GROW A PLATFORM, BABY!

When do successful businesses graduate from being single-product ideas into platforms? We’re not sure there’s a proven formula out there. But one convincing guess (Hey, spot the oxymoron!) is that they become platforms on a need to respond to market dynamics, which usually include the motions of demand-and-supply, opportunities for brand extension/spin-off or embedding stolen features from competitors (Yes, we went there!) etc.

platform1We think it’s an interesting business paradigm to approach businesses as platforms as opposed to single ideas. (Caveat: We are sure there might be exemptions out there). Every business, at a point, is confronted with the need to scale: in customer base, for revenue opportunities, geographical expansion etc. – all geared towards increasing market share or, sometimes, giving competition a run.

Classic examples of businesses as platforms are Apple: Once a personal computer seller; now music, mobile phones, apps and, still unbelievable – wrist watches). Google: Once a search giant but has many products under its umbrella we are afraid this blog space may not accommodate all if we start listing them). Mavin Records – of course, we have cool home-based case-studies: Once a record label but now uses its social equity to generate revenues from brand ambassadorship, partnership with digital publishers etc.

Sometimes, it’s not in the best interest of a smart entrepreneur to obsess over a single business idea – product or service, without the wisdom to scale or metamorphose into a platform. An entrepreneur too focused on a single product may lose sight of bigger opportunities. Hey, we are not proposing this as a new trend in business; just a nudge worth-responding to. It’s not a call to change business models but a tweak on a mindset that limits businesses from seeing opportunities to grow or, say, adapt to new business motions. And, of course, we are not encouraging a saturation of markets with substandard products and services in the name of platform. We’re suckers for well-executed product offerings and so we propose that, when it’s time to scale, do it commonsensically.

Wait, it looks like we have a formula here: Start with a product, gain momentum, become profitable, gain more momentum, spot new opportunities – within or without, and start to scale. You have a platform, baby!

(We should consider patenting this formula). 😉

PRODUCTS THAT ROCK

An entrepreneur is sometimes confronted with the lifecycle of his product. He controls the conception and early days of the product but from there, the future becomes a bet. Every action or inaction becomes a tweak of uncertainties.

It’s somewhat an obsession for the entrepreneur. It occupies him, sometimes ravaging his mind – and depending on the degree of attachment to the product – a periodic migraine adds to the worries. Such worries include how long the product will last, how soon before competition throws it off balance, how soon before market realities usurp marketing strategies, when is the right time to pivot, or whatever.

okWe know those worries. We experience them too, and we thought about sharing a few nuggets on what makes some products last. (We assume your product is a good one).

Products imbued with lifestyle qualities really rock. Most products that have survived in their industries have managed to become part of people’s lives. Imagine products with strong staying power and you’ll notice that besides their availability, they have become habitual parts of daily existence. People can’t seem to live without them. They are infused into lives. They’ve become live-eat-breathe me products. This suggests to an entrepreneur to aspire to make a product a part of people’s lives.

Talkability. (Yeah, we know it’s a marketing buzzword). But this is where the media comes in. Media-friendliness. A good product understands media – its power, how it can be wielded, and its social relevance. So a smart product packages itself to be a media darling: it becomes fun to be talked about, arouses curiosity, every scoop about it becomes a gossiper’s delight. Of course, there are products that are exceptions to this nugget. But it’s a good bet to have media as part of a Lovemark strategy. Oh shiiii, another buzzword.

Above all, products that rock creates real value. They don’t exist for the fad. They mean something more: to people, to their creators, and to their environment. Good products rock.

They just don’t live to rock the boat. 😉

Just Show Up

Each day comes with a prospect of productivity. Drawing out a To-Do list is a daily ritual. You want to be productive. But sometimes things become a drag; a promising day soon enters a lazy mode. You begin to cast the best productivity spell you know. The sight of To-Do list becomes an act of torture. You get wracked with guilt. You contemplate giving up and sentencing yourself to a life of obscurity.

productivityBefore you give up, we’d like to point a few things you may be doing that are cramping your style.

You’re waiting for a muse to show up and give you some outer space inspiration. Wrong. You’re your muse. You show up and get the work done. Quit waiting for the elusive mood or expecting some spaceship to waltz you into the land of ideation and execution.

You have a special place, time and moment you can be productive. Hmmm. It’s dodgy when your ability to work is tied to certain conditions or moods. Well, we will excuse you if you can’t work in a dungeon or a dung yard. The point is that your mind needs to be chameleonic under different working environment.

You give pleasure too much time. (Yes, we went there). TV, Internet videos, parties, outdoors are good ways to enjoy yourself. But not when there’s work brimming on the table. Allow pleasure to be the reward of work. It’s more pleasurable.

Oh, one more thing: You over-think. It’s a major productivity killer. Make progress with a little thinking here, and a little doing there. Progress is a function of small incremental efforts. Don’t kill your brain cells before their time.

Just show up. First within yourself and then without.

Now get back to work. 😉

This is Business!

Businesses are like relationships – there’s a honeymoon phase. It’s the proverbial butterfly-in-the-tummy period where everything appears rosy and the stars seem to align on the prospect of a world-changing, game-changing, everything-changing business plan. The team is sprung on the vision; everyone pulls all-nighters and monitors social media mentions like it’s second nature.

This is BusinessBut honeymoon ends. Reality replaces the mushiness and loveydoveyness. Sustaining the relationship becomes the new task and the parties involved share burden through thick and thin, and watery.

It’s the same in business: only harsher. After the signatures and handshakes, investors pull the seats to monitor the books, the pressure is on to deliver on the promises of the business, and the business stays at the mercy of uncertainties – both internal and external. The team deals with a mix of joy and burden. It’s the nature of business. And it never stops.

This is not a post to alarm. Running a business and managing business relationships are inherently tough tasks. The smart business knows this and adapt accordingly. It makes calculated decisions and conjectures to keep the business afloat. While a business needs a dose of goodwill, it takes more to sustain it. The earlier it comes to this awareness, the better for it. So keep the fanfare under control. You are running a business, not an extension of Hollywood. Fanfares don’t guarantee salaries or keep the generator running. They may be necessary but they should be managed tactfully.

Stay on the reality lane. Everyday is not honeymoon. This is Business!

To Pivot Or Not?

Stand on your feet. Then balance on one leg. Begin to move in a circular motion. Round and round you go. Voila! You’ve pivoted. Okay, that sounds too simplistic. But, think about it again, that’s how to pivot. Really.

pivotPivoting means being flexible enough to move in any direction, any direction at all. Pivoting has become a buzzword in the business and startup environment.

The world has posited pivoting to mean being able to change tactics and strategies when your current business model or idea isn’t working. This isn’t necessarily true. What’s left out is this – pivoting is about flexibility, not drastic change. It means having the flexibility to move in a lot of directions, or go round and round. It’s about the to adjust to the demands of the market if it turns out that the demands are different from what was in your head; flexibility to soak in other ideas different from your first thoughts on the business; flexibility to see opportunities in your biosphere; flexibility enough to try again when you fail.

Pivoting is being stretchy enough to reach for things that are not with you but are around you. It means having all your senses open, alert and moldable, so that you don’t miss out on opportunities.

As people in business, we have to be as flexible and open as possible. The market changes without warning, new technologies emerge, unforeseen circumstances occur etc. etc.

You can’t be hell bent on doing things the way they are in your fantasy or imagination.

Have a great sense of pivoting.

This is how to pivot. You open up your pores to the things around you and become as flexible as possible without losing your core.

A SURVIVOR’S GUIDE TO LACK OF MONEY

The smell of money is one of the greatest motivators any man can have. Money makes the world a carousel.

For entrepreneurs, money is more than just the carousel maker. It’s the whole universe itself. A perpetual fear of the lack of it invades an entrepreneur’s mind. Business always needs money.

spend

But there is always a point where you lose money, you don’t make money or clients refuse to pay you. So we call on Robinson Crusoe to give us a few tips on survival.

Conserve the little you have. Your limited resources are vital at this point. Conserve cash.

Have a regular source of income, no matter how tiny. Something to keep you from begging on the streets.

Use cheat mode for basic activities.  You don’t have to spend a fortune for meetings or communicating with team members of suppliers. Hold virtual meetings. Skype, Google Hangouts, Emails are still free. Just do things that keep you from spending exorbitantly.

Pitch at prospective clients and investors. Thankfully, you don’t have to fix a physical meeting with them to send in a pitch deck.

Money will test your resilience. You can’t avoid it. It’s one of the burdens of business. Stay strong and don’t lose focus. Don’t wallow in self-pity. Get your arse up and work.

In your mother’s voice… Treat money wisely.

ANTIDOTE FOR SLOW DAYS

The hours are crawling and you are bored to your teeth. What do you do when life and work conspire to be on a slow-mo? What’s next when the brain can’t pick up signals and the mind is numb? How do you deal when your creativity takes a break?

PaperBallFirst, understand that this isn’t a peculiar curse on you. Everybody, including geniuses, goes through these moments – a time when life drags and the creative juice dries up. Steve Jobs went through it too.

Second, don’t fight to get out of it. There may just be a gem or two that is embedded in the obscurity that it takes digging deep to bring out the gem.

Third, enjoy everyday. Sometimes, we are so focused on the future we fantasize about that we miss the joy of exploring everyday. There is always always one learning opportunity everyday. But, if the mind is allowed to remain numbed, you’ll miss the joy of everyday.

Execute an old idea. Slow days are perfect for working on a project you dumped. While the energy is lost for the current project, you might be inspired to give an old one another look.

Learn something new.  Read something new. A new skill, an added knowledge is good for your mind bones.

Slow days are not always bad. It only matters how you approach them. Make the most of your slow-mo holidays.

YOU NEED THE DEVIL

Yes, it’s a devilish title. But read this before sanctifying whatever you’re reading from with holy water.

devil insideWe want saints as employees. We want people with upstanding qualities who are well driven, and are, at least, proficient in Microsoft Word. Those with all the blahs that have become standard with CVs from here to Singapore and everything in between that inspire nothing but yawns. People who are diligent and do their work well, never tipping the cart or upsetting anything.

But progress belongs to businesses that have a balance of saints and devils. You need the ones with the alternate point of views, the ones who punch the holes, the why askers, the ones who will annoy you to the highest heaven (or hell), the ones who upset the boardroom and make you rethink your product or strategy.

When we say, “devil,” we don’t mean the ones that wear negative energies like cologne. Life is too short to be working with party killer. The devil is the radical; the one that’s strange to your company’s mould, the one everyone contends is not a perfect fit. The one that isn’t afraid to speak when others fret and has superior facts to support their stance.

They may not be likeable. They will be annoying.

But you need them as much as you need the saints.

IT’S NOT PERSONAL

Most times, running a business is game of compromise. You’re finding a middle road where everyone’s ideas and egos can meet. You’re conscious of rocking the boat, and you don’t want to make people feel unappreciated. While it is ok to have contributions from here and there, especially because you want peace to reign, you run a risk of having a Frankenstein on your hands at the end of the day.

personalThis is the tough part, the part where you have to let go of some ideas or suggestions if they aren’t relevant or are not compelling enough. With this, you also have to let people whose ideas have been turned down know that it isn’t a slight on their person. You’ve only filtered the best ideas from the lukewarm ones. After all, you’re all striving for great ideas.

There’s a place for compromise and there’s a place for honesty. You have to find a balance and make sure whatever decision made, it’s in the best interest of the project at hand, and not necessarily to avoid tension. The idea or product or service is supreme and all efforts must be in place to keep it going.

It takes wisdom to manage people. It takes greater wisdom to manage them alongside their ideas. You don’t want to be sleeping wearing a helmet after a brainstorming session. 🙂

A STAKE AND A SALARY

In a previous post, we talked about the voltrons – people who go outside of their roles of client or customer to take up participatory roles as spokesmen. They are the ones who do the third party recommendations on your behalf with little or no impetus from your end. They are the ones who get friends and frenemies alike to try out your services. They are the ones who wear your t-shirts to unlikely venues (Kwirkly voltrons we see you). They are the ones who take up your cause for no reason than to identify strongly with your brand.

stakeWhile a strong case has been made for them, they are not the only Voltrons involved. There exists a second set that takes even more active roles. Call them what you want to call them – Workers, employees, members of staff, etc., they also need to be voltrons to the cause. It can’t be just a job for them. It has to be something more. Something they take pride and satisfaction from.

A part of trying to achieve this on the home front is ownership. While it’ll be foolish to give everyone who has your company ID a stake in the business, it is imperative you make everybody feel like the business is theirs. Members of staff have to be able to see the relationship between the business’s success and theirs. They need to be able to see how their personal growth and the greater good of the business align in a seamless fashion. They also need to have confidence. They want their ideas given consideration, their feedbacks appreciated and acted on, not merely cast aside. It’s not just about assigning tasks. It is also about asking how these tasks could be done better. And who better to know than the people who do it.

There is a need for Voltrons outside of your business. There is also a case for Voltrons inside your business.