Posts filed under ‘Entrepreneurship’

Ryan Carson: We Are Doing Something About Diversity

Carsonified! » Blog Archive » Diversity – The real issues and what we’re doing about it

Joe Clark made an excellent point about diversity in the IT industry:

I am waiting for someone to disprove my contention that the barriers to success in information technology are poverty (can’t afford a computer) and disability (cannot use it), not sex.

The computer does not have an opinion about whether or not you “are wanted”; women have no barriers in *using computers* for their own purposes.

Not only do we need to increase the ratio of women to men at conferences, we need to focus on empowering those with disabilities or those in poverty.

Yes, we do, but that is NOT enough.  While there may be no barriers that you can see other than those you listed, the rest of the world knows that there are still more barriers that need to be challenged.

Let me list a few, just so you cannot ignore the message:

  1. Experience: although those of us that actually work in IT know that almost anyone can learn to do this work at an at-least-adequate level, managers and human resources people want to see X number of years doing the exact same job somewhere else.  If you grow up in an area such as East Los Angeles or South Los Angeles, those jobs do not exist and you will not have that experience, even if you have a computer and you teach yourself to use it.
  2. Psychology: whether we like it or not, people tend to hire people that are similar to themselves unless the job or its tasks are poorly esteemed by the person doing the hiring. 
  3. You are depending on someone announcing themselves to you.  Is this the way you normally recruit speakers?  I’m guessing that you look around to see who is doing work that impresses you and you contact those people.  If this is true, you need to look for people in more places than you have been.  The “women and minorities don’t speak up” line is getting old.  There are plenty of both groups working in the field.  If you can’t find qualified speakers from those groups, then you are certainly not looking very hard.
  4. Let me ask you this: what does your audience look like?  Perhaps you have exhibited an unintentionally hostile attitude toward people outside of your favored groups.  Certainly the Silicon Valley is one of the most ethnically-diverse areas of the U.S.  If you can not attract members of various ethnic groups, whether male or femaie, to come to your conferences then you have more troubles than just trying to diversify your presenters.
  5. In my opinion, diversity is about your history more than it is about being born as part of this ethnic group or in that country, and it is certainly more than what equipment you were born with.  Diversity is a survival tactic.  Our industry has had relatively higher pay and profit levels than most other industries.  There is a natural backlash coming, which can only be blunted by spreading the potential hurt throughout society.  If I were going to a conference here in Southern California, I want to hear from a person who grew up or perhaps still lives in South Los Angeles about what works for them.  I want to hear from someone from Mojave or Barstow about what works for them, and the same for Palm Springs, Hemet, Perris, Murrietta, San Bernardino, Riverside, Indio, and San Diego.  All of these plus Pasadena and Santa Monica would make it more interesting and certainly more relevant.  Substitute Nairobi, Mumbai, Moscow, Beijing, Kansas City, and so on if you desire–if all of your presenters or attendees come from the same place, you are doing something wrong.  The real future of Web apps is not just big, well-funded, well-advertised apps, but the small app that gets used to handle attendance and excuses for the neighborhood school.  Small, locally-focused apps are the future.  The proliferation of small, locally-focused apps penetrating into demographic niches previously unreached by the Internet  and being developed by people who would never have gotten a second look before is the future.
  6. When I do go somewhere, I do look to see what the audience looks like.  If they all look alike, even if I look like them myself, I know that is not the place for me.  Since I know that not all Americans fit into one group, and certainly not all IT workers, seeing a monoculture tells me that someone is not doing what they could to find the best and brightest.

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Saturday, 2007-March-17 at 19:26 1 comment

Avanoo: Do Not Fear Failure

Have you wanted to start out in business, but were afraid of failing? Avanoo has a message for you: success comes from failing and continuing to try anyway.

Thomas Edison is a well-known case of someone who succeeded because of his persistence. According to Avenoo’s blog, it took fifty times as long as expected… and six thousand failed light bulbs, before Mr. Edison came up with one that worked acceptably.

The next example is a Web company that has gone through several changes before it found its niche. It now is profitable, in an area where most of its competitors are not yet profitable. Next, he talks about the discoverer of penicillin, who was unwilling to give up on an experiment that was ruined by mold contamination and found that the mold cleared up the bacteria in its vicinity.

He gives six lessons that one should learn from failure. I encourage you to read the message and apply it to your dreams beginning today.

He wraps up with a teaser about a new business venture he’s working on: Avanoo. All very mysterious, in the same way that Transmeta was tantalizing during its pre-launch period.

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Sunday, 2007-February-04 at 23:00

Smaller Might Be Better

Ten Reasons Why A Small Business Is Likely To Be Better-Managed Than A Larger Business

  1. They can't pretend that firing workers will solve their problems.
    I mean, come on.  We've been seeing the same response ever since Robert Allen of AT&T cut 40,000 people in 1996.  This was followed by their continuing decline until one of their descendants bought them and took their name.
  2. No multi-million dollar CEO paychecks.
    Does anyone seriously not know that these packages are money stolen from the stockholders that own the companies and the employees that do the work that produces that money to begin with?  Does anyone actually read all those management studies that show that the best-run companies tend to be flatter structures, with distributed decision-making processes?  Is this the 1880s again, with rigid top-down management and keep all the rewards for the owner / manager?
  3. No crowd of kowtowing suck-ups telling the boss what he wants to hear.
    In a smaller business, employees know that there are other avenues of employment available, so they will tell you unpleasant things, sometimes using the crudest language imaginable.
  4. No virtually unlimited bank account to throw at any problem.
    In smaller businesses, you have to make do with what you have, using your (and your employees') creativity to stretch things beyond their expected usefulness.  You have to learn to do more with less and to repurpose everything and everyone in your organization to fit the current need.
  5. Limited number of customers means that you have to listen to their concerns.
    Large companies generally ignore the concerns of the individual, even when it would not cost them much to please that customer.  Smaller companies that do that eventually chase all their customers away.
  6. No political clout means that smaller businesses have to rely on doing what they do, rather than on some patron in government bestowing special favors on them.
    Smaller businesses save money by contributing smaller amounts to bribery campaign funds, too.
  7. Fewer employees makes a smaller empire.
    The manager probably has to go get his own lunch, instead of wasting company resources on his personal pleasures.  And there are fewer people to blame when the manager's plans fail.
  8. No stock, no outside investors?  No stock scandals.
    There is a much lower temptation to spend your time with "financial engineering" when finances are very limited to start with.
  9. No market power.
    Aw, gee, you mean you can't act like your mobile phone carrier or cable television company does?  You'll just have to win customers by being good to them.
  10. Cannot afford to blow millions of dollars on unfocused advertising.
    Your paid advertisising must be targeted at the specific kinds of people who are most likely to purchase from you.

Wednesday, 2007-January-31 at 08:34

Promoting Your Small Business

Promoting Your Small Business

Introduction: Why Promote?

In any small business, you have to find ways to convince potential customers to choose your business’s products and services. There are many different ways to do this, including sales (in which a person talks with another person in an attempt to convince the second person to buy) and advertising (in which sales and promotional messages are placed in areas where potential customers are likely to come across them). Another important area (for those who are not starting out in a home office, anyway) is signage–if your customers cannot find you, they won’t be your customers very long.

But in addition to all of these things, you will need to do things that help to get your name and your business and its products and services the attention they deserve from sources other than advertising. Big International Corporation, your competitor, can easily out-advertise you. Your budget is going to be quite a bit smaller than theirs.

The idea behind promotion is to do things that have minimal cost, but which help raise awareness and positive impressions of you, your skills, your business, and its products and services.

What Should I Do?

What should you do to promote your business? Ultimately, this is a personal and individual question. One person may decide to join the local “adopt a school” program, providing discounted purchases and freebies, and possibly volunteers, to a local school. Another person may decide to teach classes in her subject of expertise at the local community center or community college. Still another may write a column that is distributed free of charge to the local weekly and daily publications. Other ideas include blogging, publishing tutorials on your business’s Web site, or publishing a newsletter. Some people hit the local speaking circuit, perhaps as a motivational speaker.

One idea is to run for a local political office. In most smaller cities and towns, council members are unpaid. This can be an excellent way to make your name well-known in the community. However, conflict-of-interest laws will mean that you cannot do business with the city while you are on the city council, so if the city is–or could be–a major customer, this option may not be for you.

Just remember that your goal is to help your community, and in the process, to help your community’s members to decide that they want to do business with your business.

Example: Exclusive Product

Let’s say that you have a handy-dandy product that makes automobile tires last twice as long as before. You developed this product after working for twenty years in a tire and brake retailer. You start a small business, consisting of you and your son-in-law, who has been out of work for a while. In this situation, you may want to start a column in the local paper in which you give people advice about automobile maintenance. Avoid recommending any specific company or product (brand name), but teach potential customers how to decide what products are right for them. In your tagline, state the name of your business and what product you sell.

It may be that your local paper will not accept your column. You may need to restructure it as an “advertorial,” which means that you can recommend your own products somewhere in the ad. Realize, however, that this will be a paid item, made to look similar to (but easily distinguishable from) the paper’s own editorial content. You should place some kind of box around your item, with your logo clearly visible, so that readers are not deceived into thinking that this is unpaid content. The clarity will help you avoid potentially embarrassing public revelations later on.

Example: Crowded Market

Let’s say that you are the 35th person to open a beauty salon in your town of 1,000 people. You might gain a small slice of the market on your own, but you will probably need to show how your own particular combination of training and experience makes your business a better deal than some of your competitors. You may offer a free hair day for certified lower-income families in conjunction with your local aid agency. Or perhaps offer free hair appointments to the local shelter, so that people will be able to go out and obtain employment. Make sure that these agencies are taking photos and taking notes to send to local media.

This is the perfect way to ensure that your business is seen as distinctive, rather than just another cookie-cutter operation.

Effects Of Promotion

In advertising, you should typically try to target most of your ads in such a way that you can actually measure the increased sales from the campaign. A toy store should make sure that people know where to get this year’s big thing as the calendar nears November. If the store does not run a campaign one year, there should be a measurable loss of sales. Promotion is different, because promotion is meant to give you a general “halo,” a favorable impression in the eyes of prospective customers in your market. This is why you can involve your business with a particular non-profit group or school: it may not increase your sales immediately, but it will help your business gain customers who might otherwise have gone across the street for the same product or service.

A prominent Internet company has the motto, “don’t be evil.” Promotion can help your business build its image as a non-evil company, or at least, less evil than your competitors. Non-evilness can really help your sales, as Google’s performance (in comparison to Yahoo and MSN/Live, both of whom fill their sites with those Flash ads with the dancing cowboys) shows.

Let’s face it, you like it when people like you and look up to you. Your promotion activities can help improve the way that others think about you. You may even get your own fan club. 😉

Conclusion: Small Businesses Must Promote

If your business was a faceless corporation, you could possibly continue on the growth path without any promotion. Your commercials on every possible channel would rake in enough sales that you would not have to do anything else.

Since you are most likely the owner (or prospective owner) of a smaller business, you don’t have that option. You must promote, so that your local customer base prefers your business, even when Giganticorp Inc offers the same product for less money or when Giganticorp Inc puts up balloons, flashing lights and a bounce house.

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Tuesday, 2007-January-30 at 18:39

You Should Be Here

James Governor shows once again why, if you are a small business owner or even just looking for a job, you should be actively discussing your topics and your industry in industry forums or even the blogosphere.  To some degree, it can be like shouting upward at leaden skies to try to break through to the key people that you need to reach.  If you are an active part of the industry's discussions, key people that might not otherwise look at you are likely to hear about you from people that they will see and hear.

When you look at entrepreneurship posts and small business, many of them are trying to sell you on some new must-have gadget or service.  Likewise, many of the job-hunting posts try to sell you on whatever the newest social networking site is.

The truth is, if the major people in your industry are joining ]insert site here], then you may need to join.  Your task is to get the attention of those who are most likely to need the things you have to offer.  If you have a small business, you need customers—individuals or companies or government agencies that purchase the product or service you offer—to choose you as one of their vendors.  Likewise, for a job-hunter, you need one or more employers to choose you as one of their "human capital vendors".

For job-hunters: the choice of wording there was intentional.  To the company, you may be just an employee.  But you need to see yourself as an independent vendor who has a close relationship with a particular customer.  The reason for that is the competitive world market for labor.  An employee puts in his eight to ten hours every day, and then goes home, drinks a couple of beers and sits in front of the television until bedtime.  An independent vendor, on the other hand, goes off to prepare himself to offer new products and services.  He will look at his marketing plan from time to time, trying to find ways to make himself more valuable to his current customer(s) and to potential customers he may seek in the future.  He may even decide that a particular customer will never value his products and services enough, and therefore begin looking for new customers.

In either situation, you need to reach out to those who use what you offer.  Whether it is blogging, social networking sites, or joining the local Jaycees and chamber of commerce, use the tools that are already available to get your message in front of those who need what you have to offer.

Wednesday, 2007-January-24 at 12:03

Get Going! (#2 In A Series)

Have you seen The Pursuit of Happyness yet? This is the story of a man who perseveres despite hardships and overwhelming odds, working hard as an unpaid intern to get a lucrative paid position. He (Chris Gardner, played by Will Smith) and his young son (played by Will's son Jaden), later goes on to establish his own company. I do not watch many movies, preferring to wait until they come out on DVD, so I can hear the movie instead of someone talking on their phone, but this is an exception. I would suggest that anyone who is hoping to start on his or her own way to owning and operating a business should watch this movie.

I recently read the Book of Esther in the Bible. It too records how two people overcame tremendous odds and hardships—saving their people from sure extermination and learning to depend on the unseen hand of God and boldly confronting the people and things that threatened them. Too many books and magazine articles emphasize the "I did it myself" angle, when in fact, they had people that believed in them, took chances in order to benefit them, and seemed to be acting in coordination with them, even though neither person was aware of it.

There are dozens of things standing between where you are today and where you want to be. If you stand complacently where you are, those obstacles will remain there for your lifetime. Even so, charging forward without thinking about what you will face and how it could affect you and those you care about is pure foolishness.

Where, then, should you start? You should start be assessing where you are today, and what things about that position are important to preserve, and then assessing where you want to be, and what things need to change in order for you to get there. But you should also assess whether the place you want to be is where you really should be going. If you want to be the biggest drug dealer in your city, for example, you really should not be trying to fulfill that.

Everyone has a mission, a reason why we are here, a task that we are supposed to accomplish. Your mission is not something that you can accomplish on your own, without help (even unseen help from God above and those whom he gives favorable impressions of you), for that would not cause you to grow. However, if you look back at your life, especially if you are over thirty years old, you will find something that you kept coming back to—transportation, education, religious ministry, politics, gardening or farming, public safety, or whatever.  Whatever it is, look at it in broad terms, because that is your field.  Your mission will involve doing something in that field in such a way that it benefits others in the world around you.

Having found your field, and assessed your current position, is your desired endpoint something that is in your field and you should be doing?  Are you willing and able to forego most current pleasures (including social time with some of the people that matter most to you) in order to get there?  Have you squared your life with your long-term mission assigned from above?

You see, Esther and her cousin Mordecai were able to do some amazing things.  They were of a hated and persecuted ethnic group, in a militarily powerful but not very merciful nation.  Most of them were forcibly dispersed throughout the nation and its possessions, in order to dilute their ability to rise up against the ruling order.  And yet, these two were able to overcome their fear of punishment (and even execution) in order to confront the king and his closest advisor.  When the dust had settled, the advisor, who was behind the extermination order, was dead, and Mordecai was elevated in his place.

In order to start in business, you will face obstacles, ranging from no startup capital, to city zoning laws that force you to start in the high-rent commercial district, to people who dislike you because of your birth (ethnic group, gender, etc), to people who feel that your business does not have enough history to be a serious contender for their money, to family members and friends who feel that "you've changed" because you no longer have as much time to hang out and relax with them, to old debts and current living expenses that are higher than you can afford, to bosses that expect you to give them 100% in exchange for almost nothing from them, to household members who think that you are off any time you are at home.  You will need to confront all of those things with boldness, but without being proud, arrogant, submissive, or harsh.

Read the book and watch the movie.  Settle for yourself this week what your mission is and how you can stick it out through all the hardships and pressure you will face as you start this new venture. 

This is the second in a series.  The first entry is Get Started! (#1 In A Series)

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Wednesday, 2007-January-03 at 15:11

Is Tech Going To Be An American Preserve?

means that the U.S. will continue to hold the tech lead.  See his story here.

First, let's take the longer-term view at the way that companies are run in our country.  I remember when some clothing was still made here.  As the domestically-produced share fell, the International Ladies Garment Workers Union launched a last-ditch "buy American" campaign with commercials singing, Look for the union label, when you are buying a coat, dress or blouse …. So look for the union label, it says we're able to make it in the U.S.A.  However, the industry was built already upon low-wage labor, so eventually, the industry moved to Asia.  Even VF, the company that makes Lee jeans, does not make their products here anymore.

In industry after industry, including automobiles, semiconductors, computer hardware, ship & submarine building, bicycles, tools, and garlic farming, the U.S. has had an overwhelming advantage and gave it away.  In most cases, the sign that the U.S. was about to suddenly lose a lot of share was some kind of big layoff or pay cut or effort to replace domestic labor with foreign labor.  We pay huge bonuses to management that hurts workers, because our financial system emphasizes short-term results.  As a result, over a period of several years, any industry of ours will slowly lose its place.

Continue Reading Wednesday, 2006-December-27 at 08:29

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