects with Hebrew, Aramaic, Slavic languages and traces of Romance languages.  It is written in the Hebrew alphabet.

 

I don’t speak Yiddish.  Like many American Jews whose families came to America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, my grandparents spoke it somewhat, or at least had a ton of phrases they wove into everyday speech.  Presumably their parents spoke it fluently before coming here and Americanizing their families.  My own parents have a handful of stock phrases down.  My brother and I have even less.

 

What I like best about Yiddish is that I find it to be a very descriptive and also onomatopoetic language.  I can never verbally describe a Yiddish word without a lengthy description and some examples, and usually some level of gesticulation.  I’ll try to be more succinct below.  But in the end, words mean a lot like what they sound like they should mean.  A lot of New Yorkers who aren’t Jewish end up knowing a handful of Yiddish words because they’re pretty prevalent in the City, but many people outside New York don’t.  So I thought I’d have a little fun here and do something different on the 6th anniversary of launching this blog (today) and list out some of my favorite Yiddish words and describe them with a business context.  In no particular order…

 

-          Schmooze – to chat someone up, work them, frequently with some kind of hidden agenda in mind.  Business application:  “She showed up at the charity event just to schmooze Alice, who was a potential client.”

-          Chutzpah – nerve, as in “wow, he has some nerve.”  My dad always said the classic description of chutzpah was the kid who murdered both of his parents, then pleaded with the judge for leniency because he’s an orphan.  Business application:  “He missed all his goals this quarter and asked for his full bonus and a raise?  Now that takes real chutzpah!”

-          Spiel (pronounced schpeel) – a monologue or lengthy pitch.  Business application:  “I’m raising money, so I have to really organize my spiel before I go talk to the VCs.”

-          Schtick – someone’s standard song-and-dance.  Business application:  “I stood up in front of the room and gave my usual schtick about our values and mission.”  Kind of like Spiel.

-          Schlep – to make a long, pain-in-the-ass kind of trip.  Business application:  “I had to schlep all the way to Toledo for a meeting with that guy, and he didn’t even end up signing the deal.”

-          Mazel tov – literally means “good luck” but usually used in regular conversation to mean “congratulations.”  Business application:  “You got a promotion?  Mazel tov!”

-          Noodge – someone who inserts himself into a conversation in a somewhat unwelcome manner.  Related to Kibbitz – to give unsolicited advice from the sidelines. Business application:  “Sally is such a noodge.  She kibbitzes about my unit’s strategy all the time and just stirs up trouble.”

-          Maven – an expert, even a self-styled one, in a very niche area.  Business application:  “You want to figure out what smartphone to  buy?  Ask Fred – he’s the maven.”

-          Kosher (a Hebrew word as well) – completely by the books, originally referring to dietary laws that religious Jews follow.  Business application:  “Ask Marketing if it’s kosher to use our partner’s logo like that.”

-          Verklempt – choked up, overcome.  Business application:  “When I got my review and promotion and raise, I was so verklempt that I couldn’t speak for a minute or two.”

-          Schlock, Dreck, Chazerai, Bupkis – all have slightly different literal meanings (apparently Bupkis means “goat droppings”), but I use all of them somewhat interchangeably to mean junk or something of limited or no value.  Business application:  “That presentation was nothing but chazerai.  What did I get out of it?  Bupkis.”

-          Kvell – to beam or burst with pride, related to Nachus – warm “gooey” feeling of pride.  Business application:  “I had so much nachus when my company won that award for being the best place to work, I was just kvelling.”

-          Mishegas or Bubbamyseh – craziness or self-imposed silliness.  You might have heard the word Meshugenah before, which means crazy.  Business application:  “I can’t get all caught up in his mishegas.  I’m going to make my own decision here.”

-          Kvetch – either a noun or verb meaning complain, in a harpy kind of way.  Business application:  “Frank is such a kvetch.  He is just never happy.”

-          Mensch – a good guy.  Business application:  “Michael is such a mensch.  He always helps his colleagues out even when he doesn’t have to or doesn’t get credit for it.”

-          Fercockt (pronounced Fuh-cocktah) – crazy, messy.  Business application:  “John’s project plan is totally fercockt.  No one can follow it even when he tries to explain it.”

-          Mishpochah – family.  Business application:  “Welcome to the company – we’re happy to have you in the mishpochah.”

-          Tsuris – heartache or sadness.  Business application:  “Boy that’s one client that gives me nothing but tsuris.”

-          Tchotchke (pronounced chach-kee) – a trinket or little toy.  Business application:  “What kinds of tchotchkes are we giving away at our booth at the upcoming trade show?”

 

Pull one of these out in your next meeting – see what it gets you!

Filed under: Business

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May 062010

New People Electrify the Organization

New People Electrify the Organization

 

We had a good year in 2009, but it was tough.  Whose wasn’t?  Sales were harder to come by, more existing customers left or asked for price relief than usual, and bills were hard to collect.  Worse than that, internally a lot of people were in a funk all year.  Someone on our team started calling it “corporate ennui.”  Even though our business was strong overall and we didn’t do any layoffs or salary cuts, I think people had a hard time looking around them, seeing friends and relatives losing their jobs en masse, and feeling happy and secure.  And as a company, we were doing well and growing the top line, but we froze a lot of new projects and were in a bit of a defensive posture all year.

 

What a difference a year makes.  This year, still not perfect, is going much better for us.  Business conditions are loosening up, and many of our clients have turned the corner.  Financially, we’re stronger than ever.  And most important, the mood in the company is great.  I think there are a bunch of reasons for that – we’re investing more, we’re doing a ton of new innovation, people have travel budgets again, and people see our clients and their own friends in better financial positions.

 

But by far, I think the most impactful change to the organizational mood we’re seeing is a direct result of one thing:  hiring.  We are adding a lot of new people this year – probably 60 over the course of the year on top of the 150 we had at the beginning of the year.  And my observation, no matter which office of ours I visit, is that the new people are electrifying the organization.  Part of that is that new people come in fresh and excited (perhaps particularly excited to have a new job in this environment).  Part of it is that new people are often pleasantly surprised by our culture and working environment.  Part of it is that new people come in and add capacity to the team, which enables everyone to work on more new things.  And part of it is that every new person that comes in needs mentoring by the old timers, which gives the existing staff reminders and extra reason to be psyched about what they’re doing, and what the company’s all about.

 

Whether it’s one of these things or all of them, I’m not sure I care.  I’m just happy the last 18 months are over.  The world is a brighter place, and so is Return Path.  And to all of our new people (recent and future), welcome…thanks for reinvigorating the organization!

 

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