Tuesday, July 12, 2005

It can be easier to give than receive - advice that is

For several weeks, I have been thinking though what the next step in my career is. I have had a diverse and interesting journey. I started in public accounting with KPMG; founded a venture capital firm, Capital Insights; an innovation conference, InnoVenture; and an online newsletter, Swamp Fox: News of the Knowledge Economy. I've been involved with companies making electronic connectors and capacitors, and with companies delivering HR services and wireless phone services. I was Chairman of Earth Fare, the southeast's largest organic grocery store chain from 2000 to 2005. I frequently write op/ed pieces, and am publishing a book this summer.

While to others it sometimes seems I’ve been all over the board, I don’t perceive it that way. My sense is that I have leveraged a common skill set in a variety of organizations. My challenge is clearly articulating for others what that skill set is, identifying the situation where I am the go to person, and then focusing my search for a new opportunity where I can best leverage my assets and experiences. It sounds so easy.

I went to visit a good friend, Brenda Laakso, Executive Director of InnoVenture. I opened the fire hose of what I had done and wanted to do, and she gave me great advice: be focused. This is the advice that I freely give to others, often critically because they find it so hard. But like all entrepreneurs, I find it very difficult to apply to myself.

Being focused is critical to developing a top-of-the-mind position and being a "best buy in a given situation." Every successful entrepreneur must do this. Saying you are going to focus on doing one thing, means you are not going to do other things. It is difficult, and scary, to limit your options. With limited resources, intellectually you know the best chance for success is to mass your resources on a select target. But then your emotions roar, "What if you pick wrong?" This is the age old entrepreneurial dilemma.

I have begun working with Larry Stuenkel, of Lawrence and Allen, on a consulting basis to think through what I want to do. His advice: be focused. I know, I know.

I am a student of Geoffrey Moore, who in Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers observed that the lack of focus by many entrepreneurial leaders is not a problem of the head, but of the emotions.

First, let us understand that this is a failure of will, not of understanding. That is, it is not that these leaders need to learn about niche marketing. MBA marketing curricula of the past 25 years have been adamant about the need to segment markets and the advantages gained thereby. No one, therefore, can or does plead ignorance. Instead, the claim is made that, although niche strategy is generally best, we do not have time—or we cannot afford—to implement it now. This is a ruse, of course, the true answer being much simpler: We do not have, nor are we willing to adopt, any discipline that would ever require us to stop pursuing any sale at any time for any reason. We are, in other words, not a market-driven company; we are a sales-driven company.

I hear Brenda, Larry and Geoffrey. But focusing is still really hard, and a little scary. Derrell Hunter, a wise mentor, used to tell me all the time, "If it were easy, anyone could do it."

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