Month: April 2012

The Prose Series: Episode 4

An enhanced Audio Podcast presented in Video format.

The quick hitting no holds barred series based on “Mr. Engineer, please hit the record button and let’s go!”  Unique for its forget about edits and retakes format.

This episode features Mark’s column:
“Forget the Extra, Just Do What You Promised”

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr in Assoc. with StreetCry Media. All Rights Reserved

(Can’t see the player on your mobile device? Click Here )

From an Expert in Management Perspective

One of the greatest obstacles to cross when I sit down with someone in any position of authority whether they be Board members, Chief Executives, or the Founders themselves is to make them understand that they are the avatars in which most if not all behavior will be followed. So many think they can set rules for others, yet pay no attention to these same rules or codes of conduct themselves. For some reason the “Do as I say, not as I do” mantra is regarded as if it actually works. It doesn’t, and it never has. It just makes people believe they have acquired some rarefied air status that only they can breathe. This type of thinking is so detrimental to both personnel and corporate images alike because before anyone notices, breathing rarefied air evolves into sucking wind.

If you don’t want people cheating on their expense reports, you had better not let the staff see you taking a vacation trip with the wife and kids for 3 weeks saying it’s “business.” You can’t demand restrictions on any of your own personnel while at the same time seen publicly doing exactly what you tell them is unacceptable. Not only does this not work, but in many cases will embolden some to push these very same envelopes because they fortify their reasoning with a sense of “why not, they do” mentality.

From a water cooler standpoint the recent actions happening in the political area are troubling. This is not about what political side you’re on, nor is it about politics at all. Currently we have been witnessing absolutely one of the most amazing string of debacles happening in the world of agencies or departments being caught with their pants down, or worse. One after another has been screaming across the news wires. And yet we see the CEO within days of the latest scandal on a late night show starring in a rapping spoof.

If you can not look at this situation and see the calamity of errors being created whether intentional or not without having your views being politically biased, then may I suggest a refresher course in management 101?

I think I need to offer one again faster than ever.

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

3 Rookie Mistakes That Can Put You Out of Business

(My column as it appeared in Upmarket magazine week of April 22nd)

Whether you have dreams of owning a small business or have grander plans for world market domination, the first thing you’ll say to yourself one day is “You know I should do it because …” ( And you’ll fill in the blank.)

Any of us whom made this jump went through it. It’s part of the process. However anyone who is still in business will attest that one thing you’ll learn quickly is what made perfect sense before you started can be anathema to continuing. Here are a few of the most common I’ve seen. There are many more than three, but for the sake of brevity these get right to the point.

1. I’m a good cook so I should open a restaurant.

If there is one line of thinking you should pay attention to, it’s this one. I have seen more than my share of businesses fail that opened or started based on this rationale. I contend that it is probably the top reason most fail so soon, and so fast after opening. Cooking is an occupation, running a restaurant is a business. Don’t confuse the two. Many of the world’s renowned chefs (Some are on television) saved their names, careers, and restaurants from extinction only after relinquishing the business side to someone else. You can always find a great cook, you can’t always find a great business manager.

2. All my friends, and family say they’ll buy from me.

Yes they’ll say that, but they won’t. Years back when I was first thinking about going it on my own I asked my friend’s father whose opinion I trusted. I vividly remember to this day when I asked him about when he started his business. I asked him if he depended on friends and family as customers when he first started. While working at his bench (His store sold and repaired high-end cameras) he looked up at me, raised his magnifying visor, and said, “If I depended on friends and family for business, I’d be out of business!” I never forgot it, and I personally witnessed it through my own career. Now more than 30 years later he’s still in business where others have come and gone. I still to this day seek his council when I’m in New England. He’s now well into his 80’s and still at his bench.

3. To double my business all I need to do is double my efforts.

Thoughts such as this usually come soon after the doors have first opened. Whether sales out of the gate begin skyrocketing, or original expectations were met quicker than originally hoped for showing no sign of slowing. The first inclination is to expand. Everyone from the banker whom didn’t return your phone calls, to the suppliers who wouldn’t give you pricing, all will now be more than happy to jump on your bandwagon. All I will say here is, “Beware what you ask for.”

This is where that term everyone says they know but they forget the implications. Overhead! “We need more room.” Double the floor space, double the lease. “We need more help.” Double the staff, double the payroll. “We need more credit.” Double the credit line, double the inventory. Everybody’s now happy in the wagon till a pot hole ruins a tire with no spare to replace it with because you spent it doubling everything. Forgetting there would be bumps in the road. Now the only sustained doubling comes from the bankers, suppliers, landlord, and alike that now seem to call twice as often looking for money and reasons why you’re having troubles paying. You need to be even more cautious and frugal when everyone thinks you have a Golden Goose if you want to continue enjoying the eggs. Without proper attention not only can the eggs get smelly, but the bird could get sick, or worse.

As in sports, as in business. The fields are littered with rookies that showed great promise. But it was learning and not repeating the rookie mistakes of others that allowed them a shot into Hall of Fame territory.

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

An Old School vs New School Debate

As some of you know I’ve been watching some talk about recent purchases made by some of the current tech giants. I listened the other day to one well-known voice whom is very involved and considered “in the know” of all things in the social media space. The narrative he used in describing some of the happenings taking place within the genre, e.g.: Facebook® buying Instagram®, and Microsoft® purchasing legacy patents from Netscape® as an old school versus new school argument. Both purchases were for similar amounts of $1 Billion dollars. But if we want to buy into the new school vs. old narrative you just might find yourself getting “schooled.”

Here’s the problem with that comparison as I see it:

It has just come to light that Mr. Zuckerburg bought Instagram without telling the current board of directors until nearly the day before the transaction took place as to ensure no one could stop it. That in itself is troubling when you remember the price tag was $1 BILLION for a company that doesn’t even make a profit. Yes that sure is a new school way of thinking, but I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts Mr. Zuckerburg will never get that opportunity again. Once his own IPO goes public, actions like that will be punished mercilessly by investor funds (for my earlier thoughts click here) let alone the current board with egg on their faces. Can we get an Instagram of that photo I wonder?

Paying that kind of money in that manner which has been credibly reported (Click here for more) smacks of 1999 “Bubblishishness” when wiz kids could do no wrong, and money for nothing in the promise of something was abound. If Facebook decides it wants a mascot in the form of a sock puppet all I’ll say is beware. Groupon® as of this writing has currently lost 2/3rd’s of its IPO debut highs. We have been told by the so-called “Smart crowd” these companies have nothing in common to the tech bubble hysteria of the 90’s. (I haven’t even mentioned Pandora®) Say what they may, but to my ears, I hear enough rhyming as to enter a poetry competition.

The other side to this coin is the Microsoft purchase of legacy patents from Netscape. This is looked upon as some foolish outdated behind the times purchase. It’s being portrayed in the narrative of old school trying desperately to stay relevant. My thoughts on this are I believe this and acquisitions like these just might be the most prudent, and important buys any corporation can make today. And as many of the new social media crowd contemplate how only they get it, I want to remind you of one of the fastest growing, cost ballooning, legal entangling monsters ever to be seen in the history of business is coming down the pike to which I believe the old guard can see, but the newbies just might be blind to. Patent Trolling!

This legal quagmire confronting business of all sizes is probably one of the most destructive, and entangling nightmares that has ever hit businesses. It’s full effects are let alone not even understood by many, but worse, many don’t think it will involve them.

For more on the implications of Patent trolling I would direct you to Mark Cuban’s article from his blog. (click here to go) I was going to write my own thoughts, however I believe he hits it so squarely on the head, and from a perspective unavailable to most I could not add another word. If you are in business, or you’re a person with the entrepreneurial mindset you need to take the time and read the article. Yes, I think it’s that important.

It is quite possible that the new school, old school narrative to these two purchases might play out as some speculate. However myself being a member of the Alma Mater School of Hard Knocks. I’m tempted this time to lean toward the old school side. It just might be that a little perspective in protection might be worth a little more than what may be seen as something shiny to the new school mind-set.

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

In Times Like These…

The late Paul Harvey once said, “In times like these it helps to recall there have always been times like these.” I think those words may be more relevant today than the day he coined them.

All across the airwaves and print you’ll be bombarded with clarion calls. You must tax. You mustn’t tax. The rich are hurting you. The rich will save you. There are no job opportunities. There are now opportunities like never before. Each side yelling and screaming as if things like this have never been seen before. What most never realize is that their view of history begins and ends with the day they were born. Lip service will be given to history, but in the practical application of their own lives its treated as a segment from Mystery Science Theater 3000.

My purpose is not to give you the impression of right or wrong on anything taking place. That decision is up to you. All I’m pointing out is in what some see as “This time it’s different!” Thinking with a clear head away from the trumpets can sometimes help in understanding and in lessening the pounding headaches.

We are currently in a malaise of problems stemming from what is now called the “Great financial collapse of ’08” or the “Great Recession.” We’re doomed forever is the call of many. However we did have a great financial crash and depression in the 1920’s through 30’s. Some of the greatest advancements and tragedies happened after. Airplanes, autos, medicine. Along with World War. But we made it through and I’ll contend better than before. However it doesn’t start or stop there. For people before us when the 1920’s and 30’s were taking place many had seen Civil War, crippling poverty and more. I would imagine many thought the same thing as many of us do right now.

Imagine just how absurd you would sound telling someone at Valley Forge shortly after one of their extremities were just removed because of frostbite (and with no anesthesia) the difficulties we face today. Would you think they would have a little better perspective on things than us?

I personally had the privilege of growing up not only knowing, but living with my Great Grandparents, and Great Aunt. I was able to have first hand accounts of what is like to live and work during the Great Depression, World War 1, along with recounts of their parents (That would be my Great, Great!) trials and tribulations going back as far as picking out family among the war dead during the Spanish-American war.

I was fortunate to have that ability. I often think because I did I’m able to see things just a bit more clearly or to put things into perspective better.

I myself see great opportunities ahead. I am not Pollyanna in my view that it will be clear sailing from here. Rougher waters might lay ahead. But we are captains of our own ships. And you can not, and will not ever find new horizons, new worlds, or new treasures tied up at the docks. Would any weathered captain not set sail for open water because a new crew were hand wringing about what lay ahead because they just witnessed their first hurricane while on land?

If we are truly what many like to call themselves be it entrepreneurs or more. Then chart your course, and set your sail because one thing remains the same.

To quote William H. Shedd, “A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what a ship was built for!”

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

The “Outside the Box” Concept

(My column as it appeared in Upmarket magazine week of April 15th)

What if there is no box?

Saying that one needs to think outside the box defines there needs to be some boundaries that make up the box in the first place. And if there are lines, and boundaries exactly what are they? Also who says there is a box to begin with?

In the movie The Matrix (Warner Bros. 1999) there is a very insightful scene where the main character goes to see someone known as the Oracle. In this scene there is a room full of gifted clairvoyant children where he is mesmerized with one of the children bending a spoon at will using nothing more than his mind. Then the child asks if he would like to give it a try. Reluctantly he takes the spoon and is hesitant in believing he could do the same. The child instructs him that trying to bend a spoon using ones mind is ridiculous. The way to actually do that is not to think on how to bend it, but to come from the understanding that there is no spoon. I contend the so-called “Thinking outside the box” concept is very similar, only we don’t see it as such.

What if there actually is no “box?” What if the lines or boundaries we dream up as obstacles, constraints, et al, are merely figments of our imaginations?  All the walls self-imposed as to give form or shape to fit either our own perceptions or the perceptions others tell us. Just how far would you let your creativity run or what projects would you launch if there was no “box” to restrain you in the first place?

If there’s no “box” then there are no boundaries or constraints to overcome or measure against correct? Only the ones you imagine to be there. Just as bending a spoon with your mind seems impossible, if there’s really no spoon just a representation of one you create in your own mind, then not only could you bend it, you could turn it into some other flat ware at will. So why must there be a “box” at all? Maybe there isn’t.

Some use the concept of thinking outside the box in order to enlarge the box. Others use it to open possibilities of making life inside the box more tolerable. While many use the concept as a representation for why they can’t get outside the box at all.

The key in overcoming fears, creativity blocks, excuses, procrastination, and the myriad of other terms we use to justify why we are thinking on one side of the box or another is to be fully aware that the so-called “box” might be nothing more than a figment of our own imaginations.

So if you decide to embrace the concept of there is no box, just imagine how unrestrained you can become in your daring. After all there would be no lines, no boundaries, no walls to constrain your imagination. Would there?

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

The Prose Series: Episode 3

An enhanced Audio Podcast presented in Video format.

The quick hitting no holds barred series based on “Mr. Engineer, please hit the record button and let’s go!”  Unique for its forget about edits and retakes format.

This episode features Mark’s column:
Breaking Through an Entrepreneur’s Crisis, No Time to Sell

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr in Assoc. with StreetCry Media. All Rights Reserved

(Can’t see the player on your mobile device? Click Here )

Things That Make You Go Hmmm…

Some things just demand you pay attention to them. Doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong. It’s when things go unnoticed that there could be warning signs that will get most into trouble. People focus primarily on whether they’re right or wrong. Important of course, however noticing something when everyone else may be oblivious to it can be a determining factor in one’s success in the future. Preparing or interpreting when, where, or if a decision may need to be made I will contend is on par with making the decision on how to act if needed. It’s on this note once again I am compelled to make a few observations that are screaming to me warnings of caution. Understand I am not saying I’m right or wrong in my assumptions, but as stated before, it’s knowing when to pay attention when no one else is that can set you apart from the herd. Which in turn is why people seek me out. So here’s a short list with a few caveats for you to ponder.

  • Apple® is adding $10’s of Billions of dollars in market capitalization weekly and at a rate that is unseen in the history of the markets.

I am an everything Apple consumer at this time. I have shed everything PC over the last 2 years. I think Apple and their products are the best at this moment in time. But the stock price and the performance or future performance of the company seems to be a little too far ahead of itself. There are so many people investing in shares of Apple because of the assumptions it will continue to go up forever is scary. If Apple has just a hiccup in its performance the reaction in the price could be not just significant, but could be down right devastating to many whom just don’t understand markets.

  • Facebook® is buying a company named Instagram® for $1 Billion dollars.

I have heard nothing but praise on how smart this acquisition is from the so-called “smart crowd” of the financial channels et al. I have only one thing to say. “They have yet to turn a profit meaning they make NO money, and the claim to fame is you can make your pictures look like it was taken on a Kodak® camera?” I haven’t seen this type spending of other people’s money (share holders) under the umbrella of prudent since the last time the government released a budget. Keep in mind Facebook itself has yet to release its own IPO for the market to digest. They say it will make them a $100 Billion dollar company. Seems to me spending money before the checks have been cashed is a little foolish, but I guess that’s old-fashioned these days.

  • For the 2719’th time. We once again are warned that the 4662’nd deal to save the EU was never really a deal, and once again fears of catastrophe are back on the table. Greece is worse than it was before, Italy, and Portugal are not any better since everyone was told last time they were. And now the country they said there was nothing to worry about since all the others had been spared (which of course by self evidence shows that was a lie) Spain had what some called a “disastrous and troubling” bond auction.

At what point does one not understand that all the deals that have been touted across the newswires, televisions, and such have been a little bit more than disingenuous? If things were fixed, then why do we have a crisis that threatens the entire Euro zone near daily? When I speak with someone and I hear them say something to the tune of, “Well that’s off the table now they resolved that.” I just end the conversation politely and move on because the only thing resolved is their interpretations based on the talking heads not substance.

As I stated earlier who knows what will happen next. But being aware and watching signals that others are either unaware of, or have no inkling there might even be signals is what sets the average from the top performers apart.

I’ll leave you with this. Remember a little while back I wrote about a few companies that everyone (maybe even yourself) said, “I think you just don’t get it because it’s different this time.” Below is Groupon®. The company that snubbed its nose at Google® when they were offered $6 Billion dollars to buy them. They said no rather smugly. Well let the record show you can now purchase Groupon stock at a 50% discount than when it was first offered. A little poetic don’t you think?

Get Yer Groupon here at over 50% off!

Sometimes the more things change, the more things stay the same. Being a Chicken Little is just dumb, but watching Canaries in the coal mines could quite possibly save your life. Just keep your eyes, ears, and minds open.

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

The Dirty Little Secret of Entrepreneurship

(My column as it appeared in Upmarket magazine week of April 8th)

The dirty little secret that keeps many from entering the world of entrepreneurship or what sends them back running looking for a “job” is this. “There’s no one else to blame for their failures or success but themselves.”

There was a time I would have argued against that statement. Personally I would have debated against it using more or less the same thoughts many of you reading this are currently thinking. But the more I have researched, the more I find myself standing on firmer ground.

Many ventured into the world of self-employment (for this discussion I’m speaking of owning your business) for different reasons, but for brevity I’ll contend with what I believe are the two dominant reasons for most. Either they felt hindered by their boss or company and want freedom from all that entails, or they felt unfairly compensated in comparison to how much revenue they were either generating or saving their employer. What happens next is what separates the true desire for self-direction and everyone else.

Making the break to go out on your own has all the euphoric trappings found in many business books. Some call them “How to Guides” I call them “Romance Novels.” Just as love stories are filled with a cacophony of fresh flowers, walking on clouds, and love forever after, most business books paint the world of entrepreneurship as if any haze along the path should be viewed as a cloud of perfume because once through it, you’ll come out smelling sweeter on the other side. For many whom made this jump, perfume is not the first scent that comes to mind.

If you listen carefully to those struggling with being on their own, you can distinguish the ones whom truly have the greatest chance of success from the rest in how they describe their challenges. The ones that “get it” will describe their obstacles of not finding or reaching a solution to a dilemma in terms of “yet.” You’ll hear “I just can’t seem to break through this wall, maybe I’m not looking at it properly or I’m doing something wrong, but I’ll find a way some how.” The ones in love with the “idea” of self-direction tend to say things like: “My old boss or company is competing unfairly against me. They just want me to fail so they can laugh.” Or you might hear: “They must have called my old contacts and bad mouthed me, why else would I be having a hard time?” I could list hundreds of these but I believe you get the point. One is looking at obstacles and looking for ways to work through them. The other is lamenting that there shouldn’t be obstacles.

When you’re working for someone else it’s easy if the sale or something else doesn’t get made or done. You always have the excuse book to pull out so anyone within earshot can hear and agree with you when you start reciting lines from the “Blame it on X” reference guide. “Our prices are too high! The credit department won’t give them the proper terms! I had to go to some dumb meeting and couldn’t follow-up!”  And on, and on.

Once you’re on your own things like competition, being shut out, inability to get proper pricing, and alike never leave you. Actually they may get more intense. What makes this challenge worth the price of achievement and so invigorating is once you’ve made the break, it’s not what you get to keep, but what you get to leave behind.

That little book of excuses.

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr