The semi-professional blog of Albert Ciuksza Jr.

Month: September 2009

What Strategy Would You Use To Defeat Yourself?

What a question.

It appeared in this post from the informal, slang-filled, business site called Trizle (I recommend it — a great jolt of reading at 30 seconds a day). The question hit me between the eyes.

Does anyone ever ask this? I’ve not seen it very often. Sure, there are senior executive strategy sessions that generate a nice little printable SWOT analysis that gets thrown into a binder and put right next to last year’s strategy binder. But, do these sessions really get to the core of what’s going on and, if they do, do they lead to the actions necessary to make it all better? I’ve always hated the statement “knowing is half the battle”, because I believe that, while knowing might be half the battle, you’re still dead if you don’t fight the other half.

Bad economy or great economy, we’re in global knock-out-drag-out fight for resources. If you don’t compete, you don’t win (or even get to stay on the field). That means that you don’t get the sale, you don’t get the donor, you don’t get the legislation passed. People lose jobs, companies close, mortgage payments get missed and it’s game over. The company/non-profit organization/public recreation center/corner doughnut shop dies, right along with the income and jobs. Them 1, you 0.

Discussing the issue is tough — the death of our job, the death of our organization — those are big scary things we just don’t like to think about. Senior managers don’t like the question either, so they bury their heads in operational issues while completely neglecting strategy. When the time comes to lay people off, close a plant, make people work more hours for less pay, outside factors are almost inevitably cited as the culprit. You’ll never hear a manager say, “I was asleep at the wheel, running away from my real job (understanding and fixing the real problems), waiting for everything to blow over. My bad.”

Be a better leader. Ask this question of yourself, your department, and your organization. Write down the answers. Take action to fix the problems. To do otherwise is not only to ignore your responsibility, it is putting other people’s lives at risk.

Can you ‘Six Sigma’ a New Product?

I was reminded of my short-lived exposure to Six Sigma this weekend when I came upon an article in the New York Times called Welcoming the New, Improving the Old. It touched upon a challenge that had concerned me when I was going through my green belt training (a level of Six Sigma certification) at the time.

Six Sigma is an incredibly rigorous process focused on statistical measurement in order to make improvements in the delivery of a product or service. I was originally drawn to it as a way to solve some of the process problems I had faced in my own area, expecting that it could be used to address nearly any challenge.

What I learned is that, as powerful a tool as Six Sigma can be, it is also easily manipulated to measure the wrong things to solve the wrong problems. There were countless examples of companies applying Six Sigma to problems customers didn’t care about, which, in the end, wasted gobs of time and money. The point that our instructor hammered home was, “define what is a defect based upon what is important to customers.” This, frustratingly, is often not something easily quantified. Why? For two reasons: sometimes the customer isn’t very forthcoming about what they want; and sometimes the customer just doesn’t know until they see it.

For these very qualitative challenges, enter Design Thinking, defined as a process for practical, creative resolution of problems or issues that looks for an improved future result. The goal (improvement) is the same, but attacks the challenge from a very different perspective. I see Design Thinking as the methodology that creates the “aha!” moment that converts the prospect into a customer.

My favorite quote from the article: Continue reading

Start-ups Need to Tell a Story

A few months ago, Paul Furiga, CEO of WordWrite Communications, launched a new web site for his Pittsburgh-based Public Relations firm. His message was very simple — “What’s your story? We’d like to tell it”. I fell in love with the idea, and not just because I’m known for my long-winded storytelling.

Storytelling is, at the most fundamental level, the way we humans have communicated for as long as we’ve been able to speak. It is absolutely critical to our ability to exchange information, establish social norms, build rapport and make an impression. As social creatures with limited time and attention, a story can easily summarize information in an understandable, digestible way.

This particularly hit home with me when attending the recent Three Rivers Venture Fair Boot Camp, a tune-up of sorts for entrepreneurs that will be making nine-minute pitches to venture capitalists and angel investors. I was fortunate to be able to watch four different presenters go through their slide decks, and, as a panelist, help to provide feedback. Each company targeted completely different markets (i.e. social media, security, manufacturing and space exploration) but presented in very different ways.

The first three presenters were able to articulate, more or less, the value proposition of their product or service. They could describe features and functionality, identify their key team members, explain their marketing and sales plan and demonstrate the depth of knowledge needed to lead a start-up company. However, while each company had an interesting product, the presenters had challenges being able to spark the “aha!” moment that investors need to take the next step.

I found myself suggesting adding a story to each presentation. I kept saying, “if you can put someone in the shoes of a purchaser, they will more easily see the value proposition of the product.” My fellow panelists seemed to agree.

The final presenter nailed it. He as able to articulate in about 45 seconds how his security product would be used in the marketplace. He very quickly was able to speak to the challenges faced in this market niche and how his product would make people safer. It was storytelling at its finest.

When pulling together a presentation to potential investors, educate them by telling a story of the average user. Put a human face on the product or service you offer and use that story to demonstrate that there’s a large enough market for you to earn the type of returns necessary for an investor to be interested. While a particular technology might be interesting, cutting-edge, innovative or game-changing, it won’t matter if you can’t make someone feel the pain that will compel a prospect to become a customer.

In the Beginning…

I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce myself and, perhaps more importantly, why I’ve decided to take up blogging.

My name is Albert, I’m 28 years old, and I’ve been an entrepreneur for nearly 20 years. I know it sounds ridiculous, and I don’t blame anyone for their skepticism. But, when it comes down to it, I’ve wanted to do sales and marketing my whole life.

A story … my first solo venture was artistic – I painted t-shirts and sweatshirts with craft store t-shirt paint and sold them to various friends. I can’t say that I was particularly successful — I might have only had a dozen or so takers — but it’s amazing what you can learn about your target market, customer service and the need to be responsive to others’ needs. Most importantly, you have to be extra good when selling to elementary school friends; they never hesitate to tell you when your product sucks.

In any case, this fundamental love for sales, marketing and getting products into the hands of people who will truly enjoy them has been the underlying driver of what I do. Sometimes it is a business or strategic plan, sometimes it is market research, sometimes it is a logo or web site and sometimes it is even a very polite “no”. Regardless of the situation, it is knowing that whatever I am doing is working that gives me the greatest satisfaction.

So, why should you read my blog?
Continue reading